Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009’s final ride

On Sunday, I rode my final ride of 2009.  Well, at least on the road.  I did participate in Coach Tim’s indoor trainer class last night, but the next time I hit the open road it will be 2010.  This most likely will be my final blog of 2009 as well so I better mix in a little reflection.

Before I talk about the ride, I want to discuss two of my 2009 goals, which were to spend less time riding alone and ending more rides with coffee and friends.  I definitely accomplished that.  I’ve ridden on more group rides that ended with coffee this year then ever. 

That leads me to Sunday.  I was meeting Carmen, David, and Pat at Flying Goat for coffee followed by a ride.  There might have been a few more of us but the threat of rain kept some members of our group safely tucked into their beds.  I was the last to arrive and when I did I could see them already laughing through the window.  This was going to be a great day.

The only serious discussion of the day was just before we rolled.  I had picked out a 45 mile route and Carmen (who’s new nickname is Ms. Type A) was hoping for 60.  We settled on 50 miles at an easy pace.  With that settled, we were off.

It had rained hard during the night, although not during our ride.  We decided to take the bike path out of town, which follows a lovely creek.  As we followed the creek, now full with water, we simply rolled along, chatting about everything and trying not to get to wet and dirty from the road spray. 

Now remember, this is supposed to be the off season so this should be an easy ride.  But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t goof around. For instance, going for the KOM (king of the mountain) on a hill that is about half a mile in length and gains less then 200 feet in elevation.

It was Pat and Carmen that started it.  We hit this small hill, I mean really small, and Pat and Carmen took off.  David also grabbed Pat’s wheel but he didn’t know it.  At the last minute Pat noticed David and sprinted to the top.  As Pat went over the top, he threw his arms up in victory and did the whole “rocking the baby motion” like he had just won a Tour de France stage.  It was hilarious.

We continued the ride and decided to sprint for the Healdsburg city limit sign.  Pat and I lifted the pace but David and Carmen decided not to play.  As Pat and I rode, we kept looking for the sign to launch our attack.  We didn’t see it so finally we assumed there wasn’t one.  Just as we sat up and relaxed, I looked to the right and there’s the sign.  Since my wheel was about 2 inches ahead of Pat’s, I immediately threw my arms up in victory.

This is how the ride continued.  We where simply having fun.  There was the time Pat and I decided to chase down two riders in front of us and after working really hard they stopped just as we were about to pass.  At another point, Pat and I were having a very nice chat when he said “Excuse me for a moment” and took off.  I thought “what the hell,” until I looked up and saw the Windsor city limit sign just ahead.  Earlier in the ride, Pat and David rode ahead of us, hid as Carmen and I passed, and then caught us from behind.

Finally, it was back to Flying Goat for the post-ride coffees, more laughs, and home made cinnamon rolls (thanks David).

In the end, I have to say that I accomplished my most important goal in 2009, which was remembering why I love cycling in the first place.  Between the great rides and even greater people, it was my best cycling year yet. 

I can’t wait to see what 2010 has to offer.

Ciao!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Christmas cheer

There were a lot of things that contributed to my holiday cheer this season.  Of course there’s Sherry, my lovely and supportive wife, who brings me year round happiness.  I took a couple of days off from work to make a 5-day weekend.  That always cheers me up.  Over the last couple of days, I have had lunch and coffee with numerous friends.  And finally, I am starting to feel like myself on the bike again.

If you read the last blog, then you already know I am getting over a sinus infection that kicked my butt.  The weekend before Christmas was the first time I went riding in almost three weeks.  They were both slow, tiring rides but I made it.  Now I just need to focus on regaining my strength.

The plan was to ride a lot over the last 5 days although I also needed to ride smart and not over do it.  My original plan was to ride Wednesday and Thursday, take Christmas off, and then ride both days of the weekend.  And although it didn’t quite work out that way, I have ridden 3 of the last 4 days and I am happy to say the body is starting to come around.  I am also heading out this morning.

Wednesday started out very cold but developed into a beautiful winter day.  So after lunch with friends, I went out for a short 30 mile ride.  Since I am not myself just yet I am still keeping things short.  I was joined by Kelli, one of the many cool people I have met this year.  We basically just rolled along chatting about the holidays and keeping things at a nice even tempo.  It was on this ride that I could feel my strength returning.

Thursday came and went without a ride.  It was 28 when I woke up so I decided to ride later in the day.  But, Sherry had the day off, so we ran errands to get ready for the big day and long story short – the ride didn’t happen.  No worries, I still have the weekend coming up even if there is the threat of rain.

Christmas Day was another cold, bright, beautiful day.  Sherry and I don’t have children, which means we get to sleep in.  We spent the morning meeting friends for coffee, having french toast for breakfast and relaxing.  Finally, around noon, I couldn’t take it anymore, so while Sherry started to watch a movie, I got ready to head out on the bike.

Riding alone on Christmas Day was great.  It was gorgeous, there wasn’t any traffic, and I had plenty of time to reflect on the day and my life.  At some point in the past, Santa gave me the perfect life for Christmas and I haven’t asked for anything else since.  This was very apparent to me as I rode along.  The ride itself was fine and I was feeling stronger.  Still, the real joy in the ride was simply remembering how lucky I am.

One of the things I am grateful for is cycling.  There’s more to it then just riding a bike.  First of all, it is my primary way of maintaining my health and fitness.  Cycling has led to some great adventures, like the 7-day trip to Colorado.  More importantly, it has allowed me to meet some great people and develop some strong friendships that will surely last for years to come.

That brings me back to my Christmas cheer.  When you have a wife like Sherry, the health to cycle for hours on end, and a great circle of friends, how could you not be happy.  The trick is to be thankful for these things every minute of every day. 

I truly hope that everyone finds their own holiday cheer each and every day of the year.

Ciao!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Being smart in the off season

Wow!  It has been a while since I managed to update my little blog.  There’s actually a couple of different reasons why I have been quiet lately.  To begin with, I’ve not been riding very much.  And since this is now a blog about my cycling adventures, no riding means there is not a lot to write about.  However, the real reason for my absence has been a little thing called a sinus infection that really wore me out.

HappyHills1The weekend before the sinus trouble I did manage to get in a couple of good rides.  I took a vacation day one Friday and rode on the first day of Pedro’s Winter Happy Hills Training Camp.  That’s us in the photo after reaching the top of Sonoma Mountain.  The next day, I went out with another large group on Sarah’s birthday ride, which was also the first edition of the Soup Spoons & Carbon Forks ride.

While both rides were fantastic, I just could not convince myself to write about them.  I was having trouble finding the right angle.  Looking back, I now realize the importance of these rides.  It really wasn’t the actual rides but the circumstances.  After spending much of 2008 riding alone, 2009 has been the year of big group rides for me.  I have met a lot of really cool cyclists this year on these rides and I can’t wait to ride with these folks more in 2010.

Another important aspect of these rides was that I rode smart.  I was the last person up Sonoma Mountain and I was perfectly ok with that.  It is still the off season so there was no reason for me to try and ride beyond my means.  It was tough watching the group ride away but I did keep 3 or 4 folks in sight so it wasn’t like they had to wait for me for days.

I decided to take the following week off as my last big rest before I start to get serious for 2010.  Of course, that’s when I got sick.  What’s up with getting sick the week you are resting?  So my one week recovery turned in three weeks of no exercise.  No riding.  No running.  No core workouts (ok, I didn’t miss them). Nothing!  The symptoms came and went relatively quickly but I was completely wiped out from an energy standpoint.

This weekend I finally got back on the bike for some recovery rides.  Once again, the situation called for riding smart.  While I was positive that a couple of hours of easy riding and fresh air would help, I was just as aware of the danger of over doing it. 

On Saturday, I decided to pass on all of the group rides.  I just needed to do my own thing and not try and keep up with a group.  So I waited for the morning chill to pass and headed out.  Since I was still feeling the effects of the sinus infection I dressed warmly.  You should have seen me.  Here I was riding in 50 degree weather bundled up like I was preparing to ride in a New Hampshire snowstorm.  Once I got started I quickly settled into a nice gentle pace and ended up with the perfect 26 mile ride.

Sunday found me riding with friends but still not pushing the pace.  I choose a level of exertion I was happy with and I refused to go above it.  On the only hill of the day I was once again last.  Coach Tim came back down to ride up with me and was very happy with my pacing and the fact I was riding smart.  When it was all said and done I managed to tick off another 48 miles for the year and was still feeling good.

As I write this I am feeling much better and my strength is slowly returning.  That’s good because after lunch with friends I am heading out for another ride.  (In case you couldn’t tell, I have the day off.)  I am actually riding 4 of the next 5 days if the weather cooperates and that’s not a bad way to end the year.

So hopefully I am back to both riding and writing a little more regularly.  I really do enjoy writing these little stories and I look forward to continuing them for anyone who cares to follow along.

Until the next adventure. . .

Ciao!

Friday, November 27, 2009

My Thanksgiving Day ride

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and that means a it is a time for traditions. You have the tradition of spending time with your friends and family to give thanks. The tradition of eating way too much even though last year you promised yourself you would never eat that much again. Of course, we can’t forget football, whether it’s watching or playing. For me, you have to add the tradition of cycling.

This was the second year I joined the NorCal Annual Thanksgiving Day Ride. Last year I got the chance to participate thanks to a heads-up from my cycling buddy Jeff. This year my invite came via Facebook.  I must be moving up in the world.

There was one big difference for me this year. Last year I recognized about 10 people and personally only knew 4 of them. This year, I knew 30 or more of the 100+ riders. That’s the kind of year it’s been. I have made it to some great rides and met a tremendous number of local riders this year. I even met a new friend on Thursday after he realized the coffee was not free. As he started to his car to see if he had cash I simply said, “It’s on me” as I paid for both of us.

At 9:10, we roll out. Last year, we stayed fairly mellow until we hit the hill on Pine Flat. What would this year bring? Well, once again we started out at a mellow pace. As we head out town I noticed a young lad (he was 8) riding with his father. He was holding the pace well and I was impressed with his determination. I also enjoyed listening to dad give advice on how to move within the peloton. Then someone up front yelled “car up!’ and we began to bunch up.

As we were slowing, I let the young lad in front of me as his father guided him to the right. Just as his back wheel cleared my front wheel something happened and he simply went down. I am now heading straight for the small of his back as he lays on the road and thinking, “Sh!t!, I cannot run over this kid!” Fortunately, I was already breaking because of the slowing pack and managed to stop literally (not an exaggeration) inches from his back. So, first I breathed a sigh of relief and then I braced for impact.

The first bike from behind collided with the rear derailleur while the handle bar and brakes from a second bike struck my leg with decent force. Everyone else managed to stop so it wasn’t too bad. The lad was fine and no one was upset because in cycling accidents happen. I fixed the dropped chain and the rubbing back brake and headed out. Then I noticed the front brake was also rubbing. By the time I fixed all of this the peloton was nowhere in sight. Even my little guy that crashed had already gotten back on the bike and was once again pedaling down the road.

So the chase was on. There’s only one problem. I’ve spent the last 5 weeks doing nice easy rides and now I want my body to crank out the watts at maximum effort. It said no. Also, the pack I am chasing is faster then me anyway so, really, what’s the point?  So, I settle into a good rhythm, meet up with some friends at a regroup spot and then form a nice train the rest of the way to Pine Flat.

I managed to climb very well Thursday. I decided to lift my cadence about 10 RPMs above what I originally planned. I was able to hold this pace to the pond where I decided to stop. Actually, many of the day’s riders planned on stopping there so we regrouped and got ready to head home. Just then, some of the big guns, led by Odessa Gunn, came screaming down the descent. We joined the fun and for the next 10-minutes enjoyed the roller coaster descent that only Pine Flat can offer.

This same group of riders stayed together all the way to the finish. As we rolled along, people began to peel off and pedal towards the rest of their day. Me, I got home right on time, ate left over cassoulet as a recovery meal and watched a little football before going to dinner with the family. It was yet another great day for which to give thanks.

Lastly, I always end my T-day blogs with a reminder to not wait until the 4th Thursday of November to give thanks. Take a minute everyday to be thankful and to thank those around you who make your world a better place. Hopefully, they’ll do the same for you.

Ciao!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Big Ring Coffee Ride

Yesterday, I got to head out on the bike with two of my best friends, Coach Tim and Brian.  The riding plan was an easy loop out of Sausalito, around Tiburon, over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marina, and back.  The real plan was to spend 3+ hours chit-chatting followed by lunch.

This day came about in a rather unique way.  It starts with the fact that Brian’s family owns a small cabin in Lake Tahoe.  A couple of weeks ago Brian asked Tim and I if we wanted to go up to the cabin with him to secure it for the winter.  The original plan was to make it a “guys day.”  We would drive up (almost 4 hours), go a quick ride in the mountains, secure the cabin and come home.  Earlier this week Brian discovered the cabin was already secured so we moved our “guys day” to Sausalito (about an hour away).

Starting in Sausalito turned out to be the right call.  It was 31 degrees in Santa Rosa when I got up.  The high yesterday in Lake Tahoe was 36.  When we arrived in Sausalito it was a balmy 46.  And there was not a cloud in the sky.  Just another gorgeous fall day in Northern California.

tiburon1 Now, we think that Sonoma County is quite the Mecca for cycling.  However, when we rolled into the parking lot there were cyclists everywhere.  There wasn’t a single cafe or coffee shop that did not have a large group getting ready to ride.  We had already seen 2 or 3 large groups on the road.  There had to literally be hundreds of cyclist either riding or getting ready to hit the road.

We find a place to park, get the bikes ready, and join the masses.  Here’s the other reason we chose Sausalito.  Are plan from the very beginning was to go for a very easy ride that allowed for ample talking.  So the bike path out of Sausalito was perfect.  We could ride side-by-side and chat to our heart’s content without worrying about traffic.  Plus, all of the other cyclists, walkers, joggers, strollers, and dogs forced us to keep the pace nice and slow.  That was important since the rule for the day was the first person to shift to the big ring had to buy coffee (hence the name of the ride and this blog’s title).

CoffeeWe make our way around the point of Tiburon where our view shifts from the San Francisco skyline to the hills of the East Bay.  We rode along Paradise Drive, which I have only driven, and decide it may be the best cycling road within driving distance of home.  Then it was back to the bike path and back into Sausalito.  The total distance so far was 22 miles. 

Now it was time to head for the City across the Golden Gate Bridge. I have driven over the bridge hundreds of times and I have walked across it twice but I have never ridden over it.  So we followed the same route as this year’s Tour of California out of Sausalito and we are on the bridge.  The views of the City and Pacific Ocean were simply stunning.  In the summer, the bridge is usually covered in fog.  In the fall, it is spectacular. 

Bridge 2We rode through Crissy Field to the Marina where we stop at the Chestnut Street Coffee Roastery, which was yet another great new discovery.  Tim also bought pastries from the bakery next door.  While sipping our mid-ride coffee and eating pastries, we decided that so far it was the perfect cycling adventure. 

Finally, it was back across the bridge to Sausalito.  Once we were back we reloaded the bikes, changed and  enjoyed lunch at a locally famous pizzeria. 

There you have it.  Just another outstanding day on the bikes with great friends.  So, did we stay nice and slow as planned?  Well, the final numbers were 35.5 miles in a time of 2:41 and an average MPH of a 13.5 so I think I’ll let you decide.

Ciao

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Perfect off season ride

There are two ways to make Coach Tim proud.  The first is to meet a goal that you have worked hard to accomplish.  The second is riding smart.  And that’s what I did today.

My normal group didn’t have anything going on today so Pat invited me to ride with the NorCal team.  Although I accepted, I was also anxious.  You see, these guys and girls can ride fast, very fast, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go that hard.  To be really honest, I was not sure I could keep up with them at all. However, Pat’s back is bothering him, it’s the off season, it’s cold, etc., so it was supposed to be a mellow ride.  We’ll see.

I have a good reason for keeping things nice and slow.  My off season just started but it’s about to come to an abrupt end.  I have decided to train for next year’s Terrible Two, which is a mere 200 mile ride with 16,000 feet of climbing.  Coach Tim has my training starting in December so that’s makes for a short off season and I intend to savor it for all it’s worth.

With just a little trepidation, I head out this morning at 7:00 and ride over to the start.  We all hang around talking about how cold it is, it was 37, and waited for the ride to begin.  Finally, we have everyone accounted for and get started on the ride.  Even though this is my first ride with NorCal, I have ridden with many of these guys before.

We didn’t get very far before we passed my brother-in-law, Michael, out for his morning run.  Pat and I both give a big shout out and we keep going.  We only went a little ways before we were stopped by irony.  That’s right! Irony.  One rider somehow dropped his pump and it flatted the front tire of the rider who went over it.  Irony right?

While the tire repair was going on Michael caught up with us.  So Pat and I rode with him as he was kicking out a 6:45 pace.  And this was at the 11 mile mark.  It was a pretty cool moment.

The rest of the group rejoined us and we were off again.  Up to this point the ride has been very mellow with lots of chatter.   We ride over Chalk Hill and while the climbs were relatively small we all kept up a good pace that pushed the heart rate just a little.  For me, it has been the perfect ride.

We reach Alexander Valley and finally settle into a brisk pace line.  But since I am like the 7th guy in the line, I am not working that hard.  We make the turn and get ready to climb Pine Flat and that’s when I remembered my shortened off season.  So, as they started the climb I said good-bye to Pat and turned to the left.

Now I was on my own to simply enjoy the beauty that is Fall cycling in the Wine Country.  I rode at my own pace.  I stopped to take pictures.  It was truly awesome, relaxing and rejuvenating all at the same time.

There you have it.  A ride where there were some concerns I would have to go to hard but in the end it was a perfect off-season day on the bike.

Ciao!

P.S.  I don’t know why I feel the need to explain why it’s been a while since my last blog, but I do.   I am helping Coach Tim with his web site, which means I have to learn about web sites.  We also created a fan page for him on FB called ESP Fitness Training.  Also, my favorite local bike shop, West County Revolution, started a monthly newsletter called Power to the Pedals for which I contributed an article about Cycling with Champions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The cross training has begun

Well, after a few weeks of thinking about it, talking about it, and even writing about it, my cross training finally got off the ground last week.  It must of been all of the FB entries about running, swimming, yoga, and such that got me going.  Or maybe it’s the fact that I am already feeling a difference on the weekend rides when I don’t workout during the week.

My cross training is pretty simple.  I do a little running, strength training and core work.  I frequently suggest to myself I should add in yoga and stretching but somehow that hasn’t happened just yet.  Still, anything is better then nothing so it’s time to get going.

Last Tuesday I went on my first run since May.  It was a simple little 3 mile route and I planned on staying nice and easy.  I expected it to be a little challenging and did not want to over do it.  My warm up consisted of tearing my closet apart to find my running shoes.  Then a mind stretch exercise as I try to remember where I put my heart rate monitor I use when I run.  Finally, I am ready to go.

I settle into a nice, slow cadence as I head out the door and down the street.  I actually enjoy running as long as I am not trying to kill myself.  As usual, I am feel great until about the 2 mile mark.  Then things always go south quickly.  My route takes me past a hospital at 2.5 miles and I found it difficult not to turn into the emergency room.  Instead, I keep running after deciding the shortness of breath and pounding in my chest is not a heart attack.

As I arrive home I have to fight the urge to collapse on the front lawn.  Then I look at my time.  It was 21:11.  Sweet!!!  No wonder I am tired.  I just kicked out 7 minute miles.  So I skip lying on the lawn and start my cool down walk wearing a big smile.  Then I look at the time again.  It was really 27:11, which is a 9 minute mile pace.  Damn, I’ve already passed my lawn and since I don’t want to collapse on my neighbor’s lawn I keep walking and cooling down.  In the end, it wasn’t a bad start.

On Friday, I head out for my 2nd run.  This time I felt much better even though I finished 8 seconds slower.  No worries.  At least I didn’t think about stopping at the hospital or collapsing on the lawn so that’s progress right?

Thursday night found me in the garage getting ready for a core and strength training session.  What was the first routine?  You won’t find in any weight training books but it is a routine we all do.  It’s called – clear all the junk away so you can actually see the weight bench!  Now that the bench is cleared, the ball is inflated, and weights are all ready, I can start. . . well, that’s as far as I got that night.  So no strength or core training just yet.

Last night I went to Coach Tim’s for an garage spin class on our trainers.  We did a combined work out that spent a little time on power, endurance and TT drills.  We also did some light weight training, core work, and stretching afterwards.  I felt really good last night but we’ll see how I feel later today.

After I finish writing this, it will be out on the road for run #3.  I am actually looking forward to it.  I really have a nice route with plenty of alternatives to keep things interesting.

There you have it.  I’ve finally started my off-season cross training routine.  And you know, as much as I miss cycling during the week, it is a nice change of pace.  The only thing I need to do now is remain vigilant especially with the core work and stretching.  After all, the next cycling season will be here before you know it.

Ciao!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Off season shenanigans

Last year, during our cycling road trip to Colorado, I made a comment about our waitress being a “buxom blonde” and the mocking was commenced immediately.  I was dutifully reminded by my younger cycling friends that no one says buxom anymore except for us old guys.  I can only imagine how they will respond to my using the word shenanigans in the title.  As you read on you will hopefully agree that no other word would do.

A group of us met on Sunday for an easy 50-mile ride that included a stop at the Wild Flour Bread Bakery in Freestone.  Now, we are all in the off season so rides are supposed to be easy.  However, a few of us like to kick up the intensity from time to time.  These are usually short spurts of energy lasting less then 5-minutes. 

IMG_0060 As we gathered to get things started there were some immediate clues that this was going to be a fun ride.  To begin, everyone seemed much excited about the bakery stop then the ride itself.  Then we notice David is wearing one black and one brown sock.  This immediately prompted a FB entry to his wife asking her to be more careful when laying his clothes out the night before.

Finally, we are off.  The ride does start easy with everyone riding together and chatting away.  We go over a small climb together as a group.   The final part of the descent is a mild 2% grade and as I descend Pat comes flying around me with Ross in tow.  So I join the train for my first 5-minute burst.  Then I attack and as I pass Pat I give him a big ole smile.  As anticipated, Pat counter attacks and as he comes around me I simply sit up, down shift and watch him hammer himself to the stop sign.  As he looked back and realized what I had done I received my first 1-finger salute of the day.

We regroup and keep rolling along.  I convince some of our group to do at least one city limit sign sprint at the town of Valley Ford.  Sarah doesn’t think there is a city limit sign but I convince everyone there is.  As we approach a small rise about a mile out, I attack again.  I am holding a solid pace with Pat and Ross.  David, Sarah and others are chasing hard from behind.  With the town in view, Pat and Ross attack and once again I sit up.  I see them riding hard and looking for the city limit sign that never appeared.  I’ll let you decide if I knew it was there or not.

entranceb After our bakery stop (a requirement for all off season rides through Freestone), it was up a small hill into Occidental.  Once again I attack, once again Pat counter attacks, and once again I sit up after he passes me.  About half way up the climb he sees me falling back because it’s hard to pedal and laugh hysterically at the same time.  He then drops back and shares a few thoughts with me which should probably not be repeated.

With the ride winding down we head out of Monte Rio for home.  David, and his different colored socks, takes the front.  He starts out a little too fast and pulls away.  He sees there is a gap and drops back and settles into the perfect pace.  However, once he quit looking back I motion to everyone behind me to slow down.  A minute later, David looks back and we are gapped again.  He looks at us, looks at his cyclometer and looks back at us slightly confused.  He drops back to pick us up again and the whole process gets repeated.  This time he realizes he is being messed with and rides away leaving all of us to chase him down.

There you have it.  It was a great ride that felt a lot more like playing then exercise.  It reminds of playing games with my 6 year old niece who has a knack for making up the rules as she goes.  The result was a lot of laughter, some great camaraderie, and, in the end, one hell of a work out.

No wonder I like the off season.

Ciao!

Monday, October 19, 2009

The “newbie” ride

One of the many things I like about the off season are newbie rides.  This is when my cycling friends and I hit the open road with folks who are just starting their journey into the world of cycling.  Newbies are always welcome to join us but they usually don’t because of concerns about the pace, distance, the amount of climbing, etc.  However, in the off season we are happy to cruise at their speed and help them become better cyclists.  That’s exactly what I did this Saturday. 

Pat, Mike and I, all experienced cyclists, are heading out with Rich, Dan and Dan’s son Brett. Rich and Dan have been riding for a while but it is only Brett’s 4th ride ever so I am anticipating a fairly mellow pace and route. Since it was Dan’s birthday ride he choose the route.

pine_flat_rd Of course, to become a better rider you need to push yourself.  The route Dan choose – Pine Flat.  Holy sh!t!  Are you kidding me?  Pine Flat scares most experienced riders and is legendary here in Sonoma County.  It is a 12-mile climb with a 20% wall at mile 11.  And Brett doesn’t even have a bike.  He’s borrowing Pat’s older road bike and is wearing running shoes to turn over the flat pedals. 

We meet at Pat’s and after a lot of fun banter we are off.  In Healdsburg, Dan gets a flat.  This is were the other joy of a newbie ride comes into play.  Watching them change a flat.  Dan starts by turning the bike upside down and of course his water bottles fall out and roll away.  Then, he starts to remove the tire while the wheel is still on the bike.  So Pat steps in and helps.  Dan pulls out the new tube, still in the box, from a huge saddle bag. After some fun with CO2 we are on the way.  A mile later, Dan flats again.  This time the change goes much more smoothly.  See, he’s learning already.

(Editor’s note:  I only poke fun at Dan’s tire changing experience because I did the exact same thing on my first rides and I am sure someone was around to poke a little fun at me.)

We are now seriously rolling in a nice little group.  The pace was nice and allowed for plenty of chit chat.  It also gave us time to educate them along the way.  How to ride a pace line.  Techniques for better shifting. And so on.

IMG_0051Finally, we reach the start of the climb.  Rich and Dan are both planning to go further then their previous attempt but do not anticipate making the top.  Brett, being the 15-year confident stud he is, has no doubt he’s making it all the way. Pat and I just smile knowing he has no idea what a 20% grade looks like.

Up and up we go.  At one point, Pat accelerates and Brett tries to go with him.  Pat sits up and lets Brett catch up and I lift my pace slowly so now it is the 3 of us.  Brett is riding very strong and is listening intently as Pat coaches him up the climb. We reach the meadow where it flattens out for a mile or so.  Now it’s time for the final push to the summit.

I had stopped to take some photos but I can see them up ahead.  Brett is still riding strong and Pat teaches him to weave in the 20% grade sections.  When I reach the top just behind them, Brett is ecstatic.  Not only did he make it, he passed 2 other cyclist on the way.  Remember, this is his 4th ride.

We teach him how to feather his brakes for the descent and keep things nice and slow.  On the way down we pick up Dan and we catch back up with Rich at the bottom.  They both met their goal of making it further up Pine Flat then before.  They are are both stunned that Brett made the summit.  We then ride back to Windsor at a relaxed pace and hit the local coffee shop.

IMG_0058 The joy in Brett’s experience is the real reason I like newbie rides.  It is the perfect reminder of why I enjoy cycling so much.  Sometimes it takes seeing a ride through the eyes of a newbie to open my own eyes to the joy cycling beings to my life.

One final note.  It was also very cool to hear a rider calling out “Dad” from time to time.  This was my first father-son ride and I found that very cool.  I also know that on Sunday, Brett and Dan went shopping for a new bike.

Ciao!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A time to relax

It’s finally here!  The off season.  That time of the year when I ride my bike because it’s something I love to do.  This is always an interesting transition for me.  One week you are rushing home after work to get in one more hill repeat workout before dark and the next you’re reaching for that book you haven’t quite had time to finish.

It’s not just me who is entering the off season.  My Facebook updates are chock full of a new type of post.  In September, it was all “I finished 3rd in this race” or “I set a personal best in the local TT”.  Now it’s posts like “my average heart rate was 102” or “my coach said no hard rides for 3 weeks”.  Of course, there are those rare athletes who do not seem to need time off.  One friend got off her bike after the Gran Fondo and started training for her marathon in December. 

For me, it’s as much a mental break as a physical one.  Yes, it’s been a long year and I am certainly feeling the effects physically.  But I am also tired of following a regimented workout schedule.  Of riding the next hill harder then the last.  Of always lifting the pace.  I need, and want, time to sit up and enjoy the world around me from the unique perspective of a bike seat.

This e-mail to my Wine Country Velo group for our first ride after the Gran Fondo kind of sums it all up.

“For most of us it is officially the off season for cycling.  So I would like to propose we spend the rest of the year riding for the joy of riding.  Where "no-drop" means we ride as a group and not race to the next regroup.  Where the average mph comes back down and we are more concerned with talking trash then heart rates.  Where riding side-by-side and enjoying the company of friends replaces pace lines with 30-second pulls. We can restart all that serious stuff in January.”

One of my favorite off season rides is what I call the unknown routeCoach Tim and I do this from time to time.  We pick a meeting spot and start riding with no specific route in mind.  As we roll along, we may approach a road we’ve passed several times before on training rides but never taken and we immediately turn onto it.  While this has led to a lot of out-and-backs, it has also led to many pleasant surprises as well.

While I want to use the off season to reinvigorate my joy of cycling, I also do not want to become a sloth.  So let the cross training begin.  It’s time to bring weights back into my routine (I know, I really should do weights and core work year round).  Next week I will start jogging again.  And maybe, just maybe, I will try yoga since a good friend just open her own studio called Three Dog Yoga.

Mostly, I want to relax and enjoy Fall in Wine Country.  After all, I can restart all that serious stuff in January.

Ciao!

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Gran Fondo

If you are a regular visitor to my humble little blog, then you've been "hearing" about Levi's Gran Fondo for months. Well, on Saturday it was finally here. Now was the time to quit talking about it, quit training for it and just enjoy the pleasure of riding it with 3,500 other crazy cyclist from across the United States and around the world.

Training for the Gran Fondo was interesting to say the least because I provided Coach Tim with a bit of a challenge. You see, I was in France from September 10th through the 28th. This should have been a time when I was doing my final hard rides and then starting my taper. Instead, I was gorging myself with French wine, cheese and croissants. It would be interesting to see how well this particular training plan worked in the end.

Friday night was registration so I head down to the festivities. I cannot say enough about how smoothly the organizers and volunteers ran this event. Registration was quick and easy. Everything that I pre-ordered was in my packet along with all kinds of cool swag. As I wondered around the tents checking out all of the bike stuff, I ran into many friends. Eventually, a group of us decided to cough up $10 for the pasta feed and ate while the Triplets of Belleville was showing on the big screen.

Saturday, the big day, dawns bright and clear. It is going to be a very windy but a near perfect day for this ride. A couple of friends meet at my house and we ride over to the start while picking up a few more friends along the way. As soon as we arrive you can feel the excitement. Once again, we hang around, this time hoping to spot the pro riders joining us, and then it is off to the starting line.

We decide to start a little closer to the front hoping to hit open road a little faster. As we are waiting and chatting more riders start to arrive. And then more. And then even more. I am not sure how to describe 3,500 people all waiting to start the ride. As they were making the final announcements, which no-one could hear because of the helicopter overhead, everyone was relaxed and focused.

Then we're off. The Fitness Journal team set up a double line and rode at a decent clip along the closed roads of Santa Rosa. After a few miles, cyclists were stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions. We rode strong as a group through Occidental, then Monte Rio and finally to the rest stop in Cazadero. This is just before the turn onto King Ridge Road where the climbing really started. We all climbed within ourselves and reached the first summit with little difficulties.

The rest of King Ridge was simply gorgeous. I've talked about it before but it still amazes me on every ride. On Saturday, it was miles and miles of vistas being enjoyed by miles and miles of cyclists. The descent down Myers Grade and the ride along the coast was breath-taking. From the coast it was up and over Coleman Valley, a road featured in the 2006 Tour of California, and then we retraced wheels back home.

It was an awesome ride. Even the strong cross winds did not detract from the day. I did have to deal with some serious, and I mean serious, cramping issues between miles 60 - 85, which included the Coleman Valley climb. However, I proudly persevered, eventually caught up with my fellow FJ-ers (a special thanks to Pat for flatting), and we all came across the finish line together. The post ride meal and festivities were scrumptious. I am already looking forward to next year.

So there you have it. A phenomenal event that lived up to the hype. And what about my "wine and cheese" training plan? Well, while the cramps did detract from the ride for a short time I'll gladly trade 2 weeks in France for a couple hours of painful riding any day. In the end, I think I still came out ahead.

Ciao!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mont Ventoux - Encore!

Well, Sherry and I are back from our wonderful 2-week vacation in France where I once again got the opportunity to climb the fabled Mont Ventoux. To be honest, I tried to post this blog while we were still in France but have you ever tried to type on a European keyboard? After a frustrating few minutes at a cyber cafe I decided to go to the real cafe across the street and drink wine instead.

I was blessed with the opportunity to climb Mont Venoux in May of 2007. While thrilled, I absolutely stressed over making it to the top. Here's why. I was climbing from the town of Bedoin (pictured above) because that is the route featured in the Tour de France. It is a 13.1 mile continuous climb the gains 5,200 feet in elevation. And while the average grade is 7.6%, there is a 5-mile stretch, between 3.7 and 8.7, that averages 9.6% while the final mile tops out at 10.4%. Plus the winds can be (and were) fierce. All in all I did fine and finished in around 2 and a half hours.

I wonder what this year would bring? Once again I was climbing from Bedoin. However, since my last climb I have train for the Terrible Two, Levi's Gran Fondo and I am now working with a coach. The difference should be interesting.

When we arrived on Saturday, we picked up the rental bike on the way to our house in Loumarin where we staying. On Sunday afternoon I went for a short 25 mile ride to get a feel for the bike. As I headed out down the narrow streets of a Provencal village I was almost giddy with delight. With all systems on the bike a go, I was ready for the Giant of Provence.

Monday morning had us leave bright and early for Bedoin. We arrived to discover it was their market day. So as I started out, Sherry went shopping. Her plan was to catch up with me 2 hours into the climb. It almost didn't work out right.

Once I hit the base of the climb I found my rhythm almost immediately and settled in for a great ride. There were a lot of cyclists on the road and I managed to pass a few while only being passed twice. It was really cool reading all the writing on the road from the Tour de France. If paint can used as an indicator then the Schleck brothers were the most popular riders in this year's peloton. About 8 miles in I passed the point where I started weaving last time. This year I was still cruising comfortably along in the saddle.

The wind at the top was strong but not nearly as bad as 2007. However it was very cold and I had to put the arm warmers back on for the final 4 miles. When Sherry caught with me 2 hours later she was shocked at where I was. At that point I was less then a mile from the summit, still looking strong and feeling great. My time this year - just over 2 hours (thanks Coach Tim). After a rocking descent, where I passed several cars and more cyclists, it was time for a post ride coffee and quiet reflection in the town cafe.

There was one really cool difference this year as well. About 3 miles from the top, I came around a turn to see a guy with very professional looking camera. I wondered who was lucky enough to have this guy recording their climb. Then he started taking pictures of me. I just thought he was practicing. But as I passed him he ran along beside me and handed me a business card and a special number. He in fact worked for a company, Griffe Photos, that photos crazy cyclists like me and puts the pictures on the web for purchase. This actually happened a second time from a different guy, Blablaprod Photoventoux, just before the summit. (The links for these companies will take you to my photos. You need the number B10956 for Griffe Photos.)

I simply cannot talk about climbing Mont Ventoux enough. Any cyclist who comes to Provence needs to devote some time to climb the Giant of Provence. I know I will.

Ciao!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A crazy 2 weeks (highlights)

Life in the Alderman household has been a little crazy to say the least. But it's the good kind of crazy. You know, the kind of crazy that always occurs before you leave for France for 18 glorious days. However, if your jobs are anything like ours, you know that the 2-weeks leading up to vacation can be hell.

Despite putting in massive hours at work, I have continued with some very strong training for the Gran Fondo. It is now completely sold out. This means on October 3rd, 3,500 of us will all clip in semi-simultaneously and hit the road. I cannot wait. Coach Tim's adjustments to my training plan have me feeling strong again. I feel like I am ready. I just need to maintain my fitness level while on vacation.

My plan? I rented a bike for 5-days and plan on cycling in Provence. This will be mostly easy rides of around 2-hours. The exception will the climb up Mont Ventoux. This is 13 mile, 5000+ gain climb that is feature from time to time in the Tour de France. I actually climbed it 2-years ago. It is very challenging but doable and will be the perfect final touch on my Gran Fondo preparations.

As if work and cycling didn't keep me busy enough, it was also our 23rd wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. It was on a Sunday but we ended up making a weekend out of it (just like Sherry's birthday weekend). Friday night was dinner with friends at their house. Saturday night was dinner with different friends at the Applewood Inn Restaurant where we discover an amazing new Napa Cabernet. On Sunday we just relaxed, had a wonderful Provencal-style lunch in the back yard (see photo) and then went to dinner.

Finally, because I have so much spare time (you need to find the sarcasm in that), I am launching a second blog - C'est la belle vie! (This is the good life). I will have help from Sherry as we post stories of our adventures in travel, wine, food and friends.

Now you're all caught up. I will try to post updates during our travels in France.

Until then . . .

Au revoir!

Friday, August 21, 2009

What a Week

Well, it looks like the great times from the weekend decided to spill over into the week. The cool thing about this week was it's impromtu-ness (is that a word?). I was expecting it to be much more work then play and definitely more stress then fun. Here are some of the highlights.

Monday - Mondays are Mondays and I can usually count on 2 things, work and stress. Around 3:30 my cell phone starts to vibrate but I can't answer it because I am in a meeting. Finally, around 5:30 I check the voicemail and get the most pleasant surprise. Our neighbors want to have us for dinner to celebrate Sherry's birthday. So instead of grilled burgers, ice tea and sitcom reruns, it's bolognese, great wine and talking with friends.

Tuesday - Back to the grind at work. However I managed to leave early so it's out for a ride. Few things help me unwind faster after a long day then rolling along on my bike. I was supposed to do speed intervals but I determined very quickly that wasn't going to happen. Instead, I decided to do endurance intervals. That didn't happen either. Ultimately, I simply decided enjoy being on the bike.

As I ride towards Oakmont I see my friend, Julie, riding towards me with 2 women I didn't know. Turns out she didn't know them either. She started riding with her tri-group, got dropped, made a wrong turn and got lost in the maze that is Oakmont. The 2 women she was riding with were helping her get back to her car.

I invite her to join me and the original ride of speed intervals is now a leisurely ride with a friend. We were riding and chatting and having a great time until we found her tri-group who were fixing a flat tire. They all started talking immediately about what happened while I circle near by feeling like a creepy old man in a trench coat hanging out by the girls locker room. I finally realized she was riding back with them so off I go to finish my ride. In the end, it was another great evening.

Wednesday - Work, work, work! Stress, stress, stress! I get home to discover that Sherry has skipped Jazzercise. She has also made a apricot tart. Since neither of us want to cook dinner it's off to Riviera. We had a great dinner with lots of cycling talk and even more flirtation from Gianluca. We decline dessert because of the apricot tart back home. Gianluca starts going on and on about how much he loves apricots. So we head back home and, after taste testing the tart, we take a couple of slices back to him. His face was one of pure joy and the highlight of another great night.

Thursday - Meeting, meeting, meeting! Stress, stress, stress! I ended Thursday with another bike ride. This time I was much more serious and headed to Fountaingrove for hill repeats. So 22 miles, and 1600 feet, later I was back home and stress free. After another "we don't feel like cooking conversation" it was time for pizza and relaxation.

So there you have it. It has been a great week. What does today have in store? It's Friday so it doesn't really matter. I just need to get through the day because tomorrow 10 or so of us are riding King Ridge to prepare for the Gran Fondo. What a perfect way to end a great week.

Ciao!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Just a hint of cycling

Well, it's been another 2 weeks since my last blog. I think it's because I have only been writing about cycling and to be honest it's getting a little blah. I mean hell, even I think one ride report is starting to sound like all the others. That means it's time to shake things up a bit and this weekend's mini-vacation provided the perfect opportunity.

Don't get me wrong. I am still training hard for the Gran Fondo, which is now completely sold out. That has meant more hill repeats and power intervals. However, I am starting to feel a little fatigued so Coach Tim and I are tweaking the training just a bit. I have also done some great rides like yesterday's Tour of Napa. But let's talk about something else shall we?

Friday was Sherry's birthday. I won't tell you how old she is for fear of never having french toast again. I will say that we have both reached that point in our lives where our 30's are getting harder and harder to remember and we simply don't care. We are too busy having fun and living life to be concerned with physical age.

The original plan was lunch at Etoile. This is a phenomenal restaurant at the Domain Chandon winery in Yontville. So with reservations for 1:30 on Saturday the birthday lunch is all set. But wait! A couple weeks before her birthday Sherry decided she wanted to have dinner on Friday as well. So how did she convince me to provide a birthday dinner and lunch. It was really quite easy. She suggested Riviera Ristorante, my favorite, for Friday night's dinner.

Friday night's dinner was excellent. Giampaolo and Luca were up to their usual magic of food and friendship. Everyone stopped by the table to offer Sherry birthday wishes. Giampaolo sat with us for a while and we all discussed cycling (is Levi really signing with Team RadioShack?). It was the perfect way to start what was fast becoming a birthday weekend.

Saturday was shaping up to be the most perfect day for a leisurely lunch on the patio of Etoile. We arrived and were shown to our table, which had a great view of the grounds and gardens. The food was amazing and it may now be our favorite restaurant in Napa. Domain Chandon is known for their sparkling wine, so we paired each course with their recommendation. I'll skip the details and just say that 2 and a hours, and a lot of birthday wishes, later we were taking a lovely drive through the vineyards on the way home.

On Sunday, I rode the Tour of Napa. It was a great day with great friends. The ride went as planned and I made sure not to flog myself since Sherry and I had decided to go to a movie that night. I was afraid that riding too hard would lead to either sleeping or cramping during the movie and neither of those scenarios ended well for me.

After the Tour of Napa ride, and a nice long nap, we head to movie. I am not a big movie guy and Sherry is not a fan of crowds so we rarely go to the movies but everyone we know said we had to see Julie & Julia because of our love of food and Paris. It was entertaining (I could have waited for the DVD) and we had a nice time. Of course the highlight was smuggling in gourmet chocolates for our snacking pleasure.

All in all it was a nice and relaxing weekend. Of course, now it's Monday, the birthday weekend is complete and it's back to the daily grind. That's okay. I will head into the office this morning knowing that in less then 30 days we will be on a plane for France. That's when the real vacation will begin.

Ciao!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

It's been a hard week

As I was looking at Coach Tim's training calendar for last week, I knew well in advance I was in for sore legs. I was scheduled for hill intervals on Tuesday and power intervals on Thursday. Throw in the grand finale of the climb up Sweetwater on Saturday and you may understand why I chose to sleep in this morning.

Let's start with the hill work on Tuedsay.

Normally, my hill work takes the form of hill repeats. Tim will even suggest which hills to ride. This week was different. This week my goal was to simply go ride hills. Lots of them. After work, I hop on the bike and head to Fountain Grove which is nothing but hills. You are either going up or down. Plus, the selection of hills offers varying lengths and grades. Here are some examples of what I climbed on Tuesday.
  • Ridgeview Drive - .75 miles/maximum grade = 19%
  • Parker Hill Road - 1.75 miles/maximum grade = 15%
  • Cross Creek Road - 1.5 miles/maximum grade = 11%
Of course their were numerous small climbs in between, all with double digit gradients. The end result was a 17-mile ride with 1725 feet of climbing and just as much descending. This means I spent most of ride either going 7 or 40 mph.

Thursday found me riding power intervals in Oakmont in strong winds. Nothing like a little added resistance to make a workout pay off. As workouts go, I find power intervals a little boring but man do they work. I was totally flogged when I finished and I was also feeling the effects of Tuedsya's hill work. Now only one question remains. With all of this hill and power work, will I be stronger for Sweetwater on Saturday?

On Saturday, we were riding a most unusual ride. You see, many of our friends were participating in the Vineman Triathalon in either Barb's Race or the Aquabike. The plan was to ride to Guerneville to watch the swim, race them to Chalk Hill and watch the climb and then race them again to the bike-run transition.

We get a late start and have to hammer the pace from Windsor to Guerneville but still arrived in time to wish Carmen luck. After her swim, we cheered her away from T1 as she heads out on the bike course. In about 45 miles she will reach Chalk Hill along the rolling hills of the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. We are taking a more direct route up and over Sweetwater.

I have written about Sweetwater in the past. It is the first hill I had to walk up as my heart rate hit 196. On Saturday, I rode with one of our sprinters, hill climbing is definitely not her specialty, and managed the entire climb in the middle ring with a max heart rate or 168. Things are definitely improving.

The rest of the ride went as planned. We got to Chalk Hill just in time to cheer Carmen over the top. Then we put together a very fast train and beat her to the transition to cheer her on again.

In the end, all of my cylcing friends had great days yesterday in their events. As I think about it, so did I.

So what was my reward for a strong week of training? You guess it. Sleeping in, relaxing and french toast! What a great way to spend a Sunday.

Ciao!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Riding with Mike

My brother-in-law, Mike, is visiting town for the week and I got the chance to ride with him on Saturday and again on Sunday. We only get to see each about twice a year and we can’t always count on cycling to be on the agenda. So besides being family, you might be wondering what is so special about riding with Mike. Quite simply, he was the catalyst for my passion for cycling.

In the fall of 2002, while drinking beer and wine at a family gathering, Mike asked if I wanted to compete in the half Vineman with him. Since I didn’t even know what that was he was kind enough to explain that it was a half Ironman distance triathlon where you swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and then finish with a 13.1 mile run. It seemed that he and Robert, my other brother-in-law, were both participating and suggested I join in the fun.

Now you need to understand something before I go on. I really, really dislike swimming. I did some running and a little, very little, mountain biking. As Mike was talking and going over the distances involved my mind was screaming “Hell no!” but my response came out “let’s do it”.

Over the next year I trained with Mike a lot (Robert bailed about 30 minutes after he said yes). Actually, that’s not really true in the technical sense. In reality, I followed Mike a lot because the dude is a frigging animal. While I was stomping out 8-minute miles, he’s popping in at 6:15. On our 50-mile rides, he could easily be home and showered before I finish. His time in his first half Ironman was just over 5 hours. However, that was fine with me though since he is 11 years younger.

The cool thing was I really got a chance to know Mike during this training. Chatting during rides, post-ride coffees, and while driving to race starts allowed us to forge a deeper relationship that we still have today. And that’s why I was so excited about Saturday’s ride.

Mike and head out and I am interested to see how it goes. I mean after all, I am a much stronger rider today then during our old training days right? As we head out I purposely pick routes that allow us to chat. And chat we did. In the end it we managed a delightful 35-mile ride that offered no real challenges.

Then came Sunday. Mike and his family live in Phoenix and our group decided to take him on the anti-Phoenix ride. That meant King Ridge. Just over 50 miles of monster climbs, redwoods, vineyards and the Pacific Ocean. Of course, Mike has a tri-bike. No triple, no compact crank, and no 27 on the back. So what happens when we hit the big climbs? He simply floats up close to 5000 feet of climbing likes he’s riding a beach cruiser to the local coffee shop on a lazy Sunday morning. (I, on the other hand, completely cracked but I’ll tell that story later in the week.)

Mike and the family head home on Friday. We are hoping for one more ride on Wednesday but we may have to settle for dinner instead. Still, the next time he heads into town, or I head to Phoenix, you can bet the bike will be in tow and we will pick up just where we left off.

Ciao!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Growing Stronger in the Hills

There are 3 climbs in Sonoma County that I have not finished. And by finish, I mean making it up and over the summit without stopping. They are all hard, steep and famous here in our local cycling community. I am talking about Pine Flat, St Helena Rd, and Sweetwater. Of these 3 summits, Sweetwater is the only climb I have actually tried, and not succeeded, on 2 occasions.

I will always remember my first attempt up Sweetwater. I had been on vacation for 2 weeks and off the bike for 3. At this point I had only been riding for about a year or so. Tim and I head out and he asked me how I was feeling. I was actually feeling pretty good considering my long break. The next thing I know we are making the turn to climb Sweetwater.

I immediately went from feeling pretty good to being under pressure. We were riding up the strong side and I started to struggle quickly. Still, I kept climbing. As I climbed, I watched my heart rate climb just as fast. Finally, when my heart rate hit 196 I simply stepped off the bike and took a break about 200 yards from the top. My second attempt also saw me crack just before the summit.

This Saturday I set out to change that. Jeff put together a ride over Sweetwater and I was going for it. Three of us head out at a fairly brisk pace and in no time we make the left-hand turn onto the climb. The climb itself is not that long. It's the steepness in the final mile that is deadly. You start out climbing and then descend down to a gorgeous creek and follow that into a Redwood forest. Then you really climb. The final ascent is just over 1-mile with a gradient that stays well over 10%, probably averages 15%, and my cyclometer measured a maximum grade of 20%.

On Saturday I was climbing strong and knew my chances of reaching the summit, sans stopping, were very good. The lead rider came back to us and I stopped as I reached the top to pull up my arm warmers for the descent. We descend for about 100 yards and start climbing again. What the hell? We had actually stopped at a false summit. No worries. I settle back into to my climbing mode and made it to the top.

As I finished the ride, I was thinking about the climb and realising that technically I still had not reached the top without stopping. That's okay. I'll make sure I don't stop until the real summit when I climb Sweetwater again on Sunday.

That's right! I was trying the exact same route with a different group on Sunday. On Sunday I was also climbing well, although I was feeling Saturday's efforts, and was able to finish the climb non-stop. After the climb, I decided this was a gut check ride and continued to push myself very hard. In the end, as I was coasting back to the coffee shop, I was feeling more cracked then I have for a very long time.

For me, there are few things that tell me how much better I am riding these days then re-climbing hills where I have previously struggled. So you can imagine how I felt about climbing Sweetwater not once, but twice in the same weekend.

Watch out Pine Flat! You could be next.

Ciao!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Riding with Mr. FJ

This Saturday saw another opportunity for a special ride. The plan was to get a very early start from the town of Sonoma and then hang around with the families to watch the 4th of July Parade. So Tim and I headed out to Sonoma at 5:45 where we met about 10 others. It was our largest group ride in FJ (Fitness Journal) kits this year.

Right at the appointed time we roll out and head for Cavedale, which is another famous local climb. We all climb at our own pace and regroup at the top. The descent is very fast and technical and on Saturday it was wet with fog. So we take it easy and head into Napa. The only issue at this point is we are a little behind schedule.

The climb and subsequent pace lines cracked Chris a bit. He has been very busy and doesn't have the base miles the rest of us do. So we let the rest of the group go while Tim and I rode in with Chris. We rode along at a leisurely pace and talked about everything. If you were watching us you would think it was just an ordinary ride. But it wasn't. This would be our last ride with Chris for a very long time. You see, Chris and his family are moving back home to New Hampshire.

Chris is one of those guys that when you meet him you immediately like him. You also wish you could have met him much sooner. In the few short years I've known Chris we have had some amazing adventures and I fully expect to have many, many more.

One of the first times I rode with Chris we were climbing Spring Mountain Road. As some of us were chatting, we hear this screeching voice behind us singing Roxanne. This became one of Chris's trademarks. Then there was the ride at Union Lake Reservoir where we quit counting how many flats Chris had that day. By far the greatest adventure was our road trip to Colorado in the FJ Mobile which is a fully wrapped RV.

When not riding, Chris spent many hours in the FJ Mobile sagging for us on long rides. He put together a fully supported ride for the local FJ'ers to ride the entire Tour of California stage from Sausalito to Santa Rosa last year. In addition to supporting the FJ crew, Chris volunteered his time and the FJ Mobile at many local events as well. The New Hampshire cycling community does not know how lucky it is to have him arriving.

Chris is also very creative and you never know when your face will show up Photoshopped into some crazy photo. A couple of years ago he created these magazine covers for us, which were just frigging awesome. The captions on the cover were all customized for each of us and based on conversations Chris had with us over the year.

It has been a long time since a good friend has moved away. While I am very excited for the new opportunities that await Chris in NH, I am saddened to see him leave. However, in today's world of e-mail and Facebook, it easier then ever to stay in touch and I am confident that Chris and I will do just that. In fact, I am already looking forward to riding the covered bridges of NH.

I wish Chris and his family the best of luck on their cross-country move. He may be 3,000 miles away physically but I will think of him every time I slip on my FJ kit and hit the road.

Ciao!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fog or trainer or wind oh my!

Currently, I am doing interval training on Tuesdays and Thursdays as Coach Tim helps get me ready for Levi Leipheimer's Gran Fondo. These intervals usually consist of speed workouts, hill repeats or power intervals. Occasionally, I get to ride my time trial route and even less frequently he will throw in a mid-week recovery ride. This means that on almost every Tuesday and Thursday ride I have a decision to make. Am I going to deal with fog, the wind, or the monotony of the trainer.

My "normal" work hours are supposed to be 9 - 6 although it is frequently more like 7 -6. Plus, Coach Tim's workouts are very intense but only last 60 -70 minutes. This means I can ride the road, either before or after work, thanks to the long days of summer. So where does the decision come into play? As it happens, Northern California has a very predictable weather pattern. Every night, the marine layer rolls in and every afternoon the winds kick up from the coast due to heat generated in the Central Valley.

Thus my dilemma. If I ride before work I have to deal with fog. Riding after work means dealing with the wind. And riding the trainer means an hour of enjoying the four walls of my garage. In order to make a proper decision, let's take this opportunity to explore each option starting with the trainer.

I don't like working out indoors! I never have and doubt I ever will. My previous job had me traveling 2-3 weeks a month so I did my share of workouts in hotel gyms and health clubs. At health clubs, I always seemed to be lucky enough to be sandwiched between a woman who apparently bathed in Calvin Klein's Obsession and the guy who had asparagus with a garlic curry sauce for dinner last night. No thanks! I tolerate indoor workouts in the winter when there really isn't another option.

I have discussed the fog in a previous blog - Fog!!! (enough said) - so I will just provide a quick recap. The marine layer can range anywhere from a thin layer of clouds that is gone 30-minutes after the sun comes up to a very thick layer of misty clouds that require you to use your windshield wipers and hangs around all day. Bottom line, fog makes me feel cold and miserable.

That leaves the wind. I am not talking about the kind of light summer breeze that makes you want to sit on the porch sipping mint juleps. I'm talking lane-changing, bitch-slapping, make you cry for mama wind. The wind speed normally averages between 10 and 15 mph and can regularly gusts up to 20 mph. Nothing else makes me feel like I am working so hard to go so slow as the wind.

Sorry, but I need to interrupt here with a rant about tailwinds. Where the hell are they? How is it that I can go in a complete square and not have a single tailwind? I mean, logic would dictate that if I take 4 consecutive 90 degree turns that one leg should be with the wind.

Alright, I feel better now.

There you have it. My daily decision to deal with fog, the trainer or the wind. I can tell that currently the wind is winning.

Ciao!

Monday, June 29, 2009

A serious (and not so serious) ride

Saturday was another unique day for me. There were 8 of us heading out to climb Rockpile. This is a long hard climb and I would usually be quite excited. But there I was early Saturday morning strongly contemplating staying in bed and skipping the ride all together. And that just doesn't sound like me.

My issue was not the early start time of pre-ride coffee at 6:00 a.m. and rolling by 6:30. I like early starts. Plus, it was going to be in the mid to upper 90's and Rockpile is an exposed climbed most of the way up. No, my issue was that I just didn't feel like being around people or riding my bike. That's almost unheard of for me. Most people who know me would call me the poster boy for extroverts and if you read this blog regularly you know how I feel about riding. But every now and then I just want to be alone and this was shaping up to be one of those days.

Eventually, I decide to suck it up and go. I skipped the pre-ride coffee, which was at Starbucks so that doesn't really count (they were the only folks open at 6:00 in Windsor). I get ready to roll by myself and then wait for the ride to start. I start looking forward to the ride because if anyone can help me snap out of this funk it would be this group. They are great people that I enjoy hanging with both on and off the bike.

Finally we're off. I am enjoying the chit chat but not participating very much so I take the first pull. As we roll along, I begin to let the adventure of cycling take over. We are riding through vineyards on a gorgeous morning and I feel myself starting to come around. By the time we hit the climb I was my normal chatty self. However, I was still thinking more about Sherry's french toast then the ride.

As we start the climb, I decide I need a focus. So I make the decision to try and stay in the middle ring to the top. Now, let me give you a few stats. Rockpile is a 12 climb that gains nearly 2500 feet with double-digit pitches in some places. I have never even contemplated staying in the middle ring. Today, it was just what the doctor ordered. I focused on using every ounce of energy wisely to get myself to the top and it worked.

We hammered back down the descent, which actually has 800 feet of climbing, and headed home. Somewhere along the way I finally lost the battle, and all motivation to ride, so I simply fell back from the group. David fell back with me and we were both feeling like we just wanted the ride to end. Finally, we reach the car and once I was off the bike my spirits improved and I had a great time at our post-ride coffee chat.

Sunday, Pat and I went out to spin the legs for a couple of hours. Surprisingly, I felt great! We both wanted something easy and fun so we decided to try and drink more ounces of coffee then we rode in miles. We met at Bad Ass coffee and headed north while avoiding every road that had even the smallest rise. In Healdsburg, we had coffee at Flying Goat. We then rode the 7 grueling miles to have coffee at Cafe Noto in Windsor. Pat was posting each coffee stop on his Facebook page as another summit. It was the first time my maximum heartrate was caused by a double espresso and not the effort of riding. It was a blast!

So there it is. A very challenging ride both physically and mentally followed by a fun little coffee run disguised as a ride. The issue of not wanting to be around people - gone! The issue of not wanting to ride - gone! And what was my reward for riding my way through this self-induced funk? You got it. French toast!

Ciao!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cycling down memory lane

This Saturday was a fairly nostalgic one for me from a cycling perspective. So much so that it inspired me to ride hard during our weekly ride as well as finally getting my butt in gear to post a new blog. Hopefully, this new found inspiration will last and I will start writing a little more frequently then every other week.

This was the longest Saturday of the year in terms of daylight and that can only mean one thing in the Sonoma County cycling world. It was time for the Terrible Two. This is a 200 mile ride with 16,000 feet of climbing. The winner finishes in just over 11 hours while most folks finish in the 14 - 16 hour time frame. The ride comes within 100 yards of our house, so Sherry and I went to the corner Saturday at 5:45 am to watch the race go by. And that's where the nostalgia began.

Last year I attempted this ride and was forced to resign at the 110 mile mark. The reason? Extreme heat! Last year was arguably the hottest Terrible Two on record with the predicted high temperature reaching 108. As the riders came into view, I was remembering my suffering from last year. I remembered that by the time I reached the lunch stop, where I missed the time cut and called it a day, I had already been riding in triple digit heat for over 3 hours. The projected high for this Saturday's ride - 78. I was grateful this year's cyclists would have a better chance of completing such an epic ride.

After the peloton rode by to our early morning shouts of encouragement, we went back to the house. I had some time to kill before my ride so we enjoyed our coffee while also enjoying the little slice of heaven that is our backyard. My trip down memory continued while I sipped coffee, enjoyed the view, and remembered why I live in Sonoma county. Finally, it was time to quit thinking about cycling and actually go ride.

I picked up Sarah and headed to Windsor to ride with people from our Velo group and a few of Sarah's friends from Berkeley. They were all up to ride the Vineman Triathlon course where they would be competing in a few weeks. As we began to ride I was remembering it was the Vineman that started by "career" as a cyclist. It was during my triathlon training that I discovered the joy of cycling. And while my triathlon days are long gone, it's hard for me to imagine a weekend that I don't ride.

I was also remembering my very first ride in training for the Vineman. It was with my brother-in-law Mike. We left from his house in Windsor and rode almost the exact same route that we did on Saturday. So there I am, my first ride on my new road bike, going almost 50 miles and climbing the infamous Chalk Hill. I remember getting into the absolute lowest gear I had (a 32x25) and still barely making it over the top. I almost had to call Sherry because I didn't think I had the leg strength to drive home. This Saturday, after 45 miles of attacking and taking huge pulls on the front, I went over Chalk Hill in the big ring (I was pushing a 52x21) for the first time. There's nothing like reclimbing that first hill to help you see how far you've come.

I really enjoy days like last Saturday. They remind me of where I came from, where I am today, and provide sneak peaks of what the future may hold. I am certain the future will continue to provide ample opportunities for cycling adventures and I look forward to sharing them with you.

Until then . . .

Ciao!

P.S. I would like to add more pictures to my blogs but everytime I upload a photo it absolutely jacks up the formatting. If any of you fellow bloggers have tips on how to prevent this I would love to hear about them. Thanks.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cycling in Hawaii (sort of)

Sherry and I both took this week off for a little "stacation" (basically, a vacation spent at home). My only real plan was to ride. A lot. However, mother nature seemed to have other plans as an unusual series of late rain moved into California. So as I sat inside on June 4th watching it rain out yet another day of riding I had a thought. I could be on the bike in my garage enjoying the beautiful sites of Hawaii.

A few months ago, I received a comment on my blog inviting me to review a new type of indoor trainer DVD from Global Ride Productions. In essence, they would send me their 3-DVD set of virtual cycling in Hawaii if I would be willing to write a review. So I went to their website and was very intrigued by this introduction.

"Global Ride's Virtual Cycling DVDs give indoor cyclists a unique first-person riding experience. Each DVD was carefully created by road cyclists to provide the best possible training for indoor cyclists, outdoor cyclists and group Spinning® classes. Upbeat music, multiple selectable coaching tracks and high-quality video shot from the rider's perspective take you on a global journey unlike any other cycling / Spinning® DVD on the market."

This really did sound interesting, so I agreed to check them out. A few days later the 3-DVD set Hawaii Rides arrived and I was ready to go.

Before I begin my review, I would like to set the stage. First of all, I would almost always prefer to be on the road and not the trainer. Although I understand, and enjoy, the benefits of trainer workouts, I would just rather be outside. I do have almost the entire collection of Chris Carmichael DVDs, which I use regularly. And I must admit that I have not seen any of the Spinervals® DVDs. With that said, on to the review.

Let me start off by saying I really enjoyed all 3 of the DVDs. They have a beauty and flexibility to them. And while I did not truly believe I was in Hawaii, I did enjoy the scenery and found myself getting "lost" in the moment. Now let's talk about what I particularly liked and what I would change.

What I liked:
  • The most important thing for me was that these DVDs psychologically engaged me in the ride. For instance, because the video is shot from the riders perspective you can see you are on a hill. At times when I wanted to ease back on the pace I found myself saying "You can make it to the top" and I would keep pushing. This is the exact kind of self-talk that would occur on the road.
  • The music was excellent! It all comes from real artists and doesn't have that canned studio sound you get with other workout DVDs.
  • I also enjoyed the coaching aspect. While there were significant differences between coaches, these differences added to the variety and did not distract from the quality of the workout.
  • The flexibility provided by these DVDs is also outstanding. You might be coached to hold a certain heart rate but it was up to me to determine if that heart rate would be 120 bpm or 160 bpm. Or, you can turn off the coaching and do your own thing while still enjoying the sites and music.
  • The video quality was excellent. I am not sure how they got it so still. I enjoyed watching the road from the rider's viewpoint. There was also video of a "fellow rider" so it felt like you were riding with someone.
What I would change:
  • I started with the DVD Maui Rollers. It starts with a series of still photographs and music but no other guidance. After about 2 minutes I realized I was supposed to be warming up. I think more instruction at the beginning would be beneficial.
  • I watched the DVDs with and without coaching, but always with music, and I sometimes had trouble hearing the coach over the music. I would to see them make the coaches voices a little stronger.
  • Each one of the DVDs has a bonus workout. For example, Maui Rollers has a yoga session, the Oceanside Ride has pilates, and the StrenDurance in Hawaii has strength training. I am wondering why each DVD can't offer all three.

In an effort to be thorough, I also completed a garage ride with Coach Tim where we completed 2 of the DVDs back-to-back. He was highly impressed and plans on recommending them to a few of his clients.

So what's the bottom line? I thought these DVDs were extraordinary and I would definitely buy them. If I am going to ride the trainer, I feel these give me the greatest flexibility in designing the workout of my choice.

I understand the next series will be on Italy. I can hardly wait.

Ciao!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Finally, King Ridge

Anyone who cycles has that one ride in their local area that is famous. The reasons for this regal status will vary but it is usually due to the challenge or the scenery. Sometimes you get lucky and find a ride that has both. In Sonoma County, that ride is King Ridge.

King Ridge was a local classic long before pros like Levi Leipheimer and Scott Nydum starting touting it as their favorite local ride. Levi is actually including King Ridge in his GranFondo. Whenever pro teams come to town, you can guarantee they will ride King Ridge at least once. It is also listed as one of the top ten rides by the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, which has a great write up about it on their website (you should really check it out).

Surprisingly, for whatever reason, this was the first time I was trying this legendary route. Before the ride I only knew 2 things about King Ridge. It was beautiful and challenging. As you can imagine, there is a lot of climbing. Of course, what else would you expect from a route with "Ridge" in its name.

So 10 of us head out on a foggy morning from Monte Rio. Of our group, 5 of us were riding it for the first time. I will skip the typical detailed ride report since you can read it on the SRCC site. I will just say this ride was magical. The long climbs, the technical descents, the scenery along the way, the views from the top, and the ride along the Pacific Coast, all combined for a spectacular day. You are not on this ride for long before you realize it very much deserves its legenday status


The day was made even better by my riding. You know how some days you're feeling it and on others you're not. So, how was I feeling as I climbed up to the ridge for the first time. In a word, strong. I rode within myself, stayed with the lead riders over the summits and just really enjoyed the challenge of the ride.

Perhaps the best way to convey how I was feeling is through this conversation that occurred on the second major climb of the day.
Friend - Hey! You have a triple.
Me - Yeah.
Friend - Have you been in it?
Me - No.
Friend - Strong climbing!

There it was. My whole experience of the day wrapped into one short conversation. I was feeling strong. In the end, it was 55 miles of riding and over 4500 feet of climbing on gradients the exceeded 15% at times. More importantly, I never did use the triple.

I will definitely ride this route again. Since a lot of us are riding in Levi's GranFondo, we plan on heading out to King Ridge at least 2 or 3 more times before October. And that's a training plan I can live with.

Ciao!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hill Repeats Hurt!!!

Yesterday, I had on off site meeting that lasted until 5:00. So instead of returning to work I decided to head out on a ride. I considered riding over to the Tuesday Night Crits. I don't race crits but they are fun to watch and I know a lot of the people racing. But I really wanted to ride so I headed over to the hills by my house and did hill repeats. Can I just say right now - ouch!

I have a new route for hill repeats that I scouted a couple of weeks ago. It is nothing crazy but it does have a steep pitch in the middle and again at the top. It's also short at less then a mile. So the effort is from top to bottom. You then get 1 mile of recovery before you hit it again. Since this is my first serious attempt at hill repeats this year I decide on 5 loops. How serious was I? I actually decided to use my stopwatch and time each climb.

Climb #1 - I started the watch and took off. I faded on the steep middle section but held on to the top. Since is the first time I have challenged this climb I have no idea what to expect. The result - 3:31. Now I have a baseline to work from.

Climb #2 - I started way to fast and blew up on the middle steep section. I had to take some time to recover and then push on to the top. The result - 3:41 (am I supposed to get slower?) and I am already feeling the efforts.

Climb #3 - I realized I am starting to fast so new goal. Find a steady state that I can hold to the end. So I start off slower but maintain a more constant pace. The result - 3:30. Now we are getting somewhere.

Climb #4 - I am dead this time around. I am serious thinking about coffee, or a beer, at this point but I keep pushing. However, this time I don't attack the climb. Instead, I decide to see what the time would be if I took it at a normal pace. The result - 4:24.

Climb #5 - I intend to take everything I have learned and kick ass on this climb. My goal was for it to be the fastest climb of the day. I was really hoping for 3:20, which was a tall order. So I hit the start with a slightly lifted pace and focus on holding that cadence to the top. Result - 3:24.

Finally, I am done although I actually picked a route back home that took me over one more climb. I soft-pedaled this one to the top, enjoyed the descent and headed home for dinner. I am flogged but in a good way and I feel fine today.

So why the new seriousness in my training? Well, I finally have a goal for this year. On October 3rd, I am riding Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo. Actually, most of my velo group is riding in this event. My goal is to simply ride strong.

This ride is going to be epic and awesome. If you have been looking for an excuse to make a cycling excursion into Sonoma County, this could be for you. I hope to see you there.

Ciao!