Posts Tagged 'hill'

A Different Kind of Labor Day

Alternate Post Title: FRIKKIN’ FINALLY!!

Generally speaking, I don’t approve of failure through not trying. If I go out, give something my all, and then find out I can’t do it — fair enough. I need to train more/work harder/grow taller/read books/sleep less… whatever. Tried + fail = ok. Room to grow. Applies to all facets of life really. On the flip side, failing at something due to complete inaction? Problematic. I accept that I can’t be good at everything (or even, really, a lot of things), but I can’t accept that until I’ve at least tried it. Could I be a scuba diver? Maybe not… but until I take a course, strap on the gear, and hop in the water… how will I know?

This “guiding principle to life” is why the latest failure on Old La Honda really got in my head. I knew I could ride that hill. I’d dominated (or at least limped through) bigger and bad-assier hills than OLH. Multiple times. In sometimes ridiculous weather conditions. How is it possible that this one stupid road bump continued to elude me?! Often through no fault of my own! I steamed over it for about a week. Grumbled, bitched, kvetched… whatever you wanna go with. Until Julie (probably annoyed at said whining) says to me — “Do something about it. Let’s ride it.”

Like alone? Without SAG and team encouragement? Give up on my “doomed to fail at Old La Honda forever” posture and… just… ride it?! Well shit. Now there’s an idea! We could just pick a route. Map one out designed specifically to ensure OLH climbing success. Short warm up and then straight to the hill (no “extra” climbs to break down the legs early). Down 84 and then another short cooldown back to the start. This could work! I know how to make route sheets!!

And so I did. I hopped my tail over to MapMyRide, picked a known starting area and mapped out a ~30mile loop designed purely around climbing the “Bay Area Hill Standard.”  The following Monday was Labor Day, so Julie and I decided to make the most of a long holiday weekend and met up around 9am to get ‘er done. We rolled out pretty casually, and took our time warming up the legs through the back rounds of Menlo Park and into Woodside. The roads were surprisingly empty for a holiday weekend (maybe everyone else was at the beach? Or BBQ-ing?), and the weather was perfect — sunny with just a few puffy clouds; warm without being hot.

By the time we hit Portola Road, I was feeling pretty good. My chest was bothering me (yet), and you really couldn’t ask for a better day to be on the bike. By the time we hit the base of Old La Honda, I was raring to go. Julie and I stopped at the bottom, Gu’d up, and then agreed to meet at the top. I took a deep breath (or as close as I could come to it), clipped in and started spinning.

The climb was surprisingly easy… which I think makes sense compared to how much it had obviously been built up in my mind. Now, I’m not saying that it wasn’t work, because it was. There are bastardly punchy sections of that hill that exist solely to make you pop kidneys. There are unexpected switchbacks that make you wonder if there is, in fact, a top to this thing. There are, in some cases, couples riding side by side in matching rainbow jerseys just fast enough to stay ahead of you… but just slow enough to make you think you could get by if you tried. For the record, those suck. I spiked my heart rate at least three times trying to pass, or passing and then getting lapped by, a couple wearing rainbow argyle. I really hate climbing directly behind someone… but couldn’t quite seem to break the pace with these folks. Grrrr!

For extra bonus fun, sometimes there are fail route sheets. As it turns out, if someone were to accidentally include the west segment of Old La Honda in the route, it might make you think that the hill was 3 miles longer than it actually is. This in turn might make you aggressively start throwing down GU, spitting wrappers on passerbys… 1/8th of a mile before the summit. And by “might”, I mean “did.” I made the fail route sheet, thought I was 3-3.5 miles from the end and, feeling kinda tired, decided I should proactively take down some carbs. A couple passing me on the left (who, thankfully, didn’t actually get hit by my spit) chatted me up as they went by. On finding out this was my first time climbing OLH, they congratulated me on finishing the climb. I yell back (as they start to pull away) that they should hold their congrats until I actually finish… only to find them at the top, just around the next switchback. Who knew?!

I’d like to say my feeling of finally cresting Old La Honda was euphoric – I mean, I’d stressed about it enough that it should have been – but I was so dang surprised to actually have hit the summit that my first reaction was “Damnit! I could’ve had a better time if I’d know the top was that close!” About five minutes later, the joy-part set in and I stood around grinning at random people (and telling them all about my “first time”) while I waited for Julie to finish her climb. Thankfully, most cycling folks at least remember being noobs once upon a time — and they bore my enthusiasm graciously.

Julie hit the top maybe 10 minutes later. After a quick recovery and “wow, how awesome are we for doing this unsupported?” chat session, we rolled out again to enjoy our descent down 84 — which was surprisingly technical! Hwy 84 is supposed to be the “safe descent” compared to coming back down OLH… so apparently I’m never trying that idea!

The remaining cooldown miles flew by, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they were without looking at the route sheet. I’d done what I set out to do, and that was what frikkin’ mattered. I remember that we had a great rest of the ride and that the weather stayed gorgeous. And even if that wasn’t 100% true at the time, it’s definitely how I’ll remember it. I mean, my lung issues held themselves in check for a day, I finally conquered the Beast — and did the entire thing in the saddle; no stopping. Pretty damn good for a Monday.

Holiday OLH Ride

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Pulmonary Dysfunction

Do you ever wonder if you just weren’t meant to do something? Like you try and take a trip somewhere and always miss ticket sales or your dog gets sick or your car breaks down on the way to the airport… and you just wonder if maybe the universe is trying to tell you not to go? I’m pretty sure that’s me and climbing Old La Honda. Every time the OLH Odyssey ride rolls around I get excited. I’m finally going to be one of those cycling nerds who compares times up “the hill” (or who has the option to compare but decides not to for reasons of not bragging/being mocked) instead of just wondering what all the fuss is about. And then something happens. I break a bone and am not in good enough shape when it’s OLH ride time. The weather turns terrible and it’s not safe to climb. For whatever reason, I never manage to go up this stupid, supposedly mythical hill. Granted, I’ve actually only tried twice… but that’s not the point!

Last August’s Old la Honda ride was, sadly, no exception. I show up, ready and raring to “tame the beast” and get myself geared to head out in short order.  Snag a quick briefing on the ride, meet up with my team, and roll onto Foothill. I remember noticing that the world smelled faintly like barbecue… or campfires… but didn’t think much of it. We were going to tackle Old la Honda!! Finally! What did cookouts have to do with me?

In case you aren’t good at anticipating my heavy-handed foreshadowing, I’ll tell you now – the answer is: a lot. Less than two miles into the ride, I started having trouble. I was shouting “GAAAAP!!” and gasping like a fish out of water pretty much immediately. On Foothill! Possibly the flattest and fastest piece of pavement in a 20 mile radius! My coach dropped back to check on me.

“What’s going on there Jamie?”

“I dunno… can’t seem to breathe. I guess my lung issues are flaring up again.”

“Well, you did hear that Santa Cruz is on fire, right?”

*blankstareface*

“…yeeeaah. So there’s a giant wildire going on not that far from here. It won’t impact our route or anything, but there’s a lot of ash in the air. It might cause folks to need to work harder to breathe… didn’t you hear us cover this at pre-ride meeting?

Thinks to self: Of COURSE I heard it… I just didn’t anticipate it having an impact on ME! It’s OLD LA HONDA DAY!

*grumbles some reply that was likely both offensive and vaguely incoherent*

“So… uhhhh… maybe you should drop back to the Bs for today. We’ve got plenty of support, why don’t you take it easy?”

Had I been able to get a word out of my mouth, I probably would have declined. Or at least wanted to pretty badly. I’m your *ride support* for pete’s sake… not the noob who falls of the paceline!! But I was getting dropped on the easiest part of any ride ever and, after two minutes of standing still, could not breathe. My legs felt like jello at mile two. So I acceded. My group rolled off, and I continued my grind up Foothill — too stubborn to call it a day this early, breathing or not.

I was pretty quickly caught, and subsequently passed, by the Bs… and then the As. I slogged out the first ~15 miles to rest stop 1, on truly some of the easiest road in existence… in my little chain ring at about 10 mph. Apparently lungs are fairly essential tools in powering your body to ride (who knew?!), and my legs pretty much told my brain to shove it at the wussy levels of oxygen I was providing. At the first rest stop, I flagged down Charles (who was, once again, providing rock-star SAG) and pulled out the useless-to-date inhaler.

Side note: We missed a post on this. My vaguely fail doctor decided that I *obviously* had what I can only term “Random Onset with only Some Symptoms Adult Asthma” and prescribed two inhalers to help with my lung issues — one for every day and one for “attacks” — despite the fact that I never had an attack or …really… more than one  indicator off the laundry list signs of asthma. The daily one didn’t do crap other than to make my mouth taste bad twice a day, but I carried the emergency jobber around on the off chance that the doc’s predictions would prove correct (in which case having it would save my life… right?).

I figured that if I was ever having “an attack,” this must be what it felt like. I wasn’t quite wheezing, but I was light headed and couldn’t get enough air in to power my legs… or much of anything else. So I tried it. Two puffs of the emergency inhaler, a wave off of the “maybe you should just SAG this one” and I was off to climb Stevens Canyon Road. (Have you gotten the impression yet that I’m a teeeeeeensy bit stubborn?)

MAN! Does that lung stuff make a difference!! I can only assume “rescue inhaler” is another term for some combination of crack and steroids. By the time I left the parking lot of rest stop 1, I had gone from feeling just about as bad as I’d ever felt on a bike to… superwoman. Or my version thereof. I powered up that climb and even managed to catch back up to the groups that had dropped me (well, the A/B folks… my team still lapped me). I hit the end of the road and flipped around, ready for a typically awesome descent. When it’s not wet, that road is super fun to ride down!

Turns out, crack and steroid highs are short lived. About halfway down the hill, I started feeling kinda lame again. Bottom of the hill I seriously considered sagging out of the ride — before deciding that I could still bang this thing out. Back out on Foothill (this was an out and back piece of the route), I was worse than before. I was literally in my smallest ring, panting, alone, and pushing a whopping 7mph. And then, to make things just a bit worse, I spaced out and completely missed my turn… adding 6 miles to my route. Full of win!

I did eventually get back on route and made it all the way to Altamont. The very foot of Altamont, to be precise.(For those who don’t remember the reference, Altamont is a beastly little gut-popper that exists to make cyclists cry. It’s just long enough and just steep enough to suck lots.) I Gu’d up. Poured water on my head to cool down. Clipped in. Spun twice. Realized there really wasn’t another gear lying around, waiting to take me up the hill. Turned around and flung my bike in the truck. Yep… at this point, Charles had been assigned to be my personal SAG. I was THAT far behind. I had made it a full 36 miles, but I truly had nothing left in the tank. I couldn’t climb Old La Honda if I couldn’t breathe. Hell, I couldn’t ride the flats! I found the limit to my stubbornness, accepted that OLH wasn’t going to happen for me… again… and threw in towel.

To add insult to injury, I had to ride along as SAG for the rest of the team for the remainder of the day. Just because I failed didn’t mean Charles was off duty! On the one hand, I was happy to cheer folks on — especially those climbing “the beast” for the first time — but I’d be lying to say it wasn’t hard to watch, knowing I couldn’t pull it off myself. Again.

Believe it or not, I did live through it. The rest of the team rockstar-d up the climbs and, for the most part, had a nice, uneventful day. (Apparently ash doesn’t affect all equally!) As for me, the best I could do was resolve to get my lung issues nailed down sooner than ASAP – with Moab on the horizon, climb skipping just wouldn’t work!

TNT Ride #8 Old La Honda Odyssey

Get up, stand up

Last week’s (yeah, I’m a whole week behind. Work’s been busy, sue me!) hill repeats focused on my “very favoritest thing ever” — standing climbs. And by “favoritest thing ever,” I mean “thing I most hate to do always”… unless you’re one of my coaches reading this, in which case I totally really mean “favorite” (because everyone knows that coaches like to make you practice whatever it is you dislike). Of course the the loud bitching I did at the summit of each loop is probably not going to fool them… hopefully the weren’t paying attention!

We rode in the same general area as last week’s hill repeats, but the trainers chose a new street for our climb. The new location, La Paloma, is actually a fairly mild hill… for the first 90%. The last 10% or so pops up pretty significantly in grade, which means you have to get your hiney out of the saddle to make the top. As much as I’d rather sit and spin, I decided to try and do the entire night in my middle front ring, which meant that standing was definitely required. At the end of the day, working hard now will make the event easier, right? So I chugged uphill, huffing and puffing (even passing a couple folks), and hit the summit wheezing (and cursing). I pretty quickly decided that the climb “wasn’t that bad,” descended and swung around to do it all over again.

Lap two actually seemed a bit easier. I managed to hold off from standing until a bit farther up the hill – keeping my energy up and heart rate down longer. This meant that I was “jogging uphill” a shorter distance, so I felt more relaxed (even though my heart rate data indicates I was working pretty much equally hard). Not surprisingly, laps three and then four (darn latecomers got off easier with one less lap) were tougher. I managed to keep the trick of not popping up until absolutely necessary, but my legs got tired toward the end. I did do all four rounds out of the saddle, although I dropped to the baby gears (not the lowest ones!!) for one.

Once the “don’t be a lazy tail, literally” abuse was done, we all headed down to Foothill College for bike rocking and emergency stop training. Bike rocking was an interesting exercise. In order to get us used to the idea of moving our bikes, the trainers had us exaggerate the movement at low speeds in laps. We had to get the outside of one leg to touch the inside of the opposing side of the saddle. Sound confusing? Yep, I thought so too. Pretty much, get your outer right thigh to touch the left side nose of your seat, then alternate. You have to forcibly push the bike down and shift your weight a lot to counter balance. As I a) hate standing and b) have approximately negative arm strength, I took while to get the hang of this one. I did eventually get it… but I’m not sure I’ll be good at it any time soon.

The emergency stop concept was much easier (and useful!) to grasp. Hit both brakes hard and shift your butt behind the saddle to keep the back wheel on the ground.  We watched a demo, then did several round of practice. The assistant troublemakers (helper trainers) stood at one end of the parking lot. We took turns racing directly at them and then slamming on the brakes at randomly given signals. I managed to get a good couple of skid marks on the pavement, but need to work on shifting my weight even farther. Of course I have to wonder how likely it is that I’ll actually remember that should I ever actually need it. Hopefully we never find out!

Dark fell pretty quickly after braking training, so we headed back to our launch point… with one more climb thrown in (just for extra fun). Our small horde descended onto Chipotle shortly after. At least we were rewarded for our work!

Garmin data (with somewhat useless lap info) follows below. You’ll have to hold off until tomorrow for the buddy ride fiasco, as it’s already after 10pm and I’ve got a 48 miler early tomorrow morning (blame work! I swear!). More soon.

Hills and Skills #3

The Ride Continues

For all that I learned about eating right while your ride over the last two training seasons, I learned a lot more between rest stops two and three. Its weird how you can actually feel your energy levels ebb and flow the longer you are on a bike. Somewhere around mile 45 or so, I started to feel…off. I wasn’t bonking yet, but I knew that if I didn’t eat something soon that I wasn’t going to finish this ride. It was the middle of a rolling climb, so I fought for the top before pulling over.

I inhaled a few shot bloks, chugged some sport drink, and climbed back in the saddle. The weather had cleared up entirely, fog giving way to 70 something temperatures and not a cloud in the sky. I shed a couple layers of clothing (stuffed conveniently into back pockets. Why don’t normal clothes have pouches?), pedaled easy for 10 minutes or so, and was feeling good as new in no time. There really is something to this eating thing (apparently)!

The next 10-12 miles were straight into a headwind, but I felt great. Where I’d been lagging a bit before, I was now able to take my pulls on the paceline like it was nothing despite the nasty wind gusts. If anything, I was having to hold back to keep from taking off and gapping the line when it was my turn! The road condition worsened and my arm started to ache (let’s not even mention the annoying bike squeak), but overall the ride could not have been better.

Well.. all things in moderation or… all good things must come to an end. Pick your catchy saying. You knew this was coming, right? About 3 miles before rest stop three, my energy level was just gone again. I’m not sure if it was the wind, the sun, or some combination of the two (or possibly my overly enthusiastic attitude) but I went from feeling great to convinced I was going to faint in a matter of minutes. The thought of seeing Charles at the next stop really kept me going. How disappointed would he be if he waited for hours at that stop, only to find I’d been SAG’d out (or even just waylaid for awhile) just a few miles away? It simply wouldn’t do. So, I reigned in my pace, was thankful when other teammates did the same, and managed to hit the rest stop without collapsing.

Rest stop three was chaos. I managed to find a spot to lay my bike down (which was a challenge, despite the giant airport hotel parking lot) and stumbled exhaustedly to the food tents. There I was greeted with possibly the longest line I have ever seen (that wasn’t for a new gaming console in front of a Best Buy – people like their Wiis). Who’s bright idea was it to make a line anyway? The random elbowing and crowding had worked fine up to this point. As luck would have it, just as I thought I’d faint before actually getting any food, a girl carrying an enormous tray of PBJs and bananas walked by. Apparently the ride volunteers also realized that it was only a matter of time before a line that long led to riots! I snagged half a sandwich (which I never do), scarfed it down instantly, and stole two banana halves before heading back to the group. I was hungry!

Sometime during the frenzied inhalation of shot bloks, I realized that I hadn’t yet found Charles. I’d scoped out the obvious locations – potties, food line, TNT SAG crew – and he was nowhere to be seen. I wrestled my iPhone out of the Camelback only to discover that he had somehow lost his car keys in the hotel room, and would take a cab to meet me at the finish line. Bummer! I was so counting on seeing him to give me that additional motivation to finish out…guess that was going to have to come from me or something now. So sad! I continued stuffing my face for a full 10 minutes or so, took a few pictures, and even saved a cyclists life (by offering up an extra pouch of my borrowed Cytomax) before the team was ready to roll again. To be honest, I still wasn’t feeling that hot coming out of stop three. I no longer felt like I’d actually faint at any moment, but devouring that much food and chugging all that water in such a short time span left me nauseous at best. Lucky for me (although possibly unlucky for them), several teammates were also starting to show some wear around the edges – so we set a pretty tame pace for the next few miles.

Somewhere after that rest stop, Ron and I split off from the group. The hills weren’t treating me well and I didn’t want to hold up my team while I spun it out (and waited for the nausea to pass). Entertainingly enough, he and I rolled passed Devan and crew a couple miles down the road; they’d gotten a flat and were changing it out on the side of the road. That was the last time we’d spot Team Wolverine for the rest of the ride. A little more climbing and whatnot and we were the next break point. With only two people to keep track of, rest stop four was pretty short. I pulled off my shoes and massaged feeling back into my toes – I’m a horrible toe pointer – while the cutest kid I’ve ever seen offered to fill my water bottles. He could not have been more than ..seven… (I’m actually quite bad at ages), but he handled those Crystal Springs jug like a pro!

Ron and I picked up a nice tailwind coming through a 20ish mile flat span in Foxen Canyon which sped my recovery quickly. In no time at all we were flying passed cyclists, part of the time with Ron pushing the two of us faster than most singles could go! Ron and I hit Solvang’s answer to Altamont (you remember…short, steep and dirty) at the end of that nice flat stretch, and struggled up mightily. I would definitely classify that particular hill as a “gut popper”. We did make the top in the saddle and were rewarded with an absolutely fantastic descent. I stood a little to relieve the saddle-sore (hey man, we were over 70 miles in at this point!), and enjoyed the cool rush of wind. You seriously couldn’t find a cloud, and last temperature check was over 80 degrees! In March! (So much for that rumored hail, right?)

How do you Title a Post that Spans 100 Miles?

The short answer is, you don’t. When a post spans over seven hours of saddle time, more like nine hours total time, over a hundred miles traveled, everything that happens in between simply cannot be covered in one witty title post. Unfortunately. I know how much you all look forward to my alliteration. Anyway, let’s get to the task at hand (trying to sum up this monster ride), and hope that I don’t end up splitting the post into multiples, thereby negating all the crafty intro/prep text I just typed up.

Team Wolverine, as we C’s were dubbed (no, I was not present at the naming and take no responsibility for our “winter animal” name choice. And don’t get me started on what on earth a winter animal is in the first place. Do they die out during the other seasons like flowers? Moving on…), were scheduled to roll out of the Marriott at 6:30am Saturday morning. I hopped out of bed around 5:30 and, after fighting with the evil hotel alarm clock for a full five minutes (I told you they couldn’t be trusted!), was ready to leave by 5:45. Well crap. I walked out into the hallway, thinking I’d go buy a bagel, realized I didn’t have shoes on nor did I know where the bagel place was, and quickly returned to the room. I did get a glimpse of my team motivational floormat though, so not a total wasted trip. Gotta love anything that can make you smile on no sleep at 5-something in the morning! After a quick room search revealed no mini-fridge or snacks, I settled for hastily made hotel coffee as my “breakfast of champions”.

I slurped down the vaguely horrid hotel brew and managed to sit still all the way to 6:10, at which point I had to go to the meeting spot. Yes, even though it was approximately 25 feet from my door. Better to fidget in the cold than in the room…I guess. Perhaps not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one who was early. I joined ranks with Angie, Rich and Ron and waved hello to our team manager and head coach. After forcing down a granola bar at Ron’s insistence (you cannot start this ride on an empty stomach. So many rules!), I lined up with the rest of the crew for a few team pictures. Or, as I like to call them, the “before” shots. Seems more ominous that way somehow. Two emergency trips to the room for ear-warmers and long gloves (it was cold!) later, I was ready to roll.

The morning fog seemed to thicken around us as we hit the road. By the time we’d made the turn onto the first long stretch of road, my glasses were completely and utterly covered in water drops. As we started our first descent, I had condenstation rolling down my helmet, down my glasses, onto my face. So crazy! Pair that with what can only be characterized as a “really rough” stretch of pavement – 10ish miles of it – and the first section of the ride should have been torture. But it was my first century, and even roads causing awful jarring sensations up my bad elbow couldn’t get my spirits down. As we climbed the next “little” hill, the sun started to break through the mist. Right as I started to get annoyed with the cold and wet weather, I was treated to a view from the side of a hill, over the fogline, just as the light came out. It was awesome. Of course, it was also a descent, and the best I could do for a picture was to grab one back at the general area from the next stop sign. Le sigh.

The route cruised along Highway 1 for a bit before sending us to our first stop at mile 23. Actually it was only mile 20 for us…TNT starts at the hotel rather than in Solvang and then does the entire route up to the finish line. Technically, that’s a full 100 miles, as the entire route is 103.4, but the TNT veterans claim that you haven’t really ridden the Solvang Century until you’ve hit the finish line, eaten dinner, had a couple beers, and then ridden the last 3.5 miles back to the hotel. Well, the beer part is probably unofficial. Gluttons for punishment is the only phrase that comes to mind on the whole “false finish” arrangement! Regardless, the stop almost seemed to come to early. Yeah, it was over a quarter of the way through the ride, but I wasn’t ready to break.

Lucky for me, the route planners and team coaches know more about century riding that I do. More rest stops is better than less. Or so I would learn. Coach Devan not only stopped the group at the stop, but made sure that we were all eating and drinking properly. I managed to choke down a couple banana segments (seriously, it was too early for eating!) and laid heavily into the Cytomax in my bottle cage. I was wearing the Camelback full of regular water for the ride, but gimp-arm still wasn’t strong enough to consistently, safely pull the bottle from the frame while moving. Gotta consciously load up on those electrolytes at the stops! I earned a few glares taking pictures of teammates (too early? Bah! They’ll thank me later!) before we headed back out on the road.

The miles between stop one and stop two all sort of blend together for me. My energy level was still pretty high, and I attacked the climbs on Highway 1 with a vengeance. The uphill struggle was rewarded with a phenomenal descent; super smooth pavement and a wide shoulder. Even throttling the brakes like I have been since the accident, I cracked my season speed record by far (up to 36.5, I think). I can see why the organizers put a “Watch Downhill Speed” note on the route sheet! I’m betting some of those experienced riders (or possibly a well ridden tandem) could blow by that 55mph posted limit without trying.

We turned off Hwy 1 towards the second rest stop, at which point I discovered…the squeak. Now, my bike, for all its problems, had never had a squeak before. Loud popping noises when tires blew? Yes. Grating noises on concrete when I’ve fallen? Sure. But horrid, high-pitched creaking like a demented cricket? That was new. All I can claim to remember of miles 32-37 is how desperately I wanted to reach the next stop and have my bike looked at by the mechanic. All I could remember for the rest of the day was how little worth waiting in line for that mechanic actually was. Twenty minutes and a lot of cyclist muscling later, the bike had been oiled up and declared “fit to ride”. Thirty seconds on the road after the stop and I swear the squeak was worse. So goes life. Notice there are no pictures from this leg of the journey…

I should have expected this. (Well, technically I did expect this…see first paragraph note.) The post is already almost too long to be bearable, so I’m making the first split here. More to come after the break!

I Shall Overcome

I really didn’t think I’d be ready for an 80 mile ride by February 2nd, which was our team Natural Bridges ride. The Old La Honda Odyssey was certainly …well, less than an odyssey in length… and we all know that those miles put a decent hurtin’ on me. Ready or not, I wasn’t about to miss the ride that everyone raved about last season. Natural Bridges is a state park in Santa Cruz, right near the beach and the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1). The ride winds through the surrounding area (gotta fit the full 80 in somewhere, right?), and is quite possibly the most scenic ride the team does each season. Or so I’d been told. I was only one week into recovery when this ride came along last summer, so I was looking forward to finding out if the actual route would live up to the hype.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. By the time we’d rolled only a few miles down Route 1, I could feel my fingers thawing; a sure sign that it would be a warm day. Early morning gray skies quickly made way for mid-morning blues, and the ocean scenery was truly a sight. I mean…its just water and sand and rocks and whatnot…but its orders of magnitude more interesting to look at than say…suburbia. There were few cars on the road, our group vibe was good, and spirits were high. For me, this lasted pretty much up through the first climb.

Not that I didn’t make it up the hill. There’s just something vaguely intimidating (and challenging) about riding up a hill for the first time. You never know which switchback is going to put you face first into a 17% grade. You have no clue really when its going to end. You could ask the coaches, but you know that they lie. The very best you can do is keep on spinning, and try and focus on anything but what you’re doing. So that’s what I did. I kept chatting until I got too tired to do much more than grunt. I glared at Coach Devan when he assured me that I was over halfway done. I cocked a (possibly unseen) eyebrow at Ron when he came back down the hill to climb it again. But I kept on spinning, and reached the summit feeling pretty wiped, and pretty hot.

I unzipped my jacket, re-GU’d up and hit the drops for the descent. Then I remembered that descents naturally make you cold (that whole increased speed bit) and wished my telekinesis powers were developed enough to re-zip my jacket while I continued on downhill. No such luck. I was cold again by the time I got to the bottom of the hill…but hey, at least the sun was still shining. It was about this time, in case you were reading just for this, that my Garmin died. Yes, died. No, I didn’t charge after the last ride. Yes, I suck. Sorry! I’ll try and do a MapMyRide using the route sheet once I find it.

The rest of the miles up until rest stop 2 were basically unevenful. It was pretty freaky riding right next to speeding beach traffic, and there was a lot of gravel and other debris on the shoulder, but overall there were no close calls and not much to speak of beyond scenery. I’m pretty sure that’s considered a good thing. Mike (aka Squirrel Killer) was working that stop, and I made sure to give him his (now monthly) does of harassment before rolling back out. Ahhh…some things never change.

And then came Stage Road. If you haven’t been reading this blog long, you might not remember Stage Road as the site of my bone-breaking accident last summer. You know, the one that put me out of commission for months, into two surgeries and through a few months of physical therapy. No, its not really all that dramatic (I mean, we have covered the “it could be worse” arguments), but I wasn’t looking forward to it. I mean, we were going to climb right by where I fell, going the exact same way. Like learning to descend again wasn’t bad enough? Still, if there’s one crappy saying that everyone has about fears, I’m pretty sure that it mentions something about needing to face them.

So that’s what I did. I downshifted, took a big breath, shed a few layers (have I mentioned what a nice day it was?), and climbed. Surprisingly, given the length of the hill, that was the easy part. And then there I was, at the summit, with Coach Devan looking at my with those sympathetic eyes (he was one of the first TNT on scene at accident time), and I very nearly burst into tears. Not that I was scared precisely. I was tired, my arm was aching, and I kept thinking of all the hours lost and things not done from falling over…and I just wasn’t sure that this was such a good idea anymore. I mean, people have sayings about skinning cats too, but I’ve never seen anyone actually do that. Maybe fear-facing is overrated! In the end, I just sucked it up and flew (at a moderate pace) downhill. I didn’t cry, didn’t fall, and didn’t breathe until I was well passed the point of impact. Didn’t skin any cats either.

And what was my reward for all that drama? Why, to climb phase two of Stage Road, of course! See, the only advantage to crashing where I did last summer was really that I got to skip the remaining phases of that hill! They don’t call it Stage Road for nothing. Or so I assume. More spinning, more climbing, a quick recharge and shoe-loosening at the top, and I was descending again. Phase two passed with no record breaking speeds, but with no major events either. Woohoo!

After all that climbing (and all that typing), you’d think the ride would be basically over, right? Wrong. I talked myself (aka my arm) into hanging in up until rest stop 3, which I’m pretty sure showed up somewhere in the 50s (maybe?). Stress and triumphs aside, this was by far the longest distance I’d ridden with gimp-arm…and I was feeling it. At some point I dropped back from the rest of the ride group with Ron; they were just climbing the rollers faster than I could keep up. Of course, they stopped for a potty break somewhere along Route 1 and we caught them again just before the stop. Seemed a bit silly to roll by them after dropping behind, but at least I didn’t hold anyone up.

The lighthouse rest stop was pretty – or so I heard. While everyone else was recharging and looking around, my mind and body were in the midst of a war. I’d barely managed to get from Stage Road to the rest stop (owie arm!), but I really wanted to complete the ride. There just weren’t that many chances left in the season to get some miles in the saddle, even assuming perfect weather from here on out. Then again, SAG truck was tempting (and so conveniently located!), and I really didn’t want to hold my teammates back. So I settled on a compromise. I’d attempt the last 20-some-odd miles with just Ron. If I rolled out and really could turn the crank again, SAG wouldn’t be far behind.

And all I can say about the last bit of the ride is…thank goodness for Ron. He did everything from chatting to keep me distracted to literally physically pushing me up miles of road to see me to the end. That man is just super nice and freakishly well balanced! He broke off at one point to help a tri-team member change a flat, but caught up with me a couple miles down the road. There were points when I physically couldn’t turn the crank over, and Ron kept my momentum heading forward. We made it back to Natural Bridges State Park more hours after we’d left than I care to count, and I’ve never been more proud. Every single fiber in me wanted to quit at least 10 times those last 25 miles…but (with help) I made it to the end. I can only imagine how excited I’m going to be to cross over the line at Solvang soon!

Motion Based ride data

Old La Honda(less) Odyssey

Old La Honda is the hill in the Bay Area. Its not that long (3.35 miles), or that steep (15% grade at points, 7.8% avg), but it is the hill that every cyclist in a 30 mile radius knows their best time up. People climb this hill repeatedly, trying to improve their time for boasting rights amongst their geeky cyclist friends. Some do it weekly! Some probably more frequently than that. Certain cycle teams place you in ride groups based solely on your best time up this hill. Its a bay-area-cyclist-cultural-monumental-climb-thing. A rite of passage if you will. And I’ve never been up it. (feel free to recoil from the screen in horror)

That’s right, after nearly a year of riding on a bike out here, I am required to claim the title “cyclist” only in quotes in front of my bikenerd friends, as I have no Old La Honda personal best time. Lucky for me, the TNT winter training Ride 8 was going to change all that. An odd combination of surgery recovery timing and a nasty bout of California winter rains moved the 70 mile Old La Honda Odyssey to February 2nd; just three short days after I was cleared by the orthopedics people to ride again. Coaches note was to show up at Foothill college at 7am that Saturday morning rain or shine. Too many rides had already been cancelled for the season, and we’d at the very least sacrifice some sleep on the off chance that the weather would cooperate. So, show up we did.

While the sky was overcast, it wasn’t pouring down rain, so the team rolled out as planned. Knowing that my arm would be weak after surgery (especially in the cold weather), I tried to break the ride mentally into small goals. The first few miles are almost always cake, so I set goal one at 30 miles. Goal two would be the first climb of the day up Altamont. Then rest stop three…etc. The first goal was easy. Goal two, however, a bit more challenging. Now, compared to a lot of climbs we do in the area, Altamont is short. I’ll give it that. What no one tells you about Altamont though (at least not anyone who to convince you that you can ride up it) is that Altamont is steep. Like 18% steep in parts. Like you could walk faster up this hill than I will be able to ride it steep.

It doesn’t start out that bad. In fact, looking at the hill, you think to yourself…”this isn’t going to be that bad! I can see the top!” And then you hit the beginning of the actual incline… and then you hit the first curve… and then (if you’re me) a truck magically appears 6 inches off your rear wheel and scares the bejesus out of you. So you stop breathing, realize you can’t possibly turn that crank over without gasping like a fish for breath (and possibly popping your guts out through your spine in the process) …and you frantically pull into a driveway madly trying to unclip before falling over, since you were going a whopping 4 miles an hour to begin with. At this point you’re (I’m) approximately a quarter of the way up the hill. Freakin awesome.

Two stops and one almost stomach-emptying-heave later, I’m at the top. Go me. On the bright side, whatever fear I had of Old La Honda had pretty much entirely faded in the face of the horrid, steep, gut-wrenching, Hill-o-Doom that was Altamont. I’m basically spent at this point and have to re-GU before rolling on towards rest stop two. Now it is at the second rest stop where I seriously consider sagging out. The cold damp weather had progressed from overcast to drizzling, and my arm was aching like mad. I wasn’t really able to support any weight on the gimp-arm and wasn’t sure I could take another 30 miles with all of me leaning on the right side. Tired and wet as I was, the allure of finally passing into Bay Area Cycling Adulthood was great, and I decided to push on again. Rest stop three was just passed the Old la Honda climb…I could always SAG out there (new mental cycling badge acquired), right?

Well, it was a good theory. Unfortunately, for once, the weatherman was dead on in his rain prediction. Overcast in the morning and full on rain by noon played out almost to the minute. Our team rolled up to Portola Road, looked at the thick grey fog encasing the top of our mountain destination through rain spattered glasses and decided that even if we could reach the summit the descent would be too treacherous to risk. We were all pretty bummed to have to skip the hill (me especially as one of the only people in the state never to have done the climb), but even I can’t deny that “safety first” is a pretty darn good rule.

By rest stop three, I was toast. I may have missed the second big climb for the day, but I was rained on, missing guts, and barely over surgery. The last 12 miles of the ride were going to be cut short anyway (taking the shortcut back because of the weather), so I opted to take the SAG route home. I’d more than surpassed my original 30 mile goal and my Altamont goal. Giving up on Old la Honda glory had been difficult and even a little heartbreaking. Letting go of the “I rode the last 10 miles in the pouring rain on a bum arm” glory was easy in comparison. The good (by weird cycle standards) new is, I live close enough to the benchmarking hill to give it another run anytime. I’ll get those bragging rights yet! At least amongst really slow, easily impressed people…

Motion Based ride data


What do we have here?

An often sarcastic, occasionally humorous journal of my training adventures in preparation for the Livestrong century ride. I took up cycling back in '07 in hopes of meeting new people, and, with the help of Team in Training, making my small positive difference in the world -- and haven't stopped spinning since. Follow along as my Trek road bike and I try and hash out our differences, hopefully with me upright and in the saddle.

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