Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Favorite Button.

There aren't many buttons on my cell phone, but one I like using much more than the others. It's located on the top right of the phone, and operating it always brings a smile to my face.

It turns the phone off.

I understand it also turns the phone back on, but that wouldn't make me happy. Since I work in a place that doesn't allow cell phones, I get to use this button on a regular basis.

I don't like cell phones. I only got one because they took away all of the pay phones. My first cell phone was a prepaid flip phone with no special features. I rarely had to charge it, and only bought minutes when the ones I had were about to expire. It was there for emergencies only while I was out on the bike. Very, very few people had the number for the phone, and it rarely rang. Life was good. I had a tool that did its intended function and nothing more. I wanted a phone, not a social networking/game console. I didn't want my approach to interfacing with the rest of the world revolutionized. Part of the reason I was on the bike was to avoid interfacing with the rest of the world. Inter-connectivity is overrated.

Then my wife convinced me to take her old iPhone, adding me to the family plan that was supposed to result in great savings put was actually more expensive.

My need or desire for a smartphone is non-existent. I only recently started texting with it, and still find the act abhorrent. The vast majority of the aps on it are unused. Despite my limited use of the device, it still requires frequent charging (even after replacing the battery).

It's an annoyance, especially when it rings while I'm on the bike in heavy traffic, in the middle of an interval, or descending at high speed. It's rarely an important call, and it's usually from my wife. She gets very mad when I don't have it on when I'm on the bike, but has learned to be patient when I don't answer immediately. Or on the fifth or sixth call. I'll get back to you eventually. I've learned to gauge the importance of the call by how close the retries are.

I must admit I have used it to look up the complex and multifaceted workouts on Training Peaks David Arteaga has me doing. I am just used to having one or two sets of a specific interval per workout, but his are layered in a way that my aged brain can't possibly recall- especially when oxygen-deprived. So, the device has this going for it.

Still, I have been tempted by those cell phones for elderly people with the big buttons and loud speakers. No aps. No texting.

Just a phone.

Put a long, coiled handset cord on it, add a rotary dial, and stick it in booths all over town and I'd be perfectly happy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Not that I'm Complaining.

As soon as I got the Storck all set up and ready for the grind of wet rides, the sun came out. The worst I got was a couple pleasantly warm drizzles and some wet roads. Then it was a couple warm, sunny days, the kind that delude you into thinking you have some aptitude for the sport.
I pulled off the fenders. I put away the shoe covers and stowed the rain jacket. I put on a nicer set of aluminum wheels.
The rain came back.
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad year in any way, shape, or form. I've spent more than a few grinding out wet ride after wet ride, day after day during late June, July, and August. Rides where temperatures hover in the 40s to 50s and getting soaked to the bone is a question of when, not if. The kinds of rides that help you truly refine your wet-weather kit. If you don't ride, your fitness fades. The other guy is out there, and his fitness is improving, so you need to be out there too.
There are a lot of wet rides I actually enjoy. Finding that zen state in a sodden world is a great part of cycling. When the starts align and your motivation, kit selection, and bike preparation align perfectly, it can be a lot of fun.
A couple of rainy days isn't going to kill me. Spending a couple minutes slapping on some extra gear isn't going to ruin a training plan. It's an outdoor sport. Stuff changes. You can either adapt or opt out. Your choice.
My tone might change after a few weeks of steady rain, but we haven't had that this year.
I'm not complaining.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Just Get Me There Already.

As you read this, I am actively winging my way across the country to Virginia. By actively, I mean I am sitting on an uncomfortable seat, packed in a flying tube with far too many other people, breathing all sorts of recycled pathogens as we are carted from one end of the continent to another.

I'm in the Air Force, and I hate flying.

It's not the actual flying that bothers me, it's the doing nothing for extended periods. I can rarely get comfortable enough to sleep for any length of time, and any sleep I do get annoys my wife who expects me to stay awake the entire flight to entertain the children, then get behind the wheel and drive for several hours after we've landed until we reach our final destination. I arrive irritable and sore, which is always how you want to start or end a vacation.

So, as you read this, I'm probably wishing it was already over.

After a long day of flying and driving, we'll spend the entire day tomorrow at an amusement park in balmy southeastern Virginia. We're going to sweat like pigs in the heat and humidity, but that's the price you pay for family fun (on top of the admission fees and food costs). Then it's another day of driving across the state before I can finally settle down.

I hope to get some miles in on the Blue Ridge Parkway every day. That will likely mean waking up before dawn to get out there, so I can return just as the rest of the family is sufficiently motivated for the day's activities. I'll likely be motivated to take a nap, but chances are I'll be denied in favor of some random activity.

Don't these people understand I'm here to ride my bike and sleep? Isn't that what training camps are all about?

Oh well, as long as I don't have to fly.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Playing Bikes.

Thursday was a long day at work, involving evacuations and bomb dogs in addition to the more mundane drudgery, so I was a little stressed and worn out when I finally left. Scattered drops of rain were already starting to hit my windshield as I drove home. All of this added up to the honed-to-a-fine-edge condition I refer to as "peak performance". I was chomping at the bit to climb into bed and forget all about the Kulis crit I had signed up for. Still, I had entered my name and paid my money, so I pinned on my number and headed out to the race.
Since I had put the race bike to bed in anticipation of rain and my upcoming vacation, I pulled the fenders, saddle bag, and frame pump off of the Storck. I'd done a couple longer, more intense (relatively speaking) rides in the last few days, so the legs were in the same shape as they are a couple days into a stage race- sore and lacking snap. Again, "peak performance". My goals for the night were to ride around in circles for 45 minutes plus one lap and try not to get dropped.
I was "thrilled" to hear that due to the small fields, the A and B packs were to be combined, because my overall extremely positive attitude was geared towards being dragged around by those more physically gifted than I and bleeding out of my eyes.
Luckily, none of the "double my FTP +10 watts" heavy hitters were present in the A field, so the pace wasn't especially high. When the A riders got gaps and nobody closed them down, I didn't complain. I also didn't close them down myself, because going slower was perfectly fine with me. 45 minutes at 18 MPH is exactly the same amount of riding time as 45 minutes at 25 MPH. When the first prime came, I took it with a sub-par effort around some sketchy riding. The second and third primes I picked a bad wheel or blocked myself in.
The legs weren't completely shot, but the focus wasn't there. That win-at-all-costs mentality from the Fairbanks crit was missing. I just wasn't 100% into it. Like every other Kulis crit this year, I was playing bikes instead of racing. This played out at the finish, when though my own inattention found myself on the front going into the last uphill corner. I held off sprinting and waited for someone to come around, hoping I could catch a good wheel. When Dave Henke's deep carbon wheels came roaring past, I found my train. Latched onto his wheel was one of his teammates in the glorious colors of Kazakhstan, and I mistook the wheel-sucking A rider, Justin Neff, for the B rider that was my main competition for the night. Figuring my race was done, I sat up, not inclined to destroy myself for second place in the last race in a series I had lost weeks ago through flat tires, flat fitness, and spotty attendance. I'd been playing bikes for every other race I had entered, so there was no reason to break the trend. Then I noticed a third Kazakh rider coming past, and realized my mistake. With my cadence already below 60, I just ground my way the last few yards towards the line. The photo finish showed he got me by a tire width across the calibrated jagged crack in the pavement we use as a finish line.
Meh. I was stupid and beat myself. 
The sun came up this morning and the reports of my crushing defeat in a small weekly crit were pushed from the international headlines by Britain leaving the EU. I'll get on my bike and pedal the same squares I always do, hoping that it will somehow make me a faster rider. Hasn't worked so far, but you never know.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Father's Day.

The plan was to ride for three hours, doing some climbing and just getting in some miles. Continue rebuilding from the Tour of Fairbanks wreck, which still affects my sustained power significantly.
That was the plan. Plans change.
The wife had a culture camp to prepare for, and needed me to watch the kids for a few hours. Looking outside at the steady rain falling and trees swaying in the wind, I had no problem with this. Maybe it would clear up in the meantime. A few hours of lazing around and playing with my son on a rainy day sounded relaxing.
I had gotten beaten up on the bike the previous day. I planned on doing repeats up Potter Valley, but the gusts I experienced climbing had me stopping at Lower Potter. The descent was pucker-inducing, and I was pushed from lane to lane without warning. I sought less wind-buffeted climbs with limited success, before throwing in the towel and deciding to go for lowland miles. When I finally got to the sheltered areas, I had little left in the tank. Then I got mixed up in the Mayor's Marathon to a small degree, weaving through runners who looked worse than I did. I had completely forgotten about the event, because running is stupid and should be avoided at all costs. That's why God invented bicycles.
Given how little I had done on the ride, I shouldn't have been tired. Instead, I was wrecked for the rest of the day. Wind can do that to you.
So, a couple hours delay sounded good to me. I'd pick it up when the wind and rain died down. Then a couple became a few. Then the few became "it's too late to ride if you want to sleep tonight". My plan changed from riding to sleeping on the couch with the toddler, with a continuous stream of Kipper episodes flowing from Netflix in the background. My abused body appreciated that option.
Eventually I had to get up, and wandered into the garage to work on the Storck so I could hang up the race bikes I'd been riding for the previous month while the sun was shining. Now that rain has returned to the realm of possibility, I need to keep those nicer bikes clean and more or less ready for race day. Plus, I have a trip to the east coast coming up, and the Storck is coming along with me. I'd rather not arrive and discover it's less than functional because of neglect. I have a lot of miles planned.
I fiddled a bit with the Storck's steerer tube spacer stack so it would mirror the position of the race bikes (and maybe get me a bit lower in the wind). I replaced the chain, which was grungy and past-due for a change. I aligned the derailleurs so that those shifter thingys on the handlebars actually did something. I cleaned it a little, but didn't go overboard because of the rainy rides it would soon face. I'll wash it before I pack it up for the trip.
As I worked on the Storck, I realized it was a good looking bike. My perception of it has been colored by all of the grief I encountered while trying to build it up initially, but it is a good-looking bike. I get more positive comments about it than I do about any of my other bikes. With the right set of wheels, it can look downright sexy. Part of is the exotic name. It's not a Trek or a Specialized or anything else you can find in a local bike shop. I haven't seen another Storck in town, or anyplace else I've ridden. You just don't see them. Another part is the understated graphics and paint. It doesn't scream at you like most other bikes. The thin fonts on tasteful paint draw your eye in and allow them to wrap around the round tubes. It looks custom, even if it's not. It's just a good-looking bike, something that you don't see a lot of in the bike lane.
So, for Father's Day I got to be lazy and I got a new appreciation for a bike. Hope your day was as good.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

You Big Bully.

Last year I won the Arctic Warrior Olympics road race after being taken out by an inexperienced rider. A week later I carried that road rash to Fairbanks.

This year I hit the deck in Fairbanks (my fault alone), lost more skin, and banged myself up a bit. A week later I carried that road rash into the AWO road race and won again.

I don't necessarily feel good about winning.

The competition wasn't there this year. Every time I went to the front, I'd end up opening a gap without trying. Not interested in doing a individual time trial, I sat in and watched the pack slowly dissolve around me.

The two riders I had pegged as the strongest of the bunch were on the front when the final selection was made on a longer uphill drag. A triathlete was on the front, drilling it for all he was worth, and a short, muscular guy was on his wheel. I sat just behind, and never noticed when the remaining riders fell away. Suddenly the short guy pulled off and disappeared, so I moved up and grabbed the triathlete's wheel. When we reached the top, there was nobody there.

I pointed out the fact when I pulled through, and gave him the option of us riding together in a civilized manner or formally declaring hostilities for the remaining miles. He didn't seem interested in fighting, so we settled into a moderate pace that further opened the gap. Meanwhile, the short rider's pedal had come off so he was occupied with cross-threading the spindle and the rest of the group was more or less cooked.

When the finish came, I rolled out of the draft, put in four or five good pedal strokes, and then sat up and spun across the line. The triathlete never really changed speed.


For my commanding win, I got a $15 off coupon from RoadID. The funny thing is, I'd just bought one a week before. Somehow the award seems fitting.

That afternoon I did another hour and a half to make up for the workout I didn't get during the race. While the weather was nice, I figured I needed to get in as many hours as possible. It's not always going to be blue skies and warm temperatures. Sooner or later the rainy season will start, and I'll return to the world of fenders, shoe covers, and rain jackets. I'll watch the drips fall from my cycling cap's brim and hopefully find a comfortable place in the soggy world.

For now, there's sun. Even a playground bully like me can appreciate a nice day when he finds one.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


I'm generally not a superstitious person.
However, I have been known to shy away from things associated with failure. They just fall out of favor quickly, and are reduced to backup status or sold off to unsuspecting dupes. Often the failure was not the item's fault, but a result of my own ineptitude. Still, the stink of failure is coating it, and it can be hard to wash off.
Then there's the new Trek Madone 6.9 race bike.
Before the Tour of Fairbanks prologue, I had ridden it around the block once or twice and then done some warmup laps on the course. After I fell, I reverted to my old/trusty/crusty Trek Madone 5.2 Pro, mainly because I was concerned about damage the Madone 6.9 might have suffered in the crash. I was too banged up to want to spend much time wrenching and I had the 5.2 Pro with me to ride around, so reverted to what I knew. It seemed the safest course, although the squeaks and groans coming from the poorly-maintained bike were embarrassing at times.
None of that was fair to the new race bike, but all things considered I don't regret making that call.
After a couple days of choosing healing and resting over riding, I took the 6.9 out for a short ride. Part of it was that the 5.2 Pro was completely filthy, covered in road grime and bug guts from the ride home. Part of it was I wanted to make friends with the new bike after our rough start. No hard feelings.
I was stiff and sore after not moving much for the previous two days, and I didn't push it. Here and there I put in a short effort or two to see what was there, then backed off to avoid further damage. This ride was all about loosening up.
I was descending the Coastal Trail from Kincaid Chalet at a reasonable pace, given the number of tourists and pedestrians out, when I came around a blind turn and was immediately faced with a large group of very large people occupying an even larger part of the available space. I grabbed brakes and immediately started skidding as the holding power of the brakes quickly overcame the traction provided by the tires' postage-stamp contact patch. I started having flashbacks and contemplated which one of the large pedestrians would provide the softest landing, when I managed to squeeze by on the thin dirt shoulder. Crisis averted and confidence restored, I continued on my way.
It will take a lot more than a short ride to make friends with this bike, but at least we've started the process. While the sun is shining and the roads are dry, I plan on getting as many miles on this bike as I can, until it's just as grimy and trusted as the 5.2 Pro.