Monday, May 28, 2007

Three seconds

Memorial Day

Yesterday was Ski to Sea, the biggest thing that happens in Whatcom County each year. Those of us who pop in and pop out only get a little jolt of the huge buzz that energizes Bellingham for weeks. It is the biggest throw down, smack talkin' event I know of. People try to mess with your mind--and admit to messing with others'. It is by far the funnest racing+socializing thing I do all year long. Thanks especially to Janet and Brian and Holly for making it all come together for me!

The road bike leg is a 36-mile, draft-legal time trial. There are three legs before the bike (cross country ski, downhill ski [which is mostly an uphill sprint carrying skis], 8-mile downhill run), so seldom does one cyclist get to start with another. Each year I secretly hope that a cyclist a little faster than me will have slower teammates up the mountain so that I go off first, get caught, and then get a nice draft to the finish.

The one fact of this race that's never in the race guide is that it will be raining at the start of the bike leg. Some cyclists get dropped off at about 7:30 by their skiers and runners driving farther up the mountain--and then have to sit there, with no shelter, until they start at maybe 11:00. Realizing this makes me appreciate all the support I get.

The course has a net elevation loss with two fairly decent hills in the first 10 miles and about 5 rollers in the last 8 miles. There are flat sections and some scary-fast technical descending. I rode in my 55x12 a lot. It is a great mix, never gets boring, and is always hard. One of the funnest parts for me is the pockets of people standing at the ends of driveways, in the rain, cheering as you go by (this is the Mt. Baker highway, not a highly populated area). Another fun part is that the first woman to start (that's been me the last couple of years at least) gets her own escort of two State Patrol officers on motorcycles (cuts down on my fear of being attacked by a bear). I'm pretty sure the first guy does too. Is that true, Ian?

The funnest part this year was getting caught by my husband. It didn't happen until the rollers at the end of the course (he was on a veterans team--average age 50+), and I couldn't stay with him for more than a mile or so. The canoe leg follows the bike leg, and one of my canoers is married to one of his canoers, so we had been joking the night before about who was going to get to the transition first. Even when I couldn't hold his wheel, he was a great rabbit to chase and I had him in my sights all the way to the finish. In turn, we passed a guy who had passed me earlier (on Alan's wheel). This guy was sure not going to ride behind a woman so he pulled in front of me after I passed him--and we slowed down. I knew we were down to the last 1.5 miles, which are dead flat, so I put my head down and left him behind.

The official results show that I managed to go 3 seconds faster this year than last year. Over 36 miles. My ride was technically a little faster because my time started when my runner scanned our team's "chip" in the last 20 feet of her run before handing off to me, and my time didn't stop until the canoer got the chip from me and scanned it. This was the first year for chip timing at Ski to Sea, and while there were some bugs and unhappiness (no posted split times at the finish, for one), it went pretty well.

In spite of the rain for pretty much the entire 1:29:23 of my ride, the awards ceremony at 5:45 p.m. was the warmest I remember. My team, Boundary Bay Brewing Co., won the open women's division and managed to hold off the local challengers, a Whatcom County women's team (a new division this year, I think, so that more glory could go to the pure local teams not sponsored by big, bad corporations who bring in ringers). Oops, though. We skipped out to go my husband's team party before the awards were all done and missed out on a new award this year. "Top Gun" medals went to the competitors with the fastest split times for each leg. And that was me!

Results of the road bike leg are here. If you read this page, you should know that the guy in 7th place overall is really our favorite local nonblogger. You can navigate from that page for results for other teams and other legs of the event.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mt. Hood SR

Sunday, 20 May

Short story: If you're going to the Mt. Hood stage race in 10 days:

1. Make time to see the TT course before you race (you can drive most of it and ride the rest as out and back from either end of the trail portion--don't be a doof and try this on race day).

2. Take your winter cycling gear: neoprene booties, goretex gloves, rain jacket, everything. And if you're doing the 1-2 men's or women's race, remember that everybody on the team has to have matching clothing, including rain jackets, vests, etc. Per USAC.

Long-winded story:

On Saturday afternoon, I got to preride the TT course for the upcoming Mt. Hood stage race. It starts at the Discovery Center in The Dalles and ends just outside of Hood River (notice that you race east to west, into the prevailing headwind--the same wind that makes Hood River a windsurfing mecca). Point to point. You can drive the portion of the course between The Dalles and Mosier (which I recommend), but the Old Cascade Highway is closed to cars so you'll have to preview this on your bike (which I also recommend).

You can read the technical details about the course on the race website. But here's how I'd describe it:
The first 3 miles are slightly downhill to flat, really windy, I couldn't have stayed in my aero bars if I tried. You go through the community of Rowena and then up the biggest climb, about 3 miles. It's twisty, mostly not steep, and mostly sheltered. But it's a real climb, not just some little power hill like you usually find in a TT. You round the corner at the top and you're back in the wind. So much wind that I could not keep the bike on the right side of the yellow line and had to clip one foot out and push myself along whenever the gusts subsided. Then the course rolls, mostly downhill I think but with the wind it's tough to tell because you have to pedal hard just to keep the bike going in some sort of line. Finally you come to the cliffs just above Mosier (part of last year's TT course). This is a fast descent that was described to me as "technical"; I guess the wind blows over the top of the cliffs, and you just fly down the slightly twisting road. You roll through Mosier (watch out for traffic with all those driveways and businesses!) and turn right on the Old Cascade Highway. You turn right again (uphill) onto the portion of the highway that's now a bike trail. This is the smoothest asphalt you could ever hope to ride on! There's some more climbing, and then you ride down through the historic tunnel (still smooth asphalt, and no drippy ceiling--the promoter promises lights in here) and then through the bendy colonnade after the tunnel. This is like a snow shed but keeps rocks from the cliffs above from falling on your head. It's supported by square concrete columns maybe 10 feet apart down both sides of the 8?-feet-wide trail. There are a couple of gentle bends, but you are descending at a pretty good clip. The course rolls some more, but this portion is pretty sheltered and wind won't be such a factor through here.

After winning the TT national championship last July, Kristin Armstrong said the course at Seven Springs was the hardest TT she'd ever done. That one was hard because it was unrelentingly up and down and twisty and you couldn't ever get in a rhythm. This year's course at Mt. Hood is, I think, more challenging. It will reward the gutsy, aggressive rider who can battle the wind, but the long climb offers something for the mountain goats. At 18 miles, it is long for a stage race TT, and there's a significant amount of climbing. I realized that if I had raced in the conditions on Saturday, I would've lost more time to the GC leaders in the time trial than in the crit in downtown Hood River on the last day of the race. But I also learned a couple of things about how to better handle my bike in the wind.

As we were riding the course backward to get back to our car, we encountered the LFG on his way home from work (he commutes on this course!). He admitted that sometimes the wind does blow out of the east, which will make for some scary fast racing. The trick to a fast time if the wind is out of the west is knowing when you can stay in your aero bars...and, for lightweights, keeping your bike on the road.

Sunday's plan was to preview the new Wy East road course that starts at Cooper Spur and finishes at Mt. Hood Meadows. The first climb starts as soon as you hit the highway below Cooper Spur. It continues, steeper, when you turn left on Road 44. The first 2 miles on 44 are the steepest, but it's a good long climb. The pavement gets worse near the top, so that the descent is kind of bumpy. The descent has some uphill sections (kind of like stage 4 at Columbia Plateau after the big climb) but generally it's wide open and not technical. And fast. Guys go 50 mph on the bottom of this descent. There's a smooth, flat section before you get to Dufur, a feed zone on a very short little bump, a couple of miles on 197, then you turn off the highway and ride down a little valley. First it seems flat, then uphill false flat, then gradually climbing. It's never steep but it's always twisty. Finally you come to the sign for the summit of the Tygh ("Tie") Ridge and get back onto 197 for a long descent (wide open highway). Turn right, a half mile of flat road takes you into the town of Tygh Valley, and you start climbing again. I suppose you could say the final climb starts here, but really there's a lot of flat stuff after this climb past the town of Wamic.

The road after Wamic is punctuated by some of these and a whole bunch of cracks across the road (remember the ones from the finish of Elkhorn stage 1 back into Baker City?). The road gets narrower and starts to go up, and this is what I would consider the start of the last climb. But there are some significant descents, and it's not steep for a long, long time. It twists through forest and it kind of all looks alike. Eventually you come out onto the highway, keep climbing, turn right for Mt. Hood Meadows, and keep climbing some more. The promoter says the grade in this final section gets up to 12%, and I'm sure it will feel like 20% by that point in the race, but it sure didn't seem like 12% to me.

Today we encountered snow flurries at the top of the first and last climbs, and there was lumpy rain at Mt. Hood Meadows. Hence I encourage you to take your collection of warm clothes for wet weather to the race; if you don't need them, just be happy that you don't. The two Mt. Hood SR veterans with me said that this new course will be more about racing; the climbs aren't as steep as the old epic road course, and there are places to catch back on. I also see a lot of places to go out the back....

Friday, May 18, 2007

Purple thangs

Friday, 18 May

Gorgeous things sometimes happen in my garden, even when it seems I'm away racing or training all the time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bike to Work Day

Wednesday, 16 May
Happy Birthday, Nathan!

This Friday, May 18, Mt. St. Helens day, is Bike to Work Day in Seattle. How many commute stations can you visit on your morning ride to work?

If I take the long way to work (which is just the reverse of my long way home), I'll go by three. It means leaving early, but since it's officially called Starbucks Bike to Work Day, maybe there will be some caffeinated incentives to help me on my way?

Hope to see you out there. Guess I should wear a team jersey instead of my usual fredly commuter garb....

Monday, May 14, 2007

The right bike for the race

Monday, 14 May

Always be sure to to pick the right bike for conditions on a race course!

Saturday was the Wasco Wild West 75, just outside The Dalles. Any time you're in the Gorge, things are likely to be windy, but Saturday was particularly so. Like 40-50 mph. This race goes around part of the circuit for Stage 1 of the Mt. Hood stage race (4 laps), a really nice course with one long (1 mile?) climb and one short (400 meters?) climb. The longest descent comes after the second hill, and on a still day, you could probably just fly down this, especially since this is a tandem race. However....

We rolled out from the start, a chatty bunch. Where I remembered the course being rolly from last year, it seemed easy (that meant a tailwind, but I was oblivious on this lap). In the last half mile before the first climb, there was some headwind. Then we got to the climb, I thought we were going nice and steady, working but not all-out. After a couple of minutes, Sal said, casually, like he was asking what flavor gel I like, "do you want to stay with those guys?" I looked up and saw that the only male-male (carbon Calfee) bike had a gap. Well, this was lap one, and you don't just let people ride away, even if they are technically in a different category. So we closed the gap, worked a little harder on the rest of the climb, got to the top, and entered the wind tunnel at a low setting. Even then, I remember saying "I'm so glad I'm not on my single bike." It was a thought that came back to me many times during the rest of the race.

Laps 2 and 3 were pretty much the same, just us two bikes riding around, except that the flat tailwind section was noticeably faster (we hit 45), and somehow it was harder whenever we were NOT at the front (that's not how a rotating paceline is supposed to work, is it?). We pulled for about a mile before the hill the third time up, and then the boys attacked us on the climb. An attack on a tandem is usually a slow-motion thing, but these guys had dropped back a little and were going several miles an hour faster than us when they zoomed by. We could've jumped, closed the gap, hung with them for 10 feet, and then blown up--so we just went harder, hoping they'd blow up or at least have to ease up, and watched the gap gradually get bigger. By now, the wind tunnel at the top of the hill was at full blast, and we barely changed gears to go down the descent. A couple of times the bike went in an odd direction, and when we tried to get out of the saddle at one stage, the bike went one direction and I got blown another. "That's why you're locked into your pedals," Sal said.

For much of lap 4, we were mixed in with 3 recumbents from the race that started behind us, and the oddest experience was when we were lined up behind them. No draft effect, I'm sure, but why not try? They'd been sitting on us for miles. The last time down the descent was really, really hard--almost as hard the climb (which was also into the wind). In a moment of typical Sal understatement, he observed "you might describe this course as 'windswept.'" There were several times (in the tailwind section, where you could HEAR things besides air rushing past your ears) that the wind was howling so hard it actually had harmonic pitch. Our legs on this lap were pretty cooked, and we were lucky to get up the long climb without using the granny gear. Riding hard into a strong headwind works your legs differently than a climb, and the combination of the two is really tough.

We won our "co-ed" division, had a nice postrace "cowboy picnic," smiled for the cameras when we collected our medals, and headed out. I was bound for Wenatchee, which meant a gorgeous drive along the north side of the Gorge, over Satus Pass, through the dust storms and across the valley to Yakima, over the ridges to Ellensburg, and through the rainstorm over Blewitt Pass. Got to Wenatchee just in time to see Kenny take full advantage of the Canadian escort that followed Tyler F. everywhere he went in the pro-1-2 crit.

Sunday's omnium stage at Wenatchee was 4.5 flat miles out to a cone in the middle of the road, back to the start, 2 more flat miles, 12 miles up, long descent, and 8 miles of highway to the finish. Given that the selection of skills and tools I brought to this start was even more limited than usual, it seemed that the best I could do was help my climber teammates by keeping the pack together to the bottom of the climb so that they could work as little as possible. This plan worked fine (it probably would've worked just fine without me too, so I don't kid myself that I was a proverbial "factor" in the race). Nobody was the least bit interested in an attack (there was probably a 20 mph tailwind at the start) and nobody seemed to mind that I monopolized the front all the way to the bottom of the climb. (The tricky part was getting my bike around the cone: you don't steer on the back of a tandem, and it takes a while to get back into the habit.) We got to the hill, they took off, I went backward, and then it was time for a nice little training ride in the warm sunshine. Apart from the crushed ego and all the time I spent wondering why I could barely get up the hill in my 34x23, it was a nice ride. For once, I was grateful to be on my single bike: I thought repeatedly about how much I would hate this course on a tandem. And it wasn't the climbing part that scares me most: it's the descent!

Congrats to Allison for riding away from them all on the descent and staying away to the finish! And congrats too to Old as Dirt for beating all the Local Old Fast Guys!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Product review

Friday, 11 May

Maybe I should've titled this post "I think I'm losing my marbles." Yesterday's mail brought me a nifty little packet that contained a Jimi wallet. Junk mail? Probably not: it's got first-class postage and a packing slip (with no price) with my name and address and a viable commercial product. Mail order? I honestly don't think I did. But (here's the scary part) it's something I would have bought given the opportunity--so maybe I did? It's a spiffy plastic container just big enough to carry a few credit cards and the measly collection of cash in my regular wallet. That means it's the perfect thing to slip into my jersey pocket (it'll even fit the XS pockets on an XS jersey) for training rides. And it's made from recycled plastic. It's great. Except that figuring out how it came to me is driving me crazy. If you're responsible, thank you!

Other manna from heaven this week came from AxleyUSA. I think these cool pink glasses (is that a standard color option, PruDog?) are Bandits. They look, um, chunky, but they fit my face and the temples aren't too wide. They got rave reviews (coordinated with my pink jersey and pink socks) at Seward last night. And, since it's finally gotten warm enough to stow the Axley wool sweater in the closet for a couple of months, I have a new Axley T-shirt to sport. O.A.D. thinks it was intended for a PruPuppy but it is way better than one of those size M race T-shirts that are too big to even sleep in. Watch for it in Wenatchee. And thanks, PruDog. Chad's hat is on the list.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What I dug up

Wednesday, 9 May

Tonight it was time to put some tomatoes and geraniums and a new rosemary start in the ground--they weren't looking very perky any more in their plastic nursery boxes. I thought I'd try to do the right thing and went out back to dig a little mulch out of the compost bin. Now, like most of my gardening, my composting might be described as a homophone of my Half Fast friends in Oregon. The bin is a random blend of summer grass clippings, autumn leaves, deadheaded flowers, and Starbucks grounds for my garden. But down at the bottom, it's starting to make nice mulchy compost, so I stuck in my spading fork, turned over a couple of layers, and came up with a big surprise. Since this item was in close proximity to a peanut (also not a Northwest native), I can only assume that my cat's playmates, the squirrels, were busy after Halloween.

Now, this brings up an important question. No, two. If I harvest chocolate bars out of my backyard, does this qualify for the locavore experience (food grown close to home)? And what do you plant in order to harvest chocolate bars?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Really scandalous racing

Wednesday, 2 May

You've probably heard of Race Across America. People do this race not just on single bikes, but on tandems, and not just solo but in teams. As you can imagine, various "issues" develop as you race your bike pretty much nonstop across this continent. And if you're on a tandem, one of those "issues" (if you haven't had the foresight to ride much with your partner before you set out--duh!) could be Captain Masher and Stoker Spinner. But at RAAM 2006, one team with this problem "put our minds together" and figured that if just one person was on the bike at a time, the cadence incompatibility would not be a problem. And heck, if there's no stoker, we might as well remove the bars, pedals, saddle, and seatpost for the stoker position. So what if RAAM rules state that a rider must accompany the bike every inch of the way from sea to shining sea, or that a tandem bicycle is a bicycle built for two? Apparently RAAM rules in 2006 did not explicitly say that TWO people had to accompany a TANDEM bike for the whole route. So this tandem team (four people) set a course record and got an official finish for the World's Toughest Bicycle Race (Made EZ). For a fuller version of this story, see the last page of this document:

This stinks. Since when is a tandem a bike for one person to race (there's a reason they're made with TWO positions)? Since when is a tandem bike race conducted one rider to a bike?

Maybe you can't do anything about drugs in the pro peloton, but you can do some small part for the sport. Fire off an email message to the RAAM director ( and the HQ of the UltraMarathon Cycling Assocation ( that "There is a RAAM rule that states a bike MAY NOT ADVANCE WITHOUT THE RIDER. On a tandem this means two riders. Team JDRF should be struck from the list of official finishers for RAAM 2006."