Friday, April 22, 2011

Climbing for Recovery.....

After last Sunday’s race, my legs were pretty tired and actually sore. Evidently tired legs are the normal result of entering a mountain bike race you’re for which you’re not in shape. (who knew?)

So, this past Tuesday as I loaded up the road bike and headed over to meet the group for our Tuesday night assault on the mountain known as the Devil, I have to admit I was less than enthused and even less sure of my ability to complete the entire climb. But being more stubborn than smart, there was no way I was bailing so off I went.

As we clipped in and began our climb I could feel the soreness in my legs with every pedal stroke. I took it nice and easy at the start and by the time we hit the 1000ft sign, I was feeling surprisingly good. It was a gorgeous evening with a slight breeze and temps in the mid 60s, perfect climbing weather, and as the climb continued past the first ranger station and then up to the second, I was amazed to find I felt really good.

Granted, while my pace was high enough to keep me vertical, there was no risk of me breaking any speed records. Still, I felt really good. As we refilled our bottles and enjoyed some shotbloks at the second ranger station I decided I would make the top, but there was no way I was doing the “driveway”….

Lynn took off first, so while Paciano, Xing and I got our act together, clipped in and took off, she was building up a pretty decent lead. After what seemed like forever we ended up catching up to her about half way to the top. The funny thing is that in catching her, I had pretty much blown myself up in the effort. Paciano on the other hand seemed to be getting stronger with every turn and as I slowed to ride with Lynn for a bit (and try to get my heart rate down below 200) Paciano stood up shifted and motored away.

Foolishly thinking he would soon blow up I too stood up and gave chase….unfortunately, he showed no sign of tiring. As a matter of fact, no matter how hard I pushed, he remained a turn or two ahead.

Eventually, we came to the “driveway” and without thinking I just downshifted, put my head down and continued making circles until I finally reached the top… the way, if you’ve ever wondered just how slow you can go without falling over, evidently 3.0mph is still fast enough to keep you vertical….as I came across the top I realized that I had made it and although my pace was definitely slow, the soreness in my legs was gone and I actually felt really good….tired but good.

And, since the only reason I’m willing to climb is that I enjoy descending, we rested a few minutes and turned the bikes downhill…..let the fun begin….

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sea Otter recap….

This past weekend I once again participated in the carnival that is the Sea Otter Classic. This once yearly event is billed as “the world’s largest cycling festival” hosting about 8500 athletes and over 50,000 fans.

Last year, a bunch of us had gone down on Saturday to check out the vendor booths, the pump track, the Sierra Nevada Brewery booth and then do dinner in Monterey. This year, my schedule didn’t work out that way so although the rest of the gang went down and did the whole thing on Saturday then had a good nights sleep at a local hotel, I opted to get up at 4:00 am on Sunday, drive down and do the race. I figured I’d check out the vendors and the scene afterwards.

The problem for me in trying to get up early is that I have this paranoia that I’m going to oversleep and I end up waking up every 45 minutes to an hour to check the clock which doesn’t bode well for a good night’s rest. I did manage to get up on time though and after getting ready, wolfing down a bowl of cereal and a clif bar I was on the road and made it to the parking lot with an hour and a half to spare.

Registration went quickly and I headed down to try to get my legs warmed up by riding around the vendor area. It was eerily quiet at this hour with none of the crowds, chaos and energy I’d find here after my race.

Soon enough, people were lining up on the track in their groups. Nick and I, being on single speeds were to be the second group out right behind the tandems. Yep, tandem mountain bike racers….and they say single speeders are nuts.

The race starts on the track at Laguna Seca and we rolled out in a group around a couple of turns and up the corkscrew before jumping off the track and onto the dirt. As soon as we hit the dirt I realized I may have gone out too hard as I was redlined and huffing. Slowing my pace I tried to get into a groove and just motor….it wasn’t working. I continued to struggle with my heart rate and no matter how much I tried to relax every time I looked at the gps, I realized I was going faster than I wanted and had to force myself to slow down.

It’s been a really wet and rainy winter and I haven’t been riding nearly as much as I had last year. At about mile 10 this fact became apparent as even the smallest climbs were sending me into the red zone. At mile 17 as we headed up the last long fireroad climbs towards the finish, my lack of fitness and the pace I had early on in the race really became my undoing. I was cramping something fierce and even though I had gone through 3 e-gels, a pack of shot blocks and almost 70ounces of water, I was forced to walk several times until the cramps in my quads would loosen up.

Finally we crested the last climb before heading back down to the track and the finish and I knew this wasn’t going to be one of my best days. I had finished though and that was my goal.

Nick rolled in not long after I did (surprisingly un-bloodied for a change) followed by Jon who had started in a different group a while after us. Tracy came in later covered in dirt and some pretty good road rash. Evidently he had been really flying as he entered one of the badly rutted sections and ended up doing a superman impression as his bike got caught in a deep rut. He was a little torn up but had finished strong anyway.

My plan was to spend a good part of the afternoon wandering around the vendor area looking for deals and schwag, but all I could think about was food and a hot shower so I headed back to the truck, swung through a Mickey D’s in Salinas for a grilled chicken sandwich and a large iced coffee and headed for home….and a long hot shower….

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sea Otter Pre-Ride….

In their infinite wisdom, the organizers of the Sea Otter Classic bike race decided to eliminate the Cat 3 Single Speed division and only have it in Cat2 and Cat 1. So I, being dumb enough to think single speeding is fun, was also dumb enough to go ahead and step up to Cat 2 so I could race against other single speeders and not just get lumped in with everyone else in Cat 3.

Today, Tracy, Nick, John and I headed down to Laguna Seca to pre-ride the course, see how different the Cat 2 route would be and try to get a feel for the route. Now, you need to understand that it has been a long, cold, wet winter and I, being not only somewhat not so smart, am also pretty much a wuss when it comes to riding in cold wet weather.  Add to that the fact that I was sick most of Feb and March and you end up with today’s pre-ride being my longest mt. bike ride so far this year and by far the toughest ride I’ve done since last year.

And boy was it a doozy. The new route seems to be quite a bit tougher than last year and although the length is only slightly longer than last year, there’s an additional 1,000ft of climbing. There also seems to be more singletrack which is very cool. Although for anyone behind me next week, it could just be frustrating as they’ll surely want to pass me and the singletrack sections don’t offer a lot of opportunities.

The BLM has also been out there doing trail maintenance which I guess is good. The rutted up fireroads are now nice smooth gravel which is great for the downhill and flatter areas, but makes climbing the steep stuff on an SS pretty difficult. In order to get up the climb, I’m forced to stand and really hammer which causes the back tire to break loose. I ended up walking some sections not due to tired legs, but to lack of traction in the loose gravel.

In addition, the organizers have re-routed some of the sections. The infamous trail 60 with the long downhill sand pit has been eliminated. Instead there’s a shorter, steep, and just as sandy section at the end of the main trail.

Today the weather was good. Not too hot, not too cold. Although towards the end, there’s a nice 3 mile fire road climb which is tough enough, but today the wind was blowing directly into our faces which only added to the challenge.

They did add a nice single track section at the end which was a fun little swoopy section back down to the track….it’s a good thing it was downhill too, I was pretty well shattered by the time we got back.

All in all we ended up with 20.3 miles and 3150ft of climbing……next week is really going to hurt…

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Standing on Hell’s doorstep….

At least that’s where I assumed we were….we rode through Hell's Gate which I assume leads to Hell's Doorstep...

The Friday before last, Deb and I loaded up the truck and set out on the road for Death Valley. Although it’s a long, boring, ugly drive for 90% of the 9 hours we were in the truck, the last hour is actually pretty cool….in a desolate, barren, post-apocalyptic sort of way.

Saturday morning I got up early to meet up with Bob, Leticia, Bill and Gail and begin the Hell’s Gate 100 ride that I had signed up for and driven an entire to day to attend. I’ve never been to Death Valley before and although the desert does have its own particular beauty, I must say I really prefer trees and mountains and rivers…..oh yeah, and to see stuff that’s actually living.

As I stood there lining up with the other slackers that had waited until the last possible rollout time of 7:00am it dawned on me that for the first time I had done the smart thing and opted for the metric century instead of the full century. 

In year’s past, I would have let my ego make the decision then spent the rest of the day regretting it.  Today though, it would be different.  I had made the intelligent choice to do the shorter route and had also chosen to ride with people smart enough not to kill ourselves with a pace we couldn’t sustain…..sometimes my good judgement amazes me….

The ride starts out heading south out of Furnace Creek and down towards Badwater. As we rode along in one of the most desolate places I’ve ever ridden, the stark barrenness of the area started to grow on me.
Sure, there’s nothing there and, should you happen to be here in July instead of March your brain would cook inside your head, it was kind of pretty. The bottom of the valley is flat and looks like a salt marsh, but on either side are mountains that to the west held snow and to the east showed an incredible array of colors from the differing rock formations.

Not long after we started the road turned left and we began our first climb of the day…..and boy was that a surprise. As is my style, I had totally failed to train and instead of looking at the route guide to see just how unprepared I was, I took the ignorance is bliss attitude and just took off with the group.

The climb was pretty tough and gained about 1000ft in 3 miles. The nice part is that it’s a one way road and there were only 2 cars in the time we were climbing. After pretending to take pictures at the top long enough to get my heart rate under control we hit the first rest stop of the day at Artist’s Palette. Wow, ok so maybe the desert isn’t completely devoid of beauty.
From here it was a fun, fast, perfectly paved one way road downhill to the valley floor and then the trek north towards Hells Gate. I think the worst part of riding in the desert is that without one single tree to block your view, you can see for miles. Unfortunately, in a mostly flat, uninhabited area where you can see where you’re headed miles away, it seems like no matter how long you ride, you never get closer.

This fact went from boringly apparent to painfully apparent once we turned off Hwy 190 and headed up towards Hell’s Gate proper. From the bottom of the valley to the rest area at the top is a 10 mile climb and you can see the tent at the top from just past the first turn at the bottom…’s a white spot at the very top that no matter how long I pedaled, never seemed to come any closer….

Finally though, after what seemed like an eternity of pedaling uphill with no respite, (is that what purgatory is?) we came around the final bend and were at the official turn around point for the metric century. Hell’s Gate… I stood there on Hell’s doorstep, I looked back at the valley below in all it’s desolate glory and agreed again, just how intelligent I was for doing the metric and not the full century. (Bob, evidently has either less brains or is just plain tougher than I am as he was doing the entire route)

The 10 miles up of course resulted in 10 miles back down and it was awesome! Unfortunately, as all good things must come to an end, the downhill ended and we were faced with a long, flat grind back to the start. Thankfully, Bill and Gail on the tandem took the lead and the rest of us (yes, a tandem in a headwind develops a large following) fell in behind, put our heads down and made circles as best we could.

Eventually, we made it back to the start, and as this was the first long ride of the season, I couldn’t wait to get off the bike. My legs, though tired, felt pretty good. My butt, shoulders, neck and arms though were pretty much done.

All in all, we ended up with 65 miles and right about 5,000 ft of climbing. It was a gorgeous day in some barren but beautiful scenery spent with good friends. Not sure I’ll be driving back down to Death Valley any time soon, but I was very glad that I had done it.