Monday, June 29, 2009


Monday, 29 June

Since my husband embarked on his gluten-curtailed diet at the beginning of March, I have only hesitantly worked my way into the realm of GF baking. Most recipes call for weird things that I can't find in my supermarket or that cost $12 per pound. I got muffins and brownies dialed in, and I think my GF waffles are better than the white-flour original, but didn't venture any further afield. Bob's Red Mill makes a lot of great GF baking mixes, but I am not a mix person and like to bake from scratch. Since Bob's also offers a huge line of GF flours and other baking products, it was just a matter of time before my GF pantry had enough options.

Last week I got an urge to bake again. First up was strawberry shortcake. Yes, fresh local strawberries are mighty tasty on their own, but who doesn't like shortcake? This recipe was a 100% success on first try, straight from a Google search, and incredibly simple.

Next up was raspberry chocolate shortcake. This was pretty much brownies with vanilla yogurt and raspberries on top. It disappeared before I got the camera out.

Irish soda bread is a versatile quick bread. It's great for toast at breakfast or with cheese any time of day. But the "real" recipe is just wheat flour and soda and buttermilk. In Ireland, they have a coarse-ground flour that's much coarser than anything you can buy here, so I puzzled over what GF product might provide a similar texture. I ended up using a lot of coarse-ground oatmeal (a couple of quick pulses in the blender). For a fuller flavor, I added buckwheat (which is not really wheat and is GF). I also used corn flour and soy flour to round out the flavors. It all worked well, but next time I will back off on the buckwheat--it has a pretty strong flavor. And maybe a drop of molasses will help give some depth to the buckwheat flavor? And I might try adding some steel cut oats for more texture. Maybe I can get the Irish Heritage Club to make a gluten-free division in its soda bread competition next St. Patrick's Day?

Finally, I tackled buttermilk pancakes. I think I used 5 different flours in these. Again, I used too much buckwheat, and next time I'll substitute some ground oats. When the batter was the right texture for buttermilk pancakes (lumpy), the pancakes were too dry. But I added a little more buttermilk and they were great. No pictures, but pancakes are pancakes. :)

Post-pancakes, we went on a 75-mile tandem ride. Melinda was in the group, and I remember her moaning one morning before a ride years ago that she had made pancakes for breakfast and was regretting it because they were "gut busters." Not so with GF pancakes. If you've ever had a feeling of being way too full after eating something with white wheat flour, I encourage you to try a gluten-free alternative. Even if you're not gluten intolerant or celiac, I'm pretty sure you'll notice a (happy) difference. You can eat lots :) and still not have that lead weight feeling in your stomach!

How to stoke a tandem

Monday, 29 June

We had a perfect little spin on Saturday: Newhalem to Mazama and back over the North Cascades Highway. I got a handicap by dropping my husband off in Marblemount, making his ride over the pass 15 miles longer than mine. This time he got to Mazama just 5 minutes after I did (I stopped to take too many wildflower pictures!).

Two cycling clubs were having big outings on this same route, so there were lots of cyclists on the road. They all spent too long at sag stops, and I passed the last ones at Easy Pass. Mick passed a tandem in Newhalem on his ride east and noted at the time that the stoker was not paying attention to the task at hand (riding a bike) while the captain toiled away on the front. After our leisurely refueling stop in Mazama, we headed back west--and saw most of those folks coming down from Washington Pass. We encountered that same tandem about 3 miles west of the summit of the pass, climbing at a pace that could not have been greater than 5 mph. The stoker, as they would say in Ireland, had not a bother on her; the captain looked absolutely wrecked, as if he had been towing a car all that way. Her attitude seemed to be "honey, why are we going so slow?" while he did not look like he could pedal the bike another 10 feet.

I got all my training on how to be a tandem stoker from tandem captains. This woman was apparently taught by another stoker, one who must've thought that stokers were ornaments, just there for show and maybe to provide verbal support ("nice effort, way to go, looking strong"). Lots of people tease stokers for not doing any work and getting a free ride, but I have honestly never figured out how to ride that way. If you want to go fast, you have to pedal hard. If the road goes uphill, you have to pedal harder. Is it really possible to sit in the stoker compartment and do your nails or knit a hat?

We took our tandem out on Sunday, and there were a few climbs where I was tempted to try out this different approach to stoking. But I could not do it. Partly because I wanted to get home sooner rather than later, partly because I want to ride the tandem again, but partly because it would just seem wrong. Apparently I need to go to stoker school and get brainwashed. But then I would have to find new captains because nobody I ride with now would have me back under those terms!

Monday, June 22, 2009

June-uary indeed

Monday, 22 June

Another successful Elkhorn Classic has come and gone. They're different every year, but Baker City always rolls out the red carpet and gives us a warm welcome, and Ernie and so many with OBRA do a marvelous job in putting on the production that is a stage race.

There were a lot of transitioning riders in this year's women's peloton. Okay, there were just plain A LOT of women riders this year. Some were getting back to racing after injury or illness, some had to sit out the race due to illness or obligations (thanks, Judy!), some were rethinking their commitment to competitive cycling, and some were racing for the first time. It was so good to see anxieties overcome and confidence regained.

Stage 1 was different this year because of the direction of the wind. I am usually hating life by the last 25 miles (it's a 75-mile road race), but there was a tailwind for most of the last 40 miles, including up The Climb and over all the "rollers" that are usually brutal. There was an early pee stop and then a short shower (the men's fields got more rain) around the first feed zone, and it was kind of eerie to race between windmills when the sky behind the white towers and blades was stormy black. We rode past a field of mint, which smelled fantastic. It was a good race, no heat exhaustion or dehydration. Wind is my friend when it's behind me!

Stage 2 was a different TT course for 2009. They took out all the hills. It was okay except for an awkward, contorted, contrived finish. This year we finished on Main Street, which involved two 90-degree turns in the last quarter-mile. The problem was getting us set up for those last two corners through a busy intersection. I'm not used to having to pick out a race chute between orange cones in the middle of the road with a sharpish bend after 11 oxygen-deprived miles. I don't care how many people are waving and pointing and trying to direct you along the course, it suddenly becomes a different event.

Stage 3 was a crit. Dry. Uneventful. Loads of primes.

Stage 4 was the anomaly this year. It was 45 degrees and raining in town at race time. The stage is 105 miles and finishes up an 8-mile climb. It was snowing at the finish when we were supposed to start. While everyone realized it would not be snowing still after we finished 105 miles, the fear was for riders who got hypothermic (or nearly) somewhere out on the course. It's one BIG loop, and while there are road signs pointing to some far-off towns, the course does not ride through anything you might call a town. No coffee shops, certainly. Nowhere to warm up and wait while you hope for a ride if you decide to DNF. So. With very short notice, the start times were delayed 30 minutes and the course was changed to "the short way" to the top of said climb--same Dooley Mountain, but climbing up the side closer to town. 10 miles of flat road, 8 miles of climbing. In the cold rain--and most of the cycling clothes you had brought with you.

Much to my surprise, there was no distinguishing the end of the neutral start. We continued to roll out the flat road. The pace picked up a little, there were a couple of faster stretches, but it was all just a nice warm up and never single file. Eventually we made the left turn, started the climb, and still the pace was social. So "social," in fact, that we had a little deja vu with some surge-and-brake issues we battled on Friday. One woman's frustrated reaction was to swear. Then she realized you're not supposed to do that in a bike race (lest you might get DQed) and she apologized profusely. That was pretty funny because we all shared her sentiments. Finally Alice took off at the front of the group and the race was on. The group just kind of dispersed. I followed the other Landshark in the peloton for a long time and let Molly do the work of making a gap between dropped riders trying to take up the whole road. Eventually Molly fell back and I just kept riding a steady tempo. At one point I had a train of about 6 riders behind me. Some of them fell back and a few passed me. The 3K sign came sooner than I expected, and the finish was pretty fast after that. The rain eased up on the climb, and since the climb is not steep, it was really a nice little race.

The pro-1-2 men started 10? 15? minutes after the women did, and I was very (pleasantly) surprised that we finished before they caught us, especially given the easy spin nature of our ride out of town. The finish line was barely controlled chaos, because the officials couldn't see riders' numbers buried under 19 layers of clothing (pin your numbers to the outer layer, people!), because it seemed that every third rider had a personal support vehicle that had driven to the top (where parking is minimal), and because riders were milling around. But that kind of barely controlled chaos is pretty fun. My husband started 45 minutes after I did, so I stood there in my wet clothes, drinking hot chai, wrapped in a blanket, huddled under a tent, until he came through. Then we climbed in a truck (thanks, Claire!) for the ride back to the start and a hot shower and another breakfast. Good times. :)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Adventure no. 2

Tuesday, 9 June

Last weekend was the second round in my adventure travels this summer. And the adventuring part didn't even involve my bike. I took the train from Seattle to Bingen, which is across the Columbia River from Hood River, OR, site of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic. The only time train travel makes the news is when it's disrupted and passengers are diverted to buses. My only expectation about this trip was that I would eventually get to Bingen.

The adventure started with a bus ride from the end of my street. It's a route I never take because it goes downtown (where I never go). I think the Kingdome was still standing the last time I was at the King Street Station, but I managed to find it. Have you ever noticed that it's impossible to tell where the "front" of that building is or where the front door is?

My train ticket said I had a "reserved" seat, but that's not the same thing as a specific seat. So I had to stand in line for a rather elaborate ritual of getting an assigned seat before the train arrived from parts north (it starts in Bellingham and goes to Eugene). When I got on the train, my assigned seat had already been given out to a rider from Bellingham. This was not a good sign, but I managed to find an open seat (next to a very chatty man from Bellingham from whom I learned much about senior services in Whatcom and San Juan counties), and the train left on time. Completely uneventful ride after that. I did not venture to the lounge car to sample the food--I have awful memories of train food from a trip to Montana ages ago. I read a little, dozed a little, and people watched a lot. The train itself is pretty quiet, but there were some noisy parties of two and four that kept the chat level up. The women in front of me were griping bitterly about going on bike rides where people ride too fast and couldn't possibly enjoy the scenery they were riding through.

I had a two-hour layover in Portland, so I got to venture out into the Pearl. Found a nice coffee/chocolate shop, tried not to drool on the goods in the Pendleton home store, and almost walked over to the yarn shop.

The train from Portland to Bingen was altogether different. It's the Empire Builder and goes to Chicago. Most of the folks had checked their luggage and were loaded down with bags of snack food and bottled water. Mmmm, two or three days of sitting in a train seat and eating granola bars. But the cars on this train are bigger, and passenger seating is on the "upper deck" so the view is even better. Since the train follows the Columbia from Vancouver to Bingen, I made sure I got a window seat on the view side. And a great view it was. Mt. Hood peeked out, and we saw a bunch of kiteboarders as we got into the Gorge. But I was definitely ready to get off in Bingen.

The rest of the weekend was filled with water bottles, feed zones, watching for poison oak, and two short but fun and scenic rides on my bike (which got to Hood River by car, not train). The weather was cooler than expected but there were some spectacular views of Mt. Hood on Saturday.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Small engine repair

Monday, 1 June

Saturday was the OBRA masters road race. Old biddies like me (and ones a lot younger than me too) got to race two laps (32 miles) on a hilly course just across the river from Longview. It was a perfect afternoon for a bike race, maybe a touch warm but that was just conditioning for the hotter races ahead this summer.

Since there were three age groups racing together in my race, I wrote the numbers of those in my age group on my arm before the start so I could keep tabs on them. The course goes up and down a bunch early on, but we stayed together. About miles 4-7 are mostly up and finish with the second most significant climb on the course. That's where a pair of riders (one in my age group) split the race to bits. Two of us managed to stay with them and two more caught back on. So we were a group of six for the descending portion of the course, and we worked well in a paceline to keep the speed up. Unfortunately, the last two to get on got popped for good on a roller about two miles from the end of the lap.

The 16-mile loop finishes up a 1K climb that's nice and twisty and not severely steep. About halfway up, I realized I was not exactly holding on to the wheel in front of me and before I knew it, they had a gap. Blah. I figure I should bury myself and work on closing the gap, but they are driving it up there and all I can do is keep the gap constant. Blah. 16 miles to go. Three ahead, two immediately behind, the rest who knows where. TT time!

The first mile of this course has stunning views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, but I promise I did not see them during the race. The three ahead were in sight and I was trying to at least hold the gap constant. Up and down, twist, turn, and they're out of sight simply because you can't see very far. Somewhere out there where I'm trying to pretend that I'm motoring along and holding off the riders behind, I pass a sign at the end of a driveway that says "small engine repair." This is exactly what I need! Clearly I do not have a large engine, and clearly it needs some tuning up so that it can reach higher RPMs and thus have better acceleration. I make a mental note to consult the yellow pages when I get home and see what can be done.

I knew I would lose time on a group through the downhill stretch, even more when I realized how much of a headwind there was. Pedal, pedal, pedal. This is where I figured out that this entire race was going to take me less time than the climb at training camp from the John Day River at Clarno up to Hamilton. That climb had been hard work too, so a little mental self-flagellation convinced me to keep the pressure on and try to hold off the field behind.

Somewhere around about mile 2 or 3 of my second lap, I realized that the official for the race was following me. At one point, she went up the road to check on the front group, but she came back and followed me. So long as she was right there, I figured there were no riders close behind her or she would've pulled over to let them pass. I also figured she wasn't giving me any time splits to the riders behind in order to keep a fire lit under me. :) After the race, she told me I was the "first chase group" (a kinder phrase than "last one to get dropped") and hence that's who she was following.

There's a flat straight bit of road before the final climb, and I couldn't see anyone behind me. There was a photographer just after the road tilted up, and when I asked he said he couldn't see anyone either. I didn't exactly soft pedal the finishing climb, but at least I didn't have to try to hold off a closing stampede. So I finished 4th overall, 2nd in my age group. I don't think the order of finish would've been much different if we had just done 16 miles. Turns out the break of three was probably the biggest group on the road--the field behind was shattered into onesies and twosies with huge time gaps between.

Since 32 miles seemed a bit short for a day's effort, I rode the loop backward after the race. Funny how the pitch of a road looks so much different going the opposite direction. And how you see so much more when you're not oxygen deprived with race blinders on!