Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Backing Off

After yesterday, I decided a nice easy ride was in order. Unfortunately, the only time I had free for such a ride was at 6:00 AM. That's 2:00AM in Alaska time, something I still haven't been able to shift from.

The alarm went off, I suited up, and greeted the sun on the Blue Ridge Parkway as I made the first few pedal strokes with the full power of 'meh'.

It soon became obvious that my left knee was feeling the full effects of yesterday's beat-down. I backed off a little bit more, just to be safe. I still have a couple weeks of this to go.

Then I noticed my left arm felt like my wife had spent the previous night flattening it with a baseball bat. It does sound plausible, because I certainly give her enough reasons to do so. With my left side basically along for the ride, I backed off another couple notches and discovered the joys of the small chain ring and big cogs. 

This gave me plenty of time to have thoughtful conversations about various topics with the many deer that stood alongside the road. It also provided me ample time to fully examine the multiple types of road kill I passed. Buildings I never noticed before along the Parkway suddenly appeared as if they had been there for over 100 years. In many cases, they had, but I had been in too much of a hurry to take notice. It was a different perspective on a ride I had done many, many times before.

Tomorrow, if my left side recovers, I'll probably go right back to ignoring everything except for my own little world of suck. For some reason, I like that more than riding easy and paying attention to the little things.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Skinny Guys Beat Me Up and Took My Lunch Money

I rolled up to the group ride meeting place and started sizing up the other riders. I imagine the others were doing the same thing. Once upon a time I used to look at bikes, but that was always a mistake. Too many times the guy on the most expensive bike was the first dropped, while the guy on the entry level aluminum bike proceeded to kick everyone in the naughty bits.

Instead, I looked at riders. Of the few riders in the group, made smaller when the group leader bailed because it looked like it might rain (seriously?), two stood out. Defined calves, smile creases, and race-cut jerseys that were loose around their midsections indicated that these would be the guys making me hurt today. 

That was fine with me, because having random strangers flay me alive is why I show up for group rides when I travel. Getting stomped on by the same old cast and crew is fine, but you know how and when it's going to happen. Strangers always add a new element.

After a short discussion of the merits and pitfalls of internal cable routing, we started off on what promised to be 35+ miles of climbing with some extra climbing thrown in for good measure, followed by an ascent and perhaps an upward trajectory. I looked at the route profile beforehand, but apparently not close enough. In particular, I didn't notice that the feature described in all capital letters in the description as "THE WALL" occurred only a couple miles into the route. This provided far too little time for my travel-knotted legs to unwrap. I also failed to notice exactly how long THE WALL actually was. One of those skinny guys I took notice of at the start had been doing warmup laps of the area, and when he went, I jumped on his wheel. That was a mistake.

It wasn't long before I was red-lined and sweat was pouring off of my head like Niagra Falls. Halfway up I popped and had to back off. At this point I saw that we had traveled less than three miles. This wasn't going to get any better.

When I got to the top, the two leaders were long gone, although their giggles still echoed through the hills. I finally caught up with them at the next turn, mainly because they were stopped. It dawned on me right about then that I was going to have to pace myself if I wanted to get off the mountain alive.

After some nice, easy rollers, we started a gradual climb. At first I found the pace manageable, but after a couple miles of steady incline one of the riders decided to take it up a notch. That was a notch I didn't possess, so I watched as they slowly disappeared up the road. Each corner was like a cruel joke, where what looked like the crest was only a switchback to an even steeper pitch. By the time I reached the top, even these two guys that had obviously had great fun making fun of the sweating, wheezing fatty looked concerned.

From there it was a couple short pitches before miles of downhill fun. Fatty was ready to exact his revenge, because gravity likes me- a lot. The skinnier of the two sadists didn't have the same relationship with the earth's suction power as I did, so I quickly overtook him and eventually passed the other one. I did have to sit up, because I had no idea where I was. This was a good idea, because our route to the start included a short bike portage down a deer trail that I would have never seen even if I had known about it.

The ride was exactly what I wanted, and I hope I get another chance to get beaten up by these guys. For maniacal sadists, they aren't too bad. Then again, that could be the post-ride pain meds talking...

Saturday, July 4, 2015

...and Nothing You Can See Here

The fog limited visibility to about 100 feet. Despite having been down this road a bunch of times before, nothing looked the same. The lengths of climbs, descents, and flats were left to the imagination or vague memories. This made pacing somewhat interesting. Signs for scenic overlooks seemed like cruel jokes.

The front and rear blinky lights were just as ineffective as the headlights and taillights of the cars that would appear occasionally, heralded by the sound of their engines and the whine of their tires. The day-glow rain jacket that seems so offensively bright on normal days seemed to be in its element, alerting drivers that a lycra-covered flesh bag was on the road.

Mile after mile this went on. Hill after hill. Valley after valley.

Then the fog lifted so the rain could start. At first, a pleasant little drizzle that cooled you as you grunted up the hill, which eventually evolved into baseball-size drops that slapped you in the face as you sped down the last descent. The sunglasses that had exactly the wrong shade of lenses and were completely fogged over provided no protection from the onslaught. Pulling the cycling cap down even lower over your eyes was the only way to find any shelter.

Then you reached your goal. You snapped a quick picture to prove you actually were there instead of the local microbrewery, then turn around for the return trip. 
The rain lets up a little. The fog drops back in. The cars appear and then disappear. The climbs and descents last as long as they need to, and not a moment longer. They aren't affected by the fog, even if you are. You finally reach your starting point and notice you're drenched by the rain instead of sweat for a change.

It's glorious to be riding again.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nothing to See Here...

I have nothing to write about, because I haven't ridden in four days. Four very long days.

I haven't taken a break this long in quite a while, and to be honest I'm starting to climb the walls. Traveling always is stressful for me, and this makes it even more so. It's packed up in the case in the back of the minivan. A little wrenching is all it would take to get it into action, but I need to be patient.

Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I'm a weak man.
I've never been what anyone would call "strong". When I was a teenager, I probably had a great strength-to-weight ratio, but that's because I weighed as much as a medium-sized lake trout. My arms were the diameter of a strand of single-mode fiber optic cable. I could eat anything in any quantity and lose weight. In retrospect, it was awesome... except when a stiff wind would knock me into the ditch when I walked to class.
Ten years and 100+ pounds later, my strength-to-weight ratio was not quite as impressive. To be honest, I'm amazed I could carry around that much extra weight all day, every day. I could throw the weight around for short durations, which some people mistook for strength, but I would immediately need to take a nap. What I had was bulk. In spades.
Ten years after that, I had lost some of that weight and the ratio was better. Not great, but better. Without that hyper-charged metabolism of my youth and limited willpower in the face of bacon and simple carbs, the chances of revisiting my translucent body days are slim to none.
I'm weak.
I always get fries with that. When one of the kids doesn't eat all of their food, I'm the one who doesn't let it go to waste. I cave into a lot of bad food choices out of convenience. My palate skews towards everything that's bad and scientifically designed to kill me.
Other athletes I know post pictures on FaceSpace of healthy, balanced meals crafted out of nothing but tree bark and various grasses from the Serengeti. They eagerly consume things like beets and broccoli. As hard as I try, I just can't fully embrace anything that doesn't include the words "processed by-product" somewhere in the description.
That's probably because I'm weak.
The balance I've struck, since I'm way too far down the bad choices track, is to try to eat things that were made with some sort of integrity. If I'm going to eat pizza, I might as well eat good pizza instead of something out of the freezer section. If I'm going to drink beer, I might as well drink stuff made by hippies or monks. If I'm going to go to a restaurant, I might as well go to one where the chef is actively engaged in the kitchen, instead of one where the menu is dictated by a corporate office. I try to moderate my portions and balance things out a tad. I'm not always successful, because I'm weak.
I used to think I made up for my physical deficiencies with bulldog-like determination, but I'm finding my fortress of HTFU is mostly made out of Cheez Whiz. As it turns out, that also describes my abdomen. Maybe there's a relationship. Might as well pencil in mental weakness among my failings.
Whatever. I'm to weak to argue the point.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Projectus Interruptus

It's been over two months since I hung up the Storck in frustration. It's still hanging there.
Last week I finally started moving towards resolving the situation. Instead of getting replacements for the fragile plastic and rubber cable grommets that came with the frame and were quickly destroyed as I struggled to route the internal cables, I ordered cable stops sets from '08 and '10 Trek Madones. During my cable fight, I realized that the stock ones were going to be destroyed eventually no matter how careful I was. It just wasn't a maintainable and sustainable design, and eventually parts were not going to be available.
I'm not sure this is going to work. It will likely take a little more grinding with the Dremel and drilling to get the parts to fit, but it shouldn't be rocket science. Famous last words.
At this point, I need to do something. The half-built bike is not doing me any good hanging on the ceiling, and I'd like to ride it sometime.
My garage is bursting at the seams with bikes, skis, household debris, and remnants of hobbies I once had and can't bear to part with. Most people would refer to that as junk and my compulsive collection of it as hoarding, but they're just jealous. Still, I'd like to have at least a walkway clear eventually. To get that, I need to hang up a few bikes that aren't being used at the moment. Those hooks are currently occupied by frames and partially-completed bikes.
If I had more space, I could finish more bikes. If I finished more bikes, I would have more space. Catch 22.
A big problem is that now that the weather is nice, I'd rather ride than wrench. Eventually the weather will change, I won't have any room to work on projects, and the pile will grow.
I need to get on top of this, because I keep buying stuff. I like stuff, but it's burying me.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Narrowed Focus

OK, here's the fun part.
You're clinging to the wheel in front of you. Doing everything to stay in contact, because you know in the deepest parts of your soul that if a gap opens, you will never close it, and you will be adrift. That few inches of space is your whole purpose in life.
People wait their whole lives to see the scenery on either side of you, but you're too busy focusing on meaningless points up the road. You're hoping that by acknowledging them that they will somehow help you climb this hill. They don't, because they're inanimate objects like signposts and rocks. Selfish bastards.
You match cadence with the guy in front of you, promising yourself that every time their right foot comes down, your right foot will come down. That you won't stand unless they stand. That you will be every bit as strong as they are, even if you aren't.
The steady ache in your thighs keeps building. You know all you have to do to make it stop is to stop pedaling. Let that wheel in front of you go wherever it is that wheel wants to go. Put a foot down. Take a long drink of lukewarm electrolyte goodness. Breathe normally. Get your heart rate into a range that wouldn't alarm a cardiologist.
But you don't.
Somebody decided that you would not stop here. Somebody decided that you are supposed to stop somewhere up there, past the signpost and the rock. God, how you hate them for that.
A gap appears between that wheel and yours. You close it. The ache grows. The sweatband of your helmet finally reaches flood stage and unleashes a torrent of salty fluid all over your fancy bike computer. You try to wipe it away, but it only makes the display less readable. Nothing there to read anyway that would make a difference. All that matters is holding that wheel, and no number is going to do it for you.
The signposts and rocks are running away from you. They have to be,
Another gap opens. You close it, more slowly this time. The deep, rhythmic breathing you've tried so hard to maintain has been replaced with rasping gasps. The ache blossoms until you can't tell what parts hurt. They all hurt. You finally reach the signpost and silently curse it for its lack of empathy for your self-chosen plight.
The road tips up. The rider in front stands on the pedals. A gap opens. You stand and try to close it. You don't. You throw your body against the pedals and throw the frame back and forth, but the inches slowly become feet. The feet become yards. The rider reaches the runaway rock and you're not there. You're alone.
Eventually you cross the arbitrary line sometime after the rider. Somebody says "good job", but the fact that they can speak coherently shows that they got long before you did. You're not on their level.
The ache slowly fades to an emptiness. The rasp is replaced by a hacking cough. Even that finally subsides. You're done, both literally and figuratively.
See, I told you it was fun.