Monday, August 30, 2010

Mountain biking, Roadie style

I do not ride mountain bikes anymore.  That’s because I am more of you what you would call a mountain bike crasher.  I simply cannot stay upright and off the ground.  Every significant cycling scar I have is from my feeble attempts at mountain biking.  Now, I know that the dirt rats see these scars as badges of honor but I do not.  So, when I say I am going mountain biking that only means one thing.  I am heading for the Sierra Mountains with the road bike.

Sherry and I have a friend with a cabin, near Pinecrest Lake, in the Stanislaus National Forest.  (This is on Hwy 108 about 30 miles west of Sonora.)  Every year a group of us head that way for a long weekend of eating, drinking, laughing, and relaxing.  For me, this weekend also means cycling.

I absolutely love cycling in the Sierra Mountains.  The long climbs, the gorgeous views, killer descents, gorgeous views, fairly smooth roads, and gorgeous views create magical rides.  Did I mention the gorgeous views?

After our 5 hour drive it was time to unpack and then hit the road on two wheels.  Since it was already 3:30 pm, I opted for a short loop I do each year that takes me up to the Dodge Ridge Ski Resort.  It was a beautiful sunny day and the temperature was hovering around 80 degrees.  Absolutely perfect “mountain biking” weather!

IMG_0344As I start to roll along, I can feel myself begin to relax immediately and then my mind began to wander.  As my mind wanders, especially while riding at 7 mph up some long climb, I always ask myself the same question, “How fast can bears and mountain lions run?”  I don’t know for sure but I am pretty sure it’s faster then 7 mph.  Still, on Friday’s ride there were no such sightings.  Only birds, butterflies, ground squirrels, and one snake who I damn near ran over.  There were also many, many beautiful lakes and streams.

The highlight of the ride was actually when I missed my turn.  As I kept climbing I started to realize that the road no longer looked familiar.  Fortunately, a Forest Service truck came my way and I was able to ask the rangers how to reach Dodge Ridge.  Sure enough, I had climbed about  a mile and a half  further then I needed to.  Oh well!  At least I got to hear one of the rangers say that they admired my tenacity.  I finally reached the resort, which was followed by an awesome descent most of the way back to the cabin.

Saturday’s weather was a different story.  It was overcast, a little windy, and very cold.  Still, I came up here to ride so off I went.  The plan was to ride Highway 108 up to Kennedy Meadows and back.  The only trouble is the start.  I roll from the cabin down a short hill (less then half a mile) and then begin climbing immediately.  It took me quite a while to find a rhythm and I actually considered cutting the ride short numerous times.

IMG_0341 Instead, I persevered and made it to my original goal.  There are three real reasons this was necessary.  First, I wanted to take this picture so it could explain why I do not go pass Kennedy Meadows.  Secondly, I needed a good double espresso to perk me up.  And finally, I really look forward to all of the looks I get as the campers and RV’ers look at me like I’m crazy. 

On the ride back home, which has just as much climbing, I started to feel the altitude and was unable to take deep breaths.  Of course, this meant not as much oxygen and I began to fatigue, quickly.  The last climb before I reached the cabin felt brutal but once again I persevered and made it back.  I was both exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.

I choose to skip riding on Sunday and instead we lazed around the cabin for a few hours before heading home.  As always, it was a most excellent adventure and I can’t wait until my next opportunity to go mountain biking.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hammer time

Saturday was our last Riviera ride of the year, supposedly (more on that later).  You may recall these rides started almost two years ago and were a big part of catapulting me deeper into the Sonoma County cycling community.  They are fun, social, and end with a great lunch at Riviera Restorante.  They are also hammerfests.

These rides always draw a decent crowd and Saturday was no exception.  In addition to my Team Revolution mates, there were riders from the Red Peloton and Team Colavita/Baci.  We had at least a handful of Cat 3 riders or higher in our mix.  Add to that a fairly flat course and the boys and girls can’t help themselves so up and up goes the pace.

untitled We all gather at West County Revolution and after announcements and a lunch count we are off.  The pace was a little brisker then normal straight out of the blocks so I knew we were in for a treat.  And by treat, I mean you would be wiped out if you tried to hold on for too long.

As we rolled along the bike path to Forestville, the B riders were already splintering pretty badly as some tried to keep up with our A group and some did their own thing.  In Forestville, I noticed just how strung out we were.  So I told Jon, our main team leader, that I would hang back and see how everyone was doing.  It was then we heard that a rider went into a ditch but everyone thought he was ok.

After a few more minutes Adam, a teammate and very strong rider, and I decided to ride back to see what was happening.  Long story short, one guy did fall and he was fine but threw a spoke and his back tire wasn’t true.  He was with a group of three others and just trying to make it through the day.  A few miles later, he and his friend decided to go into Windsor and get the tire fixed, which left me with three riding partners and I immediately knew I was in trouble.

It was a B ride leader’s worse nightmare.  I was now in a group with myself, a Team Colavita rider, a Red Peloton Rider, and Adam (I think the Colavita and Red Peloton guys are both Cat 3s).  As soon as we started rolling the Colavita rider went to the front and hammered the pace.  I was watching my cyclometer was we reached 24, 25, 26, and then 27 mph.  I was fourth in line and just barely hanging on.  Then we hit a small hill that they charged up at 20+ mph.  About half way up the climb I completely popped and watched them ride away.  However, I was pretty happy that I held on as long as I did.

At this point we also caught some of the slower B riders so I spent the next few miles leapfrogging from one group to the next and making sure everyone was doing ok.  At Hop Kiln Winery I picked up Miriam and we picked up the pace and managed a respectable 20+ average for the next 5 miles to our regroup.  There, the A group continued on and the B group headed for food.  We picked a casual route back and the ride became much more social as everyone had already put in big efforts.

Back at Riviera, the lunch was awesome as is always the case.  We ate, drank, laughed, and chatted with friends with just a touch of sadness knowing this was the last one of the year.  However, as I was leaving Steve (from WCR) said that Riviera wanted to host one more in October so we get to do this all again in a few months.

There is one last connection to the title from the day’s events. After lunch I posted on FB that after a great ride and lunch it was hammock time.  One of my cycling friends made a reference to hammer time.  That’s all it took.   Next thing you know I am performing in Oakland and have my Halloween costume all set.  I really do love this aspect of cycling. 

Hopefully, they can all join me on the October Riviera ride where I will do the best impression of hammer time that I can.  Until then, I better start practicing.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The ups and downs of cycling

Cycling is full of ups and downs. Of course, I mean this both figuratively and literally. If you cycle in the Wine Country then you are going to climb some hills. Or if you prefer, you can climb a mountain or two. Cycling also seems to generate emotional ups and downs. Last night’s Tuesday Night Hill Repeats with Coach Tim offered a snapshot of a few of the ups and downs offered by this great sport.

It all started on my ride out. As I was rolling down Montgomery Drive this Suburban lays on the horn and gives a WTF look as they drive past. I fight the urge to flip them off and keep rolling. At the next intersection my Suburban is stuck at the light. I roll up to his open window fully prepared to go on a rant that’s worthy of Mr. Dithers, Dr. Cox, and Dennis Miller all rolled into one. Instead, I politely ask what he thought I was doing wrong. He presented his side and I mine. He started with not liking me on the road because it slowed him down and moved to he did not want to hit me. I agreed that I did not want him to hit me either. As the light finally turned green, we parted ways with him telling me to have a nice day.  Not bad.  A little bit of emotional up and down in that one.

As I continue on, I am still a little miffed that I was honked at in the first place when I look down and notice I cruising much faster then normal. There’s nothing like a little riding angry to increase your average speed. Then I notice I am gaining on another bike. And not just any bike but a motorized bike. I am sorry to admit I felt pretty damn good as I caught, then dropped him without even raising my heart rate.

Finally, I reach the starting point.  As we cruise along, we are chatting away and enjoying the easy part of the ride. As we enter Oakmont, I noticed we were joined by another rider.  He asks me about our plans and since they are pretty much the same as his he decides to tag along.  As we wait for a final friend to finish getting ready I get a good look at the stranger among us.  Of course, as I look at him, he’s looking at me. “Lee?” he asks. “Mike?” I reply.  That’s right!  We’ve ridden together 2-3 times before.  I simply love this aspect of cycling.

Now we are really headed for the hills to some of the more literal up and down parts of cycling.  We start up Sugar Loaf, which is about a 1.5 mile climb. I hit the climb pretty hard and have a really good pace going.  However, about half way up my legs inform me that if I do not back off the pace they will cramp up so bad I will wish I was dead.  So, I listened and slowed down to ease my way to the top.  Initially I was disappointed but then I realized that I have climbed over 11,000 feet in my last five rides so it’s okay to be a little fatigued.

The next hill was Pythian and Coach Tim tells me to climb the entire 1.0 mile route out of the saddle.  So I get on his wheel and hang on.  We passed four other riders out doing hill repeats which made me feel pretty good even in my tired state.  Then I noticed I was slipping off Tim’s wheel.  So I accelerate and get back on.  Then I am off again.  Not by much, maybe half a bike length at the most.  So I accelerate again only to get slightly dropped again.  This continues all the way to the top.  I then asked him if he was intentionally staying just ahead of me and he simply smiles and says “That’s what makes me a good coach.”  (Of course, my thought is “Yeah, that or it makes you a complete ass!” I decided to go with good coach.)

With the Pythian climb done, we headed back home.

There you have it.  A great training ride that included both the literal and figurative ups and downs of cycling.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I am a cycleholic

Hello!  My name is Lee and I am a cycleholic.  It’s been less then 12 hours since my last bike ride.  This addiction to cycling started about eight years ago when I started training for my first triathlon and it has grown every year since then.

IMG_2503 I have a pair of socks that say I heart bike porn.   When I bought my new bike about 4 years ago, I spent hours salivating over various models.  I would only buy a brand that was ridden in the Tour de France.  I went to site after site drooling over the beauty of the bikes and discussed gearing rations like they were chest sizes.  I read Bicycle Magazine for the pictures.   I can’t say the word Pinarello without drifting into some cycling fantasy world in my mind.

Sherry is aware of this addiction and her response ranges from ignoring me to being a codependent.  Once, as we were driving, we went past a beautiful blond all kitted out and cruising along for her ride.  As we passed, I found myself staring.  After we passed, I noticed that Sherry noticed me staring and as she looked at me with a frown she simply said - “you were looking at her bike weren’t you?”  If she catches me humped over the laptop late at night she just assumes I looking at the newest bike models hitting the streets.

When I first starting riding, anything pair of bike shorts and jersey would do.  Then they had to be somewhat coordinated.  Now, I only ride in full kits.  This is easy for me since I own so many.  I currently own matching kits for Fitness Journal, ESP Fitness Training (Coach Tim’s company), Team Revolution, 53x11 Coffee and Mont Ventoux.  And there are about a dozen other kits I would love to have but I am too busy spending money on the bikes to buy any more.

I have 4 bikes and each serves a different purpose.  I have my road bike, the single speed, my old road bike that is mostly used on the trainer, and my mountain bike.  I “need” at least two more.  I need a true cross bike and a time trial bike.  Why?  Because that’s just the way a cycleholic thinks.  What if I get invited to a team time trial event.  I can’t show up with a road bike.  Not even one with clip on aero bars.  In our minds, you can never have too many bikes.

You would think that being out on the bike with friends would be enough of a fix but not for the cycleholic.  While I am riding along with friends I always make sure the conversation stays mostly on cycling.  Yes!  I have the strong need to talk about cycling while cycling.  When I am riding solo I can hear the words of Phil and Paul providing commentary about my ride.

I will get up at up at 3:30 am to watch the Tour de France.  You heard me!  I gladly get up in the wee hours of the morning to watch cycling as it is being taped on the DVR.  Why?  Once again, it’s what us cycleholics do.  Why wait until later in the morning to watch the taped version when you can sit in your dark TV room and watch it live.  Of course, I will watch it again later in the morning.  And then again that night before I go to bed early so I can get up at 3:30 the next day.

As my cycling addiction grew stronger I began to wonder if there is a program out there that might help people like me.  I finally decided ef-it!!!  I am proud of my cycleholic nature and wouldn’t want it any other way.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put on my socks and go say good morning to my bikes.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Speed drills with just a touch of weirdness

Last Tuesday, Coach Tim put together a speed interval workout in Oakmont.  This was going to be fun since we usually do hill repeats on Tuesdays so I was looking forward to the change.  I just needed to get out of work in time to make it. 

The plan was to make three loops around Oakmont with each loop being almost 5 miles.  We will practice speed intervals in a pace line for the first two laps and then have a little fun that would involve some chasing on the last lap.

As expected, I get out of work just a touch late and the rest of the team is already on the first lap.  So, I ride in the opposite direction until I catch them coming my way.  After a quick U-turn I am in the group and riding along.  They were basically done and just cruising to the start of the second lap and this gave me plenty of time to chat and say hi to everyone before things got serious.

As we start the second lap, Coach Tim is barking out orders.  “Hold the speed!”  “Don’t accelerate!”  “No more then thirty seconds!  “Get off the front!”  “Lee, get your head out of your ass and pay attention!”  (Okay, he didn’t really say that last one.) 

Now, as much as I love a serious pace line, pace lines with newbies make me nervous.  They don’t always react properly just like I didn’t know how to react when I first started riding pace lines.  It’s not about how long you’ve been riding.  Pace lines are a separate skill that needs practice.  So as we rolled along, my focus was 100% on the riders in front of me.

The third lap consisted of a chase.  I would start with the two newer riders and after a head start Coach Tim’s group would try and catch us.  Early on we drop one of our riders and as I am looking  to see if she is back on my wheel I hear a rubbing sound.  I look up and notice that I have drifted right while the lead rider drifted left and now my front tire is rubbing his back tire.  This is a very dangerous situation that could have put both of us on the ground while riding at 20mph.  Instead, neither of us panicked and we drifted back in the opposite direction and kept rolling.  However, it was a little weird since I didn’t we were nearly that close to each other.

Back at the starting point more weirdness ensued.  After waiting nearly a minute for Coach Tim’s team, which means we were not caught, a car came from behind and I decide to move a little further out of the road.  As I start to move, my back tire sticks in a crack in the road and I simply fall over still clipped to my pedals.  Really!  I have dead bugged before but that was just weird.

While Coach Tim takes some of the group to do hill repeats, another group of us head home.  As we approach the bike path from Oakmont to Channel Drive, the last rider in our group missed the pole in the middle that stops cars from using the path.  And by “misses the pole” I mean she doesn’t see it and plows right into it.  That could have been another serious accident but fortunately she was left with only a bruised quad and small cut on her leg.  What’s weird is that we have ridden this path hundreds of times so you would think this simply wouldn’t happen.

There you have it.  A great night of speed drills, a silly guy falling over on his bike, and a couple of situations that could have been much more serious.  In the end, it was a reminder of the need for constant focus and attention when riding and you cannot take any situation for granted.  Personally, that’s one lesson I do not want to learn the hard way.


Monday, August 2, 2010

So good it hurts

It seems like it’s been a while since I went out on a serious ride.  I’ve been on many rides and logged some decent miles but most of my rides lately have been more social in nature.  Don’t get me wrong, I love these rides.  For me, riding along and chatting with friends is one of cycling’s biggest rewards.  But every now and then you just feel the urge to kick it and that’s what happened on Saturday.

There were 3 factors that lead to Saturday’s awesome ride.   First, there’s the afore mentioned need to kick it up a notch (BTW – I didn’t realize this until the ride started).  Next, I created a route that went over the Marshall Wall, which is a challenging ride,  because one of my good friends had never done that climb.  And finally, I had to work all day Sunday, which meant no riding, so I felt justified in putting in a harder effort on Saturday.

We all met at the appointed time and headed out.  As we were rolling along I was waiting for the pace to pick up.  It wasn’t happening.  Instead we were cruising along chatting and taking it easy.  This is when I decided I needed something a little more serious.  So, I simply went to the front and lifted the pace ever so slightly until we were in a nice pace line and the chatting had stopped.  Once we reached that point,  everyone kind of knew what was happening and our serious ride was on.

We rolled along at our nice pace, pushing the little hills and rollers, until we reach our real destination as we make the left hand turn onto the Wall.  Although I had been on the front quite a bit, I was feeling very strong Saturday so I decided to push myself on the climb.  I also decided that meant pushing bigger gears so I stayed in the middle ring all the way to the top.  I was quite proud of myself for pushing a 42 x 25 gear.  At least that’s what I thought at the time but more on this later.

After the Wall, we had one more significant climb, where once again I held the middle ring, and then rollers all the way back.  The pace was still lifted and I finally found myself wearing out just a bit after my long pulls in front and pushing big gears on the climbs.  On the drive home I was already starting to feel the efforts of 60 miles and over 3,600 feet of climbing.  Once I got home I discovered just how tired I was as I struggled to find the energy to get some yard work completed.

When I rolled out of bed on Sunday morning I created the title for this blog because every muscle in my body seemed to be sore.  My back was the tightest but the legs weren’t far behind.  It’s has been quite a while since a ride did that to me and it felt really good in a sick kind of way.  As I spent most of the day working at our company picnic, I definitely felt the efforts from the previous day and by the time I got home I could only collapse in my favorite chair and wait for dinner.

What about the gearing issue?  Well, on Sunday prior to heading to the picnic, I was goofing around in the garage and I saw the box for my new cassette.  I thought it was a 12x27 but it turns out that I bought a 12x25.  This means I was pushing a 42x23 all the way up the Wall.  Somehow, this made me feel prouder and tireder (I so enjoy creating new words) at the same time.

So there you have it!  A fabulous ride with good friends at an elevated pace.  Add to that the beauty of Sonoma and Marin counties and the accomplishment of pushing the biggest gear ever over the Wall and you can see why it was worth every aching muscle.  The soreness will go away but the memory of this ride will last quite a while.