Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rollers: A new experience

Just a reminder that I'm posting on Lactic Acid Threshold now. In fact, a new post today about, you guessed it, my first experience riding on rollers which took place over the weekend.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Some changes.

Some things don't change. When they do, they sometimes stay that way. I admit, I was on a roll. Training for my big ride kept me thinking about cycling all the time. Writing about cycling came naturally, as I like to write.

The ride was over, work kicked into gear, and the weather changed.

I haven't been on my bike for a long time.

I've gained weight.

My legs are hairy.

But, I'm trying to get back out of my rut. I just got a used set of rollers I'm going to try out.

In the middle of all this, I had this brilliant idea (to me, anyway). As many of you might know, my brother has a very nice blog going at Lactic Acid Threshold. It is very popular. It is entertaining. It is updated more frequently than mine. Still, though, it isn't updated as often as a blog should be.

Here's my idea: We work together. He likes to write about cycling gear and cycling news. I like to just write. Hopefully, combining the two will make for a more interesting area to hang out. At the end of each post, it says who wrote it, so don't feel like you'll lose track of my online personality.

With that being said, go to Lactic Acid Threshold and read my latest post. Thanks for all your support on this blog and don't forget to change your bookmarks to the new URL (http://acidinmylegs.blogspot.com).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pockets or Bust

Jerseys are a lot like bicycle frames. All bicycle frames should have as many water-bottle mounts as the tubeset allows. All of them. This doesn't mean mountain bikes shouldn't have any. Or fixies. Or single-speeds. I would even go so far as to say TT-specific bikes should have them. The cyclist has the option to use them, or not. Put cages on, or keep your frame bare and clean-looking. Whatever you want, but ALWAYS give me the option.

Jerseys should always have three rear pockets. Three. Always. Period.

Mountain jerseys, too? Yes.

Skin suits? That's not a jersey, that's a skin suit. Pay attention.

I might never choose to use them, but I always want the option. Also, two tiny side pockets with a normal middle pocket doesn't count. I want three BIG pockets on every jersey. If you choose to make one zippered, or add a fourth zippered pocket, that's just fine. Give me my three normal ones, though.

Coming soon, I'll be posting a review of jerseys (corresponding to my review of bibs). My feelings on this matter just might come through on that review, so I thought I'd prepare the few,stalwart readers of this blog in advance.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bib Shorts

There is nothing quite like a nice pair of bib cycling shorts. They fit so well, and make riding so much nicer (i.e. more comfortable). For the last few months I have, quite unabashedly, been testing four high-end shorts from Assos, Giordana, Cannondale, and Pearl Izumi. The price for these shorts range from $230 at the high-end (Giordana), to $110 at the low-ish end (Cannondale).

These shorts are so nice. I mean, it is almost immoral to spend that much money on shorts. They are, without a doubt, very VERY nice. Would I spend my hard-earned money on them? Well, no. I don't make enough money to be able to afford them. The Cannondale's, however, are almost affordable.

Check out my review here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The (almost) Perfect Autumn Morning

It was a perfect morning. Unlike normal November mornings, it was in the 40's. The moon was out, making the dawn even brighter than normal. In fact, I really should have left my light behind. I left with tights, a skull cap, arm warmers, and a vest. I was plenty warm, but not too hot. The ground was dry and crackled with leaves as I rolled along. The air was clear. There was only a hint of a breeze--not the normal morning gale of the canyon. I was feeling confident, too. I was ready to try new things, push myself a little faster.

I noticed a little rattling somewhere, but it could be anything. I wasn't going to let a little thing like that ruin my day.

The first climb over now, I started to hammer down the first loose descent with a sharp turn before climbing up out of the gully. I really was feeling on today.

More rattling. What could it be? Well, I have my light, so I point it down at the bike and start shaking things.

Solid. Everything feels really solid. Rear-shock? Nope. Seat? Nope. Front wheel? Nope. Ah well, on the bike again.

I'm pushing a faster pace than normal and loving it, but that rattle is really getting bad. A little rattle I can handle, but this is ridiculous. I've got to figure this out, I think. So, stopping once more, I suddenly wonder about my front caliper. Sure enough, it's loose. Missing one of the two bolts holding it on, and the other is barely there.

All of a sudden, a picture is opened up to my mind. I can see it clearly. I was getting ready for the ride this morning, plugging in my light and mounting the battery to my top-tube, when I saw my multi-tool. Should I bring it, I thought? Nah, I never need that on the trail. A pump, yes. A spare tube, of course. A multi-tool? What a waste of weight.

Lesson #1
Always carry a multi-tool with you--especially if you're going it alone.

Lesson #2 (the more-important one)
Check your bike before leaving the garage/car/place where tools are. My morning ride started out so perfect, but only lasted about 15 minutes. Lesson learned.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Please Fix This

Winter is steadily approaching, and already I've been digging up all my winter clothing. (Unfortunately, I can't seem to find my WindStopper(TM) glove shells. Has anyone seen them?) When I size up the weather before my rides, I always try and get away with layered jerseys, as opposed to wearing jackets or vests. Although no jersey (except, perhaps mountain-specific ones) comes with out at least three, it seems rare to find either jackets or vests with rear pockets. Also, if they do have pockets, there is generally only one in the back.

Why? I mean, is there less need to carry items in the winter? "Let me see, I've got my phone, energy gels, I guess I can leave the spare tube and CO2inflator at home. It *is* winter, after all." In truth, I generally carry more in the winter because I often have to shed gloves or other layering items as I heat up.

In an effort to make this easy on the clothing manufacturers, I propose the following solution. Please create a horizontal slit running the width of each jacket or vest (yes, even the vests with the mesh back). This flap should have overlapping pieces of fabric (with the top piece over the bottom piece) so as to keep rain out. The overlap should be enough to keep wind out. If worried about water somehow finding its way in, a laminated zipper should solve that problem. If you do this, we can then use our existing jersey's (with three or more pockets) to hold our goods. If we don't need the storage, we won't have incurred the penalty of weight or cost or whatever of pockets in a jacket.

Thank you. Although you, the clothing manufacturers, will undoubtedly make much more money as this innovative outerwear sells like mad, all I ask in return is free samples.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cold and Crunchy

For a very brief period, I had that beautiful XTR front derailleur on my bike. Mind you, it was never hooked up to anything (i.e. cables and shifters—that sort of thing), but it was mounted. My main problem with the derailleur on my bike was the bottom bracket. Actually, some of you might be tempted to point out it was my own mechanical ineptitude that was the root of the problem. Perhaps we’ll discuss that on another post.

Moving on…

You see, despite thinking that most bottom brackets were fairly universal, they are not. Especially this is true when relating to E-type derailleurs. In fact, neither of the two types of bottom brackets (and their corresponding cranks) works with this derailleur. That is, the derailleur sits there mounted and looking pretty—as it is supposed to. But, when force is applied to the crank in an attempt to turn it, one finds that the force actually required to move it at all is much higher than typical. Some might even say it is difficult to move them. Evidently, the 2.5mm thickness of the E-type mount is too much for a bottom bracket not made for such a mount.

Needless to say, I am back to running a 1x8 (ish) setup. In anticipation of front shifting, I have added the smallest chainring now to my crank. Which brings me to this morning’s ride. Once again, I found myself on the fully-rigid project bike. Knowing that my knees have been killing me for the last 5 weeks or so, I’ve been trying to take it easy on the advice of my doctor. Today, before getting on my bike I manually—that is, with my hand—shifted my chain to the inner chainring. Today’s ride: the relatively smooth but swoopy race-track (XC) just up the mouth of Provo Canyon (the north side—south exposure--of the canyon).

Overall, I had a blast. There were times when I wished for a taller gear, but mostly was grateful to take it easy on the climbs.

The Best Part
Somewhere I got a coupon for a free Gatorade Endurance (*New*). With that I filled my bottle this morning before heading out. Please note that this Gatorade wasn’t refrigerated. No, today’s energy drink started out at a comparatively balmy room temperature (about 68 degrees in my house at 6am.). Outside, however, it was in the upper 20s, or thereabouts.

The best part of today’s ride was the Gatorade slushy that was produced in my bottle by the time I finished up my ride. It came at a point where all but my toes were toasty and warm from the exertion. Perfect.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Project Hardtail: Update

With my new light which came from Nashbar, came an E-Type XTR front derailleur. This is the one with the carbon fiber plate (unique to this type of derailleur is a plate which connects with the bottom bracket). They don't use carbon anymore. They probably found that a) they could sell just as many with an aluminum bracket as they did with carbon--only much cheaper to produce (except, I bet Shimano didn't lower the price) and b) they don't really sell all that many E-Type derailleurs anyway.

I now have an XTR front and an Alivio rear derailleur--remember, this bike was built up as an inexpensive commuter. I still need to figure out shifting. Oh, and I have a set of unused Nokon cables that will probably find its way onto this ride. Eventually, I'd like all my parts to be nice, but for now, the Alivio might have to stay.

LEDs for Me

I recently bought a Planet Bike SuperFlash tail light. What I really want is this one (here's a better picture of it's power), but owing to my lack of money, I started digging through Nashbar in the hopes of finding a cheapblinky red-LED light. James recommended the SuperFlash, as it actually uses a 1/2 watt red LED. The more power the better, I say, and because it was on sale for almost half-off, I jumped on it.

Though I haven't actually gone on a night ride with it, I did use it as a flash light around my house last night and this morning. (I always look for ways to play with my new toys--even if I can't use them for what they are made for.) This light is bright. In fact, it seems--though I don't have the tools to test it--much brighter than my 1 watt front light. Pictured here is a shot taken with the light on in my bike's bedrooom--yes, my bike gets its own bedroom (though it has to stay in the garage when people come to visit)--which shows how bright it is because my little cheapo camera metered off the SuperFlash.

There are two modes: obnoxious blink and steady. For the blink mode, there are two additional standard (low-powered) red LEDs in addition to the 1/2 watt. They alternate: little blink, BIG BLINK. This is what makes them obnoxious. It fools you into thinking it is a plain-old blinky and then WHOA, that's bright. Planet Bike lists burn time on blink mode as 100 hrs. (The SuperFlash runs on two AAA batteries.) The steady mode only uses the 1/2 watt LED of course--I'm not sure you'd even be able to tell if the two little LEDs were lit.

The other light here is the Knog Toad. This uses Knog's silicone wrap-around-the-bar mounting and has 5 LEDs mounted in a vertical fashion. The main reason why I like this light is the mounting. I have one of those fancy flat-top carbon drop bars on my bike which, though comfortable and sexy, doesn't work with any mounting system out there--well, except Knog's. There are three modes: steady, fast-blink, and slow-blink.

One problem I have with the way the Toad mount works (as opposed to the bullfrog, which I had for a very brief stint) is that the button is under the silicone wrap. There is, in fact, a special "button" built into the wrap part to line up with the real button in the base. Unfortunately, when the wrap is stretched almost to its limit (as it is with my bars), the buttons don't line up so well.

Again, I haven't been on the road with this one yet, so I can't comment on real-world testing. The Toad retails for $32.

These lights came just in time, too. Tomorrow starts the hunting season which means that, for the first time this year, it is safer to be on the roads than in the mountains.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Trial Run

Ever since my vacation to Oregon--wherein I got to ride a really nice hardtail --I've been longing for a lightweight hardtail mountain bike. Of course, I have my commuter which is nearly a complete bike. (I say nearly because it only has one chainring in the front.) The other day I thought, "If people can ride fully rigid single-speeds all over the place, I ought to be able to handle my 8 speeds on my fully rigid commuter. So, I swapped out my heavy alloy handlebar with a nice short-rise carbon handlebar. (I knew I'd need all the cushioning I could get.) With that, I headed out on a short ride up a trail I recently rode on my super-plush Jekyll--full suspension for those unfamiliar with the model.

Though the pictures show knobbies here, I've since swapped those tires out for some semi-slicks. I was using this bike for commuting, after all. Though there are still some low-end parts on it (for example: the rear derailleur is Shimano Alivio), it is quite light.

It felt light, too.

The first 50' of this trail is made up of wood chips--put there, no doubt, to control erosion . I immediately noticed that what always seemed like smooth trail now felt quite uneven and rough. I was a little shocked at first, but soon remembered the days of riding before suspension.

In those days, a lot of effort was spent picking a line. Riding on a trail was a much more dynamic experience, as I had to always be careful of things in the trail (rocks, roots, and such) that might hinder my progress. I was always moving this way and that--trying to find the perfect line between all of the obstacles. I was amazed at how quickly I had to pick up this skill that had atrophied to almost nonexistence . Gone was the lazy mountain biker that ignored anything smaller than a curb. I also enjoyed the ability to stand up and really accelerate. Though, perhaps I need to fiddle with the settings of my rear shock, I don't feel that way on my Jekyll.

As far as the missing gears, I missed them. For the most part, I was able to keep my speed up and hammer up the climbs. There were times however, when I struggled to keep my cadence high enough to keep the pedals turning. I've already ordered a front derailleur, and I have a full-crankset.

Even including the downhill, during which, I descended noticeably slower, I beat the last time on that trail (on my Jekyll) by almost 10 minutes. I really had a blast on that bike.

My plans still include a suspension fork--though I think my Manitou Black (100-120mm) is too much. I'd like to get something short and light--say 80 or 90mm. I do have a front derailleur on the way, but I still need to find shifters. I'll probably end up moving to 9 speed at that point (which will require a new chain and cassette and, maybe, rear-derailleur). I'd stick with 8-speed if I could get it to shift right, but I've never gotten my old SunTour thumb shifter to work right. (In fact, even during this ride, I had to stop and fiddle with it a bit.) I've worked out a trade of sorts with James, and will soon be able to swap out my$10 seat post with this one.

Oh, and I decided, once again, that I'm just not tough enough for a single-speed. Even with my relatively low gear of 32x32, my left knee started to really hurt as I grinded up some of the steeper climbs. Though I think their simplicity is beautiful, and I often wish I could enjoy them, you won't be finding one in my stable of bikes any time soon.

Friday, October 06, 2006

My Racing Career

I don't really race. I mean that not only in the entering races standpoint (with the exception of LOTOJA--but then, one could argue that LOTOJA really isn't a race for most people), but also in the I don't care if I beat you up that hill standpoint.

Actually, that probably isn't true. Now that I think about it, I really want to beat everyone everywhere--I just normally can't.

When riding up a hill, I really want to show my stuff. Hills are what I like and I feel like I can really suffer through them better than most. (Actually, I probably can't, but I don't really know--and that's what keeps me happy.)

On the flats, I also want to win. Of course, to accomplish this, I need to just pull longer than normal when in a group, or volunteer that we should go further. When riding with people, I never want to be the one who picks up the pace just to show how fast he/she is. That's what the hills are for (see above). Another acceptable option is to ride to the starting point, and point out the ride you plan on doing afterwards. I've seen this in action many times.

Descending. Well, I'm never in front in this case (except when they give me a head-start--and then it isn't for long). Off-road or road--it doesn't seem to make a difference. My best bet here is to be off-road on an unfamiliar trail. I love to pull out the "I didn't know what to expect or where I could open it up" card. It happens to be my best excuse. (Though, not as accurate as saying, "I'm really bad at descending.")

This is why I need to apologize to those who I rode with over lunch. One of your number was introduced to me as "a strong rider." That same rider proceeded to tell me how he plans on doing an ironman next year. I felt pretty strong, and I had to find out. I'm sorry for keeping the pace up. I'm sorry for pushing it harder than I ever have up those hills. I just had to do it.

I'm not a racer. I just play one in my mind.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tour of Utah gets UCI status

I normally don't post press releases here, but I'm pretty excited about this one--if only because it is local.


Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Awarded International Cycling Union (UCI) Status

UCI status earns the Tour of Utah a place on the UCI’s 2007 race calendar

SALT LAKE CITY – October 3, 2006 – Known as “America's Toughest Tour,” the Tour of Utah, presented by Three Peaks Promotions, has been awarded International Cycling Union (UCI) status. Receiving this prestigious honor recognizes the Tour of Utah as a highly regarded, world-renowned cycling event; consequently, the Tour will be given a date on the 2007 UCI calendar.

The decision to make the Tour of Utah an official UCI event comes from recommendations by UCI commissaires who participated behind the scenes at the 2006 inaugural Tour, as well as from positive feedback from race teams. UCI commissaire Marilyn Allen was the team liaison for the August 2006 Tour. “The teams were happy with the event and look forward to returning next year,” she said. “I would like to congratulate Three Peaks for putting on a very successful 2006 Tour.”

The Tour of Utah is a “Tour de France-style” six- day, six-stage, 500-mile bike race across some of Northern Utah’s most beautiful and challenging landscapes. Planning for 2007 is already underway with the Tour dates to be set for late July or early August.

Jason Preston, president of Three Peaks Promotions and race director for the Tour of Utah said he has been overwhelmed by the amount of positive press and personal feedback the Tour has received from cycling enthusiasts and Utah community leaders.

“Hosting the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah was like revisiting our Olympic experience,” said Lewis K. Billings, mayor of Provo. “Once again the excitement and energy of a first-class international sports competition was alive in the streets of Provo and was reflected in the faces and hearts of the people who came to watch.”

Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO and president Scott Beck offered positive feedback saying "On behalf of the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau, our 850 member-businesses and our community, I wish to congratulate the producers, sponsors and supporters of the Tour of Utah for the incredible success the Tour enjoyed in just its first year.”

“As one of the state's primary marketing organizations,” says Beck, “we fully support and endorse the future of the Tour of Utah, appreciating the fact that UCI-sanctioned events produce incredible media exposure for host cities and destinations such as Salt Lake before, during and long after the event to cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts around the globe. Few events are able to encompass the many attributes Salt Lake has to offer as a tourism destination, from the stunning landscape and backdrop to its incredible hospitality infrastructure; the Tour of Utah is definitely one such event. Again, a sincere 'thanks' goes to the Tour of Utah team for bringing professional cycling to Salt Lake and the State of Utah, exposing the world once again to all we have to offer."

Preston said he has already been looking at several routes for 2007 and is confident that the race will live up to its reputation as “America’s Toughest Tour.” “We look forward to getting our team around us right away in order to raise the bar for next year,” said Preston. “It was the volunteers, sponsors and employees that stepped up to the plate this year and pulled off such a fantastic event. Next year after the Tour de France, American cycling fans can see European style racing with epic climbs and scenery without having to learn French or cross the Atlantic.”

The International Cycling Union (UCI) is the association for the International Cycling Federation and regulates and promotes cycling at the international level. In addition, the UCI organizes the World Championships for all disciplines and encourages friendly relations between members of the cycling family.

For the latest 2007 Tour of Utah schedule, please refer to the UCI web site at www.uci.ch.

More information about the 2006 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah can be found on the official race Web site at www.tourofutah.com or contact Chip Smith at 801.523.3730 or csmith@soarcomm.com.

About Three Peaks Promotions
Three Peaks Promotions, LLC, owns and operates the Tour of Utah and is one of the leading cycling sports presenters in the Western United States. Three Peaks Promotions creates and manages a variety of cycling events and special programs for corporate sponsors, non-profit organizations and municipalities including the Thanksgiving Point Cycling Classic, Freedom Peloton, Sundance Hill Climb, Thanksgiving Point Weekly Criterium Series, and the Tour of Utah. For further information, visit www.threepeakspromotions.com or call 800.807.9804.

About the 2006 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah
The 2006 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah was a “Tour de France-style” six-day, six-stage, 500-mile race across some of Northern Utah’s most beautiful and challenging landscapes, which took place August 7- 12, 2006. It is considered “America’s Toughest Tour” and consisted of 16 professional cycling teams totaling 100-plus cyclists who competed for a cash/prize purse of $40,000. Adding to success of the 2005 Tour of Utah, deemed the biggest cycling event in Utah history, the weeklong 2006 Tour was accompanied by a rolling festival celebration at the finish line of each of the six stages. An estimated 100,000 spectators lined the course and attended the festivals in Park City, Salt Lake City, Tooele, Provo, Midway, and Snowbird. The 2006 Tour of Utah was sponsored by the Larry H. Miller Group, owners of the Utah Jazz and presented by Zions Bank, one of Utah’s longstanding and largest banking institutions. For more information visit www.tourofutah.com or call 800.708.9804.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Wait Until Dark

I've heard night riding (with lights, of course) described as riding through a tunnel. This isn't really accurate--unless, of course, someone is following you with lights. I would describe night riding as this: Almost getting into a tunnel.

You see, in a tunnel, you are lit up--along with everything in front and behind you. Even with a light mounted to my helmet, I am not lit up. I am in darkness. The entire time. I'm almost there, almost to the tunnel, but I never quite make it. I can almost see my hands on the bars. Everything behind that is obscured by darkness.

Riding in the dark also makes nature seem small to me. I can't see anything around me, all I see is what is in front of me. Perhaps this is that tunnel feeling. I'm no longer in the wide-open expanse of nature. Everything is small.

Well, small and spooky.

Thanks to James' comment on my post yesterday, I stuck to the closer-to-man trails around the mouth of Provo Canyon. I wanted to go longer--indeed, my lights would have lasted at least an hour longer, but I couldn't quite bring myself to venture out into the truly wild. Okay, it isn't wild like the Amazon basin, but wild for Utah. Though I have often been in almost dark situations (especially just before dawn), this was one of the few times I've mountain biked from start to finish in the dark.

Some things I discovered
Bird's eyes reflect just like other animals. There was a particular stretch of trail that I covered both coming and going. There were birds trying to sleep on the trail. At first, I thought I was seeing mice, but then they flew away. One poor bird was too tired to fly more than a few feet. Unfortunately, it was a few feet further up the trail. Eventually, after a chasing it a ways up the trail like this, I took pity on the bird and rode far enough around it so it didn't try and fly away.

Large spiders also reflect light--though I suspect it wasn't the eyes I saw. At least I hope not. Moving on...

Though I am slow at descending, I am really, really slow at descending in the dark. Also, because the light doesn't allow me to view very far down the trail, I don't think riding a lot in the dark would help me learn to be a better descender--it would teach me to look only just in front of my front wheel.

James always tells me how a helmet light alone isn't that great because you lose depth-perception. He's right. In fact, though I wouldn't want to get rid of the helmet-mounted light altogether, I wished my handlebar light were brighter and my helmet light a little dimmer. There were times when I'd notice an obstacle, like a dip in the trail, only to look at it (with my bright helmet light) and have it vanish. The handlebar mount is very important.

Even with both lights, very tall grass surrounding very narrow trails makes it hard to see where you are going.

Challenging bits of trail aren't any easier in the dark. Perhaps this is what makes riding in the dark so much fun. If you're used to a particular trail (like the one closest to your house), you can liven things up a bit by doing it in the dark.

Besides being sick to my stomach (too much dinner), it was a lot of fun last night. If you have the lights, I recommend it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Something Happened That Prevented Me From Riding

What happens when I don't ride? I don't think.

What happens when I don't think? Well, lots of embarrassing things. Also, though, I don't post to this blog.

Posting to this blog is secondary, though. I mean, nothing can be worse than not riding. Well, of course, that isn't true, but not riding is certainly nothing I'd wish on anyone--not anyone I like, anyway.

For reasons that aren't interesting enough to include here, and too numerous to even remember, I have been cheated--yes, I said cheated--out of riding almost from the moment I came home from LOTOJA. At first, mind you, this wasn't bad. I mean, if it weren't for my utter exhaustion, I would have probably gotten out of bed and sold my bike(s). But now, now that I love bikes again, I want to ride.

First, it was nature. Yes, nature, once again, pulled out all the stops. It got cold. It rained. It snowed. The worst however--and this has yet to be rectified--is that there isn't as much sunlight. Coupled with my lack of tail-light (having broken mine going over train tracks a month or two ago), I can't ride on the road any more in the early morning.

That's fine, I have my mountain bike. And I have some nice lights.

Except this week, for whatever reason, my daughter--whom I take to school almost daily--has to be at school around 7:45 am. That means leaving at 7:30 am. For mountain biking (because I don't actually live on a trail), I have to plan for 15-20 minutes of driving to the nearest trail. I figured out that this morning, I had to get up at 4:30 to do the ride I wanted to do.

Here's a surprise: I didn't hear my alarm... or something.

I am now forced to live out the rest of my day staring out at the beautiful 75-degree weather from inside my cold, grey office.

I'm not giving up today, though. I'm going to try and ride tonight. Still in the dark, but I don't have to get up early to do it. I just have to stay up late.

Do cougars come out at night?

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Scent of DeFeet

I just wrapped up two reviews: the DeFeetUnDShurt baselayer and EarthEator socks. I found both of these products to work exceptionally well. So, instead of wishing there were more content here to distract you from the drudgery of your day, go there and read the reviews. Both products were worn to much acclaim on LOTOJA.

LOTOJA: Complete (links)

I just wanted to post this as a reference to all my other posts. Due to the nature of the Blog, to those that didn't follow along as I wrote it, everything is listed in reverse order. I have here the links--in order, no less:

A Beginning
A Cyclist
Feed Zone
The Climbs
The Finish

Sunday, September 17, 2006

LOTOJA: The Finish

The adrenaline is wearing thin and I start to revert inside myself for the long miles ahead. How do so many miles tick by without my notice. My muscles notice, though. Slowly they are starting to groan. They aren't out-right complaining, but I can tell there is murmuring among the ranks.

I'm in a group now. This one is pretty big and moving fast. It isn't that I mind going fast, but I continue to worry about finishing. I've gone about as far as I ever have on a bike. Anything further is uncharted territory. My heart rate is too high. I sit up and drop back. Alone again? Not quite. There is another that has fallen back with me.

I met him last night at the informational meeting for those, like me, who are first-timers. I can't remember his name. I do remember, though, that he works at a shop that sponsors LOTOJA. A month ago his boss came to him and suggested he fill one of the spots reserved for sponsors. He was pretty excited but it was also apparent that he had no idea what he was getting himself in to.

Does anyone their first time?

At this point in the race, I don't really want to waste energy talking. We smile and begin to work together. Am I being paranoid, or is the wind picking up against us? Though we are going slower than when we were part of that group, I can tell he is struggling.

"Keep going. I'm going to have to pace myself now." I'm not sure what he means until I glance back and see him falling behind. "Good luck," I offer as I press on alone. In life, I would have slowed to help a suffering friend. In a bike race, if it isn't helping me, I move on. This is brutal.

Afton, WY. Feed zone 5. 125 miles. I really need this feed zone. I'm tired. I haven't been drinking enough but I force myself to wait in line to urinate. James has the sunscreen, but I'm certain I've already burned my upper arms. "You need to drink more." I know, I know. I also need to eat more, but I just can't bring myself to do it. He hands me a banana for my pocket and I choke down a half peanut-butter and honey sandwich. I add more GU to my stash. I keep my vest in case it rains. There have been reports of rain up ahead.

I actually lay down for about 30 seconds before my conscience smites me and I realize I need to get back on the bike. James is encouraging though I hardly hear it now. Back on the bike. Pedal.

I find a pack moving at a fairly fast pace, but I manage to keep up. I'm not really paying attention to anything but the wheel in front of me right now. We're still moving into the wind and I need them. A short guy riding bow-legged with his saddle too low takes over. The fool has picked up the pace. We're flying now, moving about 4-5mph faster than before. At least, for a few moments we're flying. One by one, we drop of and the group shatters into 15 separate pieces. I can still see him plowing on ahead. Alone now. He probably thinks everyone is still behind him. I want to shake my fist at him. "Don't you see what you've done? You've hurt us all, including yourself!" Sure enough, when he is about 1/4 mile ahead, I see him ease up. Our group is starting to reform. I want no part of a group with this guy. I'm tired, now, and that surge hurt.

I suck down another vile GU. Not as bad as that Clif Shot, though. My stomach lurches at the thought.

After some miles, everyone has decided on different paces and that group has split and reformed with others producing other groups. The flow of the race is continual and fluid. Cyclists slide up, move back. Some bonk. Others get their 2nd wind. It is constantly changing. I know I need to eat, but the thought is horrible. I peel my banana.

I've found myself in a group of three Cat 5 riders. They all look to be in their 50s. They all are wearing the 2006 LOTOJA jersey. They all have mustaches. I find this amusing and it takes me away from the darkness. I join in the back. I enjoy listening to their banter. Obviously friends. Only friends would sacrifice such energy for laughter. I'm smiling again.

I'm too guilty a rider to do nothing but suck someone's wheel the whole way. I ease up the side and volunteer to pull. "I hope you don't mind me sitting in with you guys. I'm willing to pull my load."

After a hearty welcome I'm in front. I keep my pace steady. I've learned something of the devastation of surging from the squat man with the bow-legged style. At this distance, I really hate riding point. It isn't that I'm in the wind completely, either. No, it is that I know someone is exactly behind me. I know everyone else is matching my speed. I can't stand up to stretch my legs. I can't coast. I must keep it steady and smooth. Especially if I want to stay with this group.

After several miles, I peel off and slide back. "Nice pull." "Good work."

I'm not sure why it is important for me to stay with this group. It just is. Freud might say that they remind me of my father in appearance and demeanor. Surely it takes more than mustaches. One thing is certain: They are going my pace. This is how fast I want to be going, so, if I can find a group that can pull me along at this speed, perfect.

For another thing, they amuse me and help me feel welcome. I am a bit of an introvert, and normally I wouldn't spend much time trying to fit in to a group like this. However, this isn't life. This is cycling. I need the companionship. I need the support. As long as I can get that without taking from them, I'll be allowed to stay. Four is stronger than three.

Ten years ago, if someone had asked me my opinion of road cycling, I would have told them that I couldn't bear the tedium of the road. I needed the mountains. I needed the obstacles in the trail. The constant change of the medium I'm riding on. The white-knuckle descents. The grueling loose climbs. What did the road have to offer?

Something must have changed in me during that time. I love the road. I can't seem to step away from it. The road draws to me like mountain biking never did. It calls to me. It shouts at me. It bullies me into following day after day. Every road, even the same road, leads me some place new each time.

This road, apparently, doesn't have an end. Where is that next feed zone? Though the guys try and keep things lively. The wind is having its affect on them, too. Someone needs to take a "natural" break. We stop and wait for him. I start talking with one of the guys about LOTOJA. He's surprised I'm doing it alone. They've done it each at least three times together.

"You've done this before?" I ask. It occurs to me that I don't ever want to do it again. In fact, I really don't even want to finish it. I don't like this race anymore. "Yeah, it usually takes a month or so. Gradually, the memories change. By the time they open up registration for the next year, I can't wait to sign up."

Last year, LOTOJA was hit with unseasonably cold weather. There was snow in the passes. Though 90% of the riders generally finish LOTOJA, last year--due to lack of preparation for the cold weather--only 30% finished. "Yeah, we were there for SNOTOJA. We didn't finish. The weather is great this year." I can't help but agree. It must be only the 70s now. Sunny. Though many have warned of rain, we have yet to see a drop. I still can't imagine wanting to ever ride this race again. Will I even want to get back on my bike again?

On again. Pedal. Everything hurts. The dull kind of aching that comes after 9+ hours on the bike. Much further than it should have been, I see the sign: "1 KM to FEED ZONE."

"Mind if I join you for the next leg?" I want to establish myself in this group. I feel as though my success in this race depends on them. "We usually take our time at the feed zones. Probably 5-10 minutes," they replied. "If you don't mind that, you're welcome to join us. We don't mind having someone else to share the pulling."

Alpine, WY. Mile 159. "Only 47 miles to go. You can do that. You're doing awesome." James is there as usual giving me the morale boost I need. I don't really want to get on my bike again, but I also don't want to lose this group. I see a couple of them grouping around the outhouses up the road. "See you at the finish line!"

I'm off again, but only to join with them. After a little more waiting the third in the group joins us. With a big smile he proclaims he's ready to ride, "I've got more butt-butter. I'm good to go!" Another turns to me and asks, "How did he put that on?" He didn't even use the outhouse. "Nevermind, I don't want to know."

Immediately following Alpine, we turn up a canyon. I'm not sure there is a tail wind, but at least there isn't a head wind. I remember from the map that the next bit is rolling. I think I might just survive this.

We agree to a system. Every mile marker we rotate. Pull for one mile, off for three. In this way, we slowly tick off the miles. This canyon is gorgeous. If I weren't so tired, I'd really enjoy it. If I could stop, I'd really enjoy it right now. I start to lose contact with everything except the person right in front of me. Watch my speed. Watch my distance. Don't forget to eat. Don't forget to drink. Another banana. Another GU. More Cytomax. More water.

I don't care about the beautiful canyon. I don't notice the river below. A pack slides past us effortlessly. How do they do that? Where did they come from? I pedal.

Somehow, the miles pass. I'm pulling again. How many times have we rotated? The road goes up. I shift, my chain drops, and I can't get it back on. All my momentum is gone. Expecting the three companions to move past me, I mutter an apology as I reach down to stick the chain back on. To my surprise, everyone is there waiting for me. Even that 15-second break helped. I can pedal again.

We've reached another feed zone. This one is neutral. I fill up my water. Only now do I remember that James gave me extra Cytomax. Good ol' James. At least someone can still think. None of the food they have looks good, but the volunteers are friendly. Someone mentions BYU won their game. This news shocks me, but not because of BYU or their record or their team. It shocks me because something is going on outside of this race. It reminds me that this is a bike ride on a normal Saturday in the fall when many people are mowing their lawn or watching a football game. I can't believe there is more than this race.

We're off again. Three miles off, one mile on. Pedal. I start to notice two pains rising above the din of the rest of my body. My knees. I've never felt pain in my knees on a ride before. It goes away, but comes back again--sharper, this time--when we roll up another short hill. The next small hill causes me to wince as the pain redoubles. I don't know how to describe it except to call it cramping. The rest tell me not to worry about it, but to take it easy and work it out. Again, gratitude that I found these guys.

After more miles, the pain starts to become part of me. I can accept it. Here's a hill. There's the pain. Downhill again, and I'm fine. I pedal on.

Less than 20 miles to go. Easy, I tell myself. That's a ride up to Vivian park and back. I could do that without food, water, or preparation. I don't believe myself. I no longer feel solid. I don't think of myself as accomplishing something great, or doing well. I only think of the miles to go. I only watch my cycle-computer and try and will them to pass by more quickly. I glance at my speed: 22mph. That's pretty good. Why aren't the miles going by? I look down again and see we still have 19 to go. Is this thing working?

We're part of a larger group now. I'm irrational in that I don't want anyone to come between me and those three guys I'm riding with. One thing's for certain, though. I don't have to pull anymore. The lead riders are determined not to let someone slow get in their way so they are rotating amongst themselves without sharing the load. Fine by me.

Jackson. About 10 miles to go. Everything is black. My arms are cramping. My wrists are tingling. Of all the many positions available on standard road drop bars--drops, flats, hoods, etc.--I hate them all. This pace is fast but I no longer care. I just need to reach the end. I'm not going to eat any more food, though my stomach feels empty. I know I need to drink, but my left arm seizes when I grab the bottle with my right.

I remember reading that the last few miles are the most beautiful of the ride, with a vista of the Grand Tetons. All I see is that it is getting closer to dark and I'm not done yet. Still 10 miles to go? I can't believe this. It is never going to end. I hate this bike. I don't notice my legs, but part of me thinks they must be tired. 10 miles? That's a ride to the mouth of the canyon and back. I could do that with flat tires. I could do that in a sprint. I can't do it now.

I know I'm going to finish because I'm in a large group. I'm surrounded by cyclists. I'm pulled along. I can't slow down. I can't turn. I can only continue. Seven miles to go. I guess my computer isn't broken. There is a right turn and I find that some of the group is dropping back. Not me. Pull me in. I'm not slowing down until I cross the line. Then, I may die, but it won't matter.

I finally realize it is dark because I still have my sunglasses on and the sun has gone behind the mountains to the west. Inside, I think this is funny. My expression doesn't change. If I weren't so tired and in the middle of this group, I'd put my vest on. I've carried it in my back pocket for the last 100 miles. I'm chilly now. Can't do it. Besides, I'm so close now.

There is a line of cars in the road. They all have their brake lights lit up. Support cars. We must be close. A sign: 5 KM. Could it be? Am I that close? That's a little over three miles, right? I might make it. A few more kicks of the pedals. I'm close now. Kilometers are much shorter than miles. I'm going 20mph. How long will it take me to get to the end? My mind struggles with the math. Is that 3 minutes for every mile? 10 minutes? That can't be right because I'm not sure I can make it 10 minutes longer.

4 KM. I'm so glad they have these markers. I bet those guys in the cars wish they were on bikes. We're flying past them. Who knows how long they'll be there stopped. Of course, if they felt like me, they wouldn't wish for this. I don't want this any more. So close! Pedal. Keep kicking. Don't worry about the water. Too close now.

3 KM. How many miles is it now? Two? I can't remember. My mind is slow. The group has changed and I haven't even realized it. Keep pedaling. Close. I can't keep going. My legs are black. So are my arms. What was serious discomfort in my butt now pales to the rest of my body. Does it hurt? I don't know. I can't tell.

2 KM. I can't believe how many cars are stopped. Is that the finish line? My thoughts fade. Pedal.

1 KM. I can see the finish line. We start to slow. There are no sprint finishes for those who just finish. I start to realize that I'm doing it. I'm finishing. I've made it. I can't believe that's the finish line. I can't believe I've done 206 miles. I hurt, but the hurt is fading now. I see cyclists walking away from the finish line. They've done it and so will I. Do I raise my arms and shout? Can I? James is there shouting for me. I did it, James. You were right.

Though I want the moment to last--this moment of triumph, where I show the world I did it--it only lasts what it is: a moment. They're telling me to slow down. I'm stopped now. I shake hands with my three companions. I don't think they realize what they've done for me. Someone is taking my radio timing chip off my ankle. I'm surprised to see it still there. I've forgotten about it. How much energy did that band cost me?

"What's your number?" I have a number? I've seen numbers on everyone else's bike. I'm used to their numbers. What's mine? I look down and read it, "Eighteen forty-six." Someone hands me a medal. My time is 12:07. I gave myself 13 hours. I won!

James hands me my Crocs and I take off my cycling shoes and hand them to him. I joke around that my bike is for sale for anyone interested. My legs are screaming at me now and I want to sit down. I want to lie down. The car is 1/2 mile away. I'm smiling. I did it!

Suddenly, I'm ravenously hungry. The thought of food now sounds wonderful. I've got to find a restaurant!

I finished.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

LOTOJA: The Climbs

Though I find myself unsure about what my pace should be for a 200 mile race, I know how to do hills. I'm totally relaxed as I shift to lower gears. I find my pedaling cadence as the climb gets steeper. It feels like coming home.

Most of the cars have been diverted other ways. Though we can't cross the yellow center line, we take up our entire lane. As the pitch increases, so does the number of riders. Of course no one is drafting any longer. At our speed, there is no benefit. That, too, makes me smile and helps me relax further.

I notice that for the first time today I'm really starting to pass people. Lots of people. This surprises me and, for a moment, I panic that I'm going too fast. I check my gears and look at my speed. No, this is exactly right. I can keep this up all day.

I pass more riders.

A few months ago, I decided to try to combine two tough climbs for one long ride. Well, it didn't end up being that long, but 72 miles felt long enough with the 6000' of climbing I did. Though I could get many more miles in if I eliminated the climbs, I couldn't bring myself to do it. The more I trained, the more I discovered that climbing was the part I enjoyed. Whenever I daydream about riding, it always includes some combination of climbs I like to do--or new ones I've never been on.

There's congestion and it frustrates me. I'm glad to not be drafting, sure, but I want to go my pace now. I see an opening and I sprint past 10 or 15 people so I can get to where it is clear. I find it interesting that it doesn't kill me to do so. What is going on today? There is no way that I'm better than the rest of these riders. How did they end up in front of me?

I start looking around and I notice by their numbers that many of them signed up as Cat 5--much higher (and with a much earlier start time) than my mere Citizen 27-34. Were they all bluffing when they signed up?

I pass more riders.

When I was studying the course map last night, I remember finding comfort in the feed zone located about 1 mile from the summit of this climb. I now find it more of an inconvenience. I don't really want to stop and, because this is a neutral feed zone, I know I'm going to have to. I take a pull from my water bottle and find it empty.

On the other hand, I'm starting to warm up.

As with all the volunteers I will encounter on this long stretch of road, everyone here is very friendly and helpful. They seem to understand both my hurry and my need. I'm back on my bike in less than a minute.

The closer I get to the top, the more I start to think of the descent. I hate descending. I'm terrible at corners. I know I'll be passed and that I won't utilize my kinetic energy as efficiently as I should.

There it is. I reach back to grab my vest out of my rear pocket and my hat, which shared the same space, comes out too. I only know this because the cyclist behind me points it out. Great, I think. I haven't even started down the hill and I'm already fumbling.

My speed increases and I'm glad to have my vest on. I realize these turns aren't at all the tight switch-backs I was dreading and so am able to let myself go. A rider slips past me effortlessly. I know enough about cycling and aerodynamics to know there are better ways of going fast with gravity. My hands are in the drops with my finger tips on the brake levers. At this speed, I don't want my hands any further away from my brakes.

Another rider glides past.

Though we spread out on the descent, we gradually come back together as we roll through the valley. My mind goes blank as I get back into the rhythm of the pace line. A glance at the time and I suck down a GU. I must have already had my banana.

I've been riding for 4.5 hours as we approach Montpelier for the third feed zone. I'm already finding discomfort in the saddle so I'm looking forward to this stop. There is something emotional about finding James waiting for me after my toils. I find comfort and relief that he is there supplying my basic needs: food and water.

"You haven't been drinking enough." He says this, not as criticism, but like a worried parent. I make up something about how it's been all downhill since the neutral feed. He's right, though. I tell him that I'll need sunscreen the next time I see him. Unfortunately, that won't be until I get past the next neutral feed zone.

After much too long of a wait at the outhouse, I'm refueled and off again.

The next climb is short, and the lowest of the three today. Once again, I find the groove--my own without the constraints of a pace line populated with strangers. I climb. I relish my time fighting against the mountain. I revel in the people I pass. This climb is also steeper than the last. This doesn't bother me. I love it.

Another benign descent brings me to the next feed zone. I know I've been drinking enough now because I need to wait in line again. While I'm waiting a guy tells me that he's broken two frames just like mine. Is he trying to psyche me out?

They've got Clif Shots here and I grab a mango flavored one. A quick pull and a quick squeeze almost brings me to quickly vomit. How can they destroy a flavor so well? I'm glad I brought so many banana GUs.

The last climb of the day and the King of the Mountain time check. I've heard the last few miles are a 7% grade. Though I'm probably a little cocky, I smile at this thought. Is that it? Many of the climbs I do are 8-10%.

Of course, those aren't followed by almost 100 miles more of riding. I'm at mile 105. I'm no longer feeling fresh, though it never occurs to me that I couldn't make this climb. I always make the climbs.

I try to shift down and find I'm in my lowest gear. I take a pull of water and a GU. Steady. Keep the pace steady. There's no need to speed up, and I don't have to slow down.

I pass more riders.

A cyclist hastily stops at the side of the road to vomit. I can't help but shout out, "I'm so sorry, man," as I pass by. This is one hard race. Among the body parts I've begun to take more notice of, so far the stomach hasn't made it to the long list. I wish I could say the same for where I sit.

I glance down at my computer and notice that I'm over half-way through the race now. How long has it been? 6 hours. Last night, James said, "All you have to do is a 6 hour century followed closely by a 7 hour century. You can do that." And I almost have all the climbing out of the way.

I unzip my jersey all the way.

I don't realize how little my mind is working until I notice that the man shouting at me and taking my picture is James.


James, my thread of reality. My contact with the world. He's shouting praises and running along beside me. "You are doing awesome! You've got it! You rock! Ride through the chute over there and get your time-check and I'll see you at the next feed zone!"

I'm full of adrenaline. I shout and pump my fists in the air as I pass the King of the Mountain check, "Woo Hoo!" In fact, I'm even excited about the descent.

Now, I'm flying!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

LOTOJA: Feed Zone

My biggest fear going into this ride--outside of just being able to finish--was the feed zone. I worried I wouldn't be able to handle the hand-off of the musette (feed bag). Mixed in with this fear was the fear that if I stopped each time, I wouldn't actually have enough time to finish.

As we enter Preston, ID I look up and see a sign: 1 KM to Feed Zone. There are 7 feed zones in this race, and the longest distance was the one I just covered: 34 miles. There are a few children out cheering for us.

Am I going to be able to grab the musette and move on? Will I fumble? Will I wreck?

"Jon! Over here!" And there is James amid the mass of support people lined up. He isn't holding up a musette at all. In fact, it is over his shoulder. I come to a stop and he starts asking me how I'm doing. What I've had to eat. How much I've been drinking. He has it all there, just like we talked about. I stuff the Fig Newtons into a pocket. Add some GUs to my stash. I eat the half peanut butter and honey sandwich. As I'm doing so, James stuffs a banana into my right pocket. He also gives me a plastic bag full of Cytomax powder. The next feed zone is neutral, so I can't count on restocking that there.

"Do you want your arm-warmers still?" I answer yes, but leave my full-fingered gloves with him. My vest comes off and into my middle pocket. There are climbs still to come and it's still early.

I suddenly realize why I'll be stopping at every feed zone. I need to pee and there are outhouses here. Why don't they have more here? I'm waiting in line at a race? While I'm waiting, James is looking at my computer and HRM--trying to figure out how I'm doing. He seems satisfied that I've been sensible.

The first two climbs come before I'll be able to see James again. I get on my bike and he gives me a shove. I'm off. Just like that, I'm past my first feed zone. Mileage-wise, I'm 1/6 of the way there. I feel fantastic as my legs spin me up to speed and I head out of town. Have I forgotten anything?

Sunscreen. Dang. No sunscreen.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

LOTOJA: A Cyclist

In an instant, all my questions are gone. I'm no longer wondering, I'm doing. It is such a relief that for the first time today I'm smiling. Really smiling. One more glance at James as I clip in and I'm off in the mad rush of cyclists.

As we stream out of Logan, I notice a couple of things: There are cops at every corner and intersection clearing the way for us. This is really cool. Somehow I've become a real cyclist.

Also, we're flying. Everyone is rushing--anxious to prove themselves and anxious to let out some of that anxiety they've been suppressing the last few hours (or even days). I can't help but think: "This can't last. Not 200 miles." Slowly they stream past me. All of them. One by one. I can't go it alone--not at any pace--so I hook up and get in the rhythm.

My heart-rate is 157. Too fast. I can handle this for a few hours--maybe 4 at the most--but this isn't the effort I can sustain all day. After 10 miles of fast riding, I sit up and drop back.

Alone? Not really. I know there are cyclists behind me. After all, I wasn't in the last group. To console myself in my solitude, I smugly decide that all the rest really are going to fast for themselves, too. I'm the only one sensible enough to hold something in reserves.

My conscience fades and I'm a cyclist on a lonely highway running through rural Cache County, Utah. I pedal. I watch my heart rate. I drink. It doesn't occur to me to think of where I'm going. I don't wonder about when the next group will catch me. I just know I'm here. I'm moving. I'm a cyclist.

As if out of sleep, there's a line of cyclists streaming by me and someone shouts out, "Hop on!"

Riding in a paceline is not the same as riding. An experienced cyclist would disagree, but I have only a handful of thoughts at this point--and they are very acute in my mind: "Too far." and "Too close." For miles I'm studying the back of the person in front of me. If I drift back more than a foot or two, I'm lost--as are those behind me. If I get too close, or stop paying attention, I will cause a massive pile-up.

Pedal. Soft pedal. Coast. Pedal harder. Soft pedal. Pedal.

Though there are twenty or thirty of us, no one speaks. The only sounds are the freewheels ratcheting and derailleurs guiding.


And simple directions that might be missed by the hand-signal language of the pack. Together we move quickly--much faster than I was going alone, but reasonable this time. 139 bpm. That's more like it.

The sun is up over the mountains. The fog has cleared. I don't think I'll be needing those full-fingered gloves I have stashed in my pocket.


Monday, September 11, 2006

LOTOJA: A Beginning

I woke up at 5 am on Saturday. I was so tired. The previous night had been spent too hot, followed closely by too cold (once the opened window started doing its job). I hadn't slept well. I took a shower trying not to think too much about what lay ahead. The hot water helped to get my blood flowing. Taking more care than usual, I dressed in the clothes I had decided on the night before.

Should I put chamois cream on now, or wait? I'd better do that last before I leave. It will need to last a long time.

I filled two water bottles while James got ready for the day. One filled with Cytomax. I couldn't eat. Nothing sounded good. Nothing tasted palatable. This would turn out to be a common theme throughout the day. I forced myself to eat a Clif Bar. I stuffed 4 Gus into my pockets.

I stepped outside to load the car and found everything cold, foggy, dark, and wet. Back inside for the chamois cream.

James struggled to get the Caution Bike Race and LOTOJA Support Crew signs taped to the inside of the car. I was too nervous to pay much attention. I kept looking around at the bikers pouring in to the starting area. Are they more prepared than I am? He's wearing a windbreaker. Am I dressed right? Is a vest going to be enough? Should I bring my full-fingered gloves? Should I head the line now, or do I have time to ride around the block a bit?

I ended up riding over to the line while James struggled with a wet window—wet on both sides. They were calling out the 1600's to line up. Plenty of time. I rode back to see James finishing up. Another rider forgot a pump and I needed to help him with mine. Am I missing anything? How much time do I have?

When James finished up, I had him hold my bike while I used a purple outhouse. I didn't know they made them in colors other than green and blue. They do.

The 1700's are starting to line up. I'm 1846. We're next. After a few parting words of encouragement, I ride away from James into the chaos of the assembling riders. Some have pretty nice bikes. Others not. How fast are these guys? Am I going to be able to find a group to stick with? Am I going to make it?

"1800's line up. 1 minute to go," says the announcer. "You need to finish this race by 8:30 or dark, whichever comes first. If you don't finish by then, train harder next year." I smile, but inside I'm still wondering which group I'll be in at the end of the day. James is over on the side taking pictures. I force a smile.

"About 25 seconds to go." She continues to give more details about the course. "Still pretty foggy out there, so be careful, but I imagine it will burn off soon." Music is blaring. I don't recognize the tune. I'm at the front with my wheel sitting right on the line. I guess I'm in a good position, but 15 groups have already left this morning. Would it even matter?

"Go! Everyone have a great ride!"

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Zero Hour

Less than 24 hours.

I spent most of last night and some of this morning packing up for the ride. I have much more food than I need, but I suppose that is better than not having enough. It looks like it will be a cool day with lows in the 40s and highs in the 70s (that's Fahrenheit), so I am bringing a base-layer, arm-warmers, long-finger gloves, a skull-cap, a wind vest, and a waterproof jacket. It isn't supposed to rain, though.

I think I have all the right gear, and I think I have enough training miles in (though, just barely enough). I'll report back as to how prepared I really am.

Meanwhile, I have to go scrounge up some carbs.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Of My Love for Carbon

1+ day to go.

Last night, while cleaning my bike and getting it prepared for the race, I got to take a nice close look at all the carbon. Especially with my rear wheel. It seems among the list of things I don't do well on my bike, I can add “lube” to the list. I seem to get an inordinate amount of lube splatter on those pretty carbon/aramid spokes. Also, spraying my chain with degreaser only seems to exacerbate the problem.

As a consequence, I got to take a nice close look at the various carbon parts of my bike. I have learned something about my love of carbon: It isn't entirely driven by the marketing of the bike industry.

Why I love Carbon
I love the un-even look of the fibers. I love that you can see around joints how the lay-up had to change. I love the natural look to it (as opposed to the machined, industrial look present in metal frames/parts). While cleaning the spokes on my wheels, I can feel/see that they aren't identical. Each spoke is unique. Much of what is done, is done by hand.

Besides appearance, I love the way carbon can actually be repaired. I love the way it has enormous fatigue life. I love the way it kills the road vibrations. I love that a frame manufacturer can tweak with the carbon to get totally different ride characteristics out of frames that look identical on the outside.

Calfee has a great whitepaper about why carbon is the perfect frame material.

Will all those fantastic qualities of carbon help me finish LOTOJA? They'd better, or I'm getting my money back.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

With Fear and Anticipation

2+ days to go.

I now have a very large list of items to bring with me for the ride. There are still food items I need to purchase, but I think I have everything else I need. Except about 1 month of additional time. Yeah, that might be nice.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Countdown Continues

Only 3+ days to go.
I woke up sick today.
This isn't a good sign.

Yesterday officially started my taper week, though some of you may have suspected I was tapering all summer. I only rode for 1 hour, and I kept my heart rate down to an average of 127bpm. It was a very relaxing and easy ride--despite the 94-degree weather. When I arrived at home, I felt about the same as before I left--except maybe a little bit sweatier. It was, after all, quite hot outside.

Riding at an easy pace like that reminded me of life before training. Or, even before that: Life before information. I remember the first time I was on a really nice road bike. There was no computer mounted so I had no idea how fast I was going. I just flew along without effort. These days, I keep an eye on my speed and average speed. I track my miles. I watch my heart rate very carefully. Sometimes, I think I spend way too much time worrying about how my riding will affect my overall preparedness for LOTOJA.

Yesterday, I rode just to have fun. My only goal was to make the ride not too long, and to keep my effort down. I was smiling the whole way. Instead of making sure I kept my average speed up, I just watched out for holes in the road. Instead of worrying about how far I was going and, as is often the case, how that distance compared to 206 miles, I looked around at the beautiful vistas.

Suddenly, I find myself without much stress about LOTOJA. Why? Because I know it is too late. Last week was like the last hour before a college exam. I was trying to cram in all I could. This week is like the last minute before the same exam. Too late to do any preparation. Either I'm doomed or I'll succeed. No matter what the outcome, though--and this is unlike the final exam--I know I'll be having fun.

Time for another Vitamin C.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

An Announcement

Even if everything goes wrong with my legs, I know I've got a solid crew for LOTOJA.

It's official now. James will be my support crew for LOTOJA!

A Bad Day

Today was a bad day. I don't even know why.

Last night, I made sure to drink plenty of water. I was well-hydrated.

This morning, I got up and, as usual, had some yogurt. I brought some fig newtons (generic brand, which is why I didn't capitalize it). I brought a bottle of water and a bottle of Cytomax. I was wearing some really expensive Giordana bibs and jersey. I had my normal saddle back on (after many days of swapping saddles). Tires were filled. My wound has healed to the point that while on the bike (with nice, tight-fitting lycra), it doesn't bother me and I hardly notice it.

Everything was perfect.

Okay, I guess I can find some things might explain why today didn't go well. I have a FSA K-Wing handlebar. It is very comfy but the flat tops make mounting anything almost impossible. Because I was going for a longish ride before work (the Alpine Loop), I decided I couldn't wait for the sunrise and I'd get some lights on. I managed to jerry-rig the helmet mount for my handlebars. Here's the problem: after about 10 minutes of riding, I didn't need it anymore. (I got kind of a late start due to the lights. Ironic, no?) The rest of the time, it was just bulky, ill-fitting, dead-weight. I probably could have used a wind vest or arm warmers. It was cold up in the mountains.

It was a bad day. I was slow. I wasn't fluid. On the climbs, I kept feeling like I needed to stand up. Instead of using the momentum I gained by standing, I'd coast for about 1/2 second when I sat back down. This meant that I had to shift back down to the lower gears I was in before. On the downhills, I was slow and cautious. I was uncomfortable. My back hurt (something I haven't noticed for months). I was getting saddle-sore.

I think I can attribute some of this discomfort to a short ride I did last night (12.5 miles) in my street clothes. Also, I really pushed my legs last week with a mountain climb followed by a century. This is my first ride since (not counting last night's easy jaunt). Switching saddles around so much has made me used to no saddle.

Bad days come and go. Overall, they don't bother me. I know that the next ride will probably be better. They're just part of riding. Sometimes you can explain them, sometimes you can't. Here's my biggest concern: What if I have a bad day on September 9th? (That's LOTOJA, in case you didn't know.) What if I have a Stage 16?

15 days to LOTOJA.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Confession

I have been biking for many, many years. 25+ years, as far as I can tell. It began with a road bike in Indiana. After moving to Oregon, it became a mountain bike. For some reason, after that point, the mere thought of road biking was boring to me. I was young, then.

A few years ago, I bought my brother's Giant Cadex road bike. I didn't use it a lot, but it was fun. I was excited by how smooth it was and how fast I could accelerate. I felt fast, but not reckless--two things that always seemed to go together on the rocky trails near where I live. Something was brewing inside me.

Last year, I had the opportunity to review two Cannondales: the Prophet and the Synapse. Though both are great bikes, I couldn't help but be excited about the Synapse much more. Of course, my old Cadex was old and heavy and flexy compared to the light and nimble Synapse.

Whatever it was that changed inside me, it was dramatic. For the first time ever--even without a new road bike of my own--I was very dedicated to riding the trainer through the winter. As soon as registration opened up in the Spring, I registered for LOTOJA. I have barely been on my mountain bike all year. Every ride I do off-road is a sacrifice: I have to give up riding on the road.

How did this happen? When did I go from making fun of "roadies", to trying to become one.

Signs I've Become a Roadie:
10. Bib shorts. I love them. I have lots. Baggy shorts seem so big and bulky.
9. As I drive down the road, I no longer gaze up at the mountains, but pay attention to how smooth the road is, and how wide the shoulder is.
8. I start thinking about things in terms of kilometers, instead of miles.
7. Though a bit pudgy, I like my jersey's to fit a little tighter--I just can't stand the waste in aerodynamics of loose and floppy clothing. (This one is especially funny given my normal average speed is so slow.)
6. In general, I love to wear bibs and jerseys, and I don't even feel self-conscious in them. I'd wear them all the time, if I could. So comfortable. And handy with all those pockets in the back.
5. Why would I wear full-finger gloves?
4. I always wear a HRM on the bike.
3. I suddenly care about pro cycling, and day-dream of becoming one.
2. I got a road-rash, get this, on the road.
1. I shave my legs, and I think it is cool.

I truly didn't see it coming.

Monday, August 21, 2006


I am the worst descender in the world. I am really bad. One reason for this is my lack of cornering skills. I am not fluid around corners. I brake too late. I don't hold my weight in the right place. I'm jerky in my steering. I feel like this is something I need to work on.

There is a corner that I frequently take. I always think I can go faster than I do. It is an intersection with a light.

Last Thursday, while out on a mid-morning ride, I was heading toward that corner and the light turned green. This was my chance. I could take it fast and know that I had the lane. As I approached, I started to feather my brakes and reduce my speed. "Wimp," I said to myself, "You can take it faster than this." I didn't hit my brakes again on that corner.

Instead, I hit the ground.

As it turns out there is a flush and smooth metal grate on that corner. Also, as it turns out, my tires don't grip as well on that as on the pavement. I hit the ground hard with my right (inside) hip and slid across two lanes--still grateful that the light was green in my favor so I didn't have any cars running over me.

You'll be glad to read that my hip took almost all of the fall. There are some scratches on the brake levers, but my seat and the rest of my bike seem just fine.

I suppose, then, I'm being ungrateful to complain about the large wound on my hip.

Which reminds me. How can Lycra make it through a slide like that across pavement (and I wasn't even wearing these), while my skin UNDER THE LYCRA is totally removed? Also, where did it--the skin--go?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Not Today

Today was the day. Well, actually, this week was the week. I have today off, and I was going to go on a long ride (100+ miles) today AND Saturday. Lots of miles=more prepared for LOTOJA.

My body has other plans.

I'm sick. Sore throat, headache, coughing, sneezing. You name it.

Instead of riding, then, I'm trying to beat this illness as fast as I can so I can get back in the saddle--though I don't know which saddle to get back into.

Any cure suggestions? Will sleeping all day help?

23 days until LOTOJA.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Relief

I know this is my third post today. I have excuse for my behavior.

I recently bought this saddle: Sella Italia SLK. It's a pretty nice looking saddle. Compared to my Aliante Gamma, it is about 70 grams lighter, too.

Before I go on to talk about the SLK, I want to mention how much I love the Aliante. The shape is nice. The saddle is soft, without being too mushy. Everyone who has been on my bike has commented on how comfortable this saddle is. From the moment I first sat down on this saddle, it has been one of my favorite ever.

However, it isn't--how should I put this--anatomically correct. Therefore, I decided on the SLK. I probably would have gone with Specialized, but I hate their saddles. Or, at least, I've never enjoyed sitting on any of the ones I've tried.

Thursday, the SLK arrived. But, due to to the Tour, I didn't have time to ride it until Saturday night. My first impressions went like this:

"I can tell this saddle is split down the middle. This padding is very firm. I think I'm really going to like this saddle."

After around 30 miles, I started to realize that, although there wasn't any, um, numbness, I was very uncomfortable. While pedaling, this wasn't as noticeable, but when I stopped pedaling, I felt like I needed to stand up and get off the saddle. That ride ended at 36 miles. It hurt.

Now, I'm fully aware that sometimes it takes some time to get used to a saddle. Heck, I've reviewed quite a few saddles. My experience as been, though, that if a saddle is this uncomfortable after a ride of this length, there might be no hope for honest-to-goodness comfort. That is, my body may grow accustomed to it, but I doubt I'll ever enjoy it.

I think I'll send it back to Performance.

What do you think? Am I jumping the gun, here? Should I give it another 50-60 miles? Anyone have any other saddle suggestions? I'd rather not kill my chances of having more children after riding all day in LOTOJA. Also, I'd rather not spend all 12 hours of it standing out of seething pain.

By the way: 25 days until LOTOJA

... and a Smile

In case some people out there are wondering what the pros drink on rides like this, here's a picture of a bottle I picked up at the base of the climb where we saw the race pass. Keep in mind, it was the middle climb of the day (and the easiest). (Click on the image to get a larger view to see what I'm talking about.) We found quite a few bottles filled with this mysterious brown substance.

Photos from the Tour of Utah

Watching the Tour of Utah on Saturday (stage 6) was awesome. Even though we got there early and had to wait a few hours, my children had a lot of fun. We listened to the radio while waiting to keep tabs on the race and plan for when they'd arrive. It was cool because they had Bob Roll anouncing it. As they headed up the Alpine Loop, one of the local anouncers commented on how he enjoyed climbing it. Bob said, "I'd have to be in the best shape of my life to enjoy a climb like this." Since I really like riding it, I thought that was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, in order to take some pictures, I probably didn't actually "see" as much as I could have without the camera. For instance, somewhere in the group of vehicles that passed, was Bob Roll. That would have been cool to see him.

(Side note on Bob Roll: Though I find him annoying while watching the Tour de France, He was far more interesting and informative than the local commentators. Also, he didn't once have to say "de" (pronounced DAY by Bob) and so didn't sound stupid.)

This is the main break--though there was one guy ahead of them.
I love the HealthNet car. Pretty cool.
Here is the peleton, complete with the yellow jersey there in 2nd.
This was the best part. My children loved cheering on the bikers. A few of them were really cool and smiled and waved at the kids. It was awesome!
The main group of bikes and cars as they passed and headed up to the summit. We were actually camped out at a flat section of the climb (there was a good place to park here).

Well, it was all over too quickly. We managed to pick up a couple water bottles on the way down the mountain as we followed the course they had taken. That was it, though.

I can't wait until next year.