Sunday, November 21, 2010

On hiatus

Hello, you might be wondering what's become of me. 

A lot has happened to me in the weeks before and especially after the Death Ride.  My life has changed some, in many respects for the better.  Make that in most respects. 

Rest assured, Lee and I are fine. 

One offshoot of all this is that I'm just not all that into cycling right now.  I still toodle around a bit, but that's about it.  I read about the epic rides some friends & acquaintances go on and I think "eh, whatever".   Maybe it's just a phase, and I'll be raring to go again at some point.  We'll see.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Death Ride report

At long last, here's my report;  hope you're not in a hurry.  :D

Our group (about a dozen of us, including me and Coach Sarah) started out from Turtle Rock Park at o'Dark Stupid.   By which I mean 3:45 am.  I kid you not.

Despite the hideously early hour, I really enjoyed the ride through Markleeville before the sun came up. It was very peaceful and serene, and the miles flew by. Before I knew it we were making the turn to Monitor Pass.

Heading up Monitor I was still feeling good and had my sights on a five pass finish. I knew I wasn't going to be quick about it, but our last long team ride two weeks ago had given me a lot of confidence. That last long team ride included two -- count em, two! -- ascents of Mt Tam and a climb up the infamous Marshall Wall. I rode about 109 miles that day with nearly 11,000 feet of climbing.  Between that, our altitude camp over a few of the Death Ride passes the the weekend before that, and the excellent coaching and training rides throughout the season, I had a good feel for what I needed to do and how to deal with things when the going got rough, and I was borderline optimistic about my chances of making all five passes by 8 pm.

It was lovely to witness the sky lightening with the approaching dawn as we climbed up Monitor.  But somewhere along that first climb I realized I was losing energy and my legs were feeling like lead pipes. OK, I thought, I’ve got this covered, I’ll just keep up the hydration, nibble at the Ritz Bits & Wheat Thins in my bento box, take a swig or two of Hammer Gel, kick back a little, and I’ll feel better in a bit.

But I didn’t.  If anything, I felt more lethargic over time, and it felt like my bike weighed 50 pounds.  I watched the rest of my group turn into tiny specs up ahead of me.  I figured, eh, this is just a phase, I’ll settle in, and I’ll either catch up to them or I won’t, it was no big concern for me, I had tons of time.  One of our coaches, Onnie, was keeping an eye on me, and all was fine.

And then the headache started up. It was nowhere near as bad as the ones I experienced at Altitude Camp; this time around I had hydrated well throughout the week, both with water and electrolyte drinks, and I took an ibuprofen before we headed out.  I glanced down at my Garmin to check the elevation, and sure enough, it read around 7480 feet.  I had to laugh at that -- at altitude camp my headache had ramped up at around the 7500 ft mark.  I’m nothing if not consistent.  :D

I pulled over briefly to down another ibuprofen and to take a brief rest. That helped some and I continued on. The headache soon diminished -- it didn’t go away entirely, but it was manageable.  My energy was a whole ‘nother story, though.  Whenever I tried to pick up the pace just a little, my heart rate would soar.  I wasn’t wearing an HRM, but my chest was thumping pretty darn hard.  OK, just ease up a bit.  Trouble was, I was already climbing fairly slowly, so easing up meant crawling.

I finally reached Onnie who was waiting patiently for me.  I was staying pretty calm and I wasn’t worried about holding her up.  We finally reached the summit and I got my First Pass sticker.  That perked me up a lot, and I looked forward to the descent down the backside of Monitor Pass, which I’d been told is spectacular.

And that descent down the backside of Monitor did not disappoint!!  Since we had started out so early, not many people had reached the summit of Monitor just yet, so there weren’t all that many people on the descent.  My Descending Mojo was present and correct, and I had an absolute blast. The vistas opening up ahead of me were simply gorgeous.  Although dozens had passed me on the climb, I was able to pass some of them on the descent, which gave me a little ego boost.  Mind you, I didn’t take any risks -- there was a helicopter ambulance parked at the summit of Monitor which reminded me of where I’d been and where I never wanted to go again! -- but the road was for the most part fairly wide and straight and in good condition, the sight lines were good, and the idiot quotient was pretty low, so I had loads of fun.  And I tried not to dwell on the fact that, even though I was exceeding 35 mph on much of the descent, and got up over  42 in some places (heh, amateur to some), it seemed like it was taking a reeeaaaly long time to reach the bottom.  Ergh.

At the eastern base of Monitor I got my Second Pass sticker -- woo hoo! -- and I handed off my lights to Gerry, the husband of one of our teammates who had driven over from Nevada to be our drop off guy (thanks Gerry!), and dealt with necessities.

Our bunch regrouped and headed off for the return trip up the backside of Monitor. I hung in there for a bit, but soon I started to fall off again. Coach Sarah hung with me for quite a while, but we eventually got separated.  I slogged on.  I was reflecting a bit on some advice Sarah gave us at our pre-ride dinner the night before, the bit about the chicken and the pig, the chicken being “interested” and the pig being “committed” – ask Sarah for the gist.  Well, slogging up the backside of Monitor, I knew I had no choice but to Keep Calm and Carry On.  I was committed, all right --  I felt like a slab of bacon on a frying pan, which is pretty darn committed.   Not too remote of an analogy, even though it was still pretty early in the morning (well, early by my standards), it was already getting freakin’ hot on the climb.

You know you’re going excruciatingly slow and looking kind of pathetic when people passing you call out in really cheery, well-meaning tones: "You’re doing great!" and "Hang in there!" and "You’re almost there, lookin' good!".  I also got lot of very upbeat "Go Team!"s.   So many that I was beginning to wonder if people assumed I was a very recent leukemia/lymphoma patient, that’s how slow I was going (absolutely no offense intended to our honorees, many of whom can and do ride circles around me and many on our team!!).

After a while I realized that five passes were not in the cards that day, and four passes were also starting to look very iffy from a time standpoint.  I was staying upbeat, and occasionally chatting with people on the way up.  I had to stop a lot, if only for a minute or two, after which I felt better.  But even so I couldn’t get any momentum going, especially as the elevation passed  7000 feet again. This ride was starting to become Most Decidedly Not Fun.

Starting out that morning I had three big goals for the day:
* First and foremost, I wanted this day to be fun.  I wanted to be able to look back on this day fondly, with a smile, not a grimace, and I sure as heck didn’t want my love of cycling to diminish in any way from this experience.
* Second, I didn’t want to mess up anyone else’s chances to finish all five passes, if that’s what they wanted to do. Sarah had already reassured me a couple of weeks before that it didn’t matter to her one bit if she finished all five or not; she’d been there, done that, and had lots of 5-pass jerseys to show for it.  She convinced me that it meant more to her to see me do well and be happy with what I accomplished.  Is she cool or what??
* Third, and this may sound hokey, but what the heck: I wanted to honor the TNT jersey.  I was wearing our team’s event jersey, and I wanted to represent the team and the organization in a positive manner.

Crawling up the backside of Monitor, I had hoped that my energy would come back, but that simply wasn’t happening; if anything, I was getting more and more worn out.

My reaction to the altitude and the heat was, on that day anyways, beyond my control.  The brief rest stops and keeping up with the hydration and the food wasn’t working that day.  But what I could control was how I dealt with it. Sure, ending the day with only two stickers was kind of embarrassing, but it would be a lot more embarrassing to try to push myself more for one or two more stickers, and in the process wind up a sniveling cranky whiney heap at the side of the road. And be a burden to my other teammates. And I sure wouldn’t be a good reflection on my team or the TNT organization that way.

So as I approached the top of Monitor, I had pretty much decided to cut my losses, call it a day, and head back to Turtle Rock.

At the summit, there was Sarah patiently waiting for me.

We had a fun descent down the west (front) side of Monitor Pass.  By then it was a lot more crowded than the east side descent.  I stayed clear of trouble, but I saw a couple of near misses ahead of me that rattled me a bit.  Although I was very confident in my own descending, I couldn’t say the same for a lot of the people sharing the road with me at that point.  :p

When we reached the base of Monitor and the intersection (Ebbetts to the left, Markleeville & Turtle Rock to the right), Sarah talked me into giving the climb up Ebbetts a go, at least as far as the rest stop about a third of the way up at Scozza’s Cow Camp. I was feeling rested and exhilarated from the descent so I figured, heck, why not?

But as we were heading up the very shallow grade towards the campground where the lunch stop was located, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I was tired. So when we reached the lunch stop area, I said my goodbyes to Sarah and to Kurt, another team member who had come down with a cold early in the week and as a result was also having a bad day. Sarah knew better than to give me any grief (I told you, she’s great), but she did ask me to consider at least giving Ebbetts a try, pointing out that I had all day to do it.

I hung out at the lunch stop a bit, and I did feel a lot better. After a while I figured what the heck, it’s not like I had to rush it, so I set off up Ebbetts after all. Once again I went at my own leisurely pace, but since I had no time cuts to make, I relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Ebbetts Pass has some of the loveliest scenery on the entire ride. After a bit I saw Sarah and Kurt who passed by me heading back down – Sarah looked very surprised and happy to see me continuing on!

As I pulled in to Scozza’s, one of the volunteers was shouting out to riders that it was the last rest stop for seven miles before the top of Ebbetts.  Ugh, seven more miles to climb. I refilled my bottles and treated myself to a few Oreo cookies. Nowadays I only allow myself Oreos when I donate blood, but I figured I deserved them today. I headed off, thinking I’d go as far as the cattle grate or maybe the fake 7000 foot sign (which is actually at 6800 feet) and re-evaluate.

When I reached the cattle grate a couple of miles up the road, I looked ahead and saw the road kick up a lot.  Argh.  I also noticed that hardly anyone was descending at that point – the bulk of the riders were still up ahead, either reaching the top of Ebbetts, heading down the far side or climbing back up the far  side.  So if I turned around right then and there, I’d be ahead of the teeming masses and have the road nearly to myself. I pondered that for maybe another nanosecond, turned around, and set off back down the mountain.

And it was very very good. There were a few other riders descending with me but by and large they were fast uber-studly riders with good sense and excellent bike handling skills. And I held my own quite nicely.

I got back to the lunch stop where Sarah and Kurt were visiting with Lorri Lee Lown of Velogirls.  Sarah and Kurt were waiting for the rest of the team to reach the lunch stop to help pull them to Turtle Rock and points beyond, but I knew I wasn’t going to be much help, so after a fun lunch I said my goodbyes (again) and headed off for Turtle Rock.

As I approached the infamous Grassy Knoll at the edge of Markleeville, I heard someone calling my name – turns out a few team members (Leah, our team manager; Amy, a team member who had a crash a few weeks back and couldn’t participate in the ride; Ken, one of our SAG guys who also volunteered earlier that day up on Monitor), and a couple of teammates’ spouses had set up a cheering section across the road from the Knoll.  I stopped and joined the cheering section for a couple of hours – what a blast!

After most of the team passed by, I set off again for Turtle Rock and the finish of my own ride. There I met up with Lee (who, after dropping me off at 3:30 that morning, headed back to our hotel in Minden to catch a few zzz’s before heading back to Turtle Rock much later in the morning to hang out at the team tent and wait for us to roll in), and a few others holding down the fort.  Eventually, the rest of the team rolled in.  The heat & the altitude took its toll on a few who managed “only” four passes, while a good many of the team did all five.  I’m pretty sure I was the lowballer with only two completed passes, but that’s OK.

I ended up having ridden about 64 miles with around 7800 feet of climbing. I reached over 40 mph a few places on the Monitor descents, maxing out at a shade under 44 mph (some did closer to 50-55 or more; heh, I may be a confident descender, but not THAT confident!!). On the flip side, I averaged about 4 mph heading up the backside of Monitor, oy.

So there you have it.  I accomplished all three of my goals for the day:  I think I represented the team well,  I didn’t interfere with anyone else’s goals, and, most emphatically, I had a great time. Can’t ask for much more than that.  8^)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Won't be long now!

OMG the Death Ride is this weekend.

And, OMG, I am ready and I am psyched!

And so is DoughBoy -- here he is modeling his own purple Team jersey, made specially for the DR.  Stylin', eh?  :)

All DoughBoy has to do is hang from my saddlebag, look perky, and wave a cheery hello to everyone who passes me.  Such a deal.

To start off this grand weekend, LeeBob and I went out for dinner with Nancy (the glorious, infamous Pansy Palmetto) and her hubby Randy.  The Railroad Shrimp at Tahoe Joe's lived up to expectations, yum!  It was great to see Pansy and Randy;  Pansy showed off her svelte figure -- thighs like a teenager's, jeeze! -- and told us about her plans to participate in her 24th consecutive Eppie's Great Race next weekend.  Awesome.

Heading on to Markleeville tomorrow, and then meeting up with the team in Minden NV.  G'nite.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I gots my Descending Mojo back!

One of the biggest changes to my riding after my bike crash last year was that I became a tentative descender.

I've always enjoyed descending, and over time I became pretty good at it. Up until right before my crash I'd only ridden Rivendells which are rock-solid descending bikes. Then I got my MidLife Crisis Bike, my lovely titanium Lynskey, and proceeded to crash it on a descent 10 days later. I was off my bike entirely for about 3 months, recovered well and gradually got back in the groove. I didn't remember anything about the crash, but once I started riding for real again I realized I wasn't having fun on descents.

I wasn't being fearful, exactly, although there were some descents early in this year's Death Ride training that made me wonder if I was devolving from tentative to fearful.

And, face it, half of the Death Ride is descending. While some people take solace from that fact, I was starting to wonder if that would be my big obstacle. Ridiculous but true.

Well, I'm happy to say I done gots my Descending Mojo back!

Here's how:

1. For starters, I abandoned my RetroGrouch sensibilities and switched out th bar-end shifters on my Lynskey to those newfangled :D brake/shift levers. I went whole hog and got the nifty new Ultegra carbon levers, which look very nice indeed (I always disliked the look of brifters, but these actually look nice). They took me a bit of time to get used to, but I really like them now. There are times it's nice to not to have to take a hand off the bar to shift, especially on bumpy descents (which could have contributed to my crash in the first place; but no-one was with me at the time and I don't remember it, so we'll never know).

2. Probably the single most important change was switching out the Shimano pads that came with my brakes for KoolStop brake pads. The Shimano pads didn't brake all that well, and over time they performed even worse, which could be why I felt less secure descending over time. I felt much more confident in my descending almost immediately after the switch to Kool-Stops.

3. The icing on the cake is that I'm now very flexible. Soon after I stopped wearing the back brace I took up yoga to help strengthen my back and regain some flexibility. I'm not going to classes right now, but I've kept up with it at home. I can now easily lay my palms flat on the floor in a forward bend, and after a few moments I can even bring my nose to my knees. So now I can very easily ride way down in the drops, which I wasn't able to do before. That makes a big difference in stability and security while I'm descending.

So there you have it. I's a happy camper.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My BigAzz Big Basin ride report (a work in progress)

I know those of you who read my blog (both of you, one of them being me) are eagerly awaiting the report from my Big Day on Big Basin and Beyond. Rather than keep putting this off as I usually do, I'll just add to this as inspiration strikes or repressed memories resurface.

To cut to the chase, or, as they say at My Fine Workplace, the Executive Summary cuz Executives are far too busy to be bothered with the trivial and mundane:
It was a great ride. Nothing was thrown – that includes sandwiches, bikes, or hissy fits. I had a couple of Are We Freakin’ Done moments and one really low point, but I managed to get through them. I had to walk a couple of places on stinky-steep climbs but I didn’t mind. I did not Meet My Maker riding up Rt 84 as I had feared. Awesome descents, I think my descending mojo is back. Got to know some of my teammates a bit more and they are a grand lot. I finished DFL, but not too far FL, and what’s important to me is that I finished, and I’m really really proud of that.

Here's the route. My Garmin crapped out on me so I have to settle with the drawn route, not the GPS trace, you'll just have to take my word for it. I have witnesses.

The general consensus is that the honest-to-god total climb was between 10,500 and 11,000 ft.

Things I learned (and where I learned them):
  • You know a climb is freakin’ steep when you think it’s leveling off some, and you glance down at the grade indicator on your computer and it shows yeah, the climb is leveling off, it’s down to 10%. (on Redwood Gulch)
  • You know you're climbing really slow when your GPS goes into autopause mode while you're still moving forward. (on Redwood Gulch and Jamison Creek)
  • You know a ride is freakin’ long when you’re going up a 3% grade in your great-granny gear. (on Rt 84)
  • When a bug flies into your mouth on a big gasp for breath and lodges into your windpipe, it dissolves eventually. (back on Redwood Gulch)
  • Follow up a stinky-steep long climb with a fabulous descent and you’re less likely to want to strangle the coach. (Jamison Creek / Pine Flat and Bonny Doon)
  • It’s really hard for me to chew and pedal at the same time. (anywhere past mile 10)
  • I have fabulous teammates.(Portola Valley to Portola Valley)
  • I really think I can do this. (Various places, but especially cresting Rt 84 at Skyline)
That's it for now, check back later.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I did it I did it I did it!

That was the chant running through my head as I reached the top of Route 84 at Skyline Blvd on my DR team training ride yesterday.

Like I mentioned in my last post, the training rides on the Death Ride team were going to get a lot longer and a lot tougher.   This one was about 110 miles and somewhere between 10,000-11,000 ft of climbing.

I was *really* worried about this ride.

I had a crappy ride a couple of weeks ago on the Grizzly Peak century.   About  20 miles into the ride I simply Did Not Want To Be There.   It was so strange; I was riding with Maggie and Lori, two friends from the DR team, and I was really looking forward to this day.  But for some reason, my brain and my body were telling me they were just not up for this.  I started to get a pounding headache -- cause or effect, I do not know -- and after a miserable slog up McEwen Road I decided "screw this".   I told Maggie and Lori not to wait up for me anymore, I was out of there, and when I reached the turn for Pig Farm Hill and the Bears, I turned the opposite way and headed for Lafayette.   I took  BART and rode home (Lee was surprised to see me), laid down and conked out for three solid hours.  So, maybe I was coming down with something, who knows.

But my motivation for the DR took an absolute nosedive.   Coach Sarah, who gleaned so insightfully that I was having a crisis   (could have it been all my posts on facebook saying that I was miserable and thinking of quitting? :D), exchanged a few emails with me and then we had a long phone conversation.

She let me know that while she really believed I could do it, and she was hoping I wouldn’t give up on it, she’d understand if I wasn’t up for it this time around.   She told me if I wanted to continue but not train so hard I could scale back on the training and aim for only a few passes rather than all five.   She even sent me her ride report from her very first Death Ride, where she did only(!) four passes, but was eager to do all five the following year (which she did, no surprise there!).

That all helped a lot.   At the end of our conversation I told Sarah I’d stay with the team, and play it by ear regarding the scaled-back training.   Getting it through my thick skull that it really would be OK if I didn’t do all five passes, and having the option to scale back on the training if I wanted, took an awful lot of pressure off me -- pressure that I didn’t even know I was feeling until it was gone.

I kept up with my training, including commutes to work and good times with Evil Coach Troy. The following weekend I had a really fun ride with Maggie and another teammate Tricia; it wasn’t an official team ride, it was what we call a buddy ride. It wasn’t epic as our usual training rides, but it had a decent amount of climbing, and I felt great. It helped me remember why I love riding in the first place. And the fact that a bakery stop was involved didn’t hurt matters.

So, that’s the lead up to the Big-Ass Big Basin team ride we rode yesterday. More on that later. I’m heading out soon for a recovery ride along the Alameda Creek Trail & Coyote Hills Park.

Recovery ride? Heh, more like a victory lap. :D

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My toughest ride to date ...

... and I can’t believe I rode the wholllle thing!

On Saturday the Death Ride team's training ride started from Steven Kent Winery in Livermore. From there we took Mines Road and rode up the backside of Mt. Hamilton to the summit. At the summit we turned around and retraced our route back to Livermore. All told it was about 93 miles and about 8000 ft of climbing.

I’ve ridden many centuries, and I’ve even done 5 or 6 double metric centuries (~125 miles). But I don’t think I’ve ever done 8000 ft of climbing on a ride, so I’ll venture to say that this was my Toughest. Ride. Ever.

I actually went back through my journal & blog to see if I've ridden anything comparable. The only ride I've done that comes even close to this in terms of climbing was the Calaveras-Mt Hamilton Whupfest I rode with Veronica a few years ago. I know the training rides are going to get steeper & longer, but this one is sort of a stake in the ground. As it were.

Here’s the trace from my gps – I forgot to start recording until a couple of miles into the ride, and the gps stopped recording partway up Mt Hamilton (it must have been reading my mind, heh heh), so it shows a few miles short. Oh well.

I’ve only ridden Mines Road once, many years ago, but never past the Del Puerto Junction. So after the Junction Cafe it was all new territory for me. Mines Road became San Antonio Valley Road which took us up the eastern side, also known as the “backside”, of Mt. Hamilton.

Well. Now I know what all the fuss is about that backside. It’s a much harder climb than the San Jose side. Presumably the road up the eastern side of the mountain was not built to accommodate horse-drawn wagons lugging telescopes to the observatory. Not to mention a middle aged slightly overweight woman on a bike equipped with a triple chainring and a dinner plate cassette. Oy. But I made it to the top, eventually – no small thanks to Coach Sarah who hung back with me. My pace still slows to a crawl when the grade goes above 6% or so, and the backside of Hamilton was at least 6%, often well above that, for over 5 miles. Gahhhhh.

But I made it to the top, eventually, and met up with the rest of my group at the summit for the return trip down. Soon after starting the descent we passed by my friends Veronica and Thom who were setting up their rest stop for DMD. I yelled out my hellos and kept going – great folks, they understood. More about DMD in a moment.

I'm (almost) never anxious on descents, at least I never used to be, but the descent down the backside of Hamilton put the fear in me. It was a combination of steep and curvy, with gravel & bumpy pavement in all the wrong places, and I needed to stop just before the cattle guard partway down to gather my wits. I even toyed with getting SAGed down the rest of the way. But after a little while I felt better and continued on.

Near the base of Hamilton, a great big jackrabbit ran alongside me for a ways. Maybe it was a jackalope. All I could think was “Pul-eeze don’t be darting into the road Mr. Jackalope!” If those big ears got tangled up in my spokes it could have been ugly.

And somewhere on Mines Rd, a deer bounded into the road in front of our paceline. It missed Susie by inches, inches I tell ya! :o

Two major organized rides were going on today along that same route – the Mt. Hamilton Challenge and the infamous Devil Mountain Double. The routes for these rides went in opposite directions; as we approached and climbed Mt Hamilton we passed the MHC riders descending and heading towards Livermore, and as we were heading back to Livermore we passed the DMD riders heading towards Mt Hamilton. Our group got lots of "go team" shoutouts, and occasionally we'd see someone we knew riding DMD or the MHC. Many of the riders were wearing jerseys from past epic studly rides -- I saw lots of DMD jerseys of course, but many Death Ride, CA Triple Crown, and TTwo jerseys (to name a few) were present & correct.

It was really lovely out on Saturday, clear and sunny, and not too warm -- especially by Mines Road standards! During the ride our group was trading stories about past rides we've done in this region when the temps were near or well into triple digits. Those of us who were on or witnessed last years' Mt. Hamilton-Sierra Road team ride (where, as Janet put it, Coach Sarah tried to kill off the entire team :D ) were especially grateful for the nice weather. The wildflowers were blooming, the streams were gurgling, the hills and pastures were a lovely green. Nice. I could have done without the bugs swarming around me as I was climbing, but hey.

The last few climbs on Mines past the junction heading back to Livermore really sucked. They don’t look like much on the elevation profile, but by the time we reached them I was pretty tired. Happily, they were over eventually, and then we reached a nice long stretch of slightly downhill grade which perked me up a lot. One thing I can say for myself, I seem to recover fairly quickly.

And the final descent into Livermore was wonderful - it helped me get my descending mojo back, and helped me forget how miserable I was about 20 miles back.

The ginormous Cadillac margarita I had afterwards at a taqueria in downtown Livermore helped even more ...
Smiley from

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Back in the Groove

I haven’t been updating this blog lately. Not for lack of things to say, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to say them out loud.

I’ve been having a really tough time with my Death Ride training this time around. My Inner Voices have been in full-on “who are you kidding” mode and getting on my case for being the slowpoke.

What was really bugging me was that, on account of my being so slow, the coach and the other people on the team who were stuck riding with me have had to start out at a stupid-early time, and continuously wait for me on the top of climbs, that sort of thing.

Well, to cut to the chase, after a particularly miserable ride last Saturday, I think I’ve finally gotten over that.

Last Saturday’s crappy ride, coincidentally (or not), was over the exact same route that I crashed on exactly a year ago, starting from Olema and heading out to the Pt Reyes Lighthouse and back by a very meandering, very scenic and very hilly route. It's a gorgeous ride, but this time around, I felt like crud from about mile 10 -- which, since it was a 68 mile ride, made for a very long day. I seriously wanted to pull out at the first SAG stop about 25 miles into the ride. Coach Sarah (filling in for Coach Peg), my mentor Maggie, and the incomparable DHK managed to find the right combination of sweet-talking and taunts to keep me going. Actually, what really did it was Sarah’s direct order: “You start my ride, you finish my ride”. Uhhhh, okay.

And it actually did get better. I’ve been noticing that on long rides I seem to get stronger over the course the ride. Well, relatively speaking. Since I was nearly at rock-bottom at mile 25 that’s not saying a whole heck of a lot, but it was enough.

Mount Vision near the end of the ride was pretty hideous, but I eventually made it to the top. I was very worried about the descent – down a steep, curvy road with bad pavement. My confidence in descending is still lacking, and this wasn’t looking good. A SAG driver (not Lee) pulled up just as I reached the top, and I asked him if I could get a lift to the bottom. Just then Coach Karen appeared, and she encouraged me to give it a try. Which I did, and it wasn’t that bad after all, although I was braking a lot and had a lovely case of crab hands to show for it by the time I finally reached the bottom. Yay for my new KoolStop brake pads, they were champs.

After Mt Vision, the only part remaining was the short, moderately steep descent down Sir Francis Drake Blvd towards Inverness. Which is where I crashed last year.

Our group was pretty much back together by then. First we passed by the clearing where I’m told the helicopter ambulance landed to take me to Santa Rosa (nope, still no memory of that). Then the descent started. Wow, the pavement WAS really chewed up there – I got a bit of perverse reassurance from that; maybe I wasn’t a total klutz! :D I was very cautious on that descent, but I wasn’t scared, I just stayed in the moment and didn’t dwell much on what happened last year. Partway down the descent we passed Kurt who had pulled off; come to find out later, he hit a pothole (they were hard to avoid) and had flatted both tires, ugh. Maggie pulled off to help him but I kept going, I wanted to be out of there.

When I reached the bottom of the hill and onto smooth pavement, and it was pretty clear I was going to finish this freakin' ride on my own power, I gave my companions a thumbs up. And then I got a bit teary-eyed. I managed to keep that under control, no way in hell was I going to crash at that point! The last few miles were blessedly uneventful, although they seemed to take forever. But I finally finished, booyah.

Here's last Saturday's ride:

Although I was very very happy to have completed that ride in one piece, I still wasn’t sure I was going to stay with the DR team. It took a bit more soul searching to finally come to terms with the fact that, yeah, I’m fairly slow, but not horrendously so, and my group members are OK with starting out early and hanging back with me. They're a super-supportive, fun bunch of people and I really enjoy riding with them (that includes DHK, but don’t tell him that, OK? He has enough of an ego already and he doesn’t need to know that he’s one of the reasons why I recommitted). So, here I am.

As it turns out, yesterday’s ride went really well for me. Oh, it was freakin’ hard, no mistake about that. I was still slower than snot, it still put the hurt on me, but I dealt with it much better. More on that later.

In the meantime, suffice to say it’s good to be back in the groove. :)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

TNT DR team ride # 3 -- where some confidence emerged

The Death Ride team ride yesterday started in Marinwood, headed out Lucas Valley Road, Nicasio Valley Rd, Pt-Reyes Petaluma to Hicks Valley, over the infamous Marshall Road and down to Highway 1, though Pt Reyes Station and then back inland on SFD, Platform Bridge, back to Point Reyes-Petaluma and onto Nicasio Valley Rd where we retraced our route back to Marinwood.

At the end of the ride we had a potluck at the Marinwood Community center to celebrate our TNT Honorees.

I approached this ride with a lot of trepidation.

It was going to be my longest, toughest ride since the end of last March.  I had visions of me continuously holding back my group, and our group arriving at the Community Center late in the afternoon after practically everyone else had left and the last scraps of the potluck were being packed up.  Or worse yet, I'd need to be sagged back. Gahhhh.

It was raining like stink all day the day before, and the weather report called for rain at least for the early part of the ride.  And then there was the possibility of a tsunami, yeesh  (OK, I'm stretching it here, the likelihood of a tsunami was very very low where we were, but it didn't help matters :D)

And then there's The Potluck Curse.  My crash occurred the day of the DR team's Honoree Potluck last year.  I was briefly on the Solvang team this past fall, and on the ride preceding that team's honoree potluck, there was also a very scary crash (not me this time, but still).   Does bad luck really come in threes?  We shall see.

Well.  To cut to the chase  -- I completed the ride, I didn’t hold up my group (well, not too badly, anyhow), and I felt fine at the end, woo-hoo!  There were lots of people to chat with and lots of great food to enjoy at the potluck.  It was rainy and chilly at the start of the ride, but thanks to Appropriate Attire, it wasn’t bad.  No sign of a tsunami descending upon us.

And no word of any crashes, horrific or otherwise, occurring on the ride.  The Potluck Curse is broken!!

I have to admit, I had some very low points during the first part of this ride.  Once the grade on a climb kicks up around 8% (aw heck, 6%) I still get very, very slow.  And it takes me a while to get into the groove.  So, I had a grand old time on our first climb on Lucas Valley Rd, only about 4 miles into the ride.  My “who am I kidding?” mantra promptly kicked in.  I was already thinking to myself  “I SO don’t belong on this team!” and “maybe I should switch to the STP team” and  “no, I’ll just quit and help out with SAGing on this team”, and so on. 

I got a bit of a respite from the negative singsong in my head heading up Nicasio Valley Road, but it all came back in full force on the slog up Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Rd heading towards the Cheeze Factory.  I was so down on myself I almost started crying, pathetic but true!   I was in my great-granny gear (a triple crankset with a 32t mountain cassette, oy), trying to maintain a reasonable cadence, trying to pedal in reasonably smooth circles, with my speed dropping under 5 mph, 4 mph … gahhh. 

Our wonderful SAG guy Ken was parked on the side of the road at the top of that  climb cheering us on.  When I finally reached the top he couldn’t help but notice how slow I was going, and he cheerily called out “you need to be in a higher gear there!” or something along that line.  Luckily by then I had pretty much gotten over the urge to spontaneously burst into tears, but I might have shot poor Ken the Jobob Death Glare(patent pending).  He didn’t spontaneously combust, so either I didn’t shoot it at him after all, or I was just too whupped to zap him full force (in which case I hope his jacket wasn’t singed).

My companions -- Susie, Maggie and coach Peg, all Death Ride veterans -- were great.  They gave me lots of encouragement and helpful suggestions.  Peg would occasionally have us pull over and give us really good tips, checking on how much we were eating and drinking, that kind of thing. 

The self-defeating noises in my head receded by the time we reached our first SAG stop on Hicks Valley Road.  There, Nancy and Grace had a fabulous spread of food waiting for us right by the Lincoln School.  It was so awesome to see Nancy again, I first met her during the Crater Lake Century, when I reached the rim of the crater – which was my first significant ride since my crash (this one being the second, I suppose). 

Hmmm.  There’s now a link between Nancy and the good outcomes of my significant rides. Hope she comes to the Death Ride.  :D

The climb up Marshall Road was of course hard, but not as demoralizing for me as the climbs up Lucas Valley Rd and Pt Reyes-Petaluma Rd.  Go figure.   I took the descent down the Marshall Wall very cautiously – didn’t want to push the Potluck Curse!! – but all went well. 

Once I made it over Marshall my self-defeating mantra was pretty much gone.  Heading down Highway 1 I started having some fun with coach Peg and the rest of my group, plaintively whining every time we passed some landmark known for its good eats – the Marshall Store and the clam chowder, Tony’s and the BBQ oysters, the Bovine Bakery and everything in it, the bar in Olema…  Coach Peg would just smile every time I kvetched about the snack opportunities we were missing.

We had an excellent time pacelining and riding the rollers on Highway 1.  But, perhaps I was having too excellent a time, I kind of forgot about keeping up with the all-important eating and drinking.  I was so busy whining about Missed Snack Opportunities that I neglected to refuel – and yes, I get the irony!   :p

So, once we were heading up the relatively shallow grade on Sir Francis Drake towards Platform Bridge, I started feeling what I call a “pre-bonk” coming on.  It’s where I feel a little jittery and lightheaded, and, based on past experience I know when I feel that coming on I must stop immediately and refuel to avoid a full-blown bonk.  Seriously, I have maybe a five minute window to chow down or suffer the consequences.  I pulled over and sucked down some vanilla Hammer Gel from my flask and swallowed some more Spiz drink, and was good to go again within a few minutes.  But clearly I’ll need to stay on top of my refueling a lot better than that!

The rest of the ride went fine.  I was starting to wear down a bit by the time we reached Nicasio, but the short break we took there helped.  And by then the rain was long gone and it had cleared up considerably so we had some beautiful scenery to enjoy. 

The climb heading up Lucas Valley in the other direction was yet another long slog, but by then I knew I could manage it.  And I had a blast heading down the other side of that climb – I went down it ahead of the rest of the group and had the descent essentially all to myself.  I didn’t take it at breakneck speed, but I did it at a good clip and felt pretty relaxed and confident.  That’s huge for me, I’ve been a tentative descender since last year and it looks like I’m getting better at it.

I slowed down a bit at the bottom of the descent to let the others catch up, Coach Peg got us into another paceline, and we cranked it back to the finish.  Peg gathered us for a short and informative post-ride debriefing, and then we headed off for the potluck.

By the end of the ride I was thinking, hmm, maybe I really can do this!, which is a big about-face from what I was thinking during the early part of the ride.   Many thanks to Maggie, Susie and especially to Peg for helping me through my self-doubt,  and for making it fun. 

An excellent day!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nemesis repeats, whee!

Nemesis is the name I've given to a hill out in Coyote Hills Park,  near the Dumbarton Bridge in Fremont.

It's a short climb, only about 1/2 mile long, but it's a steep little stinker.  The climb is in two parts, both about 8-12% grade, with a short rest in between of about 3-5%.   It then levels off at the top, and for extra credit I can continue on, past a shooting range used by the Fremont police and a former Nike missile control center (cool, eh?), and up a last short bit of another 10-12%.  There it dead ends at a gate at the very top of the hill, past which there are cell phone towers and lord knows what else.  :/

I call it Nemesis because it took me *weeks* to get up that stinker for the first time, back when I first started riding. I was such a happy camper that day when I reached the top -- until I realized it wasn't really the top and there was still that  last section.  Ack!

Nowadays it's much less of a nemesis, but I like the name.  And it can still kick the crap out of me.

The view up there is really nice -- you get a vista of the southern part of the SF Bay and the Dumbarton and San Mateo bridges.

And it's a good hill for repeats.  Which is what I did today.  I could have gone on a "buddy" ride today with my TNT Death Ride team, but I really wasn't up to driving all the way out to the Presidio for the start of the ride, especially since the weather was iffy.  And after the long week I had at work, a sleep-in was in order.  So it seemed like a good a day as any to start up the masochistic ritual known as Nemesis repeats.

My initial plan is to just do a few of them at a time, maybe a couple of times a week, and not worry about my speed yet - just get up the sucker.  I figure over time, hopefully my strength & stamina will improve and the climbing speed will follow.  I hope.

And since what goes up must come down, this'll also be good for my descending. I'm a much more tentative descender since my crash last March.  I'm not fearful, but I do take descents a lot slower than I used to.  I may never again be as fast a descender as I used to be, but I would like to get my confidence back.   Although the trail on Nemesis is paved, it's bumpy in parts, and there's a bit of gravel on it.  I think the more I descend it, the more assured I'll be, and that's a good thing.

So, today I warmed up slowly and deliberately, first heading out to the bay and back around the park,  getting about 8 miles in before I reached the climb the first time.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't all that difficult for me.  I kept in my lowest gears and spun reasonably well heading up.  Just before the top it kicks up to about 14% so I was a bit labored, but still, not too shabby.  I turned around, headed down and along the trail to the parking lot on Patterson Ranch Road where I looped around and headed back.

There were a few other cyclists doing repeats on Nemesis today.  We'd nod to each other as we passed, but we were all in our own little worlds.  It was that kind of day out; on really nice sunny days the park is teeming with people but today, notsomuch.  Nearly everyone I saw out there seemed to be doing some sort of training.

I managed to do four repeats, and I wasn't whupped at all, which was great.  On the last two I headed up to the very top by the cell towers to take in the view.  On the fourth climb it starting sprinkling and the wind was picking up some more (made for some nice crosswinds heading down, yikes) so it was time to pack it in.  Heading back to the Alameda Creek Trail I met up with Lee who had been out on his own ride out to Shoreline Park, so we rode home together.   A good day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

TNT Death Ride SF team ride - one climb down, waaay more to go!

 Today was our first long-ish training ride on the TNT Death Ride team.  For the early training rides we're split up into 2 groups, the SF/East bay group and the Redwood Wine Country(RWC)/Marin group.  Last year I rode with RWC but this year I'm sticking closer to home.  So today's ride was with the SF/East bay group, headed up by Mistress Karen and her crew.

It wasn't wasn't  much compared to what we'll be doing in the upcoming weeks, but hey, it's a start!    I was really happy with how I did, after 50 miles I wasn't whupped.  Yeah,  the bar is set kind of low... :D

The climb up Palomares road was kind of ugly, and I was having one of my "who am I kidding" episodes.  As evidenced by the fact that I yelled out WHO AM I KIDDING at least once.  And by at least once I mean at least five or six times.  But Coach Peg stayed with me and gave me encouragement and advice (and none of it was along the lines of "give up now and spare us").

So I finally made it over Palomares -- the Hard Way, mind you! -- and the rest of the ride went really well.  Communist Captain Amy quipped, "Well, that's one climb down.  Wonder how many more climbs we'll do before the Death Ride?" 

I'm proud to say I resisted the urge to tip her bike over.

We had a time trial up Calaveras Road to determine what groups we'll be placed in.  I told Coach Karen that we could skip with the formalities and just put me in the slowest group, but she wouldn't go for that.  

On Calaveras Road we passed a big group of Solvang Team TNT riders -- so nice to see them!  They were looking great.   The Solvang Century is only a few weeks away, booyah!

After the ride up Calaveras we turned around at the false summit and headed back to Welch Creek SAG stop where we entered our times.  Then we headed back to Sunol and on to Castro Valley via Dublin Canyon.

All told it was 50 miles and about 3400 ft of climbing.  So far, so good...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Calaveras to Sunol – the Wall won, this time

On Saturday there was a break in the rain & wind storms, so I took the opportunity to head out on a real ride – birds & trees & hillsides instead of Coach Troy & Universal Sports Network, yay!

I took Pokey the Sherman Tank because even though it wasn’t actually raining at the moment, the roads would likely be pretty soggy, and the rain could come back.

I wanted to head out towards Calaveras Road & Sunol. Earlier in the week there was a mudslide on Niles Canyon Road so I decided to bypass it and take the long way, heading up from the south side of Calaveras towards Sunol (generally known as the counterclockwise Calaveras route).

And OMG it was beautiful out! The hills were turning a lovely green after all the rain, and Alameda Creek was full of happy geese, ducks, & egrets. I snapped some pictures on my cell phone camera – not great, but they’ll do.

I headed up Mission Blvd and stopped at Mission Coffee for a chunk of banana bread, yum. I ate half of it and saved the other half for a stop at Ed Levin park, partway up the Calaveras Rd climb.

Argh, Calaveras Road put the hurt on me. I hadn’t ridden the counterclockwise direction in quite some time, and I was kind of whupped by the time I reached Ed Levin, which is only partway up. Oh dear, this does not bode well for my Death Ride training. I hung out at Ed Levin for a while, finished the banana bread, topped of my water bottles and such, and wandered around a bit. So pretty.

Then I set out for the Calaveras Wall. The Wall is thankfully only about a quarter of a mile, with an average grade around 12%. On one hand I was glad I had Pokey since he has the lowest gears imaginable; on the other hand he’s pretty heavy and I felt all that weight and then some heading up that freakin’ wall. I was in my 26f/32r gear (told you it was low!) and climbing at a speed, as it were, of 3 mph or so -- I even saw 2.2 a couple of times. I was kind of amused that I could remain upright at that speed. I thought I was doing OK, plugging along, taking it easy and trying not to implode. But then I rounded the bend and saw the wall was still heading up, up, up. Oh crud, this just wasn’t going to happen today. So I got off and walked the rest of the way. Gahh. Turns out I was very near the top, but so it goes. Wall 1, me, ½. Next time.

I was commiserating myself with the fact that Pokey is so heavy, when it occurred to me that I’ve ridden this bike up Sierra Road, for cryin’ out loud, and there’s video to prove it. So much for that excuse. My how the mighty have fallen. Not that one could ever call me mighty … :p

Continuing on Calaveras I was still marveling at how lovely it was out – I know I’m being redundant, but it really was that nice out.

Riding along I saw a very large brown bird perched on a tree branch along the side of the road just up ahead of me -- wow, a golden eagle! I came to a very quiet stop and reached carefully into my back pocket for my cell phone, and managed to snap a couple of pictures of him before he took off. Neat!

I took the descent on Calaveras a bit cautiously since the road was still wet in places, and it was cold enough for ice underneath the trees. It all went fine. Lee was waiting patiently for me in Sunol, and he drove me home. Turns out Niles Canyon was in pretty good shape, but I’m glad I took the long route anyhow. All in all, and awesome day. I’ll ride all the way up that wall next time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A good ride with good friends

I went out for a ride on Sunday with Maggie and Laurie, two friends from last years' Death Ride team -- and they're going to be on this years' DR team as well, yay!

Maggie is even my and Laurie's TNT mentor this time around. Poor Maggie, whatever did she do to deserve us? Oh well, sometimes life throws challenges in one's path ...

We did the reverse of the route the Solvang team rode on Saturday, so we got to ride up Pig Farm Hill the easy way. neener.

Gerry joined us for a bit of the ride. He hasn't ridden in quite a while so he kept it to Moraga Way. It was nice to see him!

Speaking of our Esteemed Mentor, seems she's been doing this absurdly strenuous-sounding rowing thing lately. She insisted that she was going to be plodding up the hills on account of some crazy-hard workout she did a few days ago. Right. She no sooner finished whining about how slow she was going to be on the hills (I take that back, she never finished whining), when she took off on Laurie and me on the first climb.

Someone should really clue Maggie in on the role of mentors -- to provide support and encouragement to one's mentees, not leave them in a heap of dust and self-loathing on each freakin' climb. Yeesh!!! :p

Anyhow, when Laurie and I finally caught up to said Esteemed Mentor, we gave her the verbal thrashing she so rightly deserved. Laurie had a good head start on that -- since naturally Laurie was way ahead of me -- so when I finally showed up all I needed to do was say "Yeah, what Monster said". Laurie is so good at verbal abuse, may as well leave it to the professionals.

It was an excellent ride, can't wait to go out with them again!

(looks like there's some sort of glitch on RideWithGpS which makes distances show up in metric. Eh.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Here I go again ...

Well, I’ve gone & done it, I’m now officially signed up to train for the Death Ride again with TNT.

Some of you know that I had signed up with the Solvang Century TNT team a couple of months ago. I found out soon thereafter that I might be away in mid-March, so I might wind up missing that event altogether.

Plus, to be honest, training for Solvang didn’t really motivate me the way training did for the Death Ride. The Death Ride is a huge challenge for me. Solvang, eh, notsomuch. Granted, I’ve never ridden the Solvang century, but I’ve done a bunch of centuries and double metrics (well, OK, none recently, and thank you so much for pointing that out) and preparing for Solvang gave me that been there, done that feeling.

The way I see it, my first completed event with TNT should be a significant personal achievement. The Death Ride is all that, plus it’s unfinished business for me. Not to mention the DR team always has such awesome jerseys. I’m all about the jerseys.

So here I am, right back where I started last year. Wish me luck!

I'll let you know how it goes. It'll be an adventure, that I know already {gulp}.

Here's my fundraising page if'n you're so inclined. Thank you so much for your faith in me, and, for your support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.