Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hanging with the Boys - Part II

And now, for the rest of the trip. To be honest, my original plan was to create a blog for each day of the 3-day Courage Classic. However, between the riding, relaxing, laughing, sight-seeing, etc., that just wasn't going to happen. So here is an update on the entire event broken into each day.

Courage Classic Day 1 ~ We met some of Brian's friends from Colorado at 6:30 a.m. at Copper Mountain to start the day. From there we drove the FJ Mobile (the affectionate nickname of the Fitness Journal RV) to Leadville, that day's starting point. The problem was the finish was back at Copper Mountain 30 miles away. So Jenny, Larry's wife (one of Brian's CO friends), saved the day by driving the FJ Mobile back to Copper Mountain.

The route that day was 58 miles with 3 climbs. Once the ride began I knew I was in a little trouble. If you read the previous blog, then you know we climbed Mt. Evans the day before. Although it was beautiful, a 27-mile climb to an elevation of 14,130, it used up a lot of strength. I definitely felt the fatigue starting with the first few pedal strokes. But my biggest issue was my stomach. It was all jacked up and I spent portions of the ride trying not to puke. Still, I managed to ride an even tempo and persevere over all 3 climbs that day. The scenery was once again stunning. The route was excellent with long slow climbs and long fast descents. The other guys were feeling great and kept launching trains off the front in the 30-35 mph range. The final descent was on a bike path that was better maintained then most Sonoma County roads.

So with the ride done, it was back to the house for first chance to hang out since we started the trip. Brian told me he has the same stomach issues at altitude and it should pass. He was right. By dinner I was feeling much better and did not have any more issues the entire trip.

Courage Classic Day 2 ~ This was going to be a 74-mile trip with no significant climbs. Can you say pace line? We started with a beautiful (it is impossible to overuse this word to describe this trip) descent along the bike path. Chris and I decided to take the day easy and just enjoy the ride. Once we left the bike path we hit the road and found ourselves in the town of Dillon. Coming out of Dillon was the least scenic portion of the trip and we were traveling on a very slight downhill. That was enough to launch the train and Tim put us on the front. It looked impressive. You had all 6 FJ'ers on a rotating pace line pulling at least 50 other riders between 30 and 35 mph. After about 15 minutes I was beginning to run out of gas when Chris asked if I was ready to shut it down? So he and I sat up and watch our 4 speed demons carry on. They managed to maintain the train all the way to the turn around point shelling riders as they went. In the end, there were only about 10 people left.

So we mostly rode back together to the lunch stop. From lunch, Chris and I left early knowing the rest of the group would catch us which they did with about 4 miles left in the ride. We basically all hung together for the rest of the ride and rode into Copper Mountain as a complete team. The finish line each day was great! We had to ride through part of the resort which was barricaded off and lined with fans. It was like finishing a real race.

Courage Classic Day 3 ~ This was a short ride of 44 miles with 1 large climbed and plenty of large rollers. Chris decided to be the official FJ photographer so there were only 5 of us on the road. The coolest thing for me about this day was the trip around Turquoise Lake. For the first time I felt like we were in the back country of Colorado. The climb was decent and the descent was absolutely magical. A non-technical drop with mostly smooth road and turns just tight enough to fly around without touching the brakes.

Towards the end of the ride I had my most exciting moment of the trip from a cycling perspective. We stopped on a small climb so Pat and Tim could dance with a woman in a bikini who was always on the course each day blasting Beach Boys music. So fun over, we get ready to head out. There were other riders in the area as well and long story short, I touched Brian's back wheel and dead bugged (for non-cyclist, dead bugging is falling over at a slow speed still connected to your pedals). As I hit the ground, on my right side, I naturally ended up on my back looking behind me. And that's when I knew I might be in trouble. All I could see was a front wheel and the face of panicked rider heading for my head. I immediately curled into a fetal position and braced for impact. Surprisingly, I didn't feel anything at first. But as I collected myself, I was noticed I was sore and there 3 Air Force Academy guys down.

We all took stock of bodies and bikes. With no bike damage or major injuries, they head out and we followed just a short time later. As I start to ride, I notice my left thigh is really sore. This is when I get the full story from my guys who watched the whole thing. I basically dead bugged into the path of these 3 guys as they came flying over the hill, in a congested area, and passing on the right (not a smart move). The first guy was the one who barely missed my head but he still went down. The second guy, to quote Tim, "used my ass as a ramp" and went flying over his handle bars into a ditch of tall grass. Brian said he actually completely disappeared. The third guy also manage to miss me but still went down as well. So, we ended up with a 3-1 ratio. Once Tim realized I was not hurt, only a little bruised (no biggie) he called it "the best crash ever." The rest of the ride was straight forward and we all came across the finish line, 5 abreast, to complete the greatest 3-days of cycling ever. At the finish, kids from The Children's Hospital were handing out medals, which was very cool and inspirational.

We then enjoyed a great lunch, loaded into the FJ mobile and started the trip home. We also started telling and re-telling the stories of the 5 days cycling in the Colorado Rockies that will stay with us a life time.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hanging with the Boys - Part 1

Okay I know!  It's been quite a while since I posted anything but I have a great reason.  Over the last few days I have been either getting ready for my Colorado trip with the boys or having too much fun on the trip.  I mean really!  Given the choice between drinking, cycling, laughing continuously, and blogging, I think you know what wins.  

The trip I am talking about.  Chris, Tim, David, Pat, Brian and myself all headed to Colorado for  5 days of cycling (and apparently drinking) in Chris's Fitness Journal RV.  So let me recap the first few days.

Day 1.25 ~ We actually rolled out of Sonoma at 6:30 p.m. and the margarita machine was active less then an hour later.  Chris was driving and I was riding shotgun while the other 4 proceeded to consume just a few margaritas.  The laughing from jokes, trash talking, and taunting caused Tim to have tears running down in face and left all of us with sore abs.  Finally, around 12:30 the 4 in back basically passed out while Chris and I rolled along.  At 2:30 a.m., while traveling through Nevada on Hwy 50, Chris asked if I was wearing shoes.  Since I was, he simply stopped the RV, in the middle of the road.  We got out and enjoyed the stars and the absolute nothingness.  We did this for 15 minutes and never saw another vehicle.  

We continue to roll through Nevada and Utah and finally arrive in Grand Junction, CO.  Unload the gear, down to the pool, and time to relax.  Later it was out to dinner in a brew pub where we continued to drink, laugh and genuinely ruin the dinner of all the families in earshot.  What a great way to start the trip.

Day 2 ~ We got up and headed out to ride in Colorado National Monument.  This was a beautiful ride.  It was only 36 miles and 2500 feet of climbing but the scenery was stunning.  And to top it off we were savoring every minute.  We stopped at many of the scenic overlooks to check out the view.  I can honestly say this is one of the most breath-taking rides I have ever ridden.  So ride done, back to hotel, showers and back on the road to Copper Mountain.

Day 3 ~ So let me tell you about the reason we made the trip.  Last year, Brian rode in the Courage Classic which is a 3-day charity ride in Copper Mountain, CO, and it benefits the Children's Hospital.  It will consist of nearly 200 miles of riding with 7000 feet of climbing at elevation.  

So what's the best way to prepare for such an event.  We decide to ride Mt. Evans.  This is a 27 mile climb with 6700 feet of climbing.  Oh, and by the way, it just happens to be the highest paved automobile road in North America topping out at 14,130 feet.  It is by far the highest point anyone in our group has ridden.  This is yet another new definition of epic ride.  The grades are not severe,  ranging from 4% - 7%, however, the climb simply zaps the strength out of your legs through its shear relentlessness.  There are numerous portions of the climb where you can look 3-4 miles across the valley and still see the road going up.  It also has around 28 switchbacks with most of those near the top.  It simply feels like it goes on forever.  However, when you finally reach the summit you immediately decide it was all worth it.  Every strained pedal stroke, grunt, and profanity laden diatribe (as you see yet another switchback) is washed away by the beauty that surrounds you.  

At the top, we also got to hang out in the ranger's car because of the threat of lightening.  Finally, it passed and down we went.  Over 1 hour of pure descending heaven right into the middle of a rain storm complete with hail.  And still, one of the best descents I have ever done.  We are still talking about it.

The question remains: Was the Mt. Evans climb a smart idea on the day before our real event.  I'll tell you tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Completely and utterly cracked. . .

It seems really strange to me what happens to your mind on a long solo ride. My mind always wanders but typically comes back to one of two things. I can get a song stuck in my head, usually one I don't like and don't know all the words to such as Elvis Presley's Teddy Bear, (where the hell did that come from). However, more frequently, I hear Phil Leggit and Paul Sherwen providing ride commentary.

Phil and Paul are the infamous announcers on Versus that provide most of the commentary on cycling in America. The are both British and I find them quite funny (and extremely knowledgable). They both have their quirks and catch phrases and on rides when I alone with own thoughts it's these catch phrases that get things going. Now don't get me wrong. In my mind I am not winning a Tour de France stage. It's not like when you are in the car singing to the radio and pretending you're a rock star. Not at all! They are actually commenting on my current ride performance. Here are some samples.

If I am on a long solo ride, they will talk about me as if I am in a breakaway.
Phil - "I can't believe this lad has stayed in front this long Paul. He's usually back in the bunch by now."
Paul - "Well, you're right about that Phil. But today he's seems to have found that little something extra and he will keep up this infernal tempo for as long as he can. However I am afraid that tomorrow he will be paying for these efforts."

When I am climbing well, it sounds completely different.
Phil - "I dare say our boy is climbing pretty well today Paul."
Paul - "Yes he is Phil. You know, throughout his career he has proven to be a decent climber. On these lower slopes he will get the bit between his teeth and give 110%. But I am afraid when the road pitches to gradients of more then 10% he just doesn't quite have the power of the pure mountain climbers. Because after all, those boys are something special."
Phil - "Well he seems to be at least enjoying this moment in the sun so let's give him that."

But the one the started it all was one day when I cracked and was dropped on a ride.
Phil - "Our boy has cracked! He's done!"
Paul - "He has completely and utterly cracked! And it's at times like this you wander how much pain you can put your body through. Because when the lights go out in the engine room, you are left to ride in your own personal purgatory. But he is a good rider so what he must do now is to not panic. He needs to find his tempo and try and limit his losses. And if he does that he'll live to fight another day."

That last line is becoming somewhat of a philosophy of life for me. When days get hard for what ever reason I know I always have Paul reminding me to limit my losses and live to fight another day.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lazy Sundays . . .

What is it about Sundays that makes being lazy so much more enjoyable? Maybe it's the fear of Mondays. I woke up this morning at 5:00 a.m. as is my norm. My plan? Get ready, hop on the bike and head out by 5:30 on a 50-60 mile ride with some decent climbs (I had not figured out the actual route just yet). I can tell you right now that never happened.

Instead, I made my morning cappuccino and read about the Tour de France at www.cyclingnews.com. It was then my plans changed. As I was thinking about my ride, I simply could not figure where I wanted to ride to. So I turned on the TV around 6:00 and began to watch Stage 9, the first mountain stage. Sherry got up and joined me around 7:00 and we watched the finale together. Sherry does not cycle but she loves watching it. And since the Tour de France is the only race televised live in the US, it is a very important annual event for us. It turned out to be a great stage and a great day to watch it live versus the TIVO replay.

After the Tour, I made a pastry run. Standing in front of the case of our local bakery I even found that decision hard to make. So I selected 3 pastries and headed home to discover that Sherry had found some cheeky movie, which we had to watch with our 1 1/2 pastries each.

Around 10:00 the weather was just too beautiful to ignore and I decided to go for a ride after all. Out on the road it did not take long to discover this would be a lazy ride. Partly because the pastries sitting in my stomach were starting to weigh quite heavy but mostly because I was riding for the fun of it and enjoying the scenery. I actually rode through the middle of our local towns instead of around them just to check out was happening.

At one point, I stopped and watched a fairly serious soccer game for a few minutes. Then I decided to ride through Spring Lake Park where people were busy swimming, reading, walking, cycling, and just basically enjoying the day. On the road leading into Spring Lake, I actually stopped at a lemonade stand run by a young girl who was raising money for breast cancer. How cool is that? I still ended up with a 40 mile ride when it was all said and done.

So back home, another cheeky movie, lunch (with wine of course), more lounging around, some reading in a novel set in Italy, and kinda of doing nothing. And then it occurred to me. Isn't this what Sundays are all about?


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anything but cycling . . .

As I was getting ready to write my next post, my wife reminded me that my blog description states that I plan to write about things other then cycling. So being the good husband that I am (a result of nearly 23 years of training), I decided she was right.

So let me ask you this. Have you ever experienced an impromptu moment inside a planned event? Allow me to explain.

Last Thursday Sherry and I had dinner with our neighbors and good friends Bob and Karin. We share a passion for fod, wine and good company. They have a wine cellar that is stocked with Bob's years of wine experience. In my personal circle, Bob knows more about wine then anyone else. And he is a willing sharer of his knowledge and his wine.

Bob was making us his famous Spaghetti Carbonara for the first time. Being carbonara virgins, he decided to go all out. I mean The French Laundry all out! He used butter from France, purchased all the fresh ingredients that day, and even cooked the pasta in Italian bottled water. It was simply fabulous. Much better then any carbonara I have ordered in restaurants. And of course there was wine.

We started with a great Preseco, an Italian sparkling wine, with appetizers. We then opened a Barolo from the Piedmont region of Italy for dinner. I learned about Piedmont from Bob and it is now one of my favorite wine regions in the world and I now have a healthy supply of Piedmont wines in my own cellar.

During dinner we talked about anything and everything you could imagine. At some point, Sherry asked about Vin Santo, an Italian wine she recently read about. And as always, not only was Bob familiar with it, he had some in the cellar. How cool is that? We read about it - he has it.
We wrapped up dinner, after opening a second Barolo, just in time to head outside to watch the fireworks. The city of Santa Rosa does a large display each year that we can see from the house. What a way to celebrate our nation's birth. Standing on a sidewalk with good friends and a glass of Barolo in my hand. So, show over and back inside for dessert.

The wine with dessert was not spectacular in Bob's opinion. So he decides we need a different bottle. At this point Karin says "I feel like some Vin Santo." So off to the cellar and back with the Vin Santo. The bottle we opened was a 1994 Avignonesi Vin Santo. Hugh Johnson, the wine writer, listed this as one of the top 20 Italian wines to drink before you die. I now have to try the other 19.

This wine was amazing. Beautifully aged with surprisingly subtle complexity. It had the perfect acidity to offset the sweetness. It is perhaps the best dessert wine I have ever had and may well be one of the top 5 wines I have tasted in my life time. Karin described it as ethereal. We have already ordered 1 bottle, it is very hard to find, and we hope to hunt down a few more.

So there you have it. A wonderfully planned event made even more spectacular by an impromptu decision.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Riding with Friends - Old and New

This weekend were my first serious rides since the Terrible Two and the planned 10-day rest that followed. So after weeks and months of riding alone, I was determined to ride with friends.

It started on Friday, our nation's birthday, when Tim and I (Tim is my coach) went out for a short 40 mile ride. We kept things fairly flat and set out on a nice even pace. I must admit I spent the entire ride drafting on his back wheel. Tim picked a great route that allowed us to ride side-by-side a lot so there was plenty of chit chat. We talked about so many things that now as I write this I can't think of a single one of them. This was a huge departure from the hours I spent riding alone and getting bored talking to myself. We finished at Bad Ass Coffee and continued the conversation over coffee and warm sunshine.

On Saturday morning, I met Pat after his swim workout and we headed out for 50-55 miles. Pat is training for the Vineman 70.3 Triathlon. It was already warm so no wind vest or arm warmers. It was the perfect Sonoma County morning for riding. Pat and I climbed the first little grunt and I noticed we both stayed in the big ring. We started joking about it and then decided to try and stay in the big for the entire ride. Of course, that was before we consulted the route Tim provided which included some significant hills. But we decided to "man up" (a favorite expression in our group) and go for it. The end result was 56 miles with just under 2000 feet of climbing all in the big ring. As cool as that was I was definitely feeling it on the last few miles. However, it is great to push yourself every now and then, even if it hurts a little.

Sunday arrives and I wake up with very fatigued legs. This is just great because I am riding with Sarah and David, who are both also training for the Vineman 70.3 Triathlon and they are planning on 55-60 miles at good pace. But I checked Sarah's description and she plans on staying at 18-20 mph. I can do that! So off to Sarah's to start the ride. About 3 miles into the ride we picked up another rider on the road who is going our way so he joins us. We hit the first straight road and Sarah takes off with David, me and new guy right behind her. Eventually she peels off and David lifts the pace. I worked incredibly hard to stay on his wheel but after a sustained effort of 26-27 mph, I drop off. My legs are just way too tired from Saturday. So off goes David with Sarah in pursuit. That leaves me and new guy who's name is Dino. As we watch them ride away (hey - it's not my training ride), we settle into a nice pace and just start chatting the way 2 people do when meeting for the first time. Eventually, I tell Sarah and David to go do their thing as I did not have the legs for that pace or distance. (Dino and I had to take a shortcut to catch them.) So I cut the ride short and rode back with Dino on his route. I still ended up with 38 miles for the day.

This is one of the things I love about cycling. You meet someone new on the road and you just start riding together. It is so cool. I told Dino how to contact our cycling group so he may join us on more rides in the future.

In the meantime, I will continue to ride and chat with whoever is one bike next to me.


Friday, July 4, 2008

Let's get it started

I never thought I would be a blogger! But I have always enjoyed writing when the spirit moves me and this seems like the perfect vehicle for the ride.

It started with my cycling group and our propensity to write lengthy, drawn out reports of our rides. Okay, they're not always that drawn out but each of us tried to paint the picture of how the ride went for us. And there always seem to be a humorous side to each story as well as the occassional (or is that frequent) trash talking.

Then one of my cycling friends who created the website Fitness Journal suggested I, along with another friend Sarah, start placing our ride reports in a new blog section he created on the site. So I did. And surprisingly, some people were interested in my stories and I really enjoyed reading their responses and sharing in their similar experiences.

So the other day I was reading Sarah's blog and thought - What the hell! Let's give this blog thing a try. So here I go.

Thanks for sharing in my life experiences and I hope you enjoy the journey.