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.