Friday, March 30, 2007

Shotgun Creek

Friday, 30 March

Since a generation in bike racing is about five years, there are few left who will remember Shotgun Creek. And for those who do, I apologize for stirring your primal fears and inducing nightmares. But I could not ride by without paying my respects.

Today's ride followed the route of a race that hasn't been held in 5 or 6 or maybe even 7 years. It started out nice enough: tailwind through dead flat farmland. I missed a turn, but no worries because I just took the next one instead. The only hard thing about this stretch of the ride was that there was nowhere to stop and pee (the women's peloton used to be quite a spectacle when it would just stop somewhere, hopefully but not always out of sight of the nearest farmhouse). Whereas on Wednesday there was no traffic and a jillion trees, today there was traffic and nowhere to hide. Eventually, you climb out of the valley on Gap Road, which is like a mini pass, a stairsteppy, not too monstrous hill. There's a little town at the bottom on the other side, where I stopped for coffee and a scone (I'm tired of Clif bars, and those Blox taste like paint thinner). The town is just big enough that if you shut down all the streets, you could have a nice little 4-corner crit (me? thinking of crits? hmmm).

More flat farmland with more hat farms. A little crosswind but not bad. Then today's climb. It's never steep, but I think it goes on for about 4 miles. I had resolved to do it twice, to make up for the fact that this was otherwise a pretty flat ride. It seemed to go on forever. Just when I was marveling at how much litter was in the ditch and on the shoulder, I noticed a water bottle. Now, you know how when you're climbing and you want to think about something besides the climbing--well, that bottle stuck in my mind. You wouldn't ditch a bottle on a training ride or out touring, would you? But there aren't any races here any more. And there was a feed zone on this climb those many years ago. But how could a bottle sit there for 5 years and not get grown over or blown away or otherwise fade into the woodwork?

Well, I ended up so curious about that bottle that on my second time up the hill, I had to stop and look at it. I figured I'd just be able to accuse some local team of littering the countryside. I was astounded to discover that, indeed, it must have been sitting there, virtually unscathed, for these last 6 years. So when people tell you NOT to throw your water bottles off the road in a bike race, this is why: they do not go anywhere, they do not disintegrate, and as a general rule I do not go around 6 years after a race to pick up old bottles. Plastic is forever; be careful where you put it.

As I crested the climb and dropped down the other side, I thought "gee, it's steeper from this side; I should turn around and go up this one too." So I did. It was steeper, but there was a tailwind, so it wasn't too bad. I managed to turn a ride with one long climb into one with 3 good climbs.

Just when I thought I must have missed Shotgun Creek, I saw the sign to the "Recreation Area." It is now an OHV ("off highway vehicle") trail area, which seems somewhat more appropriate than the road bike courses we used to have to try to find through this jumble of barely paved forest roads of 10-14%. Curious to know what OHV stood for, I stopped to read an informational display and came across this picture from "back in the day" when we did indeed race on these "roads." The fifth guy in this line could be wearing an old Olympic Sports jersey.

And after Shotgun Creek, I passed the spot that invokes my strongest memories of Larry Kemp. He had flatted out of a break in the cat 3 race and still had not gotten a wheel change by the time I rolled through (OTB, as usual). To say he was pissed would be an understatement. We miss you, Larry. Rest in peace.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hat farm

Thursday, 29 March

It's a hat farm. Get it? :)

Another great day here at training camp, sunshine all day long. It was a "double stage" day. The first stage was 82 miles, with 4 major climbs and one more of about a mile. Plus a long false flat section into a headwind where I really tried to push the pace. Some of it was backwoods riding, some of it was wine country. But still not much traffic. The third climb was one I raced up last year, and I was pretty tired by that point and could not figure out how I raced up it--twice! Maybe I'll find that fitness by the end of the season....

I was sworn to secrecy about the second stage, so all I can say is it was a short little loop, with some scenic farmland, rollers, and a two-mile gradual descent--the wide open kind where you just let the bike go. I thought my legs would be toast with 60 minutes off the bike to eat and drive to the second "stage," but they were okay.

O.A.D. wanted me to do the local Thursday night "ride," but my tandem partner from these parts is out of town and there's no way I can ride cat 1-2 men's race pace over hill and dale on my single bike. I might have to come back for another Thursday night this summer.


Thursday, 29 March

Part of training camp is proper recovery and, unlike Old As Dirt, I can't watch TV for 6 hours straight. So I've been working the hat "business" on the side. Even got a "commission" for a totally new design for summer fashion; figuring that out gives me something to think about on the bike.

Two of these for OBRA friends. I hope the yellow matches their officials' clothing. Plus one of the custom hats purchased at the MVA auction. This is one of my favorite hats I've made; I sure hope Cindy likes it!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

TC day 2: ding a ling

Wednesday, 28 March

I was out in the woods today and--being overly paranoid and cautious--I was worried about coming across a mama bear and her cub as I zoomed around each blind bend in the road. So I wore bells on my jersey zipper pull. You're laughing at me, but it worked: I didn't see a single bear! A bunch of squirrels and some birds I've never seen before, but no bears. This rock with a smiley face was pretty funny, although I realized as I was taking the picture that I was directly in the path of the slide!

Today's ride would've been beyond epic in yesterday's weather. It was cool and cloudy at the start (ding a ling forgot her armwarmers) but the sun was out for most of the day, so it was a great 85 miles. Within 0.2 miles of getting on the bike today, the road went uphill. All in all, I think there were 4 2-mile climbs, 2 3-mile climbs, 15 miles of 1-2% uphill (all in one piece), and 5 miles of steadily increasing grade with a headwind. No sign of snow. The road is pretty immaculately maintained by the feds (your tax dollars at work on a road with no traffic), so winter rock slides and fallen trees were all cleaned up. You see more road hazards in Seattle riding down Lake City Way to the bike trail.

I was out in the absolute back of beyond. Between mile 3 and mile 73, I saw TWO cars on the road. Two. One at mile 40 and one at mile 60. Sum total for the entire ride was 19 cars in 85 miles. Not bad, eh? Well, it did kind of put an edge on the first part of the ride. When there's absolutely nobody around, you worry (or at least I do) about what could go wrong, getting attacked by bears, or yahoos in a pickup with a gunrack just having fun. After 30 miles or so, the beauty of the woods sank in and I relaxed and started to enjoy it all. It was SO quiet whenever I stopped to take pictures.

I rode 12 miles out a nicely paved road, then did a 60-mile loop on chipseal forest roads that had no lines and were usually only about one lane wide. Early on in the loop, there was a directional sign to the Smith River Highway, which made me laugh because I didn't remember it being much of a highway. But, just for .n., I took pictures of the "highway" and the river.

The highway messes with your mind. It starts out at about 1%, which is fine and you still zoom along pretty fast. By itsy bitsy bits, the gradient increases. You know there's a climb coming, but after about 12 miles of this, you're feeling worked over and wonder how you'll get up a hill. It's hard to say where the climb begins because the road is probably up to 3-4% at the bottom. And it's a really twisty climb so you can't see more than about 50 meters at a stretch, and you're sure the top is around the next bend. But it's not.

In the excess baggage department today, I carried my cell phone (coverage died 10 miles before I parked the car) and cash and a credit card (I went by no commercial establishments whatsoever). I did not have enough clothes--but I didn't have room for them. The worst scare of the entire ride was coming down the next-to-last descent when both my tires skidded on gravel and I thought for sure I was going to slide down the hill. But I kept the bike up--across the center line, but upright. And the most unusual site on the whole ride is the "Inmate Forest Work Camp"--half my vehicle count came on the way back when a bunch of sheriff's vehicles passed me on their way to that camp.
What a beautiful day! The locals all know the route but I don't think they do it often.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Training camp day 1

Tuesday, March 27

Today was mostly a travel day for me, so that left only a little bit of time for the first official day of training camp. So what do you do with just a little time on the bike? Go uphill. The hill du jour is 9 miles from highway (1230') to summit (4100'). Until April 1, the gate is closed at about mile 5.5, but the fine print says it's open to walkers and cyclists year 'round.

The reason they have to close the road in winter is all this funny white stuff that was on the shoulder, on the trees, blowing off the trees onto me, and eventually (at mile 6.75) on the road. Of those 6.75 miles, about 1 mile of the climb is actually descending, which means you have to go up it on the way down (huh?). There's also a nice dirt section that today was mostly craters with puddles. The temperature in the nearest town (about 500' lower and 10 miles away) was in the low 40s, so it was a tad bit chilly, especially when the winds picked up. At least it quit raining and the sun came out!
I was pretty cold at the bottom of the descent, so I figured the best way to warm up was to go uphill again. I didn't go all the way up (the winds were howling), and then I made a third uphill effort of about half a mile. That seemed to let my body temperature reach equilibrium so I could put away my bike and change my clothes without getting hypothermic.
Did I mention that I saw just two cars in this entire jaunt? Obviously none past the gate. I was relieved to see walkers when I turned around--nice to know that someone might find me before the road opens on April 1 if I had a major disaster. And I'm a little worried about impending disaster. As I was putting the front wheel on my bike before the ride, I noticed a nice little crack almost all the way around the fork at the drop-out. It's probably just in the paint, but how do you tell? No decent bike shop is going to say "oh sure, it's fine, it's just in the paint"--think of the liability. So I tried to wiggle the drop-out (couldn't) and checked the crack every time I stopped to take a picture or put on more clothes.
In the self-ridicule department, I had to wonder why I schlepped a Clif bar AND a bottle of water up the hill for this effort. Like I was going to stop for a picnic? Or get thirsty at 35 degrees? Especially when I was never more than 6.75 miles from the car. Some habits are ingrained, I guess.
And in the will-wonders-never-cease department, after this little jaunt, I go into a favorite pseudo-Mexican (I had a "Greek" burrito with beans, rice, spinach, feta, and olives--mmm good) restaurant expecting solitude. And as I'm standing in line a guy who looks vaguely familiar calls me by name and asks what brings me to these parts. Sigh. Can't hide anywhere. I should've left my Axley shades on.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Down on the farm

Sunday, 25 March

No Sequim for me. Today's project was to plant some raspberry canes that my dad gave me about a month ago that have been living in giant plastic bags amid our recycling bins. They seemed to be doing okay, but I figured if I wanted berries this summer, my odds were better if they were stuck in the ground. They came from rural Skagit County, and I think they will have a tough time adjusting to the high density of urban living because my tired, aching body could only manage to clear a plot about 1.5 x 3.5 feet to plant maybe 25 canes. (Yeah, Curly, now this is a hats and tandems and farming blog.)

Breaking sod is not the smartest or pleasantest thing to do the day after your hardest bike race of the year, so far. Yesterday was the Independence Valley road race, which must be a great course because I realized on the last lap that I had used all the gears on my bike. The course features two hills per lap, and we did three laps. I was pretty happy to move up through the pack on the first hill, but then a couple of tactical errors pretty much put the nail in the coffin on my race and I waved goodbye to the pack after the second hill. I was in a group of three for the second lap; one rider cut her losses and bailed, and I just didn't have the focus to stay with the other one. So I rode the last 20 miles on my own. In the pouring rain (it rained ALL day). Of course, I spent the whole time I was alone looking over my shoulder, mainly for the cat 1-2s which I knew were back there somewhere. They came past me in bits and pieces (nice to see Jamie in the break, but Rich is amazing!). About 3/4 of the way through the lap, I saw a single rider behind me. I was sure my speed had gotten pathetic and it was another woman, overtaking me for coveted 8th place. Much to my delight, it was Steve H., so I got 30 seconds of chat with him and distraction from my pain before he hightailed it to the finish line ahead of the group that "wouldn't work" with him.

My burning question at the end of the race? There was a "for rent" sign on a single-wide, 30-year-old mobile home on the course. How much is rent on such a beast, 5 miles outside of Rochester, which is, like, 25 miles outside of Olympia?

After my lamentations last week, I must point out that my team had 4 riders in the top 10 yesterday. Of course, I must also point out that 2 of them were just plain strong, and 2 of us were just stubborn.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Extract foot

Monday, 19 March

So this is how I was supposed to express my frustrations about Saturday's race: "our team’s fitness/tactics are still coming around." Thanks, .n. Tact was not my major in college, not even one I could seriously consider.

And while a few folks have commented on the frequency of crashes in women's races (and I didn't even mention the one in my race on Sunday), at least we have so far managed to escape shenanigans (that's my big post-St. Patrick's Day word for you) like this cat 1 observation: "one of the HB guys was getting mad at one of the Axley boys cause they were disrupting HB's chase effort....I saw HB grab onto Axley's jersey, force him to the left and then he stopped pedaling so that Axley was in effect pushing him up the hill." That would go off the charts for race entertainment value.

Maybe henceforth I should post my weekend observations on Tuesdays, after dust/mud has settled, so I avoid putting my foot in my mouth and have some comparative basis for assessing the thrills (or lack thereof) in my races.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

2 days, 2 races

Sunday, 18 March

I did two road races this weekend, and they were worlds apart (figuratively) and states apart (geographically).

Saturday was Mason Lake #3. Rain again. The "right" break got away and the entire pack sat up. No, let me rephrase that. The "right" group of women, representing (almost) each team in the race, got to the front of the race and everyone was happy to let them get detached. We got down to the snail's pace of 13 mph for a while. The break contained the two undisputedly strongest women in the field (including one of my teammates) plus last year's BARR champion plus two others, and we were not going to catch them whatever we did. So we kept going slowly, in the rain, except for a few frustrated attacks. This is billed as a training race, but I'm not sure what kind of training it offered.

OK, in the end, my teammate won. But she had the series won before she even got on her bike today. There were 17 women in the race, I had 4 teammates, and we got one in the top 10. The two teams with 3 riders each had all 3 of their riders in the top 10. We need to work on something--in addition to my sprinting.

Sunday was Banana Belt #3 at Hagg Lake west of Portland. 21 women in the field. The first lap (of 4) was a reasonable warm-up pace. Laps 2 and 3 were filled with attacks and counterattacks: on the uphills, on the downhills, in the corners. I got near the front on the climbs but was out the back more often than I want to admit. (Bless those cat 1-2s for passing us at a strategic time, and especially Donald, Matt, and Doug for having a nice gap off the front to prolong our neutralization!) Nobody got away for long, but a few got dropped for good. Thankfully, nobody practiced their track maneuvers by throwing their bikes across half a lane, which was a relief after Saturday. The last time up the biggest hill on the course, the official told us to ride hard or we'd be neutralized to let the cat 3s pass. Bodies launched everywhere. I couldn't quite hang onto the front group but managed to pull them back after the top. This was the best training I've had in a while.

The finish at BB is a scream. The biggest climb is about 3K from the finish (where we avoided being passed by the 3s), and it's mostly downhill after that. You can coast the entire last kilometer at 20 mph except for a tiny riser between 300 and 200m to go. And there's a sweeping righthand turn over a bumpy bridge at 350 to go. So the pack flies along at 30+ mph. The riser punctures some riders' sprint hopes, but then it's 200m of flying downhill to the finish. I do better at this sprint than the one at Mason Lake. Even with compact gearing. Go figure.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hodge podge

Monday, 12 March

It was a weird weekend. It started at Mason Lake on Saturday, where it never really stopped raining. I was the official for the cat 4 women's race, and 100 meters after we turned onto the course, 3 of them crashed. Three-quarters of the way around the course, about 10 more piled into each other and crashed all over the road. After arranging "transport" for those whose bikes or bodies wouldn't go any farther, we passed about 20 women riding in onesies and twosies before we finally caught what was left of the race: 11 riders (37 started). Higgie was in the lead car and gave a post-race coaching clinic. I hope he was able to calm what must have been some pretty taut nerves.

There was nowhere near as much excitement (of any kind) in my own race. I wanted to race with the masters, but there weren't enough of them. And then I decided I wouldn't race at all because it was pouring and the road had a winter's worth of sand plus some new gravel in spots and I still had visions of bodies and bikes going every which way. But I knew that I would be my own biggest critic for a week if I didn't at least start, so I did. The riding wasn't so bad, and on the first 3 laps you could convince yourself it wasn't raining when you were on the backside of the course because there was a tailwind and no spray off the chipseal. But the main road was like being in a gritty shower. The field did not offer much hope for excitement: 5 Byrne (including last week's winner), 4 TiCycles, a sprinter from Portland, and a climber from Spokane. I now know who cannot sustain an attack for more than 100 meters and whose body language gives at least 5 seconds of notice before her attack starts. Of course, the right combo of last week's winner plus a Ti rider finally got away. The only thing left to do was marvel at the gap between the pro-1-2 break and pack (they passed us exactly one lap apart). Oh yeah, and it absolutely POURED for the whole last lap.

On to Sunday, after losing an hour's sleep on Saturday night. Old As Dirt and I led a ride with Frankie Andreu for the Cascade Bicycle Club. Early start: I rode to the ride while O.A.D. drove to pick up Frankie at his hotel. 25 die-hard fans turned out to ride with him, and he did not disappoint. He chatted with everybody, leaving O.A.D. to play gate-keeper and flat-fixer and me to ride on the front all day to make sure everybody went the right way. I learned from these Cascade riders that I (1) did not give the mandatory preride safety lecture (I obviously failed to do that on Saturday, too) and (2) ride a really smooth, constant pace (which tells you more about Cascade rides than about me). Brunch was fine, then it was off to the Bike Expo (the reason Frankie was here) to see sponsors, mechanic, coaching staff, framebuilders, race organizers, etc. When we picked Frankie up to go to dinner, the bag he set in the back seat next to me had a very subtle imprint on the top that said "U.S. Olympic Team 1988." Nice. I wonder how many airline employees see that. And good to know that we're not giving flimsy schwag to our Olympic athletes--this piece has been in use for 18 years.

Biggest ego boost of the weekend? Frankie recognized O.A.D. immediately because he was wearing his team StokedHat and Frankie had seen pictures of my donated auction item at the MVA auction on Saturday night. Well, that and Frankie accusing me of almost dropping him on Rainier Avenue.....

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Remember riding in January ?

Thursday, 8 March

My employer thought it was a great idea to encourage people to ride their bikes to work in all kinds of weather conditions at the beginning of the year (remember them all?). Some people had so much fun doing it that they were inspired to submit their own haiku describing the experience. You can read the whole lot here. The winner of this part of the Ride in the Rain competition was:

I hate being wet / but I have no choice because / my husband makes me.

I thought that one was worth mentioning here. Another that strikes chords of sympathy:

Morning sky is blue / Black is ice upon the street / bicycle slides, body hurts.

Skipping over most of the sappy ones, this one might be a happy summary of why we ride if only it didn't imply we are going in endless circles:

It is a circle / Pleasure, pain, gain and again / Ride hard, ride often.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The jersey

Tuesday, 6 March

Tonight was meant to be my last installment of winter racing at CycleU. One more effort to find those elusive 20 average watts I lost somewhere in the last year. And then they give me the leader's jersey and tell me I keep it until I lose it. Oh, the pressure. Now I have to go back and defend. They figured out how to suck me in. And I try to tell myself I'm really not very competitive....