Thursday, August 28, 2008

A time for reflection

Life is truly amazing to me at times. You go along doing your thing and then you get the wake up call. If your like me then your thing is a little fun with friends, spending lots of time with Sherry, and a lot of work. You deal with the everyday things and the new things (like right now we don't have a kitchen). If you're smart, you take a little time occasionally to appreciate all you have. And even then, life will sometimes come around and slap in you in the face to make sure you're paying attention.

I never Barbara Warren. The first time I heard of her was from my friend Sarah's blog. Sarah completed the Santa Barbara triathlon this weekend. Barbara also participated in this event. During the race, Barbara had a tragic accident on the bike leg. Basically, she went down hard, broke her neck and became paralyzed. Later in the hospital she developed pneumonia and passed away. In a matter of days she went from racing in a triathlon to another world. I wish the very best for Barbara's family and friends as they struggle through this time in their lives.

So it is time for a little reflection. It's an easy thing to do. Just think about Thanksgiving where before you are allowed to pig out on turkey, you have to talk about something you are grateful for. For me this is easy. There are so many things wonderful things in my life. My cycling, time spent with good friends, my love of food and wine, even my job. But mostly, I am grateful for my wife, Sherry.

Sherry and I will be celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary this weekend. And since we do not have a kitchen, we decided to spend part of the Labor Day weekend in Napa (ok, Yountville to be exact). We go to Napa Valley quite frequently, but since it is so close we have never stayed. We are staying at the Bordeaux House, which is a gorgeous looking B&B. For the anniversary dinner Saturday night, we will be dining at Bistro Jeanty.

Our over all plan on Sunday is playing tourist. I plan on cycling in the morning while Sherry reads and then it will be off to lunch and wine tastings. We have lunch reservations at Domain Chandon's Etoile Restaurant. We also plan on doing a cheese and chocolate wine pairing at St. Clements Vineyards. There will also be plenty of time for resting or exploring as our energy levels dictate.

As we enjoy our little weekend get-away, we will be celebrating more then just our marriage. We will also be taking some time to realize just how blessed and lucky we are for the life we have. And that is truly worth celebrating.


Friday, August 22, 2008

The charitable side of cycling

In my last post, I wrote about the "rotten apples" in the cycling world who ruin things for others. This is not just true in cycling. I am sure every sport and hobby suffers from RAS (rotten apple syndrome). However, there is an upside that feels more like a pot of gold then a silver lining. Cyclist are a generous bunch of folks.

In 2007, Americans donated an estimated $229 billion to non-profit organizations. If you add corporate gifts the number swells to $306.4 billion. This is not your everyday spending money. These are some serious donations. In a world where the media seems hell-bent on convincing us how bad things are getting, these numbers make me feel proud of this country.

There is no doubt that a fair amount of these donations came from cyclists and triathletes. Every weekend, almost year round, there is some charity cycling event going on. And these events draw thousands of cyclist. In some cases these events are also great for the local economy as people choose a ride and build a vacation around it. The Wine Country Century sells out within weeks every year and as much as 30% of the riders come from outside Sonoma County. My recent Colorado road trip was built around The Courage Classic (which raised $2.6 million in 2007).

Most of us are familiar with Team in Training. TNT has raised over $850 million in their 20 year history through centuries, marathons, and triathlons. And they are not alone. Here is just a sampling of some of the major non-profit organizations that use cycling events as fund raisers.

American Cancer Society - ACS Bike-A-Thon, top 25 teams raised over $1 million in 2008
American Diabetes Association - Tour de Cure® events, $13 million in 2007
American Lung Association - Clean Air Challenge® events, Alaska raised nearly $300k this year
National Multiple Sclerosis Society - MS-150 events, national team BP raised over $1 million
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society - Team in Training®, $850 million in 20 year history

Everyone reading this also knows of tens, if not hundreds, of local charity rides supporting a plethora of social causes. Most of these events have rides that run the full spectrum of fun from 20 mile family rides to extremely challenging 200k endeavors.

I have completed numerous charity rides and I always seem to meet the nicest people. It is actually what appeals to me over racing (that and the fact that I am slow). Some of the riders have amazing stories. Some are riding in memory of others. They are all smiling and having a great time. (Okay. They may not be smiling on all of the climbs.)

So if you are looking for something to do before the summer ends, find a ride. You will be giving a little coin to support a good cause, meeting great people, and getting a little exercise all at the same time. And that's not a bad way to spend the day.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The "rotten apple" side of cycling

If you read my last post, you know I had a small confrontation with some seniors who live in Oakmont which is a nearby retirement community. They actually blocked my path and refused to let me use a small private path that reaches a great training area without traversing Highway 12 (which can be a deadly adventure). So, I started asking around and discovered that basically Oakmont residents are mad. They have actually appealed to their home owner's association to take action. The question is why?

Unfortunately, the answer comes down to rotten apples. Those few people who ruin things for everyone else. There are many cyclists out there inlcuding roadies, mountain bikers, and people riding through town, that do things that piss people off. I have seen mountain bikers almost take out entire families in Annadel State Park as they come screaming down hill off an illegal trail and then wonder why Annadel may close the park to mountain bikers. I've seen roadies riding 3 and 4 abreast on country roads simply refusing to get out of the way of cars trying to pass. In town, you see people who ride on the sidewalk, against traffic, and flip off the driver who didn't see them. And the perennial favorite, cyclists on pedestrian paths who shout at walkers to "get the hell" out of the way.

While I don't agree with the residents of Oakmont, I understand them. In the year I have been using their private path, which is very narrow, I have seen riders blow past walkers with no warning, teams take up the entire path while riding at 20+ mph, and riders who seem to think it is their private little race track (rumor has it that a cyclist hit a pedestrian which is what got the locals all fired up).

As a group, all of these actions makes us disliked by people who don't understand it's not all cyclists. You can tell by the look in people's eyes or the contempt in their voice when they discover your a cyclist. You get questions like "Why do you have to block cars?" "Don't you have to stop at red lights and stop signs?" "Why do you have to ride so fast on the trails?"

The situation in Oakmont is so bad that our local bike groups, the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, have been in talks with the home owner's association since March of this year. The response so far, a bunch of new big signs went up two weeks ago reminding us that the path is for local foot traffic only. In other words, NO BIKES!

So for now, I will stay out of Oakmont until things calm down. I am not being a goody two shoes here. The thought of having a confrontation in the middle of my workout simply lessens its appeal. Besides, I live in a great area for cycling with 1400 miles of roads. I'm sure I can find another route.


Friday, August 15, 2008

An interesting ride

Where did the week go? I can't believe how fast time seems to slip away these days. And its mostly work and errands. For us, you can add to the normal everyday chaos a full kitchen remodel. However, I did manage to escape for a small ride on Wednesday. It was short, only 19 miles. But what it lacked in length it made up for in uniqueness.

I planned to head through Spring Lake and just really go for an easy spin. When I arrive at the park, there is a lot of congestion at the park entrance and then I noticed a fire truck with lights flashing. I immediately think there has been an accident. So I weave my way through the stop cars to find nothing. I turn into the park and notice another fire truck is heading up to the parking lot. So I reach the parking lot expecting to see some activity but once again nothing. So I start on the bike/pedestrian path when I hear sirens behind me. The fire truck has moved the barricades and is coming down the bike path. I move aside and then follow along as it makes its way down the path.

Around the next bend, I finally find the cause of all the activity. It's a small brush fire and the truck that just passed me is first on the scene. Well, now the fire truck has the route blocked and since I don't want to take the road bike cross country I just hung out for a while and watched the show. The guys came out of the truck and completed a series of synchronized moves the would make Chinese divers envious. In just minutes the fire was mostly out. However, since this is a heavily wooded area that leads to hundreds of houses they weren't taking any chances. As I watched 3 more trucks arrived. And as I was leaving, I had to pull over for 2 more.

So back out of the park and out toward Oakmont. Once there I had a pleasant and uneventful ride until I started for home. I turn onto the same small bike path I always take and see 2 walkers up ahead coming my way. So I slow and wait for them to move. Nothing! They actually blocked my route and pointed to all of the new signs that say no cycling. I managed to stay cool during our chat and eventually I turned around since I know 2 others ways back and I didn't really not wanting to keep dealing with these 2 seniors. (BTW - this conversation will be the next blog!)

So heading home along Annadel, this mountain biker comes flying down the trails next to the road. Eventually he hits the road and we say hi and he passes. If you have read my previous posts, you know I don't really like mountain bikes passing me on the road. But I decide to let this guy go. A couple of miles later I catch up with him at a red light. He says "Hi". I say "Hi again". Then he pulls out is Ipod and says "It's Lee right? We met once at the coffee shop. Brian."

So the mountain biker I decided not to take on was none other then Brian Anderson. He is the winner of 6 out of the last 7 Terrible Two races. He would have won this year except he flatted 3 times in the final 40 miles and still came in second. He is one of the most respected bad ass riders in Sonoma County. So we rode and chatted (he also encountered the people in Oakmont) until we reached my turn for home.

So there it is. A fire, a lecture and some time with a local legend. Not bad for a 19 mile ride.


Friday, August 8, 2008

A lack of motivation . . .

I was just reading an article on Alberto Contador, winner of this year's Giro d'Italia and the 2007 Tour de France. They were talking to many of his teammates and coaches, both past and present, and they all talked about his great self -discipline. In thinking about the article I have decided I don't have great self-discipline. I don't even have good discipline. And recently, I mostly have a case of the F-Its (from most recent Dana Carvey HBO special).

When I was preparing for the Terrible Two ride earlier this year my discipline was pretty good. Each week Tim, my coach, would send me a spreadsheet with what rides I should do, at what pace, what heart rate, etc. I would guess I stayed on track and performed 90% of his workouts at the level and intensity suggested. It absolutely worked. Not only was I ready on the day of the ride, I was in the best cycling shape of my life.

After the Terrible Two came the 5-days of cycling in Colorado. During the month in between, I wasn't nearly as motivated to go on training rides. I mostly rode with friends on the weekend and relied on my strong base for endurance. Now that Colorado has come and gone I've got nothing. I am down to riding 1 or 2 days a week (at best).

Let me share how easy it has become to skip the ride. Sherry and I are remodeling our kitchen. Okay, a contractor is doing the remodel and we're just watching. Sherry also managed to recently break a bone in her foot. So I have spent the last 10 days hauling every thing out of our kitchen and laundry room and moving it to the garage (we are gutting the room so everything had to go). I need to talk to Chris about a Fitness Journal category for that so I can log it as exercise. Yesterday the real work started and this is how my day went.

My plan is to leave on the bike by 6:30 for a 2-3 hour ride. We have an appointment with the counter top people at 10:30 so I need to be back for that. After getting up, I decide I should really hang around for the contractor. This is the first day and there may be lots of questions. That was a smart move. So no ride for now. I re-negotiate to ride in the afternoon.

Sherry and I run errands, eat breakfast and lunch, and generally avoid the noisy destruction going on in the house. One of the errands was going to NorCal Bike Sport and buying gift cards for some friends. At least that's near a bike. Does that count?

Finally, back home and now I can ride. Wait! Sherry's closet will be impacted by the remodel so we need to empty part of it. Since I want her staying off her foot as much as possible, I take care of it. Job done, now I can ride.

Just then my good friend and neighbor, Bob, shows up to see the progress. Our contractor is a very good friend of Bob's. Next thing I know Bob, Sherry and I are drinking wine in the back yard and talking about the remodel. I give up on the idea of any ride and instead I go out and install my new Yakima Swing Daddy bike rack onto the SUV. Once again, at least it is somewhat associated with cycling.

So that's all it took. Currently, any little excuse to stay off the bike is fine by me. The cure? Coach Tim. He is putting me back on a strict training schedule starting next week. But with nothing to train for only time will tell if that is enough to overcome the dreaded F-Its.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hanging with the Boys - Final Thoughts

So far, most of my writing concerning the Colorado trip has centered on the cycling, and drinking, aspects of the trip. I think it's time to delve a little deeper into my psyche (always a dangerous endeavor).

This is the group of guys I went to Colorado with for a 7.5 day adventure of a life time. Starting from the left you have Pat, me (without the hat), David, Tim, Brian and Chris. Of course the photo I would choose is one of us eating and drinking and not on the bikes. However, this was the post Mt Evans ride lunch so I feel we more then earned a little pizza and beer.

So what was it like hanging with the boys on this road trip? Well to be honest, at times it made me feel older (but not old). I am the old man of the group at 47 although Pat is only 5 years behind me. David is the youngster at 33. And although those age differences are not huge there are other signals of the generation gap. For instance, I did not play games on the Xbox. I called my wife more then I sent texts. At one point 2 of 3 of them were sitting in the same room texting each other. What the hell is that all about? At the very table in the photo, when I made some comment about a buxom blond, I was immediately reminded that no one says buxom anymore accept old guys. (Even as I read what I just wrote it sounds oldish. Youngster???)

They also made me feel younger. Something about driving all night and laughing at any and everything can do that. The trash talking, taunting, good-natured ribbing, etc., gave me the feeling of being in a frat house. We even looked like we were from a fraternity as we strolled through downtown Breckenridge in matching Fitness Journal t-shirts. (Side note - walking around in matching FJ t-shirts at the cycling event was really cool. Doing it at night in Breckenridge was just gay. I believe it was Brian who use the phrase "chick repellent" as an apt description.)

However, I mostly felt alive. When you consider most of the people in the US have never heard of Mt Evans, let alone climbed it on a bike, you can't help but feel alive. Riding through the rain, climbing long hills, flying down long descents, and non-stop laughter all added to an atmosphere of being alive and enjoying life.

Which leads to my last thought, which is feeling blessed. I am truly lucky to have found such a great group of friends. I am fortunate in that my life allows me the ability to cycle, drink wine, have leisurely lunches with my wife in Napa, vacation in France or any number of opportunities that many in this county will never have. I can never take that for granted. So for now, I will continue to enjoy, and appreciate, the little pleasures in life that keep me going.