Tuesday, February 10, 2015

bringing a swiss army knife to a gun fight

I realized today, while riding the infamous Black Mo road ride on my ss cx bike, that I was in for a challenge. Not just because I am still building up from a long hiatus from riding regularly, but more due to the bike choice. I needed to amend the old adage: riding this bike on this route was more like bringing a swiss army knife to a gun fight.  
#paallday meet #sweetwaterallyear
Sure, I was at a disadvantage on the big climbs, but once I got out to Black Moshannon, I was able to cut across on Underwood, a mostly snow covered gravel road. Skinnies wouldn't have been able to get through that. The road rig desperately needs work done on its shifty bits anyway; strictly roller rides for her. Gonna need to remedy that before the Monkey Knife Fight...
winter wonderland on the Allegheny Plateau
The extra traction also came in handy when I would go cross-eyed on the climbs and swerve into winter road grit on the side of the road. Good thing I packed my new favorite ride snack; buttered everything bagel with nutella and apricot preserves. That did a bang-up job as fuel. I don't doubt that I tapped into some of my own "winter reserves" too.

The way I see it is that even though I did a big (mostly)road ride with one gear and knobby tires, at least I had a utilitarian disadvantage. I definitely wasn't planning to do Underwood when I rolled out. It was a bit of a surprise to find the snow rideable. The recent high temps and rain has done a number on snow pack here at the lower elevations. So even though it was a long slow grunt up there, it was nice to have the versatility to mix it up. Long story short, I think the Nature Boy will remain my go to rig for a while.
the sign at Beaver Rd only says 3miles. Beware: it's longer going this way. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

11,000ft of climbing

Rain is better than fire. That's the general consensus out here in CO. We've had regular showers these past ten or so days, often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms, but sometimes they don't wait until after lunch. Today seems very odd for this region; overcast and raining all day. It feels like the mid-atlantic. 

Anyway, these weird weather patterns makes it hard to plan big adventures. Especially ones like summiting nearby Longs Peak, sitting at a cool 14,259ft. I was going to hike it yesterday with my friend until she aired on the side of caution Friday and dropped out. NOAA was giving forecasts for rain that fluctuated between 50 and 70%. I suppose scrambling on rocks above treeline in the rain isn't a great idea, especially if there's lighting thrown in the mix. I trusted that her instincts...and ability to check weather online...were sound, so any thoughts of a solo attempt were short-lived. 

But I still wanted to get out. 50% chance of rain wasn't enough to stop a big ride. So I still made the rice cakes, but instead of packing them with the lunchables (not those yellow boxes that were the envy of every kid in the cafeteria, but heavy food to help me survive a big hike), I put them in my frame bag in preparation for a silly circumnavigation of RMNP. 

That, of course, did not happen. A while ago I mapped out a 230mile route over Trail Ridge road, then up towards Walden, down the Poudre Canyon, almost into Ft Collins, then back up to Estes. My body must've known how crazy that would be in one day, so it refused to wake up at 4am when my alarms were set. 

6:30am, out of bed, cooking a big breakfast. 

8:30 on the bike, ready for a lot of miles, but not committed to a particular route. 

Once I started moving I decided to get at least a century in, riding all of Trail Ridge road to the west side of the park. Once I got into the park, I opted to ride Old Fall River, the one-way gravel route up to Alpine visitor center. It's a bit of a short cut and a hell-of a lot quieter in terms of traffic. I still had some eager out-of-staters needing to rush to the top for some reason, so it was not without a few dust clouds to cough through. 
final stretch, complete with snow poles
alpine tundra
looking back down what I rode up. bummer it's only one way
Down past the continental divide and to the west side of the park could've been faster. At first it was the nasty cross winds above treeline that were keeping my fingers on the brakes, then some elk on the road had a line of gawkers, going both ways, stopped in the road. Having seen my fair share of elk here in Estes and considering I was enjoying the descent too much, I spoiled the picture party, rolled past the stopped cars and swiftly scared the elk away. Sorry folks. A few miles down the road, things slowed down again as the coffin-cars rode their breaks around the normally fast switchbacks. Oh well. It was still sweet heading down on that side of the park.

Once down in the valley I started bonking and had to keep asking how far the visitor center was. My hope was that they had some sort of food. Luckily, though the ranger said they didn't at first, he remembered the new energy bars they just started stocking. I happily paid the six bucks for two and don't think I could've gotten back up to the alpine visitor center without them. I did have another rice cake, but held onto that until the top for the final push home. 

Clouds were rolling in thick at this point and I was concerned about getting caught up on the tundra in a storm. The temperature dropped and fresh fog was pushing up from lower elevations, but luckily I didn't feel any drops until I was down the east side, below tree line. It wasn't enough to make the roads wet until the final 3mile push home.

I was pretty worked last night as one might imagine, but today was perhaps harder. I definitely drained some energy stores on this ride. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

over confident

This is what happens Larry...

This is what happens when the boys in the mountain bike class I'm teaching get me a little too confident. Usually I'd never mess with the shifty bits of my only multi-geared bike, but of course we had to cover shifting in class, so why can't I do it too? Well there lies the trouble. Since I never mess with it, everything is in pretty nasty shape and now I can't get the cable out of the shifter...I should've let it be.

Friday, June 7, 2013

DK200 - It's all in your mind

Ok, so I've been living at 8,000ft and have some big rides in my legs already this year, but the real difference between finishing a feat of endurance 10hrs west of you versus finishing one 10hrs the other way is all in the head. And I'm not just talking about wanting it more, or having the mental toughness to push through high winds and spasming IT bands...it certainly takes those too, but I'm finding that it usually comes down to enjoying yourself.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Dirty Kanza.
candy-loading tastes better than carbo-loading 
The major reason for this came down to the structure of the race: you have to bring your own support crew. So Colin and I headed east out of Estes together and my good friend Brent pulled his co-pilot from the bar Thursday night to drive west from PA. Luckily she sobered up by 6am to help with the driving. The crew was assembled and the good times followed. 
Director Sportif and Financial Adviser Colin getting some z's
we must be in the right place
We all faked friendliness Friday night, since we just wanted to sleep after driving long hours. Early Saturday I got down to business of being on a bike all day and the crew brought the smiles.
1000 riders ready for a long day

Every 50 miles there was a friendly little oasis of middle america to welcome the lycra clad looney tunes rolling over their endless green hills. From Emporia to Madison, Madison to Cassoday, Cassoday to Cottonwood Falls and back to Emporia.
good spot for an aid station
next stop Cassoday
Main St America
It was another world from the snow capped Rockies Colin and I came out of and the dense forests of Central PA. Beautiful nonetheless. I couldn't believe how endless and open it all was.

The past few years of this race seem to have been defined by the weather conditions. Wet, hot, or this year, windy. As I've mentioned before, living in Estes valley, I'm no stranger to high winds. So as people let it blow all their motivation away, I just opened my sails and didn't let it bother me.
team mechanic...he does "all the body work"
To be perfectly honest...I thought it was pretty easy. Perhaps that means I was going way too slow or I was in better condition than I thought. I was just out to finish and have a good time. Mission accomplished. 

No mechanicals. No need to stop and take a break on course (except to maybe take a leak). Only got lost once, but it didn't suck because I was in a crew, working together. 
liquid energy
When it came to nutrition, I used the "good and plenty" strategy. I had calories in the bottle and delicious calories wrapped in foil. I went with tried and true rice cakes, compliments of Skratch Labs, to keep my energy stores up.

Sweetness cakes(blueberries, dark chocolate bits, and mint)+Savory cakes(bacon, eggs, and soy sauce)= YUM
damn good solid energy

Good support, good condition, and good energy led to a great day in the saddle. I highly recommend the race. It is an experience unlike any NUE race or any other endurance event I've thrown my money at. It's as intense as you want it to be. 
who knew?
some local flavor

kansas cobbles

You can put your head down and grind out the miles or you can look around and take it all in. I chose to do more of the latter and thus had enough in the tank to spin like a mad man the last 20 or so miles. I even employed some stealth tactics as the sun set, preferring to ride in the dark and let other riders wonder where I went when I passed them. I could see the road better without lights anyway. 

50 more miles
"this guy is crazy!"
Riding back into Emporia it initially seemed like another sleeping city in the plains. Coming back into downtown I could see road-closed signs and blinking construction lights, with a passage down the middle. Someone saw me coming in, then a tunnel of cheers and cowbells as I approached a finish line that served as the center-point to a street festival. It was a wave of excitement that pulled you in and welcomed you back. A damn fine way to end a day.
This years big race done.

I'm liking this ride plan. TSE last year. Kanza this year. One big new event each summer. I've already begun shopping for 2014.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Primary and Secondary Goals accomplished

1.) Finish
2.) Have fun. 

Dirty Kanza checked off the To-Do list. 16:51 with about 2hrs of hanging out at the checkpoints. It certainly helped with that second goal. More about it to come...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Trail Ridge

It's a week out from Dirty Kanza and it just so happens to be opening day of Trail Ridge road, going across alpine tundra in RMNP, climbing above 12,000'. I had to get a "if I can do this, I can do that" ride in to tell my head and legs that 200miles of gravel roads in Kansas won't be impossible next Saturday. A 70mile out and back with 9'000'+ climbing was what I ended up with. If anything, I'll surely have more red blood cells when I pedal myself around the Flint Hills. Here's some photos from the day. I went out to Milner Pass (the Continental Divide) and back.
getting higher, the lodgepoles get smaller and the snow gets...

Alpine Visitor center not quite ready to open
Thank you John Deere and the park service. 
...is closed.
taking a leak at 12'000ft
there was a bit of a drop on some stretches
Two years ago
Same place. Today.

Monday, May 6, 2013

In good, albeit relaxed hands

I've been mountain bike racing for about 7 years now, really getting into the sport when I moved to State College, to go to... you guessed it, college. It wasn't until last weekend that I got proper skills coaching. Sure, there has been many a conversation, often strained on my end, about "flow" or how "technical" a trail was, or what line is best, but never much about how I should be riding. All subjective, not much underlying truth to any of it. The shop team I used to race for was backed by some pretty damn solipsistic dudes, so there was no way I was getting any feedback from them (not that they were the ones that had the know-how to be giving). The common philosophy among the riding scene I was in was that the more you rode, the better you got. Never mind if you're doing things all wrong. Just keep beating your body up, throw that bike around that may or may not fit you, pedal and contort yourself in awkward ways until you get to the end of the ride in a faster time.

To be honest, it worked. To a certain extent. I've certainly become a better rider over the years and can tackle some pretty gnarly stuff, so I suppose I figured some skills out on my own.

What this past weekend did for me was confirm what I've been doing right, bring in best-practices from other exercises I already knew, and demystified a sport that pretty much gets on because of it's mystification.

I showed up to the last day of a two-and-half-day NICA coaches summit as a prospective coach without a team really. I'm hoping to have some involvement with the local high schools team here in Estes (not my school), but who knows how things will unfold this summer. The summit was a bit chaotic but when Lee McCormack was making a point it all made sense.

It's all just physics after all.

And poof. There goes the shroud of mystery.

Fancy that. You should keep your weight on the pedals and should match that thing that is meant to roll to the angle of the terrain. Keep loose hands and eyes where you want to go. And with these and other simplifications NICA is creating a whole new generation of mountain bikers. Hell, a whole new crop of cyclists. Ones that better know how to use that beautiful machine known as the bicycle and better interact with the world they ride.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

steep pitches

My girlfriend, her son Sergio and I were driving on the Northeast extension of the PA turnpike last week. As we approached the Lehigh Tunnel I asked the 5yr old in the backseat if he thought we'd go over, around or through that mountain we were approaching. Not one to be easily fooled, he guessed correctly that we'd be going through it. It became a game as we drove around Pennsylvania that week.

It's not unlike my past few weeks. I've come across several steep pitches in my life and had to figure out if I'd be going over, around, or through them. Often case I didn't have a choice.

On March 4th I lost my 90yr old grandfather Frank, patriarch of a far reaching family, and apogee of human life. Well into his eighties he was playing tennis and maintaining the grounds of the house he built and raised his nine children in. He's missed and it is a loss that I'm still navigating. It seems that this is one climb worth going up and over. There is no short cut, like a tunnel, to cut through loss like this. Frank certainly wouldn't take a short cut, and so, we figure out day by day how to move on and up.
2,100 miles of the AT was no challenge compared to Frank's tough handshakes
I flew home that week to be with family and find much needed support. Any weekend travel away from this school I work and live at is stressful. It affects the rhythm of your week, both preceding and following, it wears you down, and stresses you out. At least it does for me. So when I got back to Estes at 2am Monday morning, I wasn't looking forward to the ten hour drive I'd be making that Friday to race in Utah.
Long hours of travel require a lot of shifting
True Grit was on the docket. A race neither my body or my bike were prepared for. An inconsistent winter limited any sort of technical trail riding, my cumulative sleep was less than optimal, oh yea, and my rear brake looked like this:
Did I mention that I haven't been riding this bike? Hence the major oversight just before my first big race of the year. I lacked the time or bleed kit to fix it so Thursday night I went to bed telling myself "it'll be fine. it'll work after it's pumped some". Little did I know, there was enough air in the hydraulic system to create an atmosphere around the moon. No amount of pumping was going to firm up this brake. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
2.4 up front/2.25 in the back
On the positive side, wheels were trued and a fresh and trusty Maxxis Ardent was put on the rear Stan's wheel. 
Rothrock, I miss you. 
Ten hours later via a rental car I could barely get out of Ft Collins (Thanks Bill!), I was sweating in the incredible desert landscape of southwest Utah. St. George was bigger than I expected, the trails were harder than I anticipated, and the rear brake functioned, but just barely. This weekend was full of surprises. Money was spent and hundreds of lonely miles were driven: I was committed. This steep pitch had no way around or through. Or so I thought. Get a quick ride in, go eat some Mexican food, set out your drop bags, and try to get some sleep in the back of the car. 
cozy accommodations for two nights
We had a delayed start for the race, because apparently the rising of the sun hasn't yet become an exact science in Utah and the intended start time was in the dark. Those first few hours of dawn were far too short and all my previously mentioned sources of whining were soon combined with desert heat.
Lines are set for 2013
Ok, enough with the excuses. I brought a gift horse to a knife fight, or whatever the saying is. I got 60 painful miles in, came to an aid station ten minutes from the car that I needed to sit in another ten hours to drive back that night, and bailed.
at days end but long before driving was done
Some steep pitches are simply worth going around. 

The drive back was perhaps tougher than the race. Darkness so dense that I imagined myself driving through east coast forests dropped before I could get out of Utah. I grabbed some energy in Grand Junction and kept pushing, deciding to sleep a few hours once I got into Glenwood Canyon. Driving though the dark on the other side of three hours of sleep wasn't the safest thing I could've been doing. Getting through the fresh snow that fell on Loveland Pass wasn't easy either. 

Fast forward a month and even more snow on those slopes. I was back in PA digging in my grandparents garden with Sergio when I learned about Rick. My neighbor, my friend, my riding buddy, and the guy who only months before taught me all about the volatility of Colorado snow has been killed by it. When I got back to Estes this past weekend I hugged a young widow and a mother who has outlived her son and have woke up every morning unable to make sense of it.
  looking back
These have been some steep pitches. Physical and emotional. They make it hard to justify riding my bike for most of the day or find the motivation to want to. I think they also come during a time of transition for me. Similar to what Geronimo wrote recently in Dirt Rag. I'm moving away from the intensity of racing and need to find enjoyment in simply riding again. I don't have the emotional reserves to put into it this year. Dirty Kanza is less than a month away. Hopefully I can build some back up by then. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

lions in my life

Being the youngest of four I had plenty of older influences in and out of my life in the form of sibling significant others. I was young and impressionable with this rotating cast that benefited from their separation from familial drudgery. They provided exposure to more than my kin ever could. One such example pulled me into the world of self-propulsion on two wheels and subsequently put me on the track I still pedal.

On this course of pushing my body I've had the benefit of having even stronger influences that have shaped my views of human performance and my own personal potential. At 14 I dove into the deep end of cycling culture and had to sink or swim. Luckily, the deepness near me was Trexlertown, one of the countries premier track destinations, where legends roamed.

With his booming British accent, sharp wit, and compassionate charisma, Alaric Gayfer knew when to throw young riders like me further into the deep and teach us how to not only survive, but thrive. I never became a track star and I'm still comfortable with my own mediocrity, but it was this man who gave me my first road bike out of the attic of a bike shop, who threw me into races with kids half my size to simply get experience, who would bang on the boards at the T-Town track and make me feel accepted...it was Alaric, a multi-time British National Champion, who brought me into the fold.
Years later, through some forgotten connection, I learned that Alaric was battling cancer. By a strange coincidence, his last attempt to heal took him to Duke medical center where my sister was doing her residency. She went to see him before he passed, remembering how generous he was to her little brother. I'll never forget that. Even the people around me knew how much he meant, even when I didn't.

Little did I know, he was the first in a span of over ten years who would leave a lasting impression.

Not long after I received that red and black Raleigh Technium from the attic of Cycledrome, I begged my parents to sign me up for more consistent "training" and coaching. It was the fledgling and prestigiously named American Cycling Academy that had the greatest pull. ACA was the over the top business name for an over the top personality: Gil "Gibby" "The Bear" Hatton. $90 a month got me the opportunity to sweat in the same room as olympic gold medalist Marty Nothstein. A couple of other  amateurs like myself were in the mix, but I was definitely one of the youngest (a trend that, looking back, has been consistent for many of my cycling experiences).

I skipped out of high school track & field two springs to get ready for summers on the track. Those warm training nights at the velodrome, sun setting, bright lights blinding, the crackling of a well tensioned track chain, swaying up and down the banking ("like a paintbrush" Gil would say)...it felt like the Field of Dreams.
Gibby was certainly a polarizing figure in the T-Town cycling scene, and since he returned from several years in Cali, I imagine he still is. In the short time that I knew him however, he gave me such a strong foundation to build off of. He also gave me the name "Claymore", which never really stuck past high school. It was supposed to remind me to be "explosive...like the mine". Much later I discovered that endurance racing suits me better than anything that requires explosive sprinting, so maybe that's why the name died.

During that same period, when track racing kept me busy in the Summer, I didn't yet appreciate all the seasons of cycling, so I ran cross country in the Fall. I was not built to run back then. I don't know how I stuck it out. It was more of a way to gain associations (aka "friends" in high school speak), than to compete. Sure, I tried, but I never really pushed myself that hard and because of this I never found much success. It was just too damn painful. My legs wanted to push pedals; I had a wicked kick downhill, rotating my legs through like I was on a bike, but that's where my skill stopped.

The man that kept me going was Bill Ruth. He scared the shit outta me. And I'm glad I had him to do so. His standards were high,  his workouts were strategic, his strategies were shrewd, his stare was serious, and his shouts could split wood. But never did you ever feel that he didn't care. From the state champs to the pack fodder like myself, he connected with everyone; knew how to push you if you were running sub-6's or struggling with sub-10's. And because of that dedication, he led decades of runners to dozens and dozens of wins.
The way we worked out still sticks with me, so do the adages, the stories, the ferocity of competition on those teams, and the sense of community he and the other coaches were able to build. Even though running definitely lost out to cycling, running at Liberty HS with Coach Ruth set me up to push even harder. 

There was even more overlap during this time. I met another pillar of my competitive career during high school, but I didn't realize at the time that he would become even more meaningful to me years later. Jim Young started collegiate cycling in 1973. I didn't know this when he coached the local paper's employee team for a one night exposition of amateur racing at the velodrome. My Dad was an editor at the paper and signed me up to be a part of this hodge-podge team. Coach Young coached a lot of national champions. I didn't know that either. I knew he was Penn State's cycling coach and that was all.

He didn't say much, but when he did talk, you listened. That's as much as I remember from that first interaction. We maybe had two or three practices before we raced for The Morning Call and then he became just another tough old-guy that I didn't think I'd ever see again.

Fast forward three, maybe four years, past high school, past a year as a masonry laborer with my brother, past hiking the AT, going to Europe, community college and I found myself at Penn State. I used to dream of shaving my legs while thru-hiking the trail... so yea,  that cycling bug never really died inside of me. Now I was in a whole new confusing web of social interactions, far far larger than high school, and not only could I make some easy 'associates', but I could finally surround myself with other guys that shaved their legs too (oh, and race bikes again!). So the Penn State Cycling Club got a new recruit and like track cycling as a young teen, I dove in deep.

And guess who I got to meet again?

This time I really did listen to him though. I was now surrounded by his disciples. He was like the Godfather, a force to be reckoned with, governing from afar. He lives back in the Lehigh Valley, a solid two and a half hours from State College. He was also, for the longest time, not supposed to be coaching the team. At least according to the control freaks, risk managers, and generally miserable human beings at Penn State Club Sports (my sophomore year I was president of the club, so I got to deal with the unpleasant politics they imposed on student athletes like myself). He wasn't signed-off on something or some other stupid technicality. They certainly couldn't stop him from being a part of the team he built. They were fools to think they could.

Of course, national news has told the story of how corrupt and morally bankrupt the upper tiers of PSU athletics was, so in hindsight and in comparison, I can write off my struggles as petty drama...with plenty of scares from injured racers (including current US U23 Crit Champion) and threats to shut-down the club to keep me on edge.

Coach Young was there through all of that. He noticed when I ran to my car, time and time again, to go find the local hospital one of our riders got taken to after a crash. He listened to all the drama and cut through all the crap. He kept us focused on what was important.
I traveled with our 'A' racers to Collegiate Road National's when they were held in (now nearby) Fort Collins. In some hotel conference room, I joined him at a couple meetings with the cream of the collegiate cycling coaching crop. Ft. Lewis, Marion, Lees McRae...all were represented by these fit middle-aged men. And here I sat next to the white haired, Parkinson's-riddled founder of collegiate cycling, looking a decade older than he was. His labored language did not receive the anticipated pity, but instead a palpable respect. I was humbled. I was proud. He spoke from experience, wisdom, and fire.

I've been one of countless many to have had these mentors. But in my case, it's perhaps particularly fortunate to have known so many that are so remarkable.


Now in my late twenties, traveling around the country to seasonal job after seasonal job, it's riding and racing that keeps me sane. Whether living in a double-wide in Austin, or the barely wide-enough cab of my old little pick-up in Telluride, I've always had a quiver of bikes. They served as tickets to whatever regional riding the area had to offer. They have been my in as well as my out. An in into a community and an out from the insular work environments I've been a part of.
Even though I no longer drive 'Big Red' around, the same goes for here in Estes. Through Bikeflights, of course, the quiver was sent out here, and they still serve as the in's and out's I've grown to depend on. 

But this position is longer than the others. I'm here for a full year, so I'm putting much more into it. Something I wanted to start here was the circuit training we used to do back in high school xc. So I reached out to "Wacki", the then assistant, but now to the best of my knowledge, head coach. He said he'd be happy to help, but maybe I should just ask Bill, "he's out there in Estes Park too". 

A few emails later and Bill was back in my life, designing a specific circuit workout for our school, and even giving me valuable advice about racing Dirty Kanza. 

Last week, we got out for a road ride together, down out of the mountains. 
On our drive back up the canyon we were reminiscing about track & field maybe, casually passing the time. What flashed, in an instant, past two cars in front of us, neither of us were prepared for. A mountain lion, with two unbelievable strides, leaped across the road and into the dense forest beside it. We were stunned. Neither of us ever saw one before. And to see one in broad daylight, during the rather mundane activity of driving home from a ride, was even more startling. 

Now, I'm not one to believe in mysticism and magical connections, 'power animals' and the like... but I am one to appreciate connections. I saw that lion with someone I still look up to, to whom I'm still a student. It made me think back to all these mentors and coaches, who like this lion, lept across my path, leaving a lasting imprint, then faded from view.