Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Ramblings

Happy Friday! We've made it through another week, and since I'm in a bit of a tight spot for time today, I'm going to just throw out a couple of random thoughts instead of a cohesive post, so my apologies.
*Image found here
First, I wanted to follow up regarding the incident that took place with a car on the roadways a couple of weeks ago. In short, nothing will come of any of it. One of the local sergeants went to the car-owner's home and was told that she had let some people borrow her car and "didn't remember" who had it on that particular day [eye roll]. Unless I could definitively identify the driver, the case would just get thrown out of court. Because I only caught a view from the side and rear, obviously, that would be impossible. Although nothing will come of this particular incident, I hope that others will continue to report these types of moments in the future.

Of note in this process though, I will be adding to my list of things to be aware of in case of an altercation on the roads. Getting specifics/identifiable characteristics about the driver is pretty necessary it seems, as well as getting an officer involved immediately. While I tried to do that but gave up because of the long wait, the officer I spoke to recommended calling from a comfortable place rather than going into the department itself, as it is often easier to get a report done over the phone. Lesson learned.

One other thing that has been plaguing my mind over the last week or so is this: Is it out of line or inappropriate to tell a cyclist "good job" when riding or driving past him/her? I'll provide some examples and feel free to let me know your thoughts.
*Image found here
Yes, I chose this photo specifically - because it's a little uncomfortable/awkward.
In the first scenario, a male driver is passing a cyclist on the road. He honks, throws a "thumbs up" out the window and yells, "keep it up!" out the side of the car. Does it matter if the cyclist is male or female? Does it make a difference if the cyclist is overweight or not? Is this offensive, or should it be construed as genuine encouragement?

In the second scenario, a female cyclist is passing another cyclist on a road. As the female cyclist pedals by the slower cyclist the female yells out, "Good job!" and pedals on past. The cyclists don't know each other and they aren't involved in any kind of race or organized event. Does it seem presumptuous that the cyclist is doing the best s/he can?  Again, does it matter if the slower cyclist is male or female? Should we say anything to other cyclists as we pass other than "passing" or "on your left" or perhaps "good morning/afternoon/evening?"

I'd love to know what you all think about any of these thoughts that catch your fancy. Enjoy the long Labor Day weekend, and hopefully enjoy a leisurely, fun ride as well!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Surviving Venus de Miles

For the last five summers, I have signed myself up to do a local ride called Venus de Miles. If you've read here for some length of time, you are probably already aware that this ride seems to be my Achilles' heel when it comes to cycling. It's not that the ride is physically difficult or horribly challenging for me by this point in the season (though that hasn't always been true), but more so that something always seems to go wrong just before the event. Historically, this "something" is generally that I end up on a different bicycle than intended due to last minute problems or shenanigans with adjustments. This year, my issues had nothing to do with bicycles, but instead shifted to my actual well-being.
*Logo from Venus de Miles
I found myself getting ill the Sunday before the ride, which I believed had given me plenty of time to rest and recover from a round with a cold and flu, but that is not what the universe had in store for me this year. Instead, I went to bed the night before the ride wondering if I would have the lung capacity and energy to get through even a few miles of riding.

When I woke Saturday morning, I could feel the congestion in my lungs and I had no energy, despite having gone to sleep at a very reasonable hour. The first question Sam had for me was, "So, how are you feeling? Are you going to ride?" It was a fair question, but I honestly didn't have a response at that moment. "I'm going to take it one step at a time," I said. "I'm going to try eating something and see how that goes first." Sam understood and went about his own stuff for the morning.

Despite enjoying variety and change in life, there is one aspect that I keep very routine - and that is breakfast. Unless we are having a rare morning meal out somewhere, I have the same thing every day:  half a cup of oatmeal with a scoop of protein powder and a tablespoon of chia seeds. It's a little strange that this is one of the only routines I have in my life, but it seems to work for me and keeps me energized to do what I need to do. The problem on this particular morning was nerves. I still didn't know if I was going to ride, but I was making myself sick with either decision. As I attempted to spoon in my oatmeal concoction, I couldn't seem to actually get it down, so after a few bites, I gave up and went to brush my teeth.

As I brushed, I started to cry. I cry a lot, so some tears shouldn't be news to anyone, but I was really feeling screwed no matter what I chose in regard to doing this event. This is the only organized ride I've been involved with this year and will likely be the only one I'll complete for 2014, so the idea of not being able to ride, even knowing how sick I was feeling, was tearing me up.  I'd also had a conversation with my mother the afternoon before my tooth-brushing, tear-saga and she put things about as aptly as anyone when she said, "Why would you do this ride if you're sick? I always thought you were a smart person, but obviously you are really quite stupid."

Okay, granted my mother is not a cyclist. In fact, she doesn't do much of anything that's active. She used to compete in swimming relays in high school, but that was a very long time ago. Any sort of push within her or competitive spirit seems to have died out long ago. Frankly, she just doesn't understand why I do most of the things that I do. Still, her voice was haunting me as I blubbered over my toothpaste. Maybe I was being stupid to even consider the idea of riding? Even though I'd done my best to rest for the couple of days prior, my body obviously was not ready to take on anything more than a walk back to bed.

At this point, Sam had mozied out to the bike-pen to air up my tires, oil my chain, and make sure that things looked alright for go time. I could hear him rustling with various items, and I still didn't know what I was doing, so I decided to just start getting dressed to ride. As I dressed, I told myself that it wouldn't hurt anything to try to do the ride. I could always go and if things turned ugly, it would be simple enough to make a phone call for a rescue ride. This seemed to give me some comfort, and so I carried on preparing water bottles and other paraphernalia for the ride.

When Sam came back in he said, "I checked out both bikes in case you changed your mind. You are still going to ride the IndyFab, right?" Ah, he knows me well. You see, I'd been debating whether to ride the Hillborne or the newer Crown Jewel. I've recently spent a lot more time in the saddle of the Hillborne, but I knew deep down that the Crown Jewel would be much easier to get some speed going and I could likely finish in a faster time (assuming that I was comfortable). Speed would obviously be a benefit to a person not feeling her best, but at that moment, I honestly wasn't sure what I was doing. I paused a bit but ended up replying, "Yeah, I'm taking the IndyFab. Thanks for getting both bikes ready though." In the back of my mind I was remembering my last ride on the Crown Jewel, and it wasn't giving me great mental comfort. I sighed to myself and suddenly realized that I was less than a half hour away from start time.  Fortunately for me, I'm a ten minute bike ride from the start line... but I knew I had to pick up the pace.

In an instant I decided to stick with the Crown Jewel decision and Sam pedaled over with me to the starting area of the ride. We arrived just a moment before the national anthem began, which meant that I had no time to linger; this ride was getting ready to start. I could see the line of women was very long behind the start line. Sam suggested that I go and get in line, so we said our goodbyes and I headed over. I was not in the best of moods and the idea of spending hours surrounded by happy, healthy, laughing, and highly unaware women was not appealing to me at that moment.

You see, the good and the bad of this ride is just that - that it's a ride and not a race. A good chunk of the women who sign up get their friends together and use it as social time (nothing wrong with that), but it also means that many seem to forget they are on open roads with hundreds (or thousands) of other people on bicycles - and in cars. Call me the buzz kill, but when some choose to ride four abreast, oblivious to the fact that they are not the only ones on the roadways, I can get annoyed. Some get involved in their own conversations and don't listen when they are asked to be considerate of motorized traffic or to announce themselves when passing other cyclists too. But, the worst of them all (in my mind) are those who decide that it is in fact a race and who choose to come blazing past everyone at the start when the crowd is still dense and moving slowly.

I didn't have the luxury of concerning myself with any of them though as I was well aware that time was not my friend on this ride. Being ill meant that if I had any intention of actually finishing, I needed to push to get through it as quickly as I could. The problem was that I couldn't breathe. My lung capacity was minimal and breathing was short and shallow. Every time I attempted a deeper breath, coughing would begin and continued for several minutes. Of course, this made pushing at all a challenge.

The first seven miles were climbing. Not horrible I'm-never-going-to-make-it-up-this climbing, but climbing none the less, and when one cannot breathe, believe me it feels far worse than the actual 500 feet of ascent it was. The good news for me, however, is that I know this route and I know it well. They are roads (with the exception of one) that I travel fairly frequently, so I knew exactly what to expect. It also meant that I could plan the day and my energy to use in places that would require more of me. As I made it to the peak of that first seven miles, I knew I had a bit of downhill to enjoy.
I love this little piggy who is a popular little man out on the back roads locally.
All of the riders that had passed me while climbing got a glance at my backside again as I flew past. "Gotta take advantage while gravity's on my side," I'd smile as I passed a large group of cyclists who'd overtaken me on the previous climb as though I'd been standing still. "Passing on your left," became a common announcement too. It felt awesome to be going more than 10 mph and not be struggling to breathe. At around mile 9, my reprieve ended and rolling hills took over for about 7 more miles, followed immediately by a 4 mile steady, but reasonable climb. I knew I had about 10 more miles to go before I'd hit the aid station where I'd pre-determined to stop for a little breather.

In reality, there had already been two aid stations, but I'd chosen not to lose time by stopping. Not to mention, it seemed ridiculous to me to stop at mile 10 when I was just getting warmed up, and even sillier to have another aid station just 7 miles down the road. I knew, however, that the third aid station at mile 30 was the last on this route and I would have to take advantage of it to make it to the finish. As I got closer to that mile marker, I looked to the other side of the road and saw Sam heading in the opposite direction on his bike. I yelled out, "Hey!" as I watched him spin around and sprint to catch up to me.

"I don't know where the aid station is," he said as he caught my back wheel. "I've been back and forth on this road a few times and it's nowhere in sight. Their map shows it just on the other side there, but it isn't where I thought it would be." We discussed the possibility that the organizers had opted to move the third aid stop to another location, so I told Sam I was going to pull over just up the road. I hadn't stopped (other than at signals that were red) to that point, and I knew my body needed to shake things out. As we stood on the side of the road, Sam asked how I was holding up and how the bike was doing. I told him I was rough, but doing okay considering. The bike had done better than I could have expected. He asked if I wanted to switch water bottles with him, but I told him I was still okay. I'm used to going this distance self-supported, so I wasn't too concerned. Then, he whipped out the best thing ever... a two pack of Resse's Peanut Butter Big Cups (Side note: I had NO idea these even existed, but now that I do, this could spell trouble - they are seriously monstrous - like twice the size of a normal Reese's cup).
*Image found here
I'd love to say that I gobbled them down right there, but truth be told, as much as a chocolate peanut butter cup is maybe one of the best things in the world, I just wasn't feeling it at that moment. I thanked him, stuck them in my saddlebag, took another swig of water, and got back on the road. Sam shouted, "See you at the finish line!" to which I could only smile. Maybe I could actually finish this ride that seemed so impossible just a short time ago.

About a mile up the road there was a course marshal directing riders to turn right. As I made the turn, I suddenly realized that this must be a "hidden" aid station. Sure enough, about another mile down the road, the last aid station appeared. I didn't need to stop, but I didn't know where to go next on the course. Had they changed the route last minute? I pulled off at the aid station to ask some ladies if they knew if we were to go back out the way we'd come in or to keep headed down the road. They had a friend asking for themselves too, so I waited until information was returned and we all headed back out.

At mile 32 we turned and started what I thought would be a short climb and then a long descent. Remember that I mentioned there was one road I was unfamiliar with on the route? Well, this was it. Sam had stated that he'd been on the road many times and that it was all down hill, so it is what I had expected. Except, that's not what it was at all. Every time I thought I'd reached the top of the climb it would continue upward. Women would pass me saying things like, "Really? We're not through this yet?" or "Man! This has to be over soon, right?" but it continued on in this manner for several miles.
There was a point on this climb that I seriously thought I was going to stop and call for a ride home. This distance is something I am used to doing and my body is conditioned to complete, but this climbing combined with a lack of oxygen was getting to me. I was coughing and choking on my own phlegm and I was mentally and physically drained. My nose was dripping and the tissues I'd brought with me were sopping wet in my jersey pocket. I kept thinking I could just pull over and call Sam to come and get me. Who's going to hold it against me? I am sick after all. It's not as though I'm proving anything to anyone by completing this ride.

Except that I was attempting to prove something - to myself - and I didn't like being called "stupid" by my mother.

It's a lot easier to give up than it is to carry on when things get tough. Life hits with some hard wallops sometimes and being sick was probably about the lightest hit that could be offered up. I had made it to this point so there was no reason not to finish the ride. Unless I passed out on the side of the road, I was determined to complete something that I knew very well my body was able to handle.

If you need a break to breathe, just spin. No one said you have to be back at a certain time. Of course, I had set a time at which I wanted to be back, but I also was well aware that I would be slow. Cutting myself some slack seemed to help mentally, which in turn helped physically propel me forward, but I knew I was going to miss that time I'd wanted to hit.
Sometimes, a mental distraction is all that is needed
A funny thing happens to me after about 40-45 miles of riding; I seem to get a second wind. I have a burst of energy and suddenly feel as though I just started a ride. I feel happy, I want to encourage others who seem to be struggling, and on this particular ride, I knew the end was in sight. I'd wanted to complete the century ride this year, but I knew that wasn't in the stars in my current condition. Still, a 53-mile ride is nothing to sneeze at, especially for someone who felt near-death. As I rode, I started to pick up speed. I chatted briefly with other riders as I passed too. As I caught up to one woman she asked if I knew how far we were from the finish. I felt horribly for her as she seemed to be in pain with each pedal stroke. I tried to stick with her for a few minutes and told her we weren't far from the finish. I pointed out the beautiful lake we were passing and stated that I was entirely thrilled that we hadn't seen rain yet for the day. I asked her about her bike - more as a distraction than anything else, but I'm always up for a chat about bikes. She smiled and thanked me and I pulled ahead to finish what I'd started.

At this point, I was truly feeling my lungs - and not in a good way. It almost felt as though they were going to collapse in on themselves. My chest felt tight and the coughing was out of control. Other cyclists were turning around to see what all the noise was about. I kept trying to apologize for the hacking, but there wasn't anything I could do to stop it and I kept getting interrupted by another round of coughing.

As I rounded the corner to the neighborhood with the finish line, I couldn't believe I'd actually made it to the end. My body felt fine (meaning my muscles), but from the chest up, I was a mess. I ended up turning on the incorrect road in the neighborhood and crossed the finish line in the wrong direction. Later I'd learn that I wasn't the only one to make this mistake. Oh well. I only felt badly because I had a couple of women following me who unfortunately also ended up on the wrong side of things. They ended up going back around to cross the finish line correctly. I honestly didn't care about doing so myself. As far as I was concerned, I'd made it. But now, I had to find Sam.

Looking around, he wasn't immediately obvious, but as I walked my bike around the finish line, I suddenly spotted him, staring off in the direction from which I should have come. "Sam," I yelled. He looked startled and confused. "I came in the wrong way," I announced, to which he just laughed. I know. Not horribly surprising for someone who likes to carve her own path.

I would have loved to have hung out and checked out all of the various happenings at the after party, but I was exhausted. I was concerned about even making it the few miles home, so I knew we had to get on the road quickly.

My mom called after the ride to inquire as to whether or not I'd actually done it. As we were talking, I was coughing and she reminded me to rest and take care of myself. "So, did you do the ride?" she asked again after we'd been chatting for a few minutes. I wasn't really sure I wanted to respond. After calling me stupid the day before, I wondered what she'd think of my actually going through with it. "Yeah, I did it. It wasn't pretty, but I finished," I said reluctantly. "Really?" she replied gleefully. "I am so impressed with all that you do. I know that couldn't have been easy, but to push through and get it done, I am really proud." I don't know if I'd go quite that far - after all, I knew I could fairly easily do the distance - but I was somewhat proud of myself too. Not because I did a ride that lots of people can and do complete, but because I didn't let the demons in my head win out over what I knew was possible. Demon - 0, G.E. - 1. I'll take that victory any day.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Finding Love Again: A Renewal with the Rivendell Sam Hillborne

For anyone who's been in a long-term relationship, most of us recognize that there is an ebb and flow when it comes to feelings. Unlike the ideas that are often taught to us (especially females) in our youth, relationships take work and it can be highly unrealistic to go into a partnership with another person expecting it to be (only the good parts of) a fairy tale. Rainy days happen. It's just a fact of life. Sometimes it's easy to feel madly in love with the other person, and at others it can be more of a sense of tolerating each other. We hope that the sunny days far outnumber the stormy ones, but we can't really count them until we are on the other side looking in the rearview mirror. As crazy as it may seem, I can actual find quite a few similarities between human relationships and the one I have with the Hillborne.

Recently, I had someone stumble across an old post about my Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen being for sale. She was wondering if I'd sold it, which rolled into a brief conversation about whether or not I still preferred the Sam Hillborne over the Homer. My response to her was something along the lines that if I had it to do over again, I'd probably have kept the Homer and sold the Hillborne, simply because the top tube is shorter on the Homer and I always seem to struggle with reach - particularly when trying to get the handlebars at a lower position. The Homer could easily have been built up in exactly the same way as the Hillborne, but would've allowed a bit more flexibility with positioning. This is the curse of being made shorter-than-average, and is never more true than when trying to find a good fit on a bicycle.

At the time of the sale, the only thing I could view the Homer fulfilling in the bike fold was my heavier road bike and because I had a road bike that was meeting my needs, the logical-to-me response for that moment was to sell off the Homer and keep the Hillborne. Had I thought it through, I could've built the Homer frame up in exactly the same way and had a shorter reach. But, alas, that idea didn't occur until many months after the sale.
I giggle a bit now looking at this photo and realizing that the brakes/hoods were in the wrong place completely... of course, I am sure I did this because I couldn't reach them if they were where they should've been.
The reminder of this situation put me into some deep thought about the Hillborne and I couldn't help but wonder if I really would have given it up in place of the Homer if I had it to do over again. I've had my Hillborne for over 4 years and it's been the only bike I've owned for any length of time. Most seem to come and go as I find (usually due to fit) reasons to send bikes on their way to a new owner. The funny thing is that even though the Homer had a more appropriate fit, I've grown used to the feel and fit of the Hillborne. Yes, it's larger, but it's almost as though my body has somehow adapted to it in some sense. While I still find that I struggle on longer distance rides on this bike (mainly due to the reach), and I question whether I, personally, could ever truly use it for even light touring because of the sizing, I find myself struggling with the thought of giving this bicycle up.

The idea of selling the Hillborne was brought up a second time in the not-too-distant past as I pondered the idea of selling it off to help fund other efforts. My initial response to the idea was to seriously consider it. I asked myself if it was a necessary bicycle in the fold and I came to the conclusion that I would be willing to give it up. During this time of reflection, I quickly found myself hesitating with the sale. I use this bike a lot and I've made some mistakes in the past selling a bike that I enjoyed, so instead, I decided it was time to play with the set up and see if I truly was ready to let it go. I wanted to ride it on some longer distances again. If I was able to do that and still wanted to give it up, I would let it go, but if I was unsure or hesitating, I would keep the Hillborne.
My biggest frustration with the Hillborne over the years has been my inability to use it with the handlebars in a lower position. No matter how short the handlebar stem, when I put it into a lower position, the reach is simply too far for me. Presently, I have the Hillborne set up in a lighter manner (meaning most of the extras -such as fenders, racks, huge bags, etc have been removed) so that I can use it for training on the roads. I find that there is a maximum lowering point for the handlebars though, after which I start having elbow pain, neck strain, and at times back pain. This was never an issue with the A. Homer Hilsen; however, I also recall feeling as though the Homer was almost too small (my feelings changed a bit as I got used to the Homer, but I do recall thinking that maybe it wouldn't work because of its smaller top tube at one point).
Wanting to attempt to find a comfortable position for my tests on the Hillborne, I located the point at which I could lower my body a bit for road rides without straining myself too much... and then, I rode. I rode so much that even after I received my much anticipated custom road bike, I continued to ride the Hillborne more frequently than the new bike. There were days when I simply wanted the feel of the Hillborne, and other times that I was really just trying to put mileage on it to test out its value in the bike fold. I started to find that I really wasn't much slower than on the road bike, so if I wasn't going for some sort of speed ride, why not take the Hillborne?

As I rode, it was hard not to think about all the transformation this bike has gone through. I expected a lot of it when it first came into my life, and in some sense, I recall being disappointed. Riding with drop bars was an impossibility, even though I attempted it several times. Saddles were changed almost too many times to count. Stems were exchanged as I attempted to fix reach issues. I couldn't decide what this bike was supposed to be for me and how it was supposed to fit in, but through it all, I kept riding, discovering the things that I loved and the things that I might change if it had been made specifically for me.
A couple of years ago, I gave up trying to use the Hillborne as a road bike. I decided to relegate it to more of a city-bike that could travel some dirt trails if needed. I loaded him up with racks, fenders, bags, and so on, creating a machine that often felt slower than it should have... but it worked. It allowed me to pull a trailer, to fetch groceries, to carry things that I might not on a road bike. Suddenly one day though, it just didn't seem an appropriate use for this bike any longer.

The idea of this heavy, slower bicycle was no longer appealing, but I realized I had done all of this to the bike. Lightening the load and switching its usefulness was just the rejuvenation I needed. It seemed in many ways like a new bike, but still had that familiar feel. The bumps don't hurt like they do on a lightweight bike. The wide tires are perfect to take it on dirt or gravel rides when the need or want arises. The magic has somehow returned in our relationship.
All at once, it was as though I had an epiphany. Throughout our time together, the things that I believed were the downfall of this bike, are actually the things that have kept it around. The fact that it can so easily transform from a road bike to a trail bike to a grocery-getter, that I can set it up in so many different ways, that I have this inexplicable desire to stare at it when I see it locked up against a bike rack, the reality that I honestly can't imagine my life without it... for these reasons and more, I know that this bike was meant to be with me. It has seen me through fatter days and slightly less-fat days, but it has always been exactly what I needed, sometimes without me even being aware of that reality.

Whether our relationship works because of the designer or because of its flexibility (or both), I will leave that up to someone else to determine. I think little has to do with the brand itself and more with the reality that I, for whatever reason, have always had the patience with this particular bicycle to work through our issues, and that hasn't always been the case with other bicycles. There was an immediate level of comfort - on an emotional level - with this bike, and I suppose that helped spur on the adaptations to help it not only stick around, but get so many miles of use.

Although I do still enjoy having a lighter weight road bike to use, and I can't say that I won't have something faster for road rides or a bike that's slower or heavier for tooling around town, there is something special about the connection I have with the Hillborne. Like a human relationship, we've shared good times and bad, we've had our fights and make-ups (okay, maybe I was the only one actually fighting), and we've each grown and/or changed over the years together. I know that I really love this bike though and am grateful to have a bicycle that I can always count on. It's taken time to understand what our relationship is and how it works best, but it was well worth the effort to arrive at this point.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Being Sick and Cycling

Illness and I are not the best of friends. When I find myself feeling under the weather, I can definitely turn into a mess very quickly. The biggest issue for me is not the fact that I don't feel well, but more that I really dislike being stuck indoors, or worse yet, confined to bed. Not every round of being sick is confining, but when the long ones do occur, it really stinks and I find myself trying to keep up with all that would normally be happening instead of taking the time to rest. I gather up tissues, take some vitamin C, and attempt to keep up a pretense that everything is fine and it's just a "little sniffle."
*Image found here
This is hitting close to home for me at the moment, and I have to say that spending time sitting around is definitely not my favorite use of time -- especially during the summer. Warm months are a commodity and one that I prefer to use to its fullest before it disappears and I'm left with cold and snowy days. To add to the current dissatisfaction with being ill, I have an annual ride coming up this weekend and I'm concerned that I both haven't had enough training time in the saddle and that I won't be well in time to participate.

It all started on Sunday and has become progressively worse with each passing day. Initially, I shrugged it off as allergies and didn't think much of it, but by Monday, it was definitely feeling more flu-like than something brought on by allergies. Tuesday I woke up and told myself that I had no choice but to get in a longer ride because I would need to back off during the few days prior to the ride, but I really was feeling horrible. Miraculously, I somehow completed the 50+ miles that I needed to get done, but I paid for it the rest of the day.
*Image found here
Whether the ride I went on made things worse or not, I don't think that's something I can really know. From research I've done in the past, the professionals claim that if it's just a head cold (sniffles, etc), it's perfectly acceptable to continue exercising, as long as one listens to his/her body; however, if the person is running a fever or the illness is in the chest (like a cough), bed rest is the answer. I may have broken that rule (don't tell anyone), but I actually felt better riding my bike than I did sitting around. There's something about being stuck in a room that makes me feel worse and being able to be in some fresh air was amazing. I may have overdone things mileage-wise, but I survived... and so, I just have to hope I didn't do more damage than good and prepare as though Saturday is still "on."

Now, I'm sucking down Emergen-C and taking other various items in an attempt to get this to move on quicker. It's amazing how many home remedies are out there, and how many products companies attempt to sell us that will supposedly help us heal quicker. I can't help but wonder if any of it really works. Of course, there are those who insist that Zinc, Vitamin C and/or Airborne are the trick to getting over an illness faster. They may be right, but I've generally not had a lot of luck with anything actually working other than rest and letting the cold or flu run its course. I have realized that we really (as a whole) don't want to rest and instead try to fight our way through sickness, believing that we are somehow capable of continuing on when our bodies are telling us a different story.
*Image found here
Not only do I seem to crave the most horribly awful foods when I have a cold or flu, but I always seem to want large quantities of them. In more specific terms, I find myself desperately wanting simple carbs drenched in fat - like french toast with butter and syrup or fried cheese quesadillas. While I realize that more balanced meals provide the nutrients our bodies need to recover, I never cease to be amazed at the cravings that come on with being sick.

What have your experiences been with illness and continuing an exercise plan, or specifically in regard to cycling? Do you opt for bed rest, or do you try to fight your way through it? Do you have any specific food cravings or items that seem to help you recover quicker?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Car vs Bicycle: Reporting Aggressive and Dangerous Behaviors

Riding on the roads, I have grown used to a certain level of harassment by motorists. While I don't think it is acceptable behavior (and often illegal), it's easy to become complacent when minor incidents occur because these incidents become increasingly common the more time I spend on two-wheels. Incidents that typically take place are drivers intentionally blowing smoke on me (like diesel trucks), people yelling obscenities through windows/honking at me, and other seemingly small attempts to intimidate. For the record, intimidation doesn't work on me. In fact, it really just gets my blood boiling and generally causes me to be even more determined to stand my ground. I know very well I'm not doing anything illegal or for that matter that is even impeding the flow of traffic, so some motorists attempts to scare me do nothing but set me out on a mission.

The most recent incident that took place was while heading home from a training ride. Sam and I were riding on local city streets, working our way back to the house. On one of the roads we travel, there is no bike lane, however there are two lanes in each direction with a turning lane running down the center of the street. The lane a bicycle would use to travel is quite wide and could definitely have a bike lane, though it doesn't currently exist. We always ride far to the right, giving more than enough space for motorists to easily pass us while still leaving several feet between us and them.
*Image from Google maps
As I led the way down the street, Sam and I weren't really chatting as we were both tired and ready to be home. All of a sudden I heard Sam yelling, "Hey! Hey! Hey!" from behind me as I turned my head to see a car slowing and veering into my left side. At first, I was smiling because I thought perhaps it was someone we knew who was simply overly excited to see us and not really aware of how close they were getting to my bike, but then quickly changed my mind as I realized this person was attempting to run me off the road. I hit the brakes as the driver came far too close to striking my left side, and heard the passenger yelling, "Look out!" and laughing as they drove away.

I was shaken, but angry. I quickly made note of their license plate and started repeating it out loud. I repeated it to Sam so I'd have back up as well. I told him we were going by the police station before we went home to file a report. Thank goodness for 6-character license plates here in Colorado. At least I wouldn't have to remember many digits.

It was Sunday, and as we pulled up to the police station, things looked very quiet. I immediately recorded the license plate in a note on my phone so as not to confuse myself, and we walked in to the lobby. The only means of contacting a human appeared to be a phone with minimal instructions on how to contact a dispatcher. The woman who answered was extremely short-tempered and I felt the volume in my voice rising as I tried to explain that all I wanted was an officer to take a report of an incident that had just taken place in town between a car and a bicycle (for the record, I was apparently getting so elevated that Sam could hear me from inside the men's restroom that was several dozen yards away). Eventually, the dispatcher told me that no officers were in the building and to sit in the lobby and wait for one to arrive.

And wait we did. We waited, and waited some more. Mind you, we don't live in Los Angeles, or New York, or even Denver for that matter. To get completely across town in a car should take no more than about 10-15 minutes. The longer we sat waiting the more I went over everything in my mind. I realized that the likelihood of an officer doing anything about what had happened was slim to none. What proof did I have of intention of the motorist? No one was actually physically harmed from anything that had taken place. All I had was a license plate number and a brief verbal encounter. Still, he had broken the law by not giving 3-feet of space while passing. If nothing else, he should receive a warning for that alone.

Eventually, we gave up waiting for an officer to show up. We were both hungry and tired. Worst of all, I really felt as though the motorist had won... and man, it really pissed me off. I went home and kept thinking and talking. I asked local cyclists if they had any connections at the police department. I researched other means of reporting dangerous drivers. I vented to relatives -- who really didn't understand what I was so upset about. After all (as they argued), what had the driver really done to me?

Since I'd posted my inquiry about a contact with the PD on a Facebook cycling group, it was interesting to see one response from an individual who stated, "I've had luck e-mailing them [the PD] (didn't like the answer I got, but I did get an answer)." That wasn't really giving me hope, but eventually I did get an e-mail contact from a cyclist who stated his contact was in charge of the City's Traffic Division, and he is also a cyclist. Trying to remain undeterred by the initial comment, I sent off an e-mail with the details of what took place to the individual.

It's still early on in my communications, and I don't have resolution by any means, but I doubt I will get it. More than likely, at most, a report will be written and filed away somewhere, and that is about all I can expect.
This local story went viral after two cyclists were being harassed for miles by a motorist.
*Image found here
One of the things that seems to be so challenging to express to law enforcement is the fact that while I was unharmed, this is extremely dangerous behavior on the part of the motorist. Had this been a child or someone with less experience on the roads - or, had I just made one very slight move in the wrong direction - there could have been far more devastating results. No one wants to feel as though s/he is putting his/her life in jeopardy simply by riding a bicycle. Whether motorists like it or not, a bicycle being pedaled is part of traffic. We were riding well out of the way of faster vehicles, and even if we'd been in the lane completely, there was another lane that could easily be used if the motorist was wanting to travel at faster speeds.

I could theorize for hours about what the intention was of the motorist, if he was high or drunk, or if he was simply trying to use intimidation to scare us off the road. I will likely never have an answer. What I do hope will come of this is (at minimum) more awareness. I hope that other cyclists will find ways to report drivers engaging in similar behavior, and I definitely don't want to see or hear about someone being injured or dying on the roadways because a motorist finds it amusing to use his/her vehicle as a weapon.

What I have learned since the incident is that there is a way to report dangerous drivers on the road right away for those here in Colorado. Simply pull over, dial *277 from your cell, and have the vehicle plates and all the information from the incident that took place. If you follow the link, there is a list of what is considered dangerous behavior, but it includes road rage, tailgating, not giving you your space on the road, throwing objects, and so forth. I have no idea what will come of reporting a matter here, but I am programming the number into my phone so that if there is anything that happens on the road I have a means of reporting the incident right away.

If you don't know your local contact, I would highly suggest finding it before an incident takes place. Take a few minutes now to do the research and have it handy should the need ever arise on the road. Have you experienced or witnessed incidents of aggression, harassment or intimidation on the road? Were you (or the cyclist) able to find any sort of resolution? If you reported the incident, who did you talk to? Were they responsive?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Always a Bikey Day

It's Friday, and it's been a strange week. Rather than posting my frustrations, I thought I'd share a few bike photos that made me smile, pause, or perhaps both at some point this week. Wishing you the very best of Fridays and a wonderful weekend too! Happy riding... wherever your two-wheels take you.
*Image found here
*Image found here
*Image found here
*Image found here
*Image found here
*Image found here

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Race Across the Sky: A Leadville Trail 100 First-Timer Story

On Tuesday, I shared my personal hunt for the Fat Cyclist duo, but what is vastly more important was the real reason we were in Leadville over the weekend (which, sad as I am to admit it, wasn't to get a photo of Fatty or the Hammer). I did ask Sam if he'd be willing to share his LT100 experience from over the weekend. I know that sometimes race reports can be long, but I think it's interesting to get the perspective of a first-timer at a race. This one was pretty intense and I now clearly understand why people wear their belt buckles as a badge of honor - even if I didn't participate in the ride itself (but, of course, that won't stop me from throwing out my random thoughts). If you have ever wondered what it might be like to participate in the LT100 MTB, perhaps this will provide a bit of insight... or, maybe you'll wonder why people sign up for this race at all. So, without further ado...

The first thing that comes to mind is, "Why am I doing this?"

During the 10 days prior to the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race my back was hurting. It had been months since it had been this way, so of course it would pick this moment to start the pain again.  I had been riding/training like crazy.  Well, crazy for me.  I was doing over 150 Miles per week between my mountain bike and my road bike.  I had gone single speed for the Silver Rush 50 a few weeks prior, so I decided to swap some things and go back to a geared version.  I was worried that keeping it a single speed might handicap me, since this was my first attempt at the LT100, and I had concerns that I wouldn’t finish in the 12 hour time frame.

It begins.  We rolled out very early on Friday the 8th, so that I could make the 7-10am packet pickup in Leadville. It was a mostly uneventful morning. Practically everything was ready, and we made it to Leadville around 9am, where I picked up my packet, got my medical bracelet, and we proceeded to get an early meal before the 11am "mandatory" briefing at the gymnasium. [G.E.'s note: I swear, I think higher altitude makes me more hungry... of course, it didn't help that I hadn't had breakfast at home because I woke up late.]
Friday's expo before the race.
Sometimes when out-of-state family/friends see photos of Colorado they ask if the sky is really that blue. The answer is, yes, it really is that blue - unless it's storming. :O)
We decided to park the car, and ride our bikes to the meeting. There was a small group of expo vendors, but I just wasn't in the mood to mess with them, or attempt to get some free stuff (I never seem to be in the mood on those days). We strolled up, picked up my t-shirt, and we found a seat on the floor of the gym.  We had decided that G.E. should just join me for this, since it was the last thing I needed to do, and why not experience it since she was already there? [G.E.'s note: I had grand plans to go on a nice, long, leisurely bike ride through the mountains during Sam's meeting. I had brought along the Hillborne with a big front bag attached thinking that I'd take some photos, but after riding Sam over to the gym, I sincerely thought I might die on a road somewhere.]
Picking up race t-shirts before the medical meeting
It was insanely crowded, hot, and noisy.  I already felt like I was coming down with the flu, and the right side of my back was totally killing me.  Bad omen number one.  I think the whole deal took about 2 hours. Various local biking celebrities spoke, an F1 driver, Jason Seahorn, Ken and Marilee, lots of talking, clapping, etc. [G.E.'s note: There were actually several touching things said in this meeting. I actually teared up more than once listening to the founders and others' experiences. It was a good reminder to always work hard, dig deep, and go after the things we want in life. That said, I can definitely have the patience/attention span of a toddler, so I was ready to be let loose again.]
Everyone waits for the meeting to begin... this is one packed gym!
We were free!  We rode back up the hill into town from the gym [G.E.’s note: It was actually uphill both ways, if we’re totally honest - and yes, I know that seems weird, but it's true - but it seemed worse coming back into town for some reason], at great expense to our lungs (omen #2?) [G.E.'s note: Um, I literally couldn't breathe. Sam was asking me questions as we were climbing and I had no ability whatsoever to respond, making me acutely aware that I am not in any shape for the sort of riding the folks were getting ready to do when I can't even climb the hill back into town.], hung in the room for a while, then walked over to one of the best little hole in the wall Mexican restaurants in a small mountain town I think we have been to. Good stuff and cheap (this may be prime motivation for us to move to Leadville). [G.E.'s note: I think we were just really hungry. The food was good, but I don't think it's quite reason enough to make a giant move to Leadville. :O) ]
It was still dark out... definitely earlier than G.E. likes to be up. Even Sam was looking tired here.
Really, that was about it for day one.  I wanted to get to sleep early, so I could get up early.  I really felt sick, and my back was killing me, and I probably slept about 4-5 hours, 20 mins at a time for the entire night.  I got up at around 3:45, showered, then went over to the 4am continental breakfast to "carb up", came back to the room, woke G.E. up, and drug us out to the car where I pulled the bike off the car, checked the tires, myself, etc.  I was actually feeling good, the flu symptoms had subsided, and my back was merely achy (yay!). 

G.E. released me to my corral, while she went back to the hotel to get some food that would be insufficient to fuel her for the day : ). [G.E.’s note: I am not very smart and somehow believed that 5 pieces of honeydew melon was going to get me through about 12 hours. For the record, it wasn’t, and delirium definitely set in by mid-afternoon.] 
Waiting to go
The line up and the corral was surprisingly easy to deal with compared to descriptions I had read prior to the race.  I think I was there about 40 mins early, and there were only a few people with me.  I recognized some of them.  A woman who works at a local bike shop back home, a pair of tandem riders I had gone back and forth with during the SR50, and a guy from MA that I had a short conversation with in regard to Leadville (his 4th trip).

Time moved quickly.  Local champ, Dave Wiens’ son sang the national anthem, and then we were ready to go! Oddly enough, I was not nervous at all at this point; I was very relaxed.  I think something has changed in me as I’ve aged.  I could not say the same for some DB's up in front of me, as they immediately chose to ignore the warning about going slow off the start and endo-ed into each other (and then spastic-ally tried to get righted). All I could think was just calm the hell down. 
And... they are off!
We rode downhill out of town for a few miles, and at a pretty brisk 25mph pace all the way to the dirt road where we would meet the first climb, St. Kevins, which is a 5.1 mile climb.  It was pretty narrow and everyone was moving pretty quickly (no walkers yet). It was almost impossible to pass from the position I was in.  Once peaked, we had a short downhill and then proceeded to climb the back side of "Powerline" for approximately 5 more miles.  

Unfortunately, there was a small bit of walking on this one already, as we were backed up at least 40-50 deep.  After the peak, we had spread out a bit and were able to actually ride "free" down Powerline and start to break into the more "roadie" open part of the course from about mile 20-40.  To this point, I had seen about 1/2 dozen flat tires, a few dropped chains, and a guy whose crank sounded like a wooden lazy susan spinning around and around.  All in all, I was feeling pretty good.   
Sam rolls through the first aid station
Then, the left side of my back locked up, without warning.  My answer to that was, “screw you.” I would save my anger for later.  

Back in the "flat area", at approximately mile 20, there were a ton of paved flat areas where I managed to latch on to a peloton that was rolling at about 30mph like a road group.  This brought us most of the way to the first aid station "Pipeline", where I saw G.E. cheering for me and my fellow riders. I briefly stopped (30 seconds), to grab more GU packs to satiate my 45min GU consumption habit. Miles 26-ish to 40 were more up and down, just not super dramatic, with some single track riding thrown in.  I was beginning to fatigue from the effort and the pain in my back, but then at mile 40 and Twin Lakes, the aid station finally arrived.  I did not stop this time. I went through and continued to the base of Columbine, where pure pain and suffering awaited me, and the slowest, longest part of my day would happen (Did I mention how great the weather was?  It didn't rain!). [G.E.'s note: It didn't rain, but it looked awfully stormy, and some intense wind set in for the second half of the race.]
The red arrow marks where racers were headed up Columbine
At Columbine I would discover the stuff of legend, movies, articles, and word of mouth.  It's 7.4 miles up, all the way to approximately 12,400 feet, and the turn around point of this 104 mile trek.  Long, long fire access roads up Columbine, I was using the local bike shop woman mentioned earlier as my carrot, and trying to stay with her up the mountain. This lasted about 2 turns, at which point she totally lost me.  Shortly after this, I started to see the leaders come down the hill, followed by "Fat Cyclist" himself, then the "Hammer" with Rebecca Rusch in tow, who was shouting encouragement to her, almost willing her to complete what would be the Hammer’s best finish ever.  

A short way up Columbine, I started to feel dizzy and nauseous, probably from the extreme altitude.  This caused me to go pretty slow (4mph), and I had to focus to keep from losing it.  Near the top, we all had to dismount due to a log jam of riders. Then we mounted again, and rolled into the turn-around.

At 50 miles in, it was probably about 35 degrees, but sunny at 12,400 feet.  I felt sick, dizzy, and my left leg was not working well.  I decided this would be my longest stop, but still under 10 minutes.  I had my water refilled, and my go-juice bottle [G.E.’s note: We call our energy drink “go juice”], then I picked up a few more GU packs, ate 2 chocloate chip cookies, half of a bananna, and some random flavored GU (Did I tell you that I actually don't care what flavor it is out on the trail?  Weird, I don't have a favorite.)  I had a short conversation with a volunteer, while I was attempting to pull my left leg over the bike.  His words, “The next 30 miles are ‘recovery.’” Somehow, I was highly doubtful.  I smiled, and gingerly headed back down. 
Sam didn't even notice me (and I almost missed him entirely) coming down Columbine -- of course, I hadn't helped matters by wearing all gray. Lesson learned.
What took me 2 hours and 12 mins to climb, took 30 minutes to descend, and I'm pretty slow on the decent, as my front tire (bad choice), really wanted to wash out on the corners.  It was still pretty fast, and I could feel the nausea going away as I headed back to 10k feet of elevation.  My god, get me the hell out of there, and on to the 30 miles of recovery!

Back to Twin Lakes, again.  I rolled through there and did not stop, I just wanted to get to the Pipeline aid station. We were back at around mile 60, and some flat areas, where once again, I was able to find some others to work with on the way, which made it a bit easier to get to the Pipeline aid station. 
Sam rolls into Pipeline
Pipeline, again, at about 73ish miles.  And now I was dead, but oddly, my back felt better - and I'm not dizzy. Perhaps a second wind?  I saw G.E. in the middle section of the pipeline crew area, where we very briefly spoke, she hooked me up with an estrogen bar [G.E.’s note: Sam likes Luna bars, and someone once told him that they couldn’t believe he would eat them because they have estrogen in them. For the record, Luna protein bars do not have estrogen in them, but the nickname kind of stuck.], and took a filthy picture, which you may have already seen [G.E.’s note: Maybe. But it's up here again.].  I can't tell you how good it was to see her at this point. I was really drained mentally, and I was about 30 miles out, and some nasty climbs away from the finish. [G.E.'s note: I was glad to see Sam, too. I had been on a several-mile hunt for him with no results, so to see him roll up was fantastic!] Seriously, thank god she was there because I think I would have just rolled through, and not rested at all.   
Sam wasn't really this cranky, but he was chewing when I took the shot... sorry Sam!
Next was the return to Powerline, but this time it was the bad side.  At about mile 80, it was time to climb Powerline. Prior to this, I had worked with a few people to make the 7 miles in between a bit easier, but it hadn't helped much. Everyone was getting slow.  When we all reached Powerline, it was once again backed up.  What sucked is that I had the energy to actually climb it this time, but we all had to dismount.  Including the super tandem duo, riding on a beach cruiser, shirtless, and ringing a bell.  Two guys can walk up a hill with a tandem way faster than I can! God, it took forever to walk up Powerline, I can't tell you how bad my feet hurt in biking shoes, walking with my bike!  Then, we got to go downhill for a while. 
Two guys on a tandem beach cruiser... they looked to be having fun. Definite props to these guys, who killed it - in cut-offs even!
The backside of Kevins?  My god, more climbing!  Then, Peak Kevins and we were at mile 90-ish. This is it; I'm on the way home. No more climbing, and about 14 miles left.  Back at about mile 80, my back did a turn around, and I felt 100% better, but the last 14-15 miles of the ride was probably the worst time besides Columbine.  It seemed like that last bit was a false summit, then another false summit, then one more, and then finally a 2 mile climb to the finish. [G.E.'s note: Yeah, this was the same climb we made coming back into town after the medical meeting the day before. I didn't enjoy it and I hadn't been riding 100 miles before completing it.] Who thinks of these things? [G.E.’s note: Crazy people… like the people who actually do this ride. :O)]
I think Sam's face pretty much sums things up in this photo right after the finish line
I finished strong, even with the hill at the end: 10:52:38. Sub-11 hours, and probably as good as I could have imagined doing it for my first time.  All I wanted to do was sit down and weep. I was filthy and tired, but it was worth it.  G.E. walked me back to our car so I could get rid of the bike.  Just like the SR50, I would not and could not have done it without her. [G.E.’s note: Ahh, that’s sweet. Honestly, I think he would’ve been just fine without me, but I was happy to tag along.]
Indeed!
Some aside thoughts.  I keep thinking I may have been faster on my single speed.  I think I ate nearly enough, or at least close, especially considering how bad my program has sucked in the past.  I don't think I want to wear my Camelback again. It only provided me water and the rest was just 10lbs of storage on my back.  I have certainly not done anything this difficult before.  True "high altitude" is something to be reckoned with. We live at around 5k feet, but it's nothing compared to 10-12k. My lungs still hurt.  Maybe I will be back next year. It’s hard to make that decision so close to having finished.  The Barn Burner in Flagstaff is coming up in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll get an early start on next year??