Monday, August 28, 2006

BBQ x 2

Sunday, 27 August

I see that my most recent posts feature recurring images of tandem captains' helmets, so I'll skip that theme this time and talk about my next favorite (after tandems) subject: food.

There was a BBQ after the hillclimb yesterday to fill in the large amount of idle time between the conclusion of the race (1:30--pity the juniors who finished at 11:30) and the posting of results (3:30). It was somewhat successful in keeping us from getting too restless, and the food was good.

There was also a BBQ at the Seward Park race today; this was the WSBA's end-of-season "party" hosted by the great guys at First Rate Mortgage. I grazed at this one but never did the full-meal deal. BBQ potato chips get me every time....and Coke and cookies turned out to be pretty good prerace food.

If I were truly a competitive soul, I would have been in Bend yesterday for the last event in the Oregon Cup series. I should have been working to hold on to my fourth place overall in the competition. Very sadly, there was a nasty crash in the last 10 feet of the women's road race at the High Desert Omnium and about half the field went down (I think all but 3 eventually finished). My best wishes for speedy recoveries go out to all those riders. And maybe a pseudo-crit at Seward Park on a perfect summer day was not such a bad place to be.

The 13 women who raced at Seward today was a bigger number than this race usually sees. It was a good mix of riders without anybody to toy with the rest of us . Half the field was TGH--but TGH did not win and did not even get a majority of the primes. (Well, every lap after the first had a sock prime, and maybe TGH won more pairs of socks than anybody. But they didn't win the "big" primes.) The two Wines ladies put on a textbook display of teamwork, even when I knew they were both flagging at the end from their relentless hard work. I felt really guilty passing them at the finish.

I did not even expect to finish this race, so I was pleasantly surprised when I figured out that I would. Still, learning how to hang on and sit in was enough for me, and I never tried to move up far enough to "play." (Funny, though, that even if I don't "do crits," my brain still recognized when I should've been making moves that I wasn't.) That meant I was in a great position to sit and watch everybody else. So I was able to (1) get in a decent workout, (2) boost my confidence a little bit, and (3) enjoy some entertainment too (such as watching one woman chase down her teammate and seeing how bike handling degenerates on a hill when riders start to get tired).

I've just realized there will be no more pictures of tandem captains' helmets for the foreseeable future because I've no tandem prospects on the calendar. If late July was any indication, I now wait for depression to set in....

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What I'll do to race tandem

Saturday, 26 August

Apparently men will go to extremes to get out of racing tandem with me. After our painful experience last Sunday, Jamie was still committed to race with me at the state hillclimb championship at Crystal Mountain today. But he had to go and crash on the track last night, getting some major booboos and bruises. He thought it best not to punish himself any more by racing with me today.

But I didn't find this out until on my way to Crystal, with the tandem on the roof. So I checked in for the race and told them that Jamie wasn't going to be my partner and I'd be back as soon as I found someone in the parking lot who'd ride with me. (That raised a few eyebrows--and harkened back to Kerry's term for me.) I had to proposition three men before I was successful; all had zero experience as tandem captain but I trusted their bike handling skills. Corrie agreed to race with me, and there were about 90 minutes between our individual starts and the tandem start, so we'd have time to get the bike ready.

Wow, they repaved parts of Crystal Mountain Blvd recently, and it was a pretty smooth trip up the hill on my single bike. From the car, I thought I could do this on my big ring (it's a 50), but oh no, I got about 500 meters into the hill and shifted back to the little ring. Happily for me, I caught 4 women on my trip up the hill, including the one I "needed" to beat. The climb is 6 miles, and at about mile 3.5 I was thinking that it was too long. I tried to remind myself that just last week I'd done a 9.5-mile hillclimb without major meltdown. There was a headwind on the downhill section, so there was never a sensation of going even sort of fast. My time was 35 seconds slower than 2005, but there was no tailwind in the last 2 miles this time. All in all, I was happy with how I rode.

One of the funky features of this race is a special prize for the fastest fattest rider, so to speak (Jamie had his eye on this one). So after you finish, they weigh you and your bike, and then they weigh you (if you want to play this part of the game). Come to find out my basic K2 Mod 5 with FSA wheels weighs in at a whopping....15.5 pounds. No wonder I get blown around in the wind!

With some fiddling, we got the tandem set up for Corrie, and with some coaching, we started out and headed down the hill. How would you like to learn to ride a tandem by setting off down a 6-mile twisty descent? We found out the brakes squeak but had no other "issues." There was a holder for our start, so our race started smoothly. And it kept going smoothly all the way to the top. It took a little longer than my single-bike time, but I never had the feeling that we would never get there. Another tandem started 30 seconds in front of us; we caught them within 60 seconds and finished EIGHTEEN MINUTES ahead of them. Of course, they had a boom box on the rack on the back of their Bike Friday tandem and were passing beer and other goodies back and forth when we went by. I'm not sure which of us had the better ride....

The sun was out allllll day long, there was a fun post-race BBQ, and there was some nail-biting while riders tried to figure out their BARR points and who had won their categories. We all got to ogle Ian McK's new national champion's skinsuit--and congratulate him, of course. Thanks to Corrie for being a trooper and riding with me; and thanks to Leslie and Tracy for another fun day on their tandem. Heal fast, Jamie!

Monday, August 21, 2006

O happy days

Sunday, 20 August

Formula for a really hard day on the bike(s):

1. Gear Push time trial, single bike, 10 miles
2. Gear Push time trial, tandem, 10 miles
3. Tandem ride in Mt. Rainier National Park, 75 miles

The Gear Push time trial is on that sweet, flat, winding course from Flaming Geyser State Park. There was no wind this morning, just sunshine and hot air balloons. I pushed a monster gear on the way out (55x12 much of the time) and a little easier on the way back. I thought I bogged down a little on the return but was able to go pretty hard from 1K out. I still haven't looked up my previous times on this course, but today's was good enough for fastest women's time for this race.

30 minutes after I finished, Jamie and I set out to ride it again on the tandem (thanks, Leslie!). The last time we rode together was for this race in 2005, and I still remember how he ripped off the start line and I thought I was going to have to beg for mercy before we got 100 meters out. This year was a smoother start and we settled into a good rhythm. He chose an easier gear than I would have, but it sure kept us moving right along. We had the fastest time of the day--until Matt rolled in 15 seconds faster than us. Still, second-fastest time made us pretty happy.

Then we packed everything up in the car and drove to the White River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park (bottom of the Sunrise climb) to meet up with a bunch of his teammates out for a nice ride in the mountains. Just climbing Sunrise would've been "unambitious," so we headed the other direction: up Cayuse, down Cayuse, up to Backbone Ridge, down to Box Canyon, and then up Stevens Canyon to Reflection Lakes. We had originally planned to go all the way to Paradise, but a variety of factors induced us to turn around sooner. Good thing.

The best part about this ride on a tandem is the descents, and because of Sunday afternoon traffic, they were a mixed lot. We got about 2/3 of the way down Cayuse Pass before we caught a car and then had to sit behind it and smell its hot brakes. Going down to Box Canyon was great fun because there were no cars and the bike just floated around the easy bends. Once we turned around at Reflection Lakes, we were STUCK behind cars going WAY less than the posted 35 mph speed limit for the entire descent down Stevens Canyon. We (well, Jamie) had to ride the brakes all the way down. It was just not very much fun. The descent from Backbone Ridge to the park entrance at Grove of the Patriarchs has a lot of rough pavement and some tight hairpins; I remembered it being the most challenging descent in RAMROD on my single bike. Somehow, though, you miss (almost) all those little bumps on a tandem, and that descent was a ton of fun. We caught an RV toward the bottom; as Jamie pointed out, the good thing about that was that we found out where the bumps in the road were by how hard it bounced. And the last descent, from the top of Cayuse Pass down to the White River entrance, was spectacular. Two patient drivers stayed behind us and gave us lots of room; we were quite definitely exceeding the speed limit there. As we turned off, one of the drivers behind honked his horn and gave us a thumbs-up gesture and a wave as he went by--maybe flying down the hill on a bike looked like more fun to him than driving his minivan with a tent trailer in tow?!

But of course you pay the price of admission to get to do all those ripping descents: you have to climb. Nobody else in our group had done two time trials before setting out on this trip, so we were disadvantaged from the get-go. Add to that the fact that this tandem weighs more than our two single bikes combined. And then figure that we did at least 35 miles of climbing on a day when it was 86 degrees in Seattle. It was just plain HARD. I think it was one of the 5 hardest days I've ever had on a bike (not counting epic weather conditions). Definitely not the hardest, but right up there. And we weren't even racing. Jamie was losing lots more salt than he could replace, and finally about a kilometer from the top of Cayuse Pass, he had to get off the bike and work out a bad cramp in one leg. We knew the top was just around the corner, and when he got back on, he thought he could make it that far. But no. Maybe 250 meters from the top, we stopped again. Finally he was able to walk, and I pushed the bike, and then all was peachy for the descent.

Some interesting things learned for me. I'm glad I don't lose much salt when I sweat. People descend through turns very differently. People make very different gear selections (Jamie's TT gear was easier than I would have chosen, but the gear on the climbs was harder than I knew I could climb and not blow up my knees). And riding a tandem with your eyes closed is pretty cool. People on this ride were asking if that's what I do on the descents; no, but in the last 3 miles of the Cayuse climb I could focus on just pedaling if I kept my eyes closed. I had to open them when Jamie wanted to stand, but that was about it. The bike was so smooth [late correction: the bike handling was so smooth] that balance was not an issue.

It was a fun day. Jamie couldn't remember the fun parts when he was withdrawing into his private place as agony seized his muscles, and I'm guessing he wouldn't jump on a tandem for a ride today. But for me it was a great way to end a weekend of tandem fun--and I'd go again in a heartbeat.

Race results are here.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Playing the field

Saturday, 19 August

I had a date today with my husband to do something I've done with five other men but never with him: race tandem. Up until the end of July, I raced all year with Martin, but when he moved on to other things, I decided to keep racing and play the field (Kerry has a name for this that I shall not repeat!).

Our challenge was the Mary’s Peak Hillclimb, southwest of Corvallis—the highest peak in Oregon’s Coast Range. The distance was 9.5 miles, and it was advertised as an average grade of 11% for the first 4-5 miles, a mile of descending, then an average of 10% to the finish. We were lucky to borrow a tandem from Co-Motion for this race, and they were originally going to give it to us with just a double chainring, but when I heard the gradient, I was pretty sure we’d need a triple. And we used it a lot.

We took the bike out for a (flattish) ride on Friday afternoon to make sure we could pedal in the same circles. We also got to ride Co-Motion’s new, one-off (so far) 24-pound tandem; we were a little shaky on that one at first, but we motored up Green Hill Road and managed to get down the descent without going into the ditch. It was kind of fun to just ride around on those great roads west of Eugene that I usually have to race on; I saw a lot of things I’ve never seen before.

60 riders turned up for today’s hillclimb, which isn’t bad for a course with such tough advertising. There hasn’t been a race here since 1998, but the promoter was able to tell us that the legendary/unwritten course record was 37:21—for a single bike. We started in our little chain ring and were glad to have it. We went around the first bend and there was our 30-second guy just up the road, so that helped motivation. The climbing in the first 2 miles wasn’t bad, maybe 8%. The next 2 might have averaged 10-11%, but we just stayed in the saddle and pedaled away. We were a little worried about the descent in the middle (Mick having a whopping 175 miles of tandem captaining experience, and none on this bike), but a moto passed us at the top so we could sort of follow its lines around the twisty bends. After that the road kind of flattened out, and there was a 100-foot gravel section, then it was back to small-ring climbing.

Kerry had told us that when you come out into a meadow you’ve got about 1 kilometer to go, so I got pretty excited when a meadow popped into view and we could cruise along in the big ring. But then we went up again, and there was no sign of the finish, and we had to shift down. We kept going hard, thinking we were almost done. Finally, after another mile or so, there was another meadow and we could finally see the tent in the parking lot at the top.

On the way up, we passed 10 riders. I think most of them were pretty startled to be passed by a tandem. The guy who started 30 seconds behind told us at the finish that he had never been beaten up a climb by a tandem before, and he had been certain at the start that he would catch us. What were we supposed to say, "gee, we're sorry"? Not.

Our time was 45:49, better than we expected but not fast enough to put us in the top 10 for the day. We were the fastest mixed tandem (OK, we were the only mixed tandem), and we beat the male-male tandem (OK, their stoker is maybe 13 years old). We beat the previous recorded tandem time by more than 10 minutes. The Oregon district hillclimb championship will be on this course in September (first time ever here); we’re sorry we can’t come but it will be interesting to compare our times.

Oh yeah, and we even got DOWN those 9.5 miles in one piece. Riders had to have a moto escort down the steepest part at the bottom to make sure we didn’t exceed the posted speed limit (30 mph)—which we surely would’ve done.

Race results are here.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Time trial twist

Sunday, 13 August

In my pre-July, ignorance-is-bliss days, I thought a time trial meant you went out and pedaled nonstop for whatever distance and checked the clock. If you didn't pedal nonstop, something was wrong (usually a crosswind, in my case). At Seven Springs, I encountered a new twist on TT courses (steep up, fast down, tight curves) and I loved it. Today's new variation is one I can do without: three lengthy stretches of crushed rock, which you encountered going out to the turnaround and coming back to the finish.

This was no ordinary time trial; it was the state team time trial championship. That meant that you hit those gravel patches in a group of four riders. It's a flat course, so it would've been a good day to weigh 175 pounds. Sadly, no one in my group came close (OK, so maybe we're not really sad about that), and we skittered our way through crushed rock and round river rocks and soft dirt and whatever else Grays Harbor County puts down when they're building a road. We all got through without anything more than a stray foul word or two (speaking for myself alone, there), but not all teams were so lucky and there were flats and crashes.

Turns out I'm not the best TTT teammate; I'd accelerate too soon when I got to the front, before the rider ahead of me had latched on to the back of the paceline. We were an unevenly matched gang of four, trying to make our different skill sets compatible. It worked sometimes, and sometimes we'd have to ease up to regroup. But it was fun (which is what counts)!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Politics in my front yard

Thursday, 10 August

The HUB lawn at the University of Washington was today transformed into a graveyard for those who have died in the war in Iraq. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and most of the population here supports the general statement such efforts make. But today there are some protesting this display. The most thought-provoking sign (held by a guy wearing desert camo) says: "stop the exploitation of the war dead." I'm not making a political statement here, I'm just saying this is a point I've not heard before that falls between the two usual camps on this issue.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A 40K fix

Sunday, 6 August

Withdrawals. Nobody warned me about this part of tandem racing, and I don't get used to them. They are wicked. Especially when there’s no next fix on the calendar and your dealer left the business. Short of a good cry or a hissy fit, there’s not much to do but play the field. Enter Sal. Or, rather, drag Sal in.

Salvatore and I had a date this morning at 9:39 in Peoria, Oregon: the Oregon State 40-kilometer time trial. As I was driving to our early rendezvous, there was not a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. Warm sunshine was spreading across the Willamette Valley. A favorite song was playing. I was on my way to race a 40K TT. On a tandem. Life was looking waaaaay up. I could not contain my happy grin.

This was a championship event for everybody else, but we were riding for prize money. And I secretly (well, I guess it wasn't so secret) wanted to break the course record for mixed tandems: 55:31. Carl and Kim set the record 2 years ago when there was a scary fast tailwind on the way out and devastating headwind on the return.

Peoria is a collection of maybe 10 houses and park and a church. This time trial is probably the biggest thing that happens there every year. So it's hard to imagine, but it took Sal and I 30 minutes to find each other in this speck of habitation. Cell phones were invented for a reason, I guess. Setting up the bike up for me was quick; I opted to stick with the stoker's saddle already on the bike instead of using mine. That turned out to be a mistake, but not too critical.

Off we went to warm up. The bike worked fine, we worked fine, we even got out of the saddle without much ungainliness. It all seemed pretty smooth to me; Sal doesn't pedal in squares or push a weird gear or ride all over the road. And he didn't complain about any bad habits of mine. All in all, we were pretty relaxed and leisurely before the start.

3 recumbents and another mixed tandem went off ahead of us. One of the 'bents did this course last year in something like 42 minutes, so we were confident we wouldn't be seeing him again. Our start was smooth and straight (sans holder) and off we went. We rode probably 90% of the course in the 54x14--it's a flat course, and the wind just did not materialize today. We passed the tandem in front of us maybe 10 minutes out, and one of the recumbents after the turnaround (he tried to repass us, and I think that fired us up a little bit), but I didn't see much else along the way. Somewhere about 15K into it, I realized that the saddle was wider than the one I'm used to and was making my glutes sore. At about 25K, my hamstrings were calling my name in a way they never have before. But other aches and pains that developed during tandem racing in July were silent.

I used my favorite mantra to stay focused on, well, staying focused. We were smooth and steady from start to finish. There are no hills or corners so no reason for me to ever look up from admiring the paint (it was yellow) on the top tube. I knew the course well enough to sense when we were approaching the turnaround. I knew too when we were coming to the finish (a couple of bridges, then a couple of stands of trees, then "the town"), so I was prepared when Sal asked for more for a last kilometer of effort. The problem was that he was a little premature, and so we were winding it up from 1.5K out. Oh well, it was gonna hurt anyway, and I don't think there was a whole lot of acceleration left.

Our time was 56:03. As I was trying to come to terms with not breaking Carl and Kim's record, the chief referee and race organizer started hearing complaints that the turnaround was in the wrong place this year. The final determination was that we all raced 41K instead of 40. So while Sal and I didn't set a new course record, our average speed was faster than Carl and Kim's, and our 40K time was well under theirs. I'm thinking we should all be happy--and try for even better next year!

As I was basking in the glow of today's tandem fix, I fielded one question over and over: "how come you only raced once today?" Well, the women started right after the tandems, and it was physically impossible to race tandem and either my age group or my category. They would've let me start with the men 3s or 1-2s, but I couldn't see myself getting motivated for another 40K in which I would've probably been DFL. Better to do just one and have a ton of fun. Thanks for the fix, Sal!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Sorry, I'm just bad with names

Saturday, 5 August

Kele never spells them right. PruDog gives everyone a new one. Me, I just can't remember them.

So, I apologize. Don't take it personally. It doesn't (always) mean I have no clue who you are. (I love those WSBA frame numbers cuz I can go home and look you up.) But I've always been bad with names and just can't retrieve them with confidence from my grey matter.

A teammate has a theory about this. Men outnumber women in bike racing by about 10 to 1. So it's much easier for them to remember our relatively fewer names than for us to place all 800 of them. There's one corps of male riders I know pretty well: they all know me, I know all of them, and I know all of their names. I'm just not sure which name goes with which guy. Yet.

And I have another excuse. After my crash last fall, they didn't put my jaw back where it used to be and I still have speech problems. Not every word comes out being the one I intended. Most recently, to my horror, I was introducing someone near and dear--and another name rolled off my tongue. Same number of syllables, same vowel/consonant order, but definitely not the person I was standing next to.

So, if you ride up next to me and address me by name, and I don't quite reciprocate, I am very sorry and don't mean to be rude. I'm just a bit thick and hate the thought of being even ruder and getting your name wrong. I'm just thankful anybody talks to me at all.

And now I must draft my response to the personal ad in the Eugene Weekly from a SWM looking for a woman 40-49 "to ride tandem bicycle."