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.


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.


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.


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.