Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It ain’t much, but it’s a start

This crappy cell phone photo was taken this morning at the park next door to my house. Not much in the way of snow, but it’s still September, after all. Will we be skiing in October? Up to two feet forecast for the Cottonwoods today and tomorrow. We could potentially be skiing in early October. Time to tune the skis up.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Full circle

Having been gone yesterday, I’m behind on a few things, the most important of which is work. So I’m going to spend all week catching up, both on work and the blog, beginning today with a summary of Saturday’s Harvest Moon Critierium and yesterday’s Lotoja 2: This time it’s personal ride I did with Steve and my dad.

Hopefully later this week I’ll get to some other posts I’ve been stewing over, including how bike shop employees are like Satan’s angels, my until now secret desire to be like Billy Joel, as well as a report on some hikes I did with my kids (which requires finding some video footage I took a few years ago of a bear in the wild).

Now that I’ve promised all this stuff publicly, I’m more or less committed to deliver. My mother-in-law is coming tonight—she’s probably going to think I don’t like her if I’m holed up every evening working on my blog. We’ll see how that goes over.

The race: Harvest Moon Criterium

In an effort to try and get a few more upgrade points and to make my drive to Ogden more worthwhile, I signed up to race in two categories, Cat. 4 as well as the Cat. 3/4/5 Masters 35+ race, hereafter referred to as “35B.”

The course was really short, laps around a single city block, with the finishing straight being all of half a block. Not enough space to make up a lot of ground in a bunch sprint. On our warmup laps, Steve and I realized whoever had the hole shot in the fourth and final turn would likely win. So we planned on making a move on turn three, with Steve leading me out then going wide on turn four so I could come underneath.

Getting to that point was more difficult than I anticipated, though. First there was the old lady who pulled her car onto the backstretch right as we rounded turn two. In fairness, it was the course marshal's fault she was there, as he should have stopped her, but either way it was scary. I don’t know how there wasn’t a pileup, but there wasn’t. I had been about five back—right where I wanted to be—until this point, but in the confusion, all the guys from the back came around, and I was on the back of the train.

The pace was ridiculous, and of course, being on the back and getting yo-yoed, it was worse. Several times, I didn’t think I was going to stay on and was hurting bad. I kept wondering why Steve was moving to the front and drilling it with me so far back.

Finally with about four laps to go, I was able to move up towards the front and find Steve’s wheel. On the bell lap, we were second and third wheel, right where we wanted to be, when a Gold’s Gym guy came around on the back stretch. We got on his wheel, along with Jason from Canyon who was in front of us. The four of us opened a gap on the field, but Steve and I couldn’t make up ground between turns three and four. Steve went wide and I came around the final turn in third and finished in third. Steve finished fourth. Not quite what I was hoping for but still on the podium.

Except I wasn’t. What I didn’t know is that the pace was so ridiculous throughout the race because there was a guy from Cyclesmith off the front the whole time. I think the car on the course helped him widen his gap, but maybe it didn’t and he was just that strong. Either way, kudos to him, because he was so far out, I didn’t even know he was off. It was a tremendous solo effort. I actually finished fourth and Steve fifth. Oh well, still in the points, which is what we were after.

In the hour between the Cat. 4 race and the 35B race, I found out there was only one guy, a Cat. 1 or 2, registered for the 35A (35+, all categories) race. He was trying to find a few more guys to race against. Since it was right after the 35B race, I told him if we could go easy for the first 15-20 minutes so I could recover a bit, I’d race. Three or four other guys from 35B said they’d sign up with the same gentlemen's agreement.

The 35B race went much better for me. There were numerous attacks, but nobody ever opened a gap, so it wasn’t open throttle chasing the full 40 minutes. On the bell lap coming around turn two, nobody wanted to be in front that early, so the pace slowed just a fraction. I made my move. I had a little gap in turn three, they closed on me towards turn four, but I still led around the final corner. I went all out for half a block, and they never caught me. Have I mentioned that winning a race, especially in a bunch sprint, is really fun?

I spun two laps to try and recover, then changed numbers and lined up for the 35A race. During the 35B race, several 1’s and 2’s signed up for the 35A race. They were not privy to our gentlemen's agreement. So they dropped the hammer from the outset, and I hadn’t recovered enough to even try and hold their wheels. I took myself out after one lap in denial then spinning easy for four laps. Officially my season ended with a DNF, exactly the way it started. Unofficially, I’m going to pretend the 35A race never happened, and claim I went out with a win.

Huge props to Ben T. from team Excelerator for reviving this race after it was cancelled a few weeks ago. He did six months worth of planning and organizing in three weeks, and you’d never know. It was one of the best-organized UCA events I’ve done this year.

The ride: Montpelier to Jackson

With legs still a bit sore from Saturday, we rolled out of Montpelier yesterday morning at about 7:00 a.m. It was bitter cold. Hoar frost on the ground kind of cold. Alternate which hand gets stuck in your bibs, and which one is on the bar kind of cold. As we came around bends in the canyon and changed our position relative to the mountains, we got to watch the sun rise about a half dozen times.

Then, coming up the Salt River climb, we were treated to spectacular fall colors all the way to the top. And since we weren’t racing, we actually got to enjoy them.

There was more where that came from in Star Valley, a place whose beauty I’ve never fully enjoyed because during the race I’m focused on other things, and in a car I’m simply going too fast. The river, the trees, the colors—it was stunning.

You’d think it couldn’t get better, but when we got into Snake River Canyon, it did. More colors, bigger, prettier river. Simply amazing stuff.

Finally we pedaled into Jackson and stared at the Grand Teton for about an hour as we pedaled along perfect roads nearly devoid of cars or other cyclists. Shortly before we arrived at Teton Village, I realized that entering Lotoja is a complete and total waste for at least 2/3 of the field.

At least 2/3 of the people aren’t racing, aren’t even necessarily trying to get a particular time, they’re just there to see if they can. And they’ve got their own support vehicle along for the ride anyway.

You can ride that course any day of the year you want, there’s just one day when you have to pay nearly $200 for the privilege. Incidentally, that day you also constantly worry about being wrecked by the hoards of other riders on the road.

If you’ve got your own support anyway, forget race day. Go two weeks later when the trees have changed colors, the roads are empty, and the overall experience is at least five times more enjoyable. Maybe even do it over two days. Because you know what, nobody really cares that you’ve finished the course or how fast—it only matters to you (and maybe your friends who often only care because they want to beat you). But of all the times I’ve ridden that road, yesterday—being with my brother and my dad, enjoying nature, having my mom run support—was far and away the most enjoyable ride. And joy, however you may find it, is what riding the bike is all about.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Unfinished business

As you’re probably aware, despite riding something like 8,000 miles in training, my dad got sick and cramped up during Lotoja this year. That didn’t sit well with Steve or me, so Steve suggested we offer my dad a Mulligan and go back and ride from Logan to Jackson—unofficially—with him.

Since he made it to Montpelier in the first attempt, my dad decided he’d like to start from there and ride the rest of the way in just so he could finish the course. So on Monday, that’s what we’ll be doing. We’re staying in Montpelier Sunday night and plan on rolling out Monday around 7:00 or so, as soon as it’s light enough to ride. If you want to join us, the more the merrier.

In other news, Steve and I will be racing the Harvest Moon Criterium tomorrow. Last road race of the season, and despite what I said after Sanpete, I’ll be glad to be done. A season worth of fatigue has caught up with me, and I can tell I’ve passed my peak fitness for the year. I’m looking forward to leisurely, cool weather mountain bike rides, hikes, or just sitting in a chair and relaxing if I don’t feel like squeezing a ride in.

Fall Moab is coming up, and after that (and possibly before) the snow will be flying and the “A” season will begin. Lots to look forward to—I can hardly wait.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bad omen

Aside from toilet paper, and its highly evolved successor, flushable wet wipes, are there any disposable hygiene products more indispensible than dental floss or Q-tips? OK, there are, but for men, are there any disposable hygiene products more indispensible than floss or Q-tips?

And yet, the sight of either outside of it’s packaging and anywhere other than a trash receptacle is highly disgusting. So imagine my delight when waiting for the elevator this morning and I encountered this:

Right in the middle of the floor. Are you kidding me? Frankly, while I admire the utility of those little floss picks, I find them revolting. If only because it seems the only people that use them do so in public. Like in the lobby of a restaurant that they’ve just finished dining at but where I’m waiting for a table. Nothing says bon appétit quite like a dude with a gravy stain on his distended belly who’s picking his teeth with a floss pick on his way out the restaurant door. Yummy.

I should have taken it as a sign that my day would get no better from there and I’d best hide somewhere for the remainder. But the crappy thing about a job is that they expect you to be there. Every day. I know.

The good thing about my job is that if I sneak out to ride at lunch, they’re cool with that. Yesterday that meant being at my desk until well after 7:00 p.m. to make up for it, but I’ll make that tradeoff anytime. The weather mid-day is perfect for mountain biking right now. After work, it gets dark too early so the ride either needs to be short or with lights.

Today I met Elden for a lunch ride. It was supposed to be an amazing experience—his first ride ever in Millcreek Canyon. All was going great—Elden was raving about what great trails these were for riding a single speed, the leaves were changing, temperature was just right, and trails weren’t too crowded—until we dropped down towards Dog Lake.

The trail there is rather wide and covered with loose gravel. I was by no means going fast, but I wasn’t going slow either. I hit a small bump in the trail, which caused my front wheel to turn just a bit. I thought to myself “it would really suck if my wheel washed out before I can correct and I crashed in all this loose rock.”

Just then, my wheel washed out before I could correct and I crashed in all that loose rock. My bike went to one side of the trail, and I went to the other, bearing the brunt of the fall on my left hand and right-side ribs, elbow, and hip. Elden had nowhere to go and crashed on top of me. On the way down his front teeth hit my knee and took a little chunk out.


I just lay there in the dirt for a minute, moaning, and wondering if anything was broken. Once we got up and took stock, I had cuts and scrapes all over, but bones and joints seemed intact. Elden’s right knee was a bloody mess, the same one he banged up at Leadville. The last scab from the Leadville injury had just fallen off yesterday. OK, not really, but close.

We tried to continue on, but our hearts weren’t in it. So we limped back to Elden’s truck where we alternated moans of pain all the way down the canyon. I thought about calling in to work and saying I wasn’t coming back today on account of the injuries. But that may jeopardize future lunch ride privileges, so here I am.

Anyone want to ride tomorrow?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Peaches for me

This morning when I left for work, I put three peaches in my lunch bag. Rachel did a double take. Apparently three peaches to eat throughout the day seemed a lot.

A couple of minutes ago, I sent her an IM: “I’m just eating my third peach, wishing I had four.”

We bought a big box with the intent to freeze some. We have 20 peaches left. I’ll eat half of those by Sunday. Rachel and the kids will eat the rest. None will go in the freezer.

I don’t usually go crazy for fruit, but I’m wondering if it’s possible to get fat from eating peaches. I’ll let you know.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Let nothing come between you and your chamois

A while back I read an account one of the top woman cross country racers wrote about her first collegiate race when she just started cycling. She didn’t know you weren’t supposed to wear anything under your cycling shorts. The team shorts had a white panel on the side, and one of the guys on the team could see her panties through the white panel. He discreetly informed her of the protocol, at which point she went in the bathroom and removed the panties and raced with them in her jersey pocket.

If only I’d had a teammate when I started riding.

As I mentioned some time back, I used to be pretty fat. It was only when my doctor told me that I needed to lose 30-40 pounds that I got serious about diet and exercise.

I was so fat that running more than two blocks was painful, so I started riding a bike. It was a second-hand road bike that had toe clips and was two sizes too big. I was completely clueless about riding but at least knew that it would be more comfortable in real cycling shorts that had a chamois in them.

So every morning before work I would ride that bike for about an hour. I thought I was flying if I averaged 16 mph. I wore a t-shirt, running shoes, and $30 cycling shorts. With briefs underneath them. Because I didn’t know better.

After a few months I developed a bit of a skin condition. I was living in Indiana, and it was summer. I figured it was just the humidity. It was, I just didn’t realize the briefs were making it about three times more humid than it needed to be and causing about 100 times more friction than there was supposed to be.

But who wants to have a doctor poke and prod and stare at your undercarriage? Not me. So I treated it with over-the-counter stuff and hoped it would go away. It didn’t. But I was stubborn.

The next year, Rachel and I got the crazy idea to run a marathon. By this time I had lost enough weight that running didn’t hurt, so I put away the bike (for about three years) and ran—or rather, at my speed, jogged—instead. The skin condition persisted.

Finally, I decided something had to be done. By this time we had moved to Ann Arbor, and I figured that with a world-class teaching hospital, I was bound to get the best skin care possible. So I made an appointment with one of the dermatology faculty. I could handle one guy examining my junk provided it brought some relief.

I was ushered into the exam room, asked to remove my pants, and given a sheet to cover up with. The doctor came in, took a look up my sheet, jotted down a few notes, and then left. I figured he’d go get his prescription pad and come back with a treatment regimen.

Instead, he came back with seven interns, four of whom were women, and all of whom were about my age and had probably played against my team in intramural football. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder in two rows, short ones in front, tall ones in back, so as to ensure everyone got a good view while the doctor lifted up my sheet again. This time he prodded around a bit, commented on the symptoms, made sure everyone got to see, and then put the sheet down.

Then with everyone still present and just the sheet hiding what no longer needed to be hidden, he talked about my diagnosis and treatment and even solicited input from the peanut gallery. The worst part? After having no fewer than eight people examine my taint and come to a consensus on how to treat it, Gold Bond lotion, available OTC, is what cleared it up.

For the mothers in the audience, I realize this is no less an ordeal than childbirth, but instead of waiting to see a cute little baby, everyone was crowding around to see a rash. And instead of going home from the hospital with said cute little baby, I went home with a tube of steroid cream and some talcum powder.

Friday, September 18, 2009

These things go to eleven

I just read that a seven-year-old Nebraska boy shot a hole-in-one. Some might find it astounding that a seven-year-old could do that. I, like Rick Reilly, just shrug my shoulders and say “no big deal.” After all, my late, great aunt, who was herself about the size of a typical seven-year-old boy, shot a hole-in-one when she was in her eighties. I’m pretty sure anyone can do it.

Wanna know something else that anyone can do? Remember a number—just one. Like ten. Or maybe eleven. Or even 42. My daughter is two. She can’t reliably count past five. But she can sure as hell remember the number two if you ask how old she is. She never gets it wrong, and math and counting are still pretty much abstract concepts.

So why on earth can Cadel Evans, a guy who gets paid to ride his bike, not remember something very simple, like how many cogs are in his rear cassette? Are you kidding me? Not only do I know how many cogs are in my rear cassette, but I can tell you how many teeth are on each cog. I know how many spokes are in each wheel, I know how long my stem is, how wide my handlebars are, and I know what my tire pressure is. And I’m just an amateur.

But Cadel—remember his job is to pedal his bicycle, and when necessary, make wheel changes as fast as possible, ideally to a wheel with the proper cassette for his drivetrain—had no freaking clue whether he was running a ten or eleven speed rear end when asked.

As if that weren’t enough, nobody in his team car knew either. So they stopped him to make sure he got the right wheel (something that should have been self-evident with his first shift). Then, after he got gapped on the stage and lost his chance of winning the Vuelta, he had the audacity to say “I don’t deserve this.”

What? You don’t think you deserve this? You deserve this and then some. You have terminal stupidity, and it’s just a matter of time before you succumb.

Of course Campagnolo, the maker of his drivetrain, is not off the hook either. Because how was eleven speed ever a good idea? Any of us that remembers the days when road bikes were called ten speeds probably finds it a bit perplexing that they can cram ten gears where previously only five were present. Ten are more than adequate—why on earth would we even want eleven?

Apparently nobody wanted eleven, and it’s a pseudo innovation they’re trying to force on the market, a technique Shimano previously had a monopoly on with blockbusters like biopace and rapid rise. But Campy wasn’t content to be Euro and exclusive, or to make high-quality components that lasted for years but were still completely rebuildable. They needed to do something pointless as well. Because if there were a point to it, why would the question be asked “ten or eleven?” If eleven were truly better, everyone would be running it, and there would be no need to ask.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Give us this day our daily bread

Like most amateur bike racers who spend hundreds of hours training and thousands of dollars on equipment, race entry fees, and travel expenses, I’m really just in it for the schwag. I mean, who wouldn’t spend a thousand bucks for a belt buckle? Or a hanger?

So of course the first thing I do after checking in for a race is rifle through the schwag bag to see what I got this time. And I’ve never yet been disappointed. That Lotoja water bottle that’s clear yellow and makes any liquid you put in it look like urine? Awesome. And really, who can’t use yet another white or heather gray t-shirt?

Last night I was at my parents’ house and noticed a coupon on the counter for a free loaf of great harvest bread. I assumed it must have come from my dad’s Lotoja schwag bag. I decided I better check mine to see if I had one too.

My lovely wife is a fantastic person but has two traits that I find absolutely inconceivable: 1) she doesn’t care for french fries; 2) she doesn’t like great harvest bread. As weird as both of these are, I’m OK with them. I mean let’s be honest, unless she has a sky-high metabolism, do any of us really want to be married to a woman who loves french fries and eats them all the time? Plus she makes amazing bread at home—rye, sourdough (chocolate and regular), whole wheat, croissants, cinnamon, ciabatta—you name it, she does it and does it well. So I never find myself wanting on the bread front.

Which is not to say that I don’t like great harvest bread; I actually like it a lot. Imagine my delight when I went through my own schwag bag last night and discovered that the person in charge of putting one great harvest coupon in each is really bad at counting.


No expiration dates, either. I’m genuinely excited about this one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Apples and oranges and all that I needed

If you’re anything like me, you can spend hours after a race dissecting what went well, what didn’t, where the difference was made. For instance, I’ve spent the last two days beating myself up about Lotoja—not for letting a gap open on the Salt River climb, but for being so stupid as to be towards the back of the pack when the climb started.

You see, thanks to online time splits, I know there were a couple of riders who stayed with the lead group but who climbed that hill in about the same time I did. Had I been at the front, even climbing at a slower pace, I would have just drifted to the back but may have been able to stay with the lead group. Ironic since I’ve been known to rip on Levi and VDV for not staying at the front and getting caught in crashes as a result. And those guys are way smarter racers than I’ll ever be. Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

Here’s the thing, though, the usefulness of comparing splits only extends so far, even in the same race. For instance, the Cat. 3-4 group was slower over Salt River than the Cat. 4 group. Does that mean had I signed up with the 3-4 group, I would have stayed with the leaders? Impossible to say. It was a different race, and had I been there and not where I was, the tactics could have been completely different, too.

It would be great if there were a magic calculator we could plug a few splits into, have it check our pulse and a few other vitals, and it could spit back our finish time in a given race. But it doesn’t work that way.

Which is why I get a kick out of comparisons from one race to another, such as Leadville to Park City Point to Point, or Tour DAY Park City to Lotoja, or Lotoja to STP. They’re different races, and times in one don’t mean the same as times in another. Moreover, even if the courses are the same, times from one year aren’t directly comparable to times another year, as wind, weather, and other externalities, in addition to tactics, always play a role.

Even within the race, my time at Lotoja is only directly comparable to others in my start wave. Were the Cat. 5s who caught us between Logan and Preston stronger riders because they finished 3, 6, or 9 minutes faster than the Cat. 4 winners? I doubt it. They benefitted from Mark T. and Spence R. pulling the train just as much as the other Cat. 4s did. Had Mark and Spence drilled it from the opening gun, I doubt the fives would have ever caught us. But tactically, none of the 4s thought it was in his interest to pull through that section, so nobody did.

Comparing one race to another is even more difficult. For example, let’s compare Leadville to Park City Point to Point. Alex Grant took fourth at Leadville with a time of 7:10 and first at PCPP with a time of 7:04. Afterward, he said PCPP was tougher. Does that mean a sub nine hour finish at PCPP is roughly equivalent to a sub nine hour finish at Leadville? Who knows?

At Leadville, Alex had the benefit of a fast lead group that he was chasing throughout the day. At PCPP, Alex was in front most of the day, with Bart a few minutes back but not really threatening. Do you go faster chasing/being chased by someone, or do you go faster riding alone? Moreover, which would you perceive as more difficult?

At both races, roughly 20% of the field did not finish. Of those who finished Leadville, roughly 10% finished under nine hours. Of those who finished PCPP, roughly 40% finished under nine hours. Moreover, several racers, such as KC and Chris Holley and Kenny Jones, did both events. All three plus AG had faster times at PCPP than at Leadville. That suggests going under nine is “easier” at PCPP than at Leadville.

But the four in my sample may have been healthier at PCPP. Weather certainly was less of a factor at PCPP. Leadville could have improved their fitness ahead of PCPP. Additionally, the field at PCPP may have been overall stronger than the field at Leadville. Self-selection may have led to the 40% who finished under nine hours being of the same caliber as the 10% who did so at Leadville.

I bet you’re expecting me to get somewhere with this, but I have no point, beyond my assertion that comparisons are valid only for the very practical and extremely useful purpose of beating one’s self up. As for congratulating one’s self for a result that never happened, well they’re sort of useless in that regard. Because who really cares about a result you didn’t get in an event you didn’t enter? (Or, if we’re being brutally honest, who besides you, your mom, and a few friends cares about a result you did get in an event you did enter?)

For nearly everyone reading this blog—working stiffs who ride and race for fun, fitness, and mental health—the only thing that matters is that we’ve proven to ourselves whatever it is we didn’t know before. Mark T. summed it up well in his comment Monday:

At one point James C told me "you're a tough rider." Maybe, maybe not. I can't stomach giving anything less than everything. All I want at the end of a day like that is to know - without reservation - that I worked as hard as I could, and emptied the tank, utterly. Any less and nothing may be learned.

To me racing the bike is part of The Way. I've used other means but in the end the means don't matter, only that one is honest, 100% present, and aware enough to learn the lessons of the experience. In this sense I got everything I needed on Saturday.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sandbags, hangers, waiting, watching, waiting some more, panicking, and podiums (or is it podia?)

I promised to post some pictures from Lotoja, which I’ll get to. But first a couple of items further to yesterday’s post. As if it weren’t long enough already.

First, I was wrong about Nate P.’s sandbagging technique. I said he was getting his time by leapfrogging from group to group after the Strawberry climb. I wrote this, not having witnessed Nate race, because I thought it was the only possible way for someone to get a time that fast. I didn’t think it was possible to go that fast alone. I was wrong. Turns out Nate is bagging way more sand than I thought.

As Nate indicated in the comments, and Mark T. vouched for, Nate rides solo the whole way. In 9:10. The course record was set this year at 9:02. By a group of very fast guys. Working together. Nate, go get your upgrade and race with the 1-2-3 group next year. Sub 9 hours is absolutely doable.

Second, JZ mentioned in the comments that a couple Red Burro guys in the Masters 35+ snuck off the front in the darkness and worked with other groups to get the win. I noticed in the results that a couple Red Burro guys from Masters 35+ also got DQ’d. Glad to see officials cracking down on that a bit.

Finally, I left out what was perhaps the most superlative of superlatives: Worst finisher award ever. Thankfully, Eber did a nice writeup and said everything I wished I could have thought of and didn’t. Lovely job.

Tell me, what would you rather have, a hanger?

Or a belt buckle?

That’s what I thought.

Brent and the rest of the crew at Epic events do a great job channeling the chaos that is Lotoja. It’s remarkably well-organized considering what a colossal ordeal that many people, bikes, and cars becomes. But the hangers suck.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, how about a few pictures.

If you’re ever looking for us, we’ll be in section 8 at the feed zones. We can’t afford anything else.

The crew waits and watches for their riders. They do a lot of this. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to have people give up a Saturday to watch and wait and then panic for about 10 seconds until the musette is handed up. My Saturdays are precious, and I’m very stingy with them. Thanks, Josh.

Rolling in, just about to grab the handup. You can just see a Salted Nut Roll sticking out of my pocket. I didn’t touch it all day.

Rolling out.

Sam and Holly make a quick exchange.

Rick pauses long enough to drink a diet coke. It may not have any nutritional value, but the placebo effect is unreal.

It wasn’t Tony’s day. He had a flat in the first few miles, chased back on, and then his Achilles flared up.

When not waiting for their racers at the feed zone, crew members wait in traffic trying to get to the next feed zone.

I grabbed my musette in Afton, stopped to ask Marco how far ahead Steve was, and then had to think for a minute about whether I was going to continue.

Pulling off the road in Star Valley for a cold drink and some familiar faces.

Adam C. on the pavement after crashing in the Alpine feed zone. I’ve learned since that he broke his collarbone and will be out three months.

Marco waits for Steve with everything he may need at the ready.

Steve grabs his musette.

The musette is all ready, but I think Sam spotted that box of cookies and is stopping for one. I would have.

Joel R. takes the win by two bike lengths with Steve right behind.

My dad at the finish area. I predict he’ll be back next year, leaner and fitter than he is already.

There’s no family resemblance whatsoever. I have no idea why Jon S. walked up to Steve and started talking to him, thinking it was me.

The Cat. 4 podium.

After the awards on Sunday, Taylor let me pedal the kids around the parking lot in one of the Madsen cargo bikes. If my neighborhood had more than a quarter mile of roads that were less than 8% grade, I would buy one of these to pedal the kids around in. They loved it. 70 pounds of bike, 125 pounds of kids. Look how distended that rear tire is. It’s a little slow to accelerate and doesn’t handle like my Giant, but still a fun ride.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A race of superlatives

Lotoja is a race of superlatives: longest one-day road race in the United States; largest race in any of the three states it passes through; biggest (and in many cases, only) event for most of the participants.* Drive around Salt Lake one day and count the number of window stickers you see. "Ragnar" and the little "my family**" stick figures are the only things that even come close to matching the ubiquity of Lotoja. Since it's a race of superlatives, interspersed throughout the race report are a variety of superlatives*** I observed through the weekend.

*Funny thing about "races" versus "rides:" While Lotoja is most definitely a race, especially in the licensed categories, for most of the participants, it's a "ride," and they're not thinking about placing. If you go to any other race, you'll hardly see anyone riding a Trek bicycle. I attribute this to the inverse Lance effect. "Serious" racers don't want to be on the bike the most famous racer in the world rides--despite the fact that Trek makes fantastic bicycles--so they buy anything but Trek. Trek, nevertheless, is the best-selling brand in the country. Wanna know where all those high-end Madones are? Come to Lotoja, and you'll find out. They're under a bunch of Citizen racers and have Bento Boxes strapped to the top tubes. The clip-on aero bars have been removed, per race rules.

**Speaking of these "my family" stickers, we saw one that takes the cake--even better than the Ass family: Hairy, Wize, Fat, and Smart--on the way to Logan on Friday. It was a mom, a dad, and what appeared to be several pets, including two hovering above the rest with little halos and wings. If they were in fact pets, it seems a little absurd. If they were actually human children, it seems a bit macabre, disturbing, weird, and just plain sad, all rolled into one.

***True superlatives would mean just one of each, but I reserve the right to have more than one under a given topic. Even if that means they're technically no longer superlatives. It's my blog, and it's the only place I can almost do whatever I feel like.

Wow, I can tell this post is going to be long, since I'm doing a race report and already wrote three lengthy tangential paragraphs before really introducing the meat of the post. Perhaps you should go get a diet coke or a beer or a cup of coffee and then come back.

Anyway, back to Lotoja. The short story for me is that the race exceeded my expectations but fell short of my hopes. I started not sure I'd even make it to Preston. Then I realized my support crew was in Montpelier and we were skipping the Preston feed zone, so I had to go at least 80 miles. I decided if I was still with the lead group at Montpelier, I'd keep going, but if I wasn't, I was bailing out there.

Speaking of lead group, our "group" was nearly 300 riders. Of the 85 or so Cat. 4s who started in our wave, not one of them wanted to work (huge surprise there), so it took about 20 minutes for the first wave of about 50 or so Cat. 5s to catch us. Ten minutes after that, the next wave caught us, and ten more minutes later, the third wave caught us. Throw in a few fun riders who had latched on, plus at least one bandit (rider not registered for the event), and we had a lot of people.

Most impressive climb: As you approach Strawberry Canyon, the longest climb of the race, there's a short climb of about 500 feet and a grade of maybe 6% or so. On the way up that climb, we saw a guy named Taylor riding a special Madsen Cargo Bike equipped with spare wheels and various tools and repair supplies. The bike weighed 70 pounds, and he was keeping pace with our group up this hill. We were not exactly dogging it, either. I haven't done the math on how much wattage he would need to put out to push that bike up that hill at that speed, but it had to have been a lot. The guys on that bike (they traded off) repaired 36 flat tires throughout the day.

On the Strawberry climb, I was doing OK. My back had loosened up enough that I wasn't thinking about it all the time, but my legs felt dead. Steve was leading our group up the climb at a pace that should not have been a problem for me, but I was suffering badly. I went to the front and asked him to back it down a bit, as I was barely hanging on. He told me after that he was trying to keep it slow enough that I could manage but not so slow that someone else would move to the front. That's the best I could hope for.

Nevertheless, I started drifting towards the back of the group. Adam C. from Spin offered some encouragement "keep going--we're almost to the false flat." Indeed we were and just in time. I had survived the first climb.

Several riders opened it up on the descent, and I thought I was the last guy to get on the back of this group. We flew down the hill, but as we reached the bottom, Sam told me to look back. We had to have 100 more people on the back. I couldn't believe it.

The climb up Geneva isn't long enough to be a problem, but I could tell as we approached Salt River Pass, the steepest climb of the day, that the guys on front were going to drill it. They did, and it shattered the group. I held on for a while, saw Sam fall off, and knew I was soon to follow. I let a gap open, and then thought about how much I would hate myself if I let this gap open and didn't kill myself trying to close it. So I killed myself trying to close it, just about got back on, but couldn't. My heart rate was at 188--I could go no harder.

I thought they were about a minute ahead (time splits show I lost about 90 seconds) but could see no sign of them as I started the descent. I never even thought about touching the brakes, but I still never caught sight of them. I chased hard with three other guys. After one really long pull, one of the other guys said to look back. We had about 30 guys behind us. I thought good, plenty of people to work with for the chase across Star Valley. Except they all took their sweet time in the feed zone and never regrouped. I asked Marco how far ahead Steve was, and she said "about a minute." I knew this meant anywhere from one to five minutes, because the reckoning of time is nigh unto impossible for crew in that high-stress environment.

Most bewildering race tactic: Why do people prepare musette bags only to stop in the feed zone, go through the musette bag, take what they want, and only then proceed? The whole point of musettes is not to stop. Grab it on the fly, go through it on the bike, put what you want in your pockets, drop the rest. There, I just saved you at least five minutes next year. You're welcome.

I was in no man's land, behind the leaders but still ahead of most of the group I had started up the climb with. Chances of catching the leaders were basically nil. Not only that, I didn't want to catch them if it meant bringing other guys with me who could affect Steve's shot at the win. Chances of bits and pieces of my shattered group re-forming and coming through were pretty good. Sam would be in that group, I decided to pedal easy and wait.

As I was soft-pedaling along, wondering whether I would just abandon the race in Alpine, I saw Rachel pass me. Then she pulled into a turnout at the side of the road. My bottle of Coke from the feed zone was gone, and it was the only thing that tasted good. I figured she'd have more, so I stopped. I said hi to the kids and gave them each a kiss. Rachel didn't have any regular coke, but she had a diet that was still reasonably cold. Good enough. I sat there long enough to drink most of it and was thinking hard about just throwing my bike in the back and calling it a day. I was at least going to sit there until I saw Sam and maybe until my dad came through a few hours later and would just roll in with him.

Then I saw a group come up the road, and the competitive instinct finally kicked in. I saw 700 series numbers (Cat. 4s) and couldn't stand the thought of losing another place in the finishing order, even though I was well out of the points by now. I jumped in with them.

Most tragic moment(s) of the race: (1) the group I was riding with was soon caught and joined by the lead group from the fourth and last Cat. 5 start wave. Nick R., one of the Omniture crew that often joins us for AF rides, was driving that group and looking strong. At the final neutral feed zone, Nick was one of the first four through when I heard a bike hit the pavement and saw all four guys tumble. I distinctly remember seeing Nick's bike fly about eight feet in the air. Nick was back on his feet by the time I got to him. I stopped to see if he was OK. I figured our whole group would stop and make sure people were OK, but then everyone just flew by. They were at a feed zone, with better care than I could offer, so I got back on and caught the group. Instead of finishing on the podium, Nick broke both wheels and would be unable to continue.

(2) It was a good thing I didn't wait for my dad when I stopped and had a diet coke with Rachel, because he was cramping and sick at the Montpelier feed zone. He stopped and rested for nearly an hour trying to get better but never improved. I remember seeing my dad cry about three times my whole life, and two of those were at his parents' funerals. My mom said when he knew he simply couldn't continue, he wept. Despite riding over 8,000 training miles in the last two years, in addition to countless spin classes over the winter, that was how his race ended. For a 63-year-old guy who started riding when he was 62, finishing, even in near-darkness, would have been a huge victory.

(3) After the race, Rachel mentioned a nasty crash they had witnessed in the Alpine feed zone. One of the guys had grabbed his musette, and apparently his support double-clutched at handoff, knocking him off-balance, causing the musette to swing into his front spokes. He went over the bars and landed hard on the pavement. None of them had any idea who it was but obviously felt awful for the guy. As I was looking through the pictures, I saw a photo of a guy laying on the pavement in Alpine. I asked Rachel if it was the guy who crashed. She said it was. I recognized him as Adam C., the guy who had offered encouragement on the Strawberry climb, and a future teammate at Spin next season (oops, did I just give something away?). Adam was at the front and would have been in the mix to win the Cat. 4s, but instead it all ended just like that. I haven't heard anything from him but hope he's OK.

As we made our way through Jackson, and I imagined the sweet relief of knowing the suffering was nearly over, we caught up with two of the guys I had worked with descending into Afton. I had wondered whether, had I stayed with them, we would have caught the leaders. My question was answered.

Even though groups aren't supposed to mix and work together, they do. The fours in my group chatted and discussed letting the other guys go at 2K and then sorting it out on our own at the end, but that only works if everyone is willing to cooperate. They weren't.

So I moved towards the front and had in my head the three other jerseys to watch for as we started the sprint. After nearly ten hours in the saddle, for the first time I was finally having fun and happy to be on the bike. 500 meters to go, and I was positioned just right. About 300 meters to go, and I was thinking I may sprint it out for whatever meaningless place we were going for uncontested and was going to go with 200 left. Then I saw Ryan L. from Evo fly by. Crap. I accelerated, but he had a good jump. I was closing fast but needed another 50 meters to catch him. He finished 19th, I finished 20th. Yay us. Afterward, I congratulated him for his shrewd move and we had a good laugh together, a far cry from last year.

I quickly found Rachel and expected good news about Steve. I wasn't disappointed. He got second, behind Joel R. from Simply Mac.

Most impressive team: Simply Mac brought four guys to the Cat. 4 race, all of whom could have won the field. But they were a true team. They worked together to lead out their best sprinter. Steve got in there and tried to disrupt the train, but could only do so much. James C. is probably their strongest overall guy, but he stuck his nose in the wind early for the leadout and dropped to seventh. He wanted to see the team win more than he wanted personal glory. Kudos to them--they deserve the victory.

Most impressive individual(s): (1) Mark T. from Spin and (2) Spence R. from Logan Race Club. Steve said those guys were on the front all day, never afraid to take a pull. I've watched Mark T. a few times this year, and the guy's as strong as they come. He's in his 40's--older than most of the guys racing fours--but he's easily the leanest, fittest guy there. He has a super smooth pedal stroke, and though I've never followed myself to know for sure, unlike people like me who are all over the place, he's a joy to ride behind in a paceline because he's so steady and can take a 30 mph pull like it's no big deal. I'm excited to have him as a teammate next season (oops, did I give away more? Yep, the plan is to don the red and white Spin kit on the road next year. I'll still wear Revolution colors on dirt, though). I think the only reason Mark T. hasn't posted higher results is because he's not an explosive rider, so he's not mixing it up in the sprints. I'm guessing both he and Spence were driving the pace in hopes of opening a gap and winning on a break.

(3) And of course, no discussion of most impressive individual would be complete without mentioning my brother Steve. Since upgrading to Cat. 4, Steve has started four races. The first one was a stage race and really a "holy crap, these guys are fast" moment for both of us. Since then, Steve has three podiums, including one win. In the three hardest races of the season, no less: Tour of Park City; 1,000 Warriors; and Lotoja. He now has enough points to upgrade to Cat. 3. I think he's going to stick around through Harvest Moon to help his pathetic older brother, who can't seem to get results when it counts, try and grab a few upgrade points, but I need to get them fast. I'd rather be back-of-the-pack in the threes racing with him than front-of-the-pack-but-just-short-of-the-win in the fours without him.

Most impressive relay: Mr. and Mrs. S. I met Jon over the winter skiing with the Samurai. He's followed this blog a bit since, and we got together for tacos after Leadville, when he casually mentioned doing Lotoja as a relay with his wife. Jon's a Cat. 3 and a fast guy. He failed to mention that his wife is way speedy, too. They ended up in third place with a time of 9:21 or something ridiculously fast like that. Unbelievable. Strong work--you should be in good shape for the "A" season when the snow flies in a couple months.

Biggest sandbagger: Nate P. has won the overall at Lotoja at least once. Every time he's done it, though, he's raced in one of the Citizen one-day license classes. This year he threw down a 9:10, good for 4th overall and yet another category win. Nate does, however, have an annual license--he's a Cat. 4. He's also won almost everything he's entered, including State Time Trial championships and Porcupine Hill Climb. He's got a huge motor and can climb and TT with the best of them. So why not do some real road races, get some upgrade points, and mix it up with the best of them rather than start at the back, drill it up Strawberry, and then leapfrog from group to group of people not in his category to turn in a fast time? I'm not saying the guy isn't fast. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve the times he gets at Lotoja, because in a race that long, whatever time you get, you've earned. I'm just saying if you're that fast, why not race against other guys who are that fast rather than beating up on the Citizen class guys? [Edit: I'm not changing this, because I don't think that would be right. But check the comments--Nate P. deserves a most-impressive rider nod rather than a sandbagger nod. If he soloed to a 9:10, then watch out Cameron Hoffman. Nate, get out to some other races so you can get into the Cat. 1's where you belong. Strong work. BTW--I love how people I call out in the blog have a way of finding it and filling in the rest of the story. This is another example. Perhaps my initial assessments are unfair, but if I kept my mouth shut, great stories like this would never be told. Again, Nate, congratulations on a very impressive time.]

Sunday morning, for the first time ever, we went to the awards ceremony. It was typical of an awards ceremony, with too much talking (though nowhere near as much as at Leadville) before getting on with the presentations that are the only reason anyone is there to begin with. Steve stood on the podium for the first time (the other races he's won or placed at, they haven't had a podium--lame, I know). He also collected a check for $90, just over half of his entry fee for the race. He's now made $175 from racing, $130 more than his brother (though in fairness, mine was gift certificates to bike shops rather than real money--I'm yet to collect any of that). His return on racing investment is about negative 7 million percent, while mine is about negative 30 million percent. We obviously aren't going to get rich at this--just the opposite.

Once over, with sore legs and backs and taints, we got in our cars to drive six hours home.

Rudest moment of entire weekend: I threw away my daughter's dirty diaper inside the Taco Bell in Evanston. Ordinarily I'm pretty good about throwing those things in outside trash cans so as not to foul the interior of a building. But most fast food joints have garbage cans outside the doors, and all the Taco Bell had was ashtrays with really skinny tops that would only fit cigarettes or maybe a gerbil. The diaper wouldn't fit, so I took it inside to dispose of it. The guy behind the counter watched me do it and about chewed through his lip but didn't say anything. I didn't watch to see if anyone was dispatched to take out the trash. We sat at the other side of the dining room.

Best road trip snack food: Chester's Puffcorn. I asked my kids if they wanted a bag of this when we stopped at the Maverik in Star Valley. They said they wanted Swedish Fish instead. I bought it anyway, because I wanted it and only asked the kids because I would have felt slightly better about purchasing it if my kids had "asked for it." They'll be all excited next time because the bag was gone in an hour. And I didn't even eat half of it. Or even probably a third of it. Which is not to say I wouldn't have. I just didn't get the chance. They taste great, and the whole ginormous bag is only like a thousand calories. Split five ways, that isn't bad. Especially because they're so tasty.

The one superlative I'm not decided on is "last." Will this be my last race of the season? Depends on whether the Harvest Moon crit actually happens or not. Will this be my last Lotoja? Maybe. Any other race, I would have just skipped given the circumstances this year. I don't like having one event feel so important. But I'm guessing my dad may want to go back. Elden may want to give it a go. And I actually quite like the cancer fundraising part--it makes it feel worthwhile. It was cool seeing them present the check to Huntsman Cancer Foundation at the awards ceremony and knowing I was part of making that happen.

The one thing I'm glad for, though, is that despite not accomplishing what I would have liked to from a results standpoint, I don't feel as if there's unfinished business. It just wasn't my day. And I'm OK with that.

Up tomorrow: pictures. I was going to post them today, but it's late. For a sneak peak, look here and here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What worries me

I'm not typically one to worry about things. I generally assume that everything will work out OK in the end, and it generally does. For example, when my quarterly brokerage statements come in the mail, I typically recycle them or put them in the filing cabinet without looking at them. I figure I've got 25-30 years before I'll touch any of that money, so what's the use of fretting over it now?

This is not to say that I don't plan. Going back to the investment example, I chose good investments that are consistent with my objectives and trust that continuing to invest and letting them grow--without undue interference--will eventually pay off.

Unfortunately, this approach does not work so well for me when it comes to bike races. I plan, I prepare, I try to have everything that can be done, done, so that come race time, all I have to think about is the race. I guess it's this "thinking about the race" part that trips me up. Following, in no particular order, are things I am worried about at Lotoja:
  • Back spasms: Since Tuesday, I've been to physical therapy three times, the chiropractor twice, and have faithfully taken my prescriptions on schedule. Nevertheless, my back still hurts. A lot. I felt OK on a stationary bike at PT this morning, but the last time I rode a real bike was Tuesday. It was painful. Not sure I'll even make it past the neutral rollout.
  • Chest congestion: as if the back weren't enough, I'm still not completely cleared up from my cold last week. And breathing is kind of important in a bike race.
  • Mechanicals: Flats could happen any time--will the wheel car be there? I always replace my chains as soon as they are worn. Measured mine last night, and I just barely got the gauge in on the .75% worn side. Will my chain fail?
  • Cheaters: Lotoja is a weird race in that there are so many groups going off so frequently that you're constantly crossing over people from other start waves. The rules state that you can only work with people from your group, but this is rarely heeded. From what I've been told, last year's top two in Cat. 4, a couple guys from Logan Race Club, attacked during a pee break. While this is considered exceptionally bad form, it's not illegal. But it's highly unlikely they soloed 140 miles from there to take the victory. It's more likely they latched onto other waves and didn't deserve the win. Needless to say, race numbers 769 and 729 will be watched closely this year.
  • Nutrition: I have a good sense for what I can and can't eat and what I need to eat during a race. But getting it down and keeping it down is not a given.
  • Fitness: If you would have asked me two weeks ago, I would have told you the fitness was there and I was ready to race. Between the cold and the back, I've been on two real rides in the last two weeks. Tapering is one thing, doing pretty much nothing is quite another.
All this worry, coupled with the ridiculous calf tattoo, has served as an all too painful reminder of what a ridiculous ordeal Lotoja is. With the exception of Leadville, which is equally absurd, I spend anywhere from three to twenty times as much money to do Lotoja as any other race. Considered in those terms, it becomes hard to justify.

The first time I did Lotoja, it was to see if I could do it, it was the only race I did all year, and I'd hardly say I raced it. The second time I wanted to go faster, and while I finished top ten in my group, I was thinking more about the clock than placing. But now, it's like every other race--I'm racing to see how high I can place. It's no harder or easier to win Lotoja than to win any other race, so why not skip it, save the money, and do more UCA and I-Cup events instead?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Review of Smartwool arm warmers

Most people think of arm warmers as a spring and fall accessory. Not so around here. During the third week of July, it was finally warm enough to ride the Alpine Loop in the morning without arm warmers. It lasted two weeks. We’re back to wearing them again. They’re essential at Leadville, and equal needed at Lotoja.

You’d think that if they get so much use, I’d be picky about my arm warmers. But until recently, I was not. I always used the same pair of thermafleece arm warmers. They worked fine. Or at least I thought they did.

Then at Leadville I forgot my arm warmers and had to borrow some from Elden. The loaner pair were the seamless knit variety, which I was skeptical of in the past because I didn’t know how they’d do if it was wet or windy. Leadville was wet and windy, and they did fine. Better than fine, actually. Every bit as warm and no uncomfortable seam. I didn’t want to wear thermafleece arm warmers anymore.

So I asked Zach at Smartwool if he wouldn’t mind hooking me up with a pair of their arm warmers. He sent me arm and knee warmers. Thanks, Zach!


If you’ve owned a pair of Smartwool socks, you know how comfortable they are. Comfortable enough that you don’t want to take them off. Breathable when it’s hot, warm when it’s cold. Everything a sock should be.

Now imagine that feeling on your arms, and that’s how I felt riding the Alpine Loop on Saturday. It rained on the ascent. We went 40+ mph on the descent. I thought for sure when we turned around that since I was wet and the road was wet and we would be going fast that I would get cold on the descent. I didn’t.

When the ride ended, I didn’t want to take them off. So I left them on until about 10:00 when the sun was finally out and warm. The ride was long over, so I wore them with a t-shirt. Try that with lycra-looking arm warmers.

I hesitate to consider arm warmers a cycling accessory, because accessory implies that it’s not needful but just nice to have. If arm warmers are just a “nice to have” thing where you live, then stick with what you’ve got. But if you use them most of the season like I do, these are the only ones you’ll ever want to wear.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


On the rare occasions I’m just flipping through channels, looking for something to watch on TV, I am a complete and total sucker for James Bond movies. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all of them, but that never deters me from watching them again. Even if it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a particular movie, and I don’t remember quite how it unfolds, I can still predict what will happen. The plots are so formulaic, it’s really hard to be surprised. I don’t care. I still like watching them.

I don’t know exactly what the appeal of James Bond is. Perhaps it’s that he does things as if they’re perfectly natural that the rest of us would never dream of doing to begin with. For instance, the other night I was watching The Man with the Golden Gun (which is, by the way, perhaps the worst Bond movie ever, and only partly because it stars the second-worst Bond ever, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton being the only actor given the role who was less-suited to it).

Bond, in typical fashion, had his field agent, Goodnight (love the names), in the room with him, about to get it on. Then the villainess knocks on the door, so Goodnight hides initially under the covers, then in the closet, while Bond engages in a seductive chess match with the villainess, eventually getting it on with her while Goodnight patiently waits her turn in the closet before finally falling asleep. Later in the movie, of course, Goodnight gets her turn, which she enthusiastically takes, despite having sat in the closet listening as Bond, well, does what Bond does so often.

If he’s as good as he’s supposed to be, I can’t imagine it being a quiet endeavor, either.

Bond is similarly calm and confident when invading the villain’s lair. He hardly ever breaks in; he usually comes in through the front door. Once arrived, he acts as if he’s supposed to be there. Moreover, the villains treat him as if he’s supposed to be there, in some instances even giving him a change of clothes or inviting him to dine.

The point of all this—lest you think my going on and on about James Bond were nothing more than gratuitous fictional hero worship—is that there’s something to be learned from this approach that can be applied to mountain biking.

The Pinebrook trail system, which I had never ridden until Monday, is technically a private network for the exclusive use of Pinebrook residents. Which is probably one of the reasons I had never ridden it. But trails need users, or they become grown over and eventually disappear. And I can’t imagine the residents are using those trails sufficiently to keep them in good shape.

Alex is the James Bond of the Pinebrook trail system. He just drives up there, parks in the parking lot as if he were a resident and had every right to be there, and rides the trails. Nobody has ever questioned him about this, because why would they? If you act like you belong, why would anyone think otherwise?

It’s a brilliant approach. I wonder if I could board a chairlift from the Ski Patrol line or fly a commercial airliner to New York using this technique. Catch me if you can.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

40 beats per minute

My resting heart rate at the doctor’s office this afternoon was 40 beats per minute. That suggests my cardiovascular system is in good shape and would be a good omen for Lotoja this weekend. Except that other than for a routine checkup, being in the doctor’s office four days before a big race is generally inconsistent with good omens.

This was not a routine checkup.

On Saturday while hiking with the kids, my youngest daughter tripped. As I reached to grab her, I somehow twisted in just the wrong way and felt an explosion in the soft tissue in my back. I’ve had muscle spasms before—they’re always painful, and they always last way longer than I think they should.

Still, I was stubborn and convinced it was nothing. Saturday night I used the foam roller and took some Aleve. Didn’t help. Sunday I just rested and didn’t do much all day. Didn’t help. Since I didn’t ride all last week while I was sick and only had a short ride Saturday, Monday I really needed to get on the bike. I figured a nice three hour ride would loosen it up. Wrong. By Monday night I couldn’t go to sleep, it hurt so bad.

So today I went to the doctor. My doc is a cyclist and knows what I’ve got going on this weekend. I got a prescription for Lortab, physical therapy, and he gave me my choice of two muscle relaxers, one that works a little better but is more expensive, and one that’s cheaper but doesn’t work quite as well. Time being of the essence, I chose the more expensive drug. Physical therapy starts tomorrow. The doc assured me that none of the drugs will adversely affect my performance on the bike.

Sam assured me that the muscle relaxers are on the WADA banned substances list. Thanks, Sam.

Ordinarily, I’d be heartbroken about getting injured a week before my biggest race of the year. Except I’m no longer sure it’s even the biggest race of the year. The nice thing about doing lots of races is that the more you do, the less important each of them is. I’ve already accomplished more than I thought I would this season, so whatever I do at Lotoja is a bonus. I’m really just using it as a tune-up for ski season. Besides, James Crawford and Tony Anstine are the favorites to win the category anyway.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ode to Joy

Sunday night I was hanging out with my friends Curtis and Trent. I've been to a number of concerts with these guys, including U2 in 2005, one of my all-time favorites. These guys have been to a lot more concerts than I have and are going to see U2 again in Chicago this weekend. U2 put on a great show and are always memorable, but one of my best concert memories is seeing the Boise Philharmonic perform Beethoven's 9th a couple years ago.

Beethoven's 9th is the best piece of music ever written in the history of ever. That is an incontrovertible fact, so there's no point in arguing with me. The fact that Beethoven wrote it when he was completely deaf is nothing short of astounding and among the greatest human achievements in any field.

The full symphony, but in particular the fourth movement, is often called "Ode to Joy" because it includes a choral rendition of Friedrich Schiller's poem by the same name. The poem is a celebration of the ideal of unity and brotherhood of all mankind. But since I don't speak a word of German and only just now read the English translation, I've always just thought of it as a celebration for celebration's sake and the source of a great deal of happiness and listening pleasure.

Sometimes we have days that are like this: a celebration for celebration's sake. Something to be enjoyed and cherished and looked back on fondly when days aren't so good. That was today.

It began normally enough, for a non-workday at least, with taking the kids to Daylight Donuts for breakfast. Donuts for breakfast on Saturdays and holidays aren't unusual if I'm not riding or skiing in the morning. But we'd never been to Daylight before. After Dug mentioned their raspberry fritters as one of his guilty pleasures, we had to give them a try. In case you're wondering, they're worth driving to Pleasant Grove for.

We of course walked out with way more donuts than we needed, because they all looked good, and when we got to nine, the nice girl at the counter told us if we bought one more, we'd get two more free. What would you do?

Donuts in hand, we headed to the park in Alpine to eat and play on the playground. As a parent, few moments are more satisfying than watching your kids play together. Without fighting. The kids loved it and would have stayed longer, but we promised something special later in the day if they didn't complain about going home.

We had to leave because I had plans to meet Alex so he could introduce me to the Super-PBX loop. It was everything a mountain bike trail should be. Lots of good, sustained climbs, with a couple of gutbusters. A few technical sections--including some challenging switchbacks--to keep you sharp, and of course, terrific scenery with aspen and PLT forests and mountains in every direction. Can't wait to do it again and get to the point where I can navigate it on my own.

Just after the turnaround point, we ran into Alex's hunky neighbor, Chris, who was about 15 minutes behind us riding the same loop. We doubled back and rode to the turnaround with him and then continued together the rest of the way out.

After cleaning the "Finesse" trail, which was actually hard, I managed to crash on an easy, straight section when my wheel hit some soft stuff and washed out. Chris had crashed earlier, but I was far enough behind that I didn't see it. (Did I mention that Chris and Alex are both really fast?) The skinned knee in no way put a damper on the ride, the trail was that good, as was the company.

Alex and I hit Coldstone for some post-ride recovery ice cream, then it was time to hurry home to take the kids up the canyon for a picnic. We had ridden in the afternoon because that's when my two-year-old naps. The day was so perfect that I got home right after she woke up and before Rachel called to see when I would be back. Talk about timing!

The "something special" we promised the kids was going to Snowbird to ride the tram. My son has been wanting to ride the tram since ski season. He's not quite good enough to ski from the top, but I told him we'd ride to the top in the summer so he could see what it's like.

As parents we want the best for our kids. What I mean by this is that we want them to get all the things we think are best about ourselves, without having to have the parts that we don't like. My son is only five, but when I watch him, that's exactly what I see. He's like a good parts version of me. The unalloyed happiness he derives from riding his bike or skiing or being outside is like watching myself all over again. But unlike his dad, he's not a complete and total basket case around exposure. He's way better-looking than I am, too.

As much of a ninny as I am with exposure, I'm nothing compared to my mother. Indeed, I think a lot of my fear is a result of my mom freaking out in the most exaggerated and embarrassing way possible whenever we would, for instance, walk all the way up to the guard rail at the Grand Canyon. Or look out the window of a two story building. Or stand on a chair.

So in order to avoid instilling in my kids an irrational fear of heights, I have to consciously constrain myself and pretend to be calm when they're disembarking the aerial tram or walking around on top of an 11,000 foot peak that drops off at 35 degrees or more on every side. For the 20 minutes or so that we hung out on top of Hidden Peak, I wanted to pull my kids back from the edge of everything, hold their hands at all times, and not let them walk very far. Inside I was panicking. Outside, I was walking with them to the overlooks, telling them it was OK to stand or sit on the edge, and pointing out the surrounding peaks, including various lines I had skied (it was super cool to look around and know I'd been to the summit of almost every peak we could see and had skied from most of them).

My son stood at the window of the tram all the way down, looking at the terrain below, imagining things covered with snow, his little body effortlessly gliding down on skis. It was a magical moment.

After the tram ride, we went to the White Pine trailhead, found a nice spot by the stream, and sat down for a picnic. In true Rachel fashion, the food was simple but well-executed. Everything was delicious, and I realized how hungry I was after riding for over three hours and having eaten little more than a couple donuts and a bowl of ice cream all day.

We drove home, the sun setting over the city, Beethoven's 9th on the stereo, and three sleepy, happy kids starting to drift towards sleep in the back seat. Ode to joy, indeed.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ludicrous speed

We all know that the pros climb way faster than the rest of us mortals. Heck, Lance rode the Powerline climb at Leadville without putting a foot down. Everyone else walked at least part of it. I think I walked most of it.

Here’s the thing, though, the pros aren’t just faster on the up, they’re faster everywhere. They just do everything better. I read an account on Red Kite Prayer a while back that mentioned Hincapie’s phenomenal bike handling skills.

Typical response would be to read that and say “sure, makes sense, these guys are on their bikes all day every day—they’re going to get good.” But one wouldn’t necessarily think that the skills would transcend disciplines. Specifically, you’d think the roadies would be best on the road, and the mountain bikers would be best on dirt.

A lot of talk before Leadville was that it was a course well-suited to a roadie because it’s not particularly technical. The assumption being that Lance was at a disadvantage on a mountain bike, particularly descending.

Yet Lance didn’t just win Leadville on the climbs, he won it descending too. Take a look at his split from Columbine to Twin Lakes, pretty much downhill all the way. A lot of it is smooth dirt road, but the upper section is about as technical as anything else I’ve ridden in a XC race. I’m a descent descender on the MTB, and my split was 34:34. Lance did it in 26:40. The next fastest guy was Max Taam, nearly two minutes back. A grand total of five guys, including Lance, did it under 30 minutes.

I was going balls to the wall on that descent—as fast as I dared. I felt my tires drift a couple times and backed it off to make sure I stayed on the course. I can imagine taking more chances and going 10% faster. But 25% faster, and I think everything would have gone plaid.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

More than a meal

If Rachel says we’re having soup for dinner, I’m not particularly excited. My typical response is “and what else?” Soup can be the first course of a meal, but not a meal in and of itself.

Ironically, two of my favorite dishes, phở and pozole, are both soups, and in both cases, exceptions to the “soup is not a meal” rule. Pozole, especially, is more than a meal.

Chicken soup has been ascribed medicinal properties for centuries. Modern research validates the folk wisdom that chicken soup does indeed alleviate the symptoms of illness. But if chicken soup is good, pozole is better.

Just as has happened the last two years, I’ve come down with a cold right before Lotoja. My loving wife, knowing I’d turn up my nose at chicken soup, went straight for the good stuff and made a big pot of pozole on Tuesday night. It’s more or less all I’ve eaten the last two days. Tuesday night was when symptoms were worst, and two bowls of pozole had me feeling infinitely better, to the point I was actually able to sleep that night.

I’d wager Miracle Max has a pot of pozole on his stove at all times.

P.S. I pledge never to vote for a candidate who is a member of or supports the Eagle Forum.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hit and run

Descartes's famous assertion "I think, therefore I am" is a recognition that all perception is colored by perspective, that external stimuli are subject to individual interpretation, that, indeed, the only thing that can be known, that is real, is that right now, at this moment, I am thinking, therefore I must be real. Everything around me could be a trick or a figment of my imagination, but the fact that I am thinking proves that I exist. I think, therefore, I am.

In many ways blogs are the same way. My blog is a record of the world as I see it. By its very nature, it's a subjective account of the people, experiences, and things I write about as I perceive them and only ever offers one perspective. But what account of anything is any different?

I understand that not everyone will agree with my portrayal of the world. In fact I don't expect them to. A good-natured--or even a heated--give and take is an opportunity for both sides to exchange ideas and learn from one another. I'm not above changing my mind and often have after such a discussion. But if one is to engage in such a discourse, one should be willing to stand behind what is said.

While I don't explicitly share my identity on this blog, it wouldn't take a smart person more than two minutes to figure out my full name and where I live based on nothing more than race results. Which is why I get such a kick out of anonymous commenters who openly challenge what I've said or try to insult me, but never seem to be willing to say who they are or respond beyond the initial barb. Here are a few of my favorites--comments are unedited, as are my responses:

From "The best wife in the world", anonymous wrote:
how do you know she doesn't "like" it when you gone. Never seen a woman who "really" likes her husband, "love" to have him gone "that" much. I'm just saying.

My response:
Anonymous--if you're going to make insinuating comments, at least sack up and put your name next to them. Otherwise you're just another creepy, pathetic, voyeuristic loser.

Rachel's response:
Anonymous - You're completely wrong. My guess is you're not in a happy relationship, though, so I'll leave you alone.

From the satirical "You should at least look good", the anonymous "HairyBaggyRoadie" said:

Really? You are that concerned about how you look that you worry and wonder what others think? You obviously suck on your bike therefor you concern yourself with things fashion rather than sucking it up and whipping your fat ass into shape. When I pass you pass you with hairy legs in baggies on my roadie I'll do my best to take note at what your fat ass is wearing.

Do you admire your outfit in the mirror before each ride? Do you lay your ride outfit out on the floor in the shape of a person the night before, like a 12 year old girl? Just askin....

My response:

Bring it. If you're a local, name the time and place. Because I really do suck. I'm terribly slow and unbelievably fat. You should have a field day.

And from just this week in "Group dynamics", we have not one, but two ever-courageous anonymous commenters:

Sounds like a good race...The account of the break seems as far off as uncle Rico's story about throwing the ball over the mountain. Will and Alex did work hard. However, no harder the Simply Mac (me) or Biker's Edge (not cyclesmith). If I am not mistaken, when you see a pack 1/2 a mile back, it makes sense to let them catch you and sit in to recover. No one made a move, so at 1 mile we decide to do a big lead out for our strongest guy early. Call it what you will, but I think fitness and at least some skill were contributors. "The harder you work, the luckier you are"


I agree with anonymous above. It seems to me that no one has a good account of who worked and how hard unless you were actually in the breakaway pack and since he was, I tend to believe more his account of the story. What a lame excuse to sit back and ditch others efforts and put them down to try to make your not-so-victory seem justified. Where's the sportsmanship? Just say you had an off day or maybe made some wrong calls that day!

My response:

Anon 1 and Anon 2: All I had was hearsay on what was going on in the break. I was told 2 of 4 were working. If that wasn't the case, fair enough. But I don't know for sure what was going on in the break any more than you knew what was going on in the pack chasing it. Next time put a name with your comment, though.

Shockingly, none of these anonymous commenters has ever returned to make a follow-up comment. Nor has one of them ever put a name next to it. Who's the Uncle Rico now? I stand by what I say. If I'm wrong, I'll admit it. But to prevent the hit-and-run comments, I've disabled anonymous commenting. Hope nobody's disappointed. Actually, what am I saying? I'm disappointed. Because comments like these are high-quality entertainment. Maybe I'll turn anonymous comments back on and hope it keeps coming.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Perhaps I'm just spoiled

I've had the same Specialized-brand computer on my bike for about five years, but about a month ago it finally gave up the ghost. I figured since I was happy to get five years out of it, I'd do right by the maker and replace it with a similar model. Unfortunately, one of the buttons got stuck on the new one, so I had to return it.

When I returned to the Specialized dealer in Draper to make the exchange, I was a little surprised by the reaction. Instead of "sure, I'm happy to exchange that for you." It was "do you have your receipt?" (No--I vacuumed it up while cleaning my car earlier that day.) "Okay, let me look it up on the computer." (Where they'd never find it because they didn't ask my name or other identifying information when I made the cash purchase a few weeks earlier.) I had clearly purchased the item there because the package still had the price tag with the name of the shop on it.

I stood there for a good fifteen minutes while the girl at the counter went back and forth to the manager's office between searches on the computer system before they finally, reluctantly, exchanged the computer head unit. This is a large shop in a new building with lots of inventory and numerous employees. You'd think that to get that big, the shop would need to have good customer service. But the most likely explanation I can come up with is that they're big because they're the only shop for miles around and located in an affluent area where high-end bikes come after the H2 but before the younger, better-looking wife when 40 and 50 something men are having their midlife crises.

Contrast this with Revolution or Racer's, who may not have the largest inventory but will get whatever you need, make sure it's installed properly, and most importantly, actually remember who you are when you walk through the door.

Perhaps I'm just spoiled in thinking that the places where I spend the majority of my disposable income should treat me like a friend. After all George's (on Fairview) and Meridian Cycles and Reed's always treated me that way when I lived in Boise. In fact, the first time I went to Reed's Cycle over five years ago, the owner, Bill Reed, asked me my name. Bill has greeted me by name every time I've entered the shop since, and even at the grocery store or at the movies. (He's also given me valuable advice on teaching kids how to ski and typically asks about my family.) If I needed to exchange something at any of these shops, they wouldn't ask for a receipt because they'd remember me and remember that I bought the item there.

Tell me, where would you rather shop?