Monday, September 23, 2013

What a Difference a Cheeseburger Makes.

Those words were said by JeffJ as we uploaded calories of a greasy kind after a 65 mile road ride.  We had spent the day riding with a group of triathletes as they prepared for an upcoming Ironman event in Arizona.  It was an interesting day.

I had never met any of them before but we had an invite to the group through a friend of my wife.  I had pretty good feelings about the group dynamic and the route so off we went at a ridiculously early hour on a Saturday morning, pointing ourselves toward the promised cooler temps of the So Cal coastline.  JeffJ was a bit more concerned that he would be a pariah, seeing that he tends to ride in baggies and a visored, bass boat green MTB helmet.  A bit Freddish, but we are all mountain bikers at heart anyway.  Introducing himself as "Jeff, or you can call me Fred" did not register at all with the group and just resulted in nervous laughter and odd stares.  Exit, stage left for Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har.

So we were pilgrims in a strange land, this try-ath-a-leete deal.  And as the bikes were unloaded and clothing assembled, I was struck by the complexity of the bikes.  Oh my!  There were angles and wedges and bobbles and bangles and widgets and bottles and wings and bags all over those bikes.  They had handlebars that reached waaaay out in front so you could, I presume, steer with your elbows which makes some sense as I do not recall ever using my elbows much on a ride anyway, so they should do some work too.

I had an extra tube strapped to my bike.

I asked the group where the button was to transform the bikes into Optimus Prime.  No one laughed.  Serious folks, these tri people.  No Fred jokes, no Transformers jokes.  Got it.

Be careful what button you push or... get this.

Rolling out into the quiet of the morning coastal fog, we began at a nice, friendly pace.  This, I was told, was 'Zone 1' training.  Later we would get into Zone 2 and 3.  Hold on...what is a zone?  Is it like a zip code for cyclists?  I am not sure I have zones.  When I am riding the SS up some stupid long climb and my tongue sticks to the stem, what zone is that?  There is more to this tri stuff than meets the eye, and that is saying a lot as the bikes were just so complex looking, but still cool in an odd way.  I am thinking that tri-folks are the golfers of the cycling world, always looking for that new 'thing' that will give them the edge.

Riding alongside the leader, a very fit lady on a very carbon bike, I asked her if that bike was comfortable to ride as it looked pretty stiff, all those airfoil shapes.  She glanced at me with an odd look and then said, "it goes real fast in a straight line".  Then she clicked up a gear or two, got onto the tri-bars, and showed me how that worked.  Well, I guess so.  See ya!

Seriously, that was pretty cool.  She would just ride away from me with what looked to be barely any increased effort and I would have to up the wattage dial to just hang on.  I guess riding the cycling equivalent of a Cruise missile aerodynamics study has its advantages, even if comfiness is not one of them.  Zoom zoom.  I considered tossing the extra inner tube strapped to my seat stays to see if that would help but I think I was just entering zone 2 and I did not want to mess that up.  I might not ever get there again or if I do, they will not let me in.

So here we were, JeffJ and I, on our round tubed, old school road bikes, having a very nice ride at a very decent pace along with a very nice group of very well equipped people pedaling two wheeled airplanes.  At some point we split the group as most folks were heading out to get some required training work done that apparently we had not done enough of and then they had to run across the county or some such thing and we better not stop too long here or we will drop into Zone 1.65 and that could be fatal.  Whew!  Close call, that one.

What zone are YOU in?

And so when JeffJ, seated outside the pearly gates of In-And-Out, said that immortal statement of truth-ness..."What a difference a cheeseburger makes!", it struck me that this revelation born of beef patties and grilled onions on a toasted bun was about more than just a much needed celebration of un-holy calories.  No, it also was all about the day and the dynamic of the ride.  JeffJ and I were just riding with no agenda than to see some new roads and ride our bikes hard in the company of some new faces.  At least one other lady rider was out for fun as well, but all the others were there for a singular purpose - to be in Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, etc for the required time to get the required data to get the required result.

Now I respect that, even though it may not seem like it, because if you have a serious goal then you need a serious plan.  And a full Ironman is no joke.  I can throw a rock farther than I can swim.  Running?  No thanks.  So I do understand the world of a serious athlete and the dedication it takes to make it happen, especially if you are making a living at it.


If you are just Joe and Jill average and you do not own a bike without a PowerTap hub and deep dish carbon wheels guaranteed to slice .006 seconds off a 2 kilometer time trial, then something is wrong.  Because all the data downloads in the world cannot make up for missed opportunities like where a deer bounds alongside the road in a woodland echelon and you missed the sight, being so wrapped up in 'the zone'.

There are roads never taken that beckon a hard right turn just to see where they go.  Close the laptop and be your own Google Earth.  Pause long enough at a rest stop to rest.  Life is a mad rush at the least.

Zone zero is OK every so often.

And a cheeseburger, when it is all said and done, makes all the difference in the world.

Although I still wonder how you steer with your elbows.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Idaho Gravel: Part Three

The last oasis.
I could see the flags in the distance.  Pivotal flags, as they heralded the rest stop that was at the beginning and end of the lollipop 'loop' section that was the top of the 93 mile route.  I rolled in and asked what the cut off time was.  He looked at me and said, "You are it, but you are welcome to take the loop."

I had made the cut.  But did I care?  I considered my options.  I had been riding at a 10mph average pace what with my less than 'Type A' personality and pic taking, etc.  I felt OK at 35 miles and I knew what I had before me if I flipped now.  A lot of that return would be into the wind on a slight to more than slight grade.  The next 25 miles if I did the loop included another good climb and was an unknown otherwise.  It was supposed to be quite beautiful as far as scenery goes, but the smoke was kinda limiting that.  If I flipped now, I would be at 72 miles or so and that was still pretty far.  On the other hand, did I come here to ride 93 miles or turn away and accept less?

Oh my.

I decided to flip and make this the apex of the ride.  I relaxed a bit, ate some goodies and watched some of the fast folks come in and go out.  Rebecca was there, being the queen bee and talking to Levi Leipheimer.  They looked pretty fresh as they rode out chatting.

I have to confess I felt a bit alone now.  If I had been with someone I might have pressed on, but looking down that road into the last loop, it seemed a bit much.  That typically does not deter me as I have relished many long hours of alone time on a bike.  But in the back of my main was the limitations of my body.  I tend to leg cramps.  I rarely if ever just run out of gas, but leg cramps have always been my kryptonite.  I manage them better now with keeping fitness up and with good supplements, but walking up the last climb at 80 miles had little appeal.

Back I went, tail slightly tucked in but still resolved to it.  Then the road tilted in my favor and I roared out of the last checkpoint toward home.  Well, it felt like roaring until I was passed by two riders, one a lady-type, in a particularly rough section of washboard like I was tied down.  Wow.  The downhill had me feeling pretty good and I was seriously bummed about not taking the loop.  But later on, Ed the Tall would tell me that this 27 miles had the worst road conditions in the entire ride and was actually harder than the rest of the route.  I did not know that as I rode along, doubting my decision, but at around 50 miles, when the road turned up again, only a slight grade now, but into a headwind...well, I think I was wise to cut my losses.

As I rode this direction, the air, now in my face, also was clearing out some of the smoke and that was nice.  It was almost worth the extra effort it required, just for the cleaner air.  I tried to hop a freight train or two (pace lines) going by but they were just a gear above what I could manage and still feel good about the distance.  So, I sat up, pulled the reins in and let the other horses go.

My photo pal.  She and I were hopscotching along for a bit as we would take turns stopping for pics.  She was the only person I spoke to for hours.

I recognized the last climb of the day towards the first/last aid station and knew that I had a couple of miles of climbing, then the loooong downhill towards town.  I was feeling pretty tired now, but still could climb out of the saddle and put down some power, but not for any length of time.  I had some odd twinges about mid/low outside left calf that felt weird, but no other signs of leg issues.  Golden!

Over the crest, having tanked up with one last bottle and a couple of roasted/salted potatoes with rosemary, I dropped into the descent.   It was buuuUUumMMmPpPpppEEeeEee.  Washboard hell.

Holy smokes.  There were a few times that I nearly reached the physical limits of being able to grasp the hoods, brake, and steer all at once.  The drops were an answer to that, but that was a bigger strain on an already tired neck.  Did I actually climb this about 6 hours earlier?  I guess so.  Here is one of the places I would have loved to have a real mountain bike with some kind of suspension fork.  Any kind.  But I still was going pretty good and once on the pavement rollers back into town, I was surprised how strong I felt.  Must have been those Idaho potatoes.

I felt great rolling through the banner, tired, dirty, salty, crusty, but great.  Until I got off the bike and found that my left ankle was really, really mad at me.  It only hurt when I walked.  It hurt a lot.  Weird. that was just like the time on that desert bikepacking trip, only then it was the right ankle.  I thought it was from walking for 6 hours in bike shoes pushing my 45 pound beast through the sand.  I could pedal, but not walk without pain.

So here I was again, but no hiking to explain it.  Odd.  That would require some bio-forensics to see what is triggering that response.  I rode back to the car, changed, drove back to drop off the bike and waited for Ed the Tall while I enjoyed a root beer float.  Done and done.

But I left some things undone.  I would like to come back here and see this place under clearer skies.  I would like to see that unridden 27 miles of gravel.  Things left undone.

That evening, full of food, including some of the best grilled chicken I have ever had, and, after a shower in the swankiest YMCA I have ever seen, Ed and I talked about the day and what was next on the adventure calendar.  Tomorrow would be a long day's drive back to So Cal, away from Idaho and a long stretch of gravel road that calls to me still.  It is a friendly voice that calls, calm and soft, but there is a bit of a challenge underneath those soft tones.  A questioning lilt that turns up the corner of the mouth as it is spoken.   A twinkle in the eye, perhaps?    Part happy memory and part challenge, that is what I am hearing.  A mix of "thanks for being here" and "is that all you got, son?"

Things left undone are often like that.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Idaho Gravel: Part 2

Gentlemen, this is a gravel road.

It was with the rising of the Sunday morning sun that we could tell the winds had shifted, literally, and it was not in our favor.  There were some big fires burning in Idaho, one that threatened to erase Sun Valley/Ketchum before it was beaten back by some valiant efforts by firefighters.

But the smoke of the still burning but distant fires was now holding thick in the valleys where we would be riding all day.  It was not all that unpleasant to breath, but it sure would kill the otherwise stunning views that a place like this normally offers.

The camp stove brought us hot coffee, tea, oatmeal, and some home made egg/bread/spinach muffins topped with 'borrowed' green salsa packets from Taco Bell.  Number plates were pinned on, bottles were filled, packs packed.  Off we went.

Parking near the venue, we unloaded and rode over to the start, already crowded with the eager riders, onlookers, and associated support crews.  The local police lead us out of town at the starting bell and the first few miles out of town were pleasant enough;  paved and on a gradual grade towards the mountains.

The gradual part did not last long and soon we were grinding up a stutter bumped gravel road toward the sunrise.  I ran out of gears pretty quickly on the Crux and settled into a low RPM grunt along with the Fat Bikes, Tag-alongs, unicycles and Tandems pulling Burley trailers loaded with livestock.  I am and will always be a leisurely climber and I was not about to burn all the matches on the first climb of a long day.  Ed the Tall disappeared into the distance.  Fare thee well, brother.

I stopped to adjust layers of clothing, and pressed on toward the summit, now in view.  The first checkpoint went by in a flash as we let gravity do the work for us, and I let the Crux have it's head, passing all the fat bikes and more timid descenders.  Wheeeeeee!  That turned to a slight downhill grade for miles as the valley opened up.  As I feared, the smoke really was a buzz kill as it smudged the expansive views that must normally be a part of this route.  Oh well.

From here, the cross bike really paid off.  It was darn fast on the sections of road that were not too beat up from all the vehicle traffic, but a good deal of the time I was in search of the thin, smooth line.  Usually there was some part of the road that was not too washboarded so that was doable and the rough road surface was no match for the tires on the Crux.  You just had to believe and pedal.  It opened my eyes to what is possible on a burly road bike.  I might want one of these.

I passed the 50 mile route right turn and continued towards the 93 mile route.

Pedal, pedal.  I would grab my camera out of the chest mounted case, turn it on, and shoot a pic all while riding.  I managed to not toss my Sony NEX5 into the dust of Idaho and the ride continued.  Almost completely alone, I was seldom passed unless I stopped to take a pic.  All the fast folks were ahead and anyone behind me was about the same as I pace wise.  I stopped here and there for photos.  Yeah, I know, but I was in Idaho for crying out loud!  I may never get here again.  Pace be damned.

At about 32 miles, when the road was no longer smooth and easy, I spotted a lone cyclist approaching. That was Burke, the winner coming back on his way towards town.  He had ridden about 64 miles in the time I had ridden 32 miles.  Oh my.  Wonder what that is like, wearing that big red S underwear when riding?  Go superman!

I was nearing the 35 mile mark and the final checkpoint.  That would be a decision point for me.  Go big or?  I passed into the Copper Basin area and pondered my options.  I still had time to think as the dirt passed by, punctuated by passing vehicles and clouds of dust.  Just me, the Lone Ranger, and my thoughts.  Hi Ho Silver and away.

Next, it is decision time.  I wonder what Tonto would do?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Idaho Gravel: Part one.

The tent wall brushes my face as I roll over to find it still dark outside.  What time is it?  I wriggle an arm out of my down quilt and reach for my phone, the one with the alarm set for o-dark-thirty and find it to be deader than a doornail.  Nuts.  That requires a further search for my reading glasses and Petzl light so my watch can give me a clue.  06:00 AM.  In a tent.  In Idaho.  Ride day today.  How did I get here?

It began with an email invite to Rebecca's Private Idaho, a 93 mile gravel road event to be held in Ketchum, ID.  The idea intrigued me.  I had never been to Idaho.  Never ridden gravel.  And only once before had I come to the century mark off road.  I put it in my calendar and got back to day to day life, but I had a goal to get there in some state of readiness.

My summer was hardly a firestorm of riding success, as is typically the case.  I find So Cal summers to be pretty uninspiring for MTB riding.  It gets hot, dry, brown, dusty and hot.  Yuck.  Then the fires came though and burned a lot of the area I most like to ride.  Double yuck.  What to do?  I needed to get miles and hours in the legs, not just do hill efforts on the SS.  So I actually got out the old road bike and made some adjustments to get it worthy of some longer rides, clicked in, and pedaled for a while.  That, combined with the weekly MTB rides would have to do.  Would it be enough?  I was skeptical, but undaunted.  To Idaho we go.

I was lucky to have Ed the Tall with me for the folly in the Saw Tooth Mtns.  It would make the 16 hour drive palatable and give me a stalwart companion for the adventure.  Ed is a strong rider and fully capable of nearly a hundred miles off road with altitude tossed in and he was ready for a road trip.  Next stop, Ketchum.

Ed the Tall (middle) shows Rebecca that his last name has no vowels in it.  Always good for a laugh.

Salt Lake, Utah, kinda sucks.  I have driven through there twice now and both times it was hot, crowded traffic wise, and just did nothing to make me want to linger.  But leading up to that was a surprising showing across the Nevada desert of greenery.  Lots of it.  Big patches of grass and mud puddles lined the road, a mute but vibrant testimony to the heavy monsoonal rains that have been sweeping through the deserts and the tenacity of the flora here.  Nature is an opportunist and when it rains and in this case, pours, things just get all happy and make the best of it.  That led to the southern Utah area of St George and Cedar City, both parts of my favorite areas of Utah.  But Salt Lake?  No thanks.

We crossed into Idaho in the darkness and took a big gamble that there would be a campsite somewhere near Ketchum that we could base out of.  God was gracious and we found a killer site for two tents full of two tired persons and settled in right about midnight.  I really need to get a tent that does not require a refresher course in tent pole geometry every time I go camping.  Sleep found us and carried us away to the sounds of running water in the distance.

About 50' behind our tents.
The next day was all about getting to know Ketchum, eating pancakes cooked by a volunteer group in town, parade watching, shopping (don't go to Idaho without a sun hat),  picking up our race packets, and grabbing our bikes.  We never figured out the whole duck race thing but that was a great wagon.

Oh yeah.  the bikes.

I would have just run fast tires on my best hard tail 29er, but Specialized had a better idea.  They offered a test ride on some cyclocross scoots that were tailor made for this type of ride.  I normally do not risk taking something so unknown into the wilds but support would be generous and I did not expect and real surprises.  I had never ridden a cross bike before, so this would be new for me.  Can you ride a road bike in the dirt, even if it has sort of knobby tires?  Dunno.  I hedged my bet by bringing a saddle that I trusted that was attached to a smooooth riding ti seat post.  If the butt is happy, so is the rest of me, or close enough.

My Crux

Ed's Crux
And then, we set around the campfire, tossed out all kinds of thoughts about this and that, and then tucked in for a bit of nervous sleep.  And that is where I found a tent in the dark in Idaho, getting ready to get ready in the cold and dark of a smoky Sunday morning.  Ed was stirring in his tent too and we were on a course to adventure and quite possibly a good amount of suffering.

More to come...