Monday, February 25, 2008

A long slog in the saddle

Saturday was my first century of the year. It definitely won't be my last, but it will stick in my memory for quite some time and probably help me make it through other long rides. My morning started off with a jolt about 3:30 AM waking up thinking I'd overslept. I took a peak at the clock and realized I had another hour before the alarm would actually have to get me up. Around 4:40 I rolled out of bed and was thankful I'd spent an hour prepping all my gear the night before so everything was in it's prescribed place and ready to roll.

A quick text from Squirrel acknowledged we were indeed on for the ride. I was bummed about missing the first installment of his gravel centuries, but soon I'd be making up for that. I was excited and more than a bit nervous, but I figured I should do all right in making it through the ride. I had no bail out plan as the wife was working and I volunteered to drive Dennis and Squirrel to the start. I picked up the boys around 5:20 and we headed off for breakfast at Hy-Vee. We were a bit early, so we sat and enjoyed a pretty leisurely breakfast. A little too leisurely on my part as I needed to transfer my backpack gear over to a borrowed seat post rack and mount my handlebar covers. I was about 5 minutes slower than the rest of the group getting ready to roll. Hmmm, an omen of things to come for the day?

We rolled out about 7:15 into some damn chilly temps hovering near the single digit mark. I was pretty thankful for my handlebar covers, but my choice of lightweight gloves to start with left my fingers a bit numb until the blood got flowing about 20 minutes later. I felt great for about the first 30 miles and rode pretty much with Dennis who was riding fixed gear in a pretty damn tall gear to boot! Once we hit 30 miles I started noting little things to fix at the lunch break- seat post height and saddle position were the biggies. I hadn't ridden this bike over 30 miles and only had it for 6 weeks or so, so this was it's first real test.

Lunch found me rolling slowly off the back of the pack and keeping company with Sumpter on his 26'r fixie. At least I wasn't alone, yet.... We hit the lunch stop with a shade over 40 miles in. I still felt pretty good at this point, though my IT band was starting to ache. I was reasonably confident I'd be good for the rest of the ride. An hour or so later, we rolled out of the sports bar with our stomachs full on tacos, chocolate milk, and whatever else we could scarf down.

As soon as we cleared the edge of town I knew I was in deep shit. I was leading the rollout south out of town with the others lined up behind and the headwind showed up. We only had a mile or less on the paved road before we turned back west and found the roads had started to thaw during our luxurious lunch break. I figured my best bet was slow and steady so I geared down, pushed easy and focused on keeping my heart rate manageable. Of course this led to my first way off the back experience of the ride and definitely made me start questioning whether or not the full 110 was a wise decision. Too late now!

At the first south turn on X avenue, the group was patiently waiting for me. I rolled up and they announced a pace line which was for my benefit I'm sure. Unfortunately for me, I didn't have enough gas left in my legs to even keep up to the tail of the line. Fuller and I slowly worked off the back again and I fell even further back. I geared clear down to my granny gear up front and put the rear cassette near the middle. The ground was mostly flat, but the combination of soft roads and headwind near 15 miles per hour kept my pace somewhere around 6-7 mph.

I began to formulate my drop plan on this stretch of road. Hopefully, I'd catch up with the rest of the boys somewhere (I knew they'd be waiting somewhere along the route), I'd hand off my keys to Squirrel or Dennis, and hunker down for a long ass haul to make it back. I remember joking as Squirrel pointed out my granny gear that X Avenue should be renamed to XXX avenue because it sure screwed me like no other. Little did I know that Squirrel was pretty serious when he said no one gets dropped on these rides.

The guys took off again and I kept plodding along until they were no longer in site. Somewhere in this stretch I stopped to stretch on the side of the road, snagged part of a bar, and took off the handlebar covers. The temps had warmed to the low 30's and even with lightweight gloves, it was too hot to keep my hands from sweating. I was treated to some more sludge on this route, but finally caught site of the guys waiting for me at a quaint little church in the middle of nowhere. A brief photo op of me smiling through the pain and we were off again headed to Perry.

This stretch treated us to the worst of the roads yet. I saw my first spot where Dennis had to hike a bike and cleared the top of the hill around 3 mph myself. Definitely not having much fun at this point, but I didn't have many other choices. I started thinking about the route sheet and how it noted a shortcut that knocked off about 7 miles by bypassing the stop in Perry. I really was considering it until I rode back up on Sumpter who either was waiting for me or not fairing any better than I at that point. My opportunity was lost as we took the road on in to Perry.

As we hit the edge of town, I was never happier to see blacktop or any other form of paving for that matter. My mood instantly picked up as my speed did. We found the rest of the boys hiding at a local watering hole. Some time was spent here evaluating the remaining 40 miles considering it was now 4 PM and we had to ride back through some of the same slog we'd just come from. Fuller called it a day and bummed a ride home from his wife. He offered me one as well, but something told me to trudge on even if I didn't make it for the full ride.

As we headed out of Perry the boys stopped for some chow at the Casey's. I was chided a bit for not joining in the grease fest of pizza and whatever else was available. Smart move on my part, but I'd later succumb and suffer for it. The only real redeeming quality for the next 20 miles was that we had a decent amount of north riding and east riding. We finally rolled into Woodward around 6 PM as dusk was really settling in. Another stop at the Casey's for lights, blinkies, gear change, and for me two slices of pizza. Note to self that I won't suffer that mistake again! As good as they tasted sliding on down, I suffered the next hour as they churned their way through my stomach. Uggh!

The roads were now pretty firm and our speeds were back into the double digits. I was even keeping up with the group or they slowed down as to not drop me again. I'm not sure which was the true case, but I was excited for the company and to be making a better pace. My knee was still hurting and I'd been chugging ibuprofen like Pez at every stop. It was now starting to get cold enough that my joints were getting some relief. Somewhere along the route I saw two deer fly across the road about 20 yards in front of me.

One final stop in Granger left us with 10 scant miles to home. I did a little victory dance in my head as we rolled 100 miles just after leaving town. For some reason I had it in my head that we'd have to transverse the single level B road again in the dark. The road itself wasn't bad, but it had icy drifts on it that made me a little nervous in daylight as I slipped around a bit even then. I was pretty sure I'd be going down if we had to do it at night. As luck would have it, we'd long since passed that stretch of road as it wasn't on the return route. This section would have the only near crash of the day as Sumpter went on a wild hop, skip, and jump after crossing up in some frozen ruts. The road definitely sucked in that respect.

Finally, we hit street lights, pavement, and the edge of civilization. My legs picked up some much needed energy from being so close to home. Of course this leg also led us to the only assholes of the ride who honked and made a comment or two. I guess most Iowans just don't expect a bunch of cyclists out on the roads at night in the middle of February, who knew?! At least we were all well lit (and we had lights on too).... We finally hit the Hy-Vee around 8:15 and tossed our bikes back in the truck. After hobbling around in the warmth of the store for a few minutes we emerged with our spoils of victory for the day- protein drinks, ice cream, brownies, and my own little treat of a lemon parfait.

Great day, great ride, and a lot of learning done. Time for more gravel goodness is definitely in the cards for this year so stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Burning Man part 1 (prologue)

I just realized I've failed to write a report on one of my biggest adventures from last year. Beyond all the time spent on the bike, spent chasing my daughter, and just spent in general, I accepted the invite from our LA friends to attend my first Burning Man. I'd heard them go on and on about it for years and had even managed to hear a little about this wild party in the dessert before I even knew them.

They through the guantlet down towards the end of 2006 and the plan was for both my wife and I to attend. I approached the day that tickets went on sale with some aniticipatory nervousness and at the prescribed time clicked on "buy tickets". I suddenly was propelled into a queu of ticket buyers several thousand people long. Damn, I thought to myself, how popular is this thing?! An hour or so later, I was able to finalize the transaction and now with my credit card several hundred dollars heavier, the tickets would soon be on their way.

After the tickets showed up, they were carefully tucked away for later in the summer and for the most part forgotten. Every few weeks or so, Freddy would shoot me an email with some weird characteristic about Burning Man or gently prodding to make sure we were still coming. As spring turned to early summer, we (my wife) decided that Burning Man probably wasn't going to be her thing and that our daughter wasn't going to be ready to be left in the care of grandparents for that much time. Alas, it was now solely up to me to make our clan proud.

As the summer progressed and the event drew near, plans were laid of how this adventure would go. I'd fly into LA a day before our friend's departure, take a few supplies with me, and purchase the rest in a mad rush before we left. Knowing our friend's propensity for throwing things together mostly at the last minute, I pretty much expected organized chaos in getting ready to go. Alas, I was not disappointed...

The plan was for me to drive their old Toyota pickup filled to the brim with supplies behind them in the minivan all the way to the middle of nowhere. At least I was to have an attractive driving companion...

Though, even her smiling face doesn't do much for staring at the ass end of a minivan for 10 odd hours. I tell you, that picture sure brings a whole new meaning to the term "nut swinging"

A mental note to self made along the way, "Do not buy from"

So after many hours in the car, we were finally rewarded with our first sighting of what would become our wayward home for the next week.

The realization was finally setting in. I'd be in the middle of the desert for a week with no phone, no electricity, and no running water. Sure there were generators, portable showers, and port-o-potties, but EVERYTHING there had to be brought in and taken out. This is a leave no trace event, so nothing is left as a permanent structure and no trash receptacles are provided. Now we were treated to 2 hours of crawling through the check in line. I'm sure some of you are wondering just how big is this thing. "Official" attendance topped out somewhere around 43,000 at the end of the week this year, but it would be suggested that closer to 50,000 people were actually in attendance. My guess is that the event will soon top out at 50,000 "official" attendees and not be allowed to go any larger due to Bureau of Land Management regulations that change to the extreme once that number is eclipsed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Slip sliding away

2 hours of black label goodness yesterday. I threw them down with some good company in the form of Squirrel. We putted prety much all over town to the north and west hitting mostly pave trail until we got to a section out by the ice arena in Johnston that hadn't been plowed so we took an off route through some neighborhoods.

Early on we stopped by El Bait Shop for a quick brew apiece and then hit the road again. Met another friend Courtney that I'd ridden with on a few group rides last year also sitting at the Bait Shop. Seemed like he had plenty of good brew to keep him company as we headed back out. We took the Neil Smith up to the old Targhetto aka new Trestle to Trestle trail. This section of trail had some nasty ice and snow spots on it.

As I soon found out, no matter how wide the tires are, they don't grip well on ice unless you've got studs. I was clipping along around 15 or so across a pure ice spot. I can't remember if I was actually pedalling at that moment or not, but both tires decided to head due east whilst I was trying to maintain a northernly path. I went down pretty hard on my left hit and took a nice slide for a good 20 or so feet. Luckily I still had my right foot clipped in and kept ahold of the bike so I could pull it back to me and out of Squirrel's path. I'm sure I put a pretty good show on for the few people out walking their dog a little further up the path. Like any good guy, I jumped back up and mostly brushed it off even as I was wincing in pain and jumped back on the bike.

I know how these guys feel now...

Amazingly enough, I didn't have a scratch on my AmFib bibs where I went down. After that I seemed to spend more time chasing and following than riding next to Squirrel. Of course it could have just as much to do with the fact that I'm way out of shape as well.... I prefer to blame it on the injury!

We spent the next hour or so working our way up through Johnston and then back down through Clive and West Des Moines on various trails before hitting the home stretch. By the time we got to the Wal-Mart on 73rd I was running out of gas and the head wind didn't help. Squirrel pulled out to a small lead and I just kept pushing away as good as I could without blowing up. We got back to his place and cooled down a bit while hanging out with his wife and daughter.

I'm looking forward with a lsight bit of trepidation to this weekend's hundy. Here are the details if you want to show up for some fun:
Meet @ Dahl's on Hickman & 156th @ 6am for some grub, leave 7am for the ride. See ya there:)

Friday, February 08, 2008

BRR it's cold and a frosty morning

Last Saturday was the annual BRR ride from Perry to Rippey and back. I'd never ridden it before, but several friends recommended it and I thought it would be a good time as well. Luckily the weather was fairly mild with temps hovering around 25-30 and only a little headwind on the way out. I drove up with my friends from Team Cow and rode most of the route with them. My lack of cardio conditioning is really showing up now with getting my butt kicked on a few recent rides. We hit a few small rollers on this ride and I couldn't hang onto the draft so they left me in the dust.

I know my heart rate hovered in the low 170's on the way out and the high 170's low 180's on the way back once we put the hammer down. They still walked away from me, but at least I had a good time cruising along on my road bike. We covered the 26 miles in a little over an hour and a half so we were moving pretty decently for February. We had a nice bowl of chili to finish off the ride and headed back home so I could watch the little one while my wife had to work in the afternoon. An attack of the munchies hit us on the way home with my two friends being way too modest to ask for a donut break so I made the strategic decision to call one myself and we helped ourselves to a chocolate iced Casey's donut each! Perfect end to a great ride.

The rest of Saturday was spent hanging out with my beautiful daughter. After her nap, we bundled up and headed to run some errands. After dropping a borrowed bike rack off we hit the local bike shop. We just missed the guys coming back from the Des Moines winter games and the ski bike competition. We still headed over to Sleepy Hollow to watch the games for a bit. Little one had a blast running around in the snow and trying to stay upright. Everyone there got a kick out of watching her run around.

Sunday started bright and early with some texting from my favorite rodent. We set up to meet at 8 for some putt putt around town. I loaded up the mountain bike and met him over at his place. As misfortune would have it, his mountain bike was down for repair with some nipples (teehee) starting to break through the rims. He mounted up on his trusty fixie and we headed off to ride some streets. Ice soon pushed us off the bike trails and back on to the roads. Soon enough we hit a nice spot to take a quick snapshot.

Damn that reminds me I've got to find a nice small camera that I can stick in a jersey pocket. I've had my eye on this little guy for a bit now. If you've got an opinion on it or another camera, please leave a comment.

We putted south of Jordan Creek and onto the gravel which was smooth, frozen, and in excellent shape. A scant hour and a half later we were back at Squirrel's to do some slight defrosting and shoot the breeze for a bit. Gotta love a guy with an entire room dedicated to bikes! After enjoying yet another day or cold toes even after I stuck hand warmers in before the ride, I asked him about his winter riding shoes. Alas, his choice of gear has been discontinued (Answer Kashmir), but the guys at Rassy's have ordered me in a set of Shimano MW02's to try out. I'm excited to get them and see how they work in time for the next gravel century.

I've also geared up with some recommendations from Dennis Grelk by picking up a set of ATV winter handlebar mitts made by Polaris. They fit pretty well over the brakes and shifters. I still need to put on my new grips, but I think they should fit fine over them as well. They're my other new toy that I can't wait to check out on the next ride. I got them in a size small based on a recommendation from Mr. 24 hour who just happens to also be the Ergon rep as well. The only difference between the small and large is the outer diameter of the grip itself. I consider my hands to be decently sized and I don't think I'd want to go any larger than the small size. Hopefully I'll have a report on these soon enough.

My last bit of winter gear that I'm trying to round up before the century ride is a pair of Smartwool snowboard socks with medium cushion. The only local place to carry them is out of my size, so I'm searching for a deal online. It doesn't seem they've quite hit winter clearance pricing just yet so the deals aren't quite what I was hoping for just to try something new. Hopefully I have some luck soon.

Have a good weekend and maybe I'll see some of you out riding.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A little riding and a little craziness...

The past couple of weekends have definitely lent themselves to some great riding and little wildness as well. The last weekend of January was Squirrel's hilly hundy ride that I had to miss out on. But, not to fear, I still had my chance to ride and do something crazy.

The trade group for my work that I happen to be chapter president of as well was having our annual winter social event in conjunction with the Okoboji Winter Games. The weekend packs the area with a frenzy of people, activities, and fun times. The locals say it's about as busy as the 4th of July weekend. I can beleive it after being stuck in several traffic jams over the weekend.

Friday night started off with a party hosted by the president of our company at his lake house. Being that we had the baby with us, we left rather early to get her put to bed. On Saturday I joined the "Freeze your fanny" bike ride being put on by the owner of Okoboji Expedition Company. The shop up there is very nice and has a great selection of bikes including some high end lines that you wouldn't expect to find in a small town shop. After a few words from the ride sponsor, roughly 50 of us took off to brave the balmy 20 degree temperatures and ride around the lake. I quickly worked my way to the front much preferring to take on the slush and ice on the roads with only a few people around in lieu of waiting for someone to possibly crash in front of me.

At the first pass through town several of the front riders pealed off to hit the bar. One single local rider and I were now off the front of the pack by virtue of not joining in the beverage and also keeping a nice steady pace. I struck up a conversation with him and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the ride. He was riding a cross style bike without very knobby tires and didn't seem to enjoy the slush and snow spots quite as much as I did on the new mountain bike. All in all, we were the first two back to the bike shop with a scant 16 miles in and just over an hour off the clock. We peeled out of some layers to cool off and waited for other riders to come in as well.

After a nice relaxing ride I headed back to the hotel on the bike. I passed what appeared to be a couch on wheels being pulled across the lake by a 4 wheeler. Upon closer investigation it was the rest of our group getting ready to head out for the day. The couch contraption was put together by our local member and he was hauling everyone around to watch the various events on it. After a breif conversation, we agreed to meet back up at 3 for the main event- The Polar Plunge! Something I failed to mention from the previous night is that the local and I took up an I will if you will dare to do the polar plunge. It's something that has always kind of been on my life's list of things to check off, so what better way than to do it in front of a bunch of people to show off at the same time. I headed back to meet up with my wife and daughter who were coming back from a morning out with the ladies of the group doing wine tasting, pampering, and chocolate gorging.

I finally headed back out around 2 so I could grab a quick bite for lunch and head to the plunge by 3. Lunch would later be my undoing, but I am getting a bit ahead of myself now. As I wasn't quite sure what to expect for the plunge, I just grabbed a towel and had my trunks on under my jeans. I found a spot to park about half a mile from the plunge as there were literally hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people out on the ice all ready. I hiked off in the direction of the plunge as I really hadn't made any actual inquiries on how this whole thing worked or where I needed to go. I managed to find the sign in tent and realized there were plenty of other fools just like me who were willing to jump into a hole cut in the ice just to say they've done it. I looked around for my partner in crime, but alas, he was nowhere to be found. I'd later find out he showed up too late to sign up so I was to be the only one from our group crazy enough to jump in.

After I signed up and found what I thought would be a safe place to set my clothing, I stripped down to my trunks and huddled with the rest of the people waiting for the jumping to commence. Surprisingly enough, when you're huddled with a hundred other people inside of a couple small shelters and standing on plywood in lieu of the ice, it isn't that cold. I'd say the ambient air temp was probably in the mid to low 30's but I sure wasn't shivering. People finally started being let out to the hole for their jumps. Almost immediately, the water started to come up on the ice. The combination of the weight of thousands of spectators and numerous bodies jumping into an open hole cut in the ice started pusing a huge amount of water on top of the ice. By the time it was my turn to jump, the walk to the hole consisted of 50 yards of 6-10" of water on top of the slush and ice. That was actually the worst part of the entire experience. Each step felt like being stabbed in the feet. By the time I reached the hole, my feet had thankfully gone numb. The person working the jumping side of the hole suggested I give them a big cannonball so I did my best. I compare it to bungee jumping where you had better go when they tell you or you brain will try to stop you. So, I jumped.

The water hit me and took my breath away in an instant. The next thing I new, I was all ready back to the surface and clawing my way to the ladder. Amazingly enough, the walk back to the tents felt warm. The nice thing about the tents is they also held two large hot tubs. Of course, by the time I reached them, they were literally overflowing with bodies. I waited a few minutes and finally was able to thaw my frozen feet out. I even sat completely down in for a few minutes before I decided it was time to head back to the hotel. This is where things got a bit ugly. The aforementioned water had risen to the point that everything in the tents was now in 6" of water. Unfortunately, this included my shoes..... I quickly dumped the water out of them, grabbed my towel to dry off and threw on my coat. I worked my way out through the crowd with the stabbing pains returning to my now thawed feet. I finally got past the crowd and hiked back to the car wearing nothing more than my coat, trunks, and a towel wrapped around me. Funny, it still seeemed warm compared to where I'd just been.

The rest of Saturday was spent enjoying the water park with our little girl and having a wonderful catered meal with friends and colleagues. About 9 I headed down to our room hoping to catch my wife in time for a little amorous time. Something suddenly didn't feel right in the world. Normally, I can suck up some stomach issues and keep my mind focused on the goal, but this was different. Near as I can figure, my lunch of McDonalds showed back up with a vengeance. I spent the next 6 hours becoming intimate with the toilet. Not exactly the kind of kinky love I was looking for. I finally quite expending bodily fluids sometime around 4 in the morning and fell into a fitful sleep. By fitful I mean I rolled and tossed and threw sheets off the bed. My poor wife finally went to sleep in the other bed as it wasn't doing her any good either.

I finally got up around 11 and we packed to head home. The rest of the day is basically a blur other than enduring a pretty excruciating 5 hour trip home feeling like crap. I crawled into bed around 7 and put a bullet in the rest of the weekend.

A new addition to the family

Wow, I'm sure many tens of ones of you are thinking, gee I didn't even know they were expecting. To be honest, it was quite a surprise to us as well. Actually, I think my lovely wife had a bit of a suspicion that something was up, but she stayed tight lipped until I finally asked. Wait, what are we talking about? Oh ya, that's right, I managed to have "the talk" with my wife late Sunday night when we should have been doing much more productive things.... like sleeping.

I know many of you cyclists out there have had the same talk. It starts as a small idea in the back of your head and before you even realize it, it's a full blown desire, need, necessity. I'm speaking of the new bike talk. Oh yes, that talk! The funny thing is, since I'm still what I consider new to the sport, this is my first time having this particular talk. I know it has many other forms based on various hobbies, sports, and passions, but it's still nerve wracking whenever it comes up for the first time in a new activity.

She knew I'd spent some time at a few local shops lately and been casually perusing some mountain bikes. I think she even caught me a time or two reading reviews on (oh the shame I felt). I think it would have been easier to be caught looking at porn. At least I don't have to explain myself on that topic. I guess this was just a different type of porn this time. Bike porn! It all started with the idea that I could use some new tires for my trusty old steed. By trusty old steed, I mean an early 90's vintage rigid frame GT Outpost that I bought at a pawn shop and have never serviced beyond hosing it off and spraying some WD-40 or whatever equivalent I could find handy on the rotating parts if the squeaking became unbearable. Ya, I know, I'm the paragon for bike maintenance...

In any case, I started pondering new tires, which led to evaluating the bike as a whole. Overall, I thought the bike was decent and would still work for the use I was putting it through currently. Definitely not the best weapon of choice, but I could be stuck on a 60 pound Suck-Mart special instead. Sometime I'll have to regale you with the tail of spending a week pedalling a 24" Toys 'R' Us youth mountain bike around the wilds of northern Nevada. Just typing sends a full on shiver through my body. As I spent some time Saturday heating the garage, I thought I'd put my newly found bike mechanic skills to use and check over my mountain bike. The garage was warm, time was on my side, and I thought it would be fun. I knew the bike needed some serious TLC, but after adjusting the front derailleur I checked out the crank. It was at that point I decided it was time to seriously put together the new bike speech. The middle and outer rings on the crank were barely passable with almost half the teeth on each showing extreme wear.

Overall, there wasn't nearly as much begging, pleading, and whining involved as I thought there might be. As I alluded to earlier, my better half had all ready deduced that it would only be a matter of time before I asked about getting a new mountain bike. A nice compromise was struck that I needed to find a good used bike and then I was off to the races. Unbeknownst to her, I had all ready set my sights on what I thought was a pretty sweet deal that was lurking at the warehouse of one of the local shops. It's a 2005 Giant Rainer and had been brought in for a new fork and tires, but the repair bill must have been too high for the owner, as they abandoned the bike and now it was to be mine for a great price. On top of that, I got what I felt was a pretty top dollar trade for my trusty steed.

I had a second or two of remorse selling it off, but that was soon replaced by stroking the seat on my sexy new ride. I have a set of blue smarty pedals from Crank Brothers on order that will hopefully match the bike great. Other than that, my only plans are to ride her, service her, and ride her some more. Wait, am I still talking about a bike???? I can't wait either way.