Vulcanology

“Creativity is maximized when you are living in the moment.”

This was one of many platitudes I read two days ago on the lunch bag of a college student sitting across from me on the train, working diligently on what appeared to be a differential equations assignment. It was enough to distract me from the fifth book I’m reading since moving, which is probably more than I had read in the previous 6 years combined in the old place. Riding the train has opened up a world of new opportunities to fill time.

I’m reminded of it this morning, as I sit here at 2:18am after being woken up for the third time by the cat horking on the bedroom carpet. To be more exact, I’m pretty sure the third one went down the heater vent in the bedroom floor, which should make for an entertaining game of “Guess The Smell” in a few days. In the spirit of staying in the moment, my wireless is also crapping out, which has been a standard problem since I moved in October. It has more or less rendered my computer room in the far back corner of the new house relatively useless until I can either run network cable between floors, or find a place for a second wireless router.

I’ll use that as a convenient excuse as to why I haven’t posted in two months.

The real answer is that I just haven’t settled into the rhythm and flow of the new routine enough to carve out time. Somehow, I’ve found myself at the end of January in the year Twenty-FOURTEEN already. Time must also fly when you’ve completely rent asunder your entire lifestyle and are scrambling to figure out the new one.

That’s not to say I haven’t found time to tackle the new roads, however.

As I mentioned previously, I moved into the Daaaaaanger Zoooooone. A landscape dominated by the ever-present visage of Mt Rainier. There’s really no place I can go and not have it there, towering over the landscape. Even when it does obscure itself behind a hill, I’m reminded of its presence by the terrain.

Western Washington is a deeply scarred landscape. Both from the receding glaciers of the last ice age, and the series of Rainier eruptions that have occurred across the geological record. For example, it is possible ride from Tacoma 35 miles north to Renton on the south end of Lake Washington without ever leaving the Puyallup River valley (although it changes names near Auburn, where the Green River flows in). If you were so inclined to exit the valley, the only way out is up one of the 9% grades etched into the side of the surrounding hills.

Looking at a terrain map, it is easy to see why the terrain is the way it is. All the valleys lead to one of the glaciers lining Mt. Rainier. They were all steamrolled pan-flat 5600 years ago, when an eruptive event triggered the Osceola Mudflow. The ensuing torrent of old-growth forest, volcanic debris, and the flash melting of 3 cubic kilometers of glacial ice blasted downstream all the way to the current Port of Tacoma and up through the area currently occupied by Kent and Renton. Pulling debris from the nearby hillsides, this and subsequent lahars have carved steep grades all along the Puyallup and Green Rivers.

All of this was rolling around my head yesterday, as I was working my way up one of these hills near Flaming Geyser State Park, during a visit to the route for the inaugural TT of the 2014 season. In one seven mile stretch I passed cows, goats, sheep, llamas, blueberry farms, fresh eggs, fresh honey, and dried meat, all built, grown, and living on lahar deposits. I also encountered one lost pizza delivery man. We passed each other so many times as he circled the 4 possible driveways etched into the side of the hill overlooking the Green River that we seemingly started a friendship based on sarcastic waves. Me acknowledging that he was still lost, and him that I was still stomping my way obstinately up the hill.

I made it back down and ended my ride, and offseason, getting passed by two guys fully kitted out on Pinarello TT rigs.

So begins 2014, now at 4:30am, with the moon coming up over the dark silhouette of The Mountain. Creativity: maximized. Moment: lived in. Platitudes: explored. Sleep: please?

New Roads, New Routines

Much like Mark Cavendish, I could use a bike ride (and I’m currently a fat bastard). Instead, I’ve been schlepping boxes.

I moved. Or to be more accurate, I’m still in the process of moving.

Moving hurts. It hurts even more when the street is an 8.5% grade, leading into a steeper driveway, leading into stairs. Lots of stairs. My daily routine now looks roughly like: stairs, car, stairs, train, stairs, bus, stairs, work, stairs, sprint-for-bus, stairs, train, stairs, car, stairs, stairs w/box, stairs w/toolbox, stairs w/laundry, stairs w/furniture, run stairs chasing pets, stairs, stairs, stairs…

Strength and intervals in one neat, 16 hour, package. I haven’t even looked at my bikes or kettlebells yet. I’m exhaused by 7pm, which is probably good because it feels like I haven’t seen the sun in two weeks.

Well, maybe, that’s not the entire truth. I have looked at my bikes. My venerable Novara, which tore a spoke clean through the rim during the move, is now patiently waiting for new wheels. Frankencervelo has been crying out to hit the neighborhood hill loop. My Strava this year is going to just be an endless string of circles.

I gave up a lot of cycling comforts in moving: bike lanes, bike paths, relatively nice asphalt. In exchange receiving a lot of hapahazardly maintained roads, a lot less traffic, and an enclosed neighborhood Circle smack on the side of a hill.

The left fork of this circle is a little longer, and a little flatter, following the countour of the hill instead of flighting it.

The right fork cuts straight into the hill. Steeper, shorter, and leading to my driveway which then cuts even harder into the hill and feels almost vertical. I made the mistake of trying to back the moving van up it, leaving behind an earthy, tire-shaped gash to serve as my own personal Huez corner placard.

Both forks are only a couple hundred feet up, and probably short of 1km long, but should be good for running power intervals. Over and over. Up and down. Mashing all the way.

The street is one of the byproducts of living outside the suburban corridor. Everything here is more raw and unpolished. Instead of having nicely graded, wide, partitioned roadways on which to make neat and clean measurements of effort, I’ve now got pockmarked chipseal and asphalt cut at angles that would never fly in the ‘burbs. Angles so severe that they cause soccer moms to break down in shrill winter cries of, “But I live ON A HILL!!!!!!”

Angles that cut out the bullshit, and get back to simplicity.

Get bike, get on bike, ride to top of hill, head back down and try to do it faster. Strip away the Strava, the bike computers and power meters, and that’s what you’re left with. A bike and a hill.

In an attempt to get myself mentally ready for the endless hill-pounding, I read Road to Valor. Without having truly understood Gino Bartali outside of the cycling-related accolades, this book was an exceedingly accessible look into his life on and off the bike. Not only was it a fast, inspiring read, it also introduced yet another entry on the cycling bucket list: Ciclopellegrinaggio Terontola-Assisi, a yearly commemoration of his documented smuggling route out of Nazi-controlled Northern Italy.

It was one of those books that puts things in perspective.

Bartali won two Tours, ten years apart, in-between which he biked hundreds of miles round-trip smuggling forged documents through Nazi checkpoints, ultimately being interrogated by the Italian Heinrich Himmler.

Now, 70 years later, I’m sitting on the internet bitching about stairs.

Perspective, indeed.

There is No Offseason

Okay, so maybe that’s exaggerating. I haven’t touched a bike in over a month, and I haven’t spent more than an hour off my ass in about the same span. I’m pretty sure I made it through 5 Madden seasons and 2 NHL14 seasons in that time. I tried to do a short bodyweight leg circuit once, and have been sore for the last 3 days.

And the bikes sit there, right next to my desk, staring at me.

That’s not to say I’ve been completely useless for the entirety of September. There were the last two posts, somewhere between which may lie a halfway decent format for writing up rides. There were two distinct home improvement projects that were half-done and put away. There’s also the ongoing robot development. Along the way I passed my one-year WordPress anniversary, for what that’s worth.

A year ago I sat down and tried to write some sort of justification for what I was doing here, and why I ride bikes. I’m still around, so apparently those still stand. I did get my Strava KOM, so I figure I’ll need a new goal this year. I’m leaning towards that being finally racing consistently enough to get my Cat4 upgrade. Also, possibly, to stop using “I” and excessive amounts of declarative statements in my ride reports. That shit just ain’t illustrative, man.

To further the former, I reached out to some teams looking for new riders, then, being a delinquent, completely blew off their intro rides. Mostly because it was raining and partly because I don’t want to get out of bed at 6am in “the offseason” to find the meet-up. Possibly for the best; however, since it would likely be best to work on consistency a little bit before foisting myself onto others as a team liability.

I also got really into cyclocross, which is to say that I read along as Andy Jacques-Maynes live tweeted CrossVegas. All the fun, half the cleanup.

That about sums it up. 2013 is a one post offseason. I don’t even know that I can muster the creative juice to end this with a neatly-crafted drive-by snarking of Brian Cookson.

I miss Pat already.

Ride Report: 2013 RSVP2 Redux

After rereading my magnum opus on Seattle-To-Vancouver, I realized one important thing.

Ride reports are mostly boring.

Unless it is a race, or some other dynamic and changing event, it is really just “left foot, right foot, repeat” for 2000 words. Over 13 hours, the human element also wears down and conversations go from an engaging, “Who are you, where are you from?” to the base “Pull through” and “I’m pretty sure you just blew us through a right.”

When riders come from all over the world, strangers become friends for exactly the length of a paceline then fade off into anonymity.

Attempting to weave that into an interesting narrative is challenging.

In that spirit, I decided to try a new format for the same report, just to try and go for something more concise and technically informative.

Day 1

Mile 0.0 – 12.4: The first part of RSVP2 involves sending 1400 riders speeding along the Burke-Gilman Trail into the teeth of weekend morning commuters. I imagine it is worse for RSVP1, which starts on Friday. We did ok, with only a few close calls, until Bothell, when someone at the front of our paceline dropped an iPhone. This sent myself and two others to the left, into oncoming commuter traffic, and the remaining group behind us into a cacophony of panicked brake-locking. As far as I know, nobody was hurt.

Mile 12.4 – 36.5: After surviving the iPhone catastrofuck, we sped through Bothell and Woodinville. Getting out of Woodinville involved climbing out via Woodinville-Duvall Road. At the bottom of the climb, we came around two older gentlemen in Giro D’Italia jerseys. Halfway up, they steamed back around us. I’m not saying I’m Vincenzo Nibali, but we both know what it is like to be dropped by a septuagenarian on a climb. After cresting the climb, it was all rolling hills through Snohomish, then along the bike trail to Machias Rest Stop. Cascade Bike Club did a good job stocking this stop with Costco-boxed provisions. I filled a bottle and ate two Rice Krispie Treats before striking back out.

Mile 36.5 – 52.0: This section is conducted entirely on a bike trail through Arlington. It is more or less flat, and pretty boring. The Arlington “Water Stop” was just a sign outside a public restroom and water fountain. Due to the awesome pace we were getting with a few other riders, we got here before the officials had even set up a tent. There was one woman, who claimed to be driving the aid car for the next major climb up to Lake Cavanaugh, waiting outside. She warned us that we’d need to leave with full bottles, due to the climb difficulty, humidity, and lack of water stop before Mount Vernon.

Mile 52.0 – 74.5: The climb up and over Lake Cavanaugh Road is only about 8 miles long, and not very steep. But it is consistent, and in the humidity, it was fluid-sapping. Not shockingly, the “aid car” was nowhere to be found. Luckily, though, the route took us along Highway 9 all the way around the hills outside Mount Vernon. Having ridden straight over them, it isn’t a fun shortcut. By this point, I had almost eclipsed 100mi for the day, since I rode to the start line. Because of that, I could have just been done and happy for the day. I kept going, however, after some impromptu bike-shoe yoga. As I left the aid stop, I saw my two friends in the Giro jerseys laying out under a tree. A tinge of envy crept up my spine.

Mile 74.5 – 109.9: Of course, the worst was left for last. Chuckanut Drive is a road carved right out of the mountainside overlooking Boundary Bay. It isn’t just one climb, but 5 climbs and descents. Being the first time I had ridden it, I kept hoping each descent was the last, and it wasn’t. It was also a beautiful summer day, which meant that there was no shortage of RV traffic threatening to blow me off the side of the crumbling white line on my right. Not all of the recreationistas were bad; however, as I found when I stopped and chatted with a pair of Canadians at a scenic overlook. It was their opinion that all of us cyclists were probably insane. I slowly crawled up and around the remaining miles of the sharp, twisting climb and dropped into Bellingham. My hotel was on the far north end of town, which meant that I ended Day 1 after 130mi of chipseal and taint-numbing.

Day 2

Mile 109.9 – 136.8: I awoke the next morning at 6am, given to the suggestion of the official ride handbook. I got with a strong trio of riders, and we flew through Lynden and to the border crossing. The first few miles were again on rural chipseal roads. After spending most of Day 1 on the same, there was an audible, primal moan from all four of us when we swung left, onto some freshly-paved road into and through Lynden. We actually got to the border crossing with a large group of riders, well before it was open. I ended up standing in line with the two older Giro gentlemen, and two of my fellow iPhone Catastrophe survivors. We decided that we’d stick together until the finish.

Mile 136.8 – 198.0: Most of the second day was easy. After the border crossing, we picked up another younger couple on “The Wall,” a comically named climb immediately into Canada. Suffice it to say that if it was Day 1, The Wall wouldn’t even really register as a bump. Our makeshift group continued on, with me actually pulling through the farms outside Burnaby. I stayed on the front until I mistakenly blew us straight through a roundabout that was supposed to be a right. Doubling back, it turns out that while the GPS route said right, the John Henry pointed in all four cardinal directions through the roundabout due to Canada’s odd restrictions on road painting and the rain storm of the previous night. As a result, we decided to let the people with GPS lead. There was also a pedestrian spiral walkway onto the bridge, barely wide enough for us to blow through two-wide, and the single-wide pedestrian footbridge that required a little ‘cross maneuver to negotiate safely. The remaining miles were mostly stop and go through urban streets and Vancouver’s “bicycle throughway.” The latter being converted residential streets with weird bikepath medians. We wound our way along, through Gastown, and up the hill to the finish at Stanley Park.

…and Party

We ended up being amongst the first dozen or so bikes in the garage, finishing before the organizers had even set up the bubble machine at the line. I managed to only fall once, a slow-motion tipping at the bottom of a hill in the middle of one of Vancouver’s bicycle medians.

The “party” itself was more of a pleasant socializing, which probably doesn’t roll of the tongue or lend itself to a catchy acronym. While better supported than Cascade’s other ride, Seattle-to-Portland, it is still almost like paying a lot of money for a brevet. It needs some work to really be a great event, but most of that is nit-picking.

At the very least, its another jersey earned.

(And another blog written, hopefully this one is a little easier to read and less boring than the other one.)

Ride Report: 2013 Ride Seattle-to-Vancouver-and-Party (RSVP2)

Continuing my “Better a Month Late Than Never” miniseries, I humbly present a review of 2013 Cascade RSVP2. Alternately known as two days, over 200 miles, and countless hours of taint numbing undertaken on August 17 and 18.

Also, lest anyone accuse my exploits of not actually being internationale, let the record show that I not only rode in Canada, but even crossed the border by bike.

Day 1

I find it impossible to sleep before an early ride. Friday night was no different. I tossed and turned, waking up every hour waiting for my alarm. It was supposed to go off at 4:30, but I finally gave up at 4:15 and turned it off.

I was out the door at 4:45am, and immediately knew I made a mistake by only attaching one front light. I careened down the hill toward the Burke-Gilman Trail in near-complete darkness, my eyes focusing on the small circle of light ahead. Since I couldn’t see anything to the right or left of my kamikaze, Strava-PR path anyways, I didn’t really need brakes either.

Nor did I need many of my gears, luckily, as I also found my rear derailleur couldn’t reach past my 4th smallest cog.

Over-geared and in a tunnel of darkness, I made my way to the start line. By the time I got there, the sun had started to lend its color to the grey sky and riders had started to accumulate in the University parking lot.

I flipped the bike and started unscrewing the derailleur nut. Eventually, just as the first riders slid off the start line, the cable loosened up and allowed the chain to slide over the full width of the cassette.

A quick flip, a clip-in, and a glide through the starting arch, and I was off after them. Back to the Burke-Gilman, and off to the Northeast toward Bellingham.

I quickly caught up to the tail end of our 1400 rider train now steaming along the trail, which is only really 3 riders wide when everyone’s paying attention. Hopping wheels amongst the suicidal pace lines swerving in and out of commuters coming the other way worked pretty well almost all the way to Bothell, 30 or so minutes in. It was at that point that someone dropped their iPhone, sending the entire circus careening to a stop.

I and two other riders swerved left, into the line of a pair of the aforementioned pannier-laden commuters. Their eyes widened at the sight of the developing catastro-fuck roiling toward them. Luckily, my two partners and I managed to swing back right just between them and the iPhone dropper who was jackknifed partially into the loose gravel shoulder. We steamed on, leaving the screeching of carbon rims behind us.

The only problem with this new arrangement was that I was now on the front. I had intended to do as little work as possible on RSVP, if possible wheel-sucking the entire way. That idea seemingly went out the window, as I was now pulling the remnants of our train through Bothell and into Woodinville. It was there that we found some more of the early starters. This included a pair of older gentlemen, clad in the bright pink of the Giro D’Italia.

I’d later find out they were both in their 70s and like me, were riding RSVP for the first time. Unlike me, they cruised up the hill like it was nothing, and I was already thankful to have my full compliment of gears. Watching the septuagenarians ride off in the distance, it was like I was playing Vincenzo Nibali in my own private Vuelta.

Cresting the climb, I had lost the rest of my short-term companions, but I was far from alone. The remaining RSVP riders were strewn about the hill and the long string of rolling hills immediately ensuing. They continued North through Snohomish, past the first rest stop, and up to the bike trail through Arlington.

Ostensibly, RSVP is a fully supported ride. In practice, however, it is hard to have the proper level of support over 200 miles of mixed terrain through two countries unless you can enlist an army of volunteers. Add in to this a relatively small rider count with a wide ability level, and it may as well be a brevet. Due to the slight delay at the start line, I got to the first rest stop well within the organizer’s ideal window. A few dozen riders were already refilling bottles and loading up on Rice Krispie Treats. The second rest stop, in Arlington, was just a sign outside a public water fountain and restroom. At this point, there were only a small handful of riders present. There was also one volunteer who told us the climb up Lake Cavanaugh Road was difficult, and there wasn’t water for a long time afterwards. Allegedly, it was her job to drive a support car along the climb to help alleviate that problem.

Striking off with two full bottles, I again slid to my lowest gear and tried spinning at a comfortable pace up the climb. At only 8 miles long, including a short descent, it certainly isn’t the Alp D’Huez, but falling 54 miles into the ride it wasn’t an entirely welcome sight either. Climbing through the forest alongside the river, the day’s humidity became more and more apparent as I powered through the first bottle. Of course, the aid driver was nowhere to be seen.

Groups had more or less shattered at this point. I passed, or was passed, ones and twos all along the climb and descent back down to Highway 9.

After coming over the top, there was still going to be 20 miles until the next water stop, with the same rolling hills that dot the rest of the Western Washington countryside.

Somewhere along the way, I passed 100mi on my own computer, counting the ride to the start line. I was already more or less ready to be done by the time I got to the Mount Vernon rest stop and tore into two more Rice Krispie Treats. It took a good, full, 15min impromptu yoga session to get myself back up and on the bike. As I rolled out, I saw the pair of Giro guys laying out under a tree.

Of course, the hardest part was still ahead as I spun across the fields toward Chuckanut Drive. Chuckanut is carved directly out of the cliffs above Boundary Bay. It isn’t one climb, so much as a climb, a couple descents, and 5 other climbs in-between. It also has no shoulder, and on a clear summer day, a shitload of RVs who can barely make it up the 9% grade. In general, they are driven by people who don’t really want to deal with one cyclist, let alone a thousand.

That was how I came into Bellingham to end day one: Creeping along the winding road, tip-towing the crumbling and shoulderless white line, taint numb from over a hundred miles of chipseal country roads, and getting blown all over by angry recreationistas.

I did stop and have a nice conversation with a Canadian couple at one of the scenic overlooks. It was their opinion that we were all crazy, and they were probably right.

Day 2

If Day 1 was a 100mi+ brevet, then Day 2 was an 84mi coffee ride.

I started at 6am, and started rolling with a strong pace line. We flew through Lynden and made it to the border crossing 20min before it opened. Amazingly, after 150mi, I was standing in line next to my two partners from the iPhone catastrophe and the 2 Giro gentlemen. We all decided to roll together for the rest of the day.

Interestingly, the border guards didn’t even require our passports, as they just checked names off the ride roster and waved us through.

The first uphill out of the border is labelled “The Wall,” which is comical after the hills of Day 1. We passed a couple near the top and added them to our growing cast of characters.

I was so happy, I stayed on the front for as long as possible. My partners started to sense this was a bad idea when I incorrectly blew us straight through a roundabout.

“I think we were supposed to go right”

“Right? I’m pretty sure it said left.”

Doubling back, we found that the marker, which had been partially washed away due to the overnight rain and Canada’s odd restrictions on road-painting, actually pointed all 4 cardinal directions through the roundabout. We settled on right, and I pushed to catch back on.

We blew through a similar right hander once we got into the suburbs, and were directed over a single-width corrugated steel footbridge. A little ‘cross maneuver and a bunny hop over the curb on the other side, and we were back on track.

Riding pedestrian infrastructure was something that littered Day 2. There was another unique experience when we rolled two-abreast up a spiral ramp to get to one of the bridges. I’m pretty sure bikes weren’t envisioned when it was built, but whatever.

The second half of the day was a lot of stoplights. Once we got into Burnaby, it was stop and go all the way through Gastown and Stanley Park. Part of this was due to Vancouver’s interesting bicycle paths. They are really just converted residential streets, with odd, single-rider median strips in the middle to block traffic. It was on one of these medians where I had my one and only fall.

We came down a hill into a stoplight, and in my haze, I thought I was stepping onto the curb to lean against and wait.

What I was really doing was missing the curb by two inches, leading to an awesome slow motion tipping complete with an agonizing, “Oh…shit…fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.” As my left leg strained to find the curb, which wasn’t coming, my arms flailed to counter balance against the slope of the road. None of it worked, and I ended up on my hip. My left leg tweaked my front derailleur, leaving me stuck in the big ring for the remainder of the day.

Luckily, it was mostly downhill to the finish.

Over 200mi after we began, I finished with the same 5 people that I first met in Woodinville and the couple from The Wall. We rolled through Chinatown and across the cobblestones in Gastown. Up the punchy hill to the Stanley Park finish line, and out to the patio for a burger and a beer.

Not only did we finish together, but we were amongst the first dozen or so bikes in the garage. The organizers hadn’t even set up the bubble blower to welcome people to the finish yet.

…and Party

The “Party” half of RSVP is a little misleading, but “Ride Seattle to Vancouver and Socialize Pleasantly” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

I pick a lot of nits like that, and the ride isn’t perfect. Both RSVP and Seattle-to-Portland (STP) are “fundraising” rides for the Cascade Bicycle Club. As fundraising rides, they toe the line between “fully supported” and “you may as well just ride this by yourself.” For what it is worth, the aid stops at RSVP were well stocked with Costco-purchased bulk provisions. I probably ate my money’s worth of Rice Krispie Treats.

Despite the imperfections, it was a fulfilling and challenging two days of jersey-earning and stranger-befriending.

And, of course, the internationale-izing.

Ride Report: 2013 WA State Individual TT Championships

So, hey, time flies when you hang the bike up and dive into the pillowy embrace of a couch. It has apparently been almost a month since I actually rode the WA State ITT Championships.

My year of firsts continued, as I can say that this race will go down as the first time I ever came away from a race undeniably disappointed in my performance.

Pin to Win

There are only 3 real time trials in this part of Washington: Frostbite, Icebreaker, and WATT. As the names suggest, the first two take place in February and March, are cold and wet, and generally weed out smarter people early in the year. Then there’s WATT, which had the misfortune of occurring the same weekend as one of the more popular crits, conveniently giving those smarter riders an out.

So that only really leaves the devotees, skinsuits and 10k rigs in hand, and a smattering of triathletes. One of whom I had the pleasure of parking next to.

And pinning numbers on.

“Mind helping me out,” I heard him ask as I neatly configured 8 pins through my rental number and onto my jersey.

Seemingly, I exude the aura of a master pinner, as this continued my streak of 3 seasons’ worth of TTs involving attaching numbers to my parking stall neighbor.

“Sure, no worries.”

There’s no better way to really get to know someone than reaching into their lower armpit, grabbing a bit of their skin-tight synthetic tank top, and skewering it 4 times. Except maybe stabbing them. Which, of course, I did.

“You know, I think you put it through my skin there, but I didn’t even feel it.”

Sometimes I just don’t know the extent of my own deft touch, I guess.

Start Last, Finish Last

Being the most enthusiastic of the 15 people in the combined Cat 4/5 race, I likely registered first, and therefore was given the opportunity to start last.

My fingers warmed up from pinning, I took to the start line after a few quick sprints around the park. I acquainted myself with the two riders immediately in front of me, 30s and 1:30 in front of me, since the 1min man didn’t apparently show up.

The nice thing about riding a TT is that you get instant feedback on how you are doing in the way of the rider ahead of you: Catch him, and you’re doing ok. Lose him, and you’re probably not.

I rolled up to the line, took a deep breath, watched my 30s man ride away in his carbon-black suit and matching Rudy Project helmet, and focused on my goal.

“59:59,” I thought. At least trying to break 1 hour over the 40km course.

3…2…1…

Let’s go fishin’

Recon Shmeecon

The course immediately goes up a small rise and to the right, before turning back gradually left to a long, downhill railway grade. I kicked up the hill, stomped down one gear, and got into aero form.

This was the race der Dunkelblitzenpanzerfunf was built for. My Williams disk throbbing away, I pounded over the rise, and started down the short grade.

And immediately realized all my earlier recon was for naught.

I had come down to ride the course twice in June, and found an old, rutted chipseal road with ample smooth gouges. Not the fastest surface, but easy enough to find smooth and fast pavement under the oiled gravel. That had since been replaced and was now fresh and loose, with no smooth ruts. My tires rattled and skittered along, bouncing over the surface that was almost more suited for a CX race than a TT.

Bouncing along, I searched the road ahead for my 30s man. He was there, inside of 30s ahead of me, coming into the 90 degree left intersection at Skookumchuck Rd.

Brake. Find the apex. Kick out.

I slid back into aero position, buffeted by the tailwind. Came over a small rolling hill, and never saw my 30s man again.

Enduro MTB

I powered on, realizing I probably wasn’t setting the world on fire. Every so often, I caught a small glimpse of my 30s as we wound alongside the river, hopped over the two bridges, and made the only other left onto Johnson Creek.

The road turns upward for roughly 7km here, first gradually, then two big kickers before the race turnaround.

With the tail-crosswind the first half felt a lot easier than during my recon. The small upticks could easily be powered over without changing gears, and I felt generally good.

The second half kickers both required a trip to my 39 ring for a short sprint.

“Just push, 59:59.”

I saw our entire field descending on the way up, realized how far off the pace I likely was, botched the turnaround requiring an un-clipping, and started back down.

I had wondered why everyone seemed to be cautiously approaching the descent, but with the headwind funnelling up the little creek valley and the road surface, it was both hard to get up to full speed and extremely sketchy to corner when I did. Both tires wailed and gnashed, protesting every degree of lean.

About halfway down, I finally got passed. I’m not sure if they were the leaders of the Cat 3 race, or late entrants into our race, but it happened twice as I hit the bottom of the road and turned right back on Skookumchuck.

38kmh

Back on the flat road, with a light tailwind, I tried to settle back into a rhythm. I did, but at this point I knew I wasn’t going to break 1 hour. If I pushed myself well into the red, I could eek out 41kmh for a few hundred meters before needing to recover. Eventually, those bursts got fewer and further between. I could settle around 38kmh with the tailwind’s assistance.

So I did.

I cruised in at around that pace, saw the finish line, kicked, and finished in 1:04. I hung my head a bit, and rode back to the park.

As it turns out, my neighbor was our eventual race winner, at a time around 54min.

No doubt thanks to my excellent pinning job.

Ride Report: 2013 Cascade Gran Fondo

My thought going into this was that it would be cool to meet Chris Horner.

Of course, I had no idea who else attended this shindig until afterwards when I started Googling.

Turns out that “the really big guy on the Cannondale with disc brakes” wasn’t just last year’s winner, it was Ryan Muthafuckin’ Trebon.

Also in the field were multiple pros and national amateur champions like Serena Bishop Gordon, Starla Teddergreen and Brenna Lopez-Otero.

If I had known this going into the ride, I probably would have stuck to just getting a picture with Chris, riding leisurely at the back, and getting some good pictures of the day.

But I didn’t know, and I didn’t stick to the plan.

An Odd Twist of Fate

I forgot to start my Strava.

Like any dumbass Cat6, that meant rolling out and immediately digging in my pocket for my phone. Luckily, the start line at Mt Bachelor Ski Resort includes a wide driveway, which afforded me the opportunity to slide down the line and settle in the gap between the “front race group” and the “non-competitive gran fondoers” while fumbling to start recording.

While that was happening, the leaders of the front group had blown through the first corner, and the race volunteers were trying to get everyone on route. Turns out, not even Trebon or Horner remembered they were running the race backwards, which meant a counter-clockwise loop through the Cascade Lakes, Sunriver, and back up to the ski resort.

This left me in the somewhat fortuitous position of being the 3rd rider into the proper corner, and the first rider with any real idea what to do. So, I went to the front and started pulling.

400m into the race, and the plan was already out the window.

Do You Even Tuck, Bro?

I’ve never run into a situation before that necessitated a standard crank on my road bike. Usually, the grades I’ve ridden are short and gentle enough to not spin out a 50×11. That, and I’m usually far enough at the back end of a race that I’m not attempting to keep up with people cranking on a 53×11 or greater.

This was a day of firsts.

I had the entire weight of a now-annoyed lead group behind me, and a road dropping at around 6-8% with no major corners. The 50×11 spun out within the first few hundred meters as we careened downhill at 80kmh+. This left me to just tuck into my bars and try to get sucked along in the wake of the contenders who were now angling to get to the front.

The first 14mi of the race are a rough blur of 130rpm cadence and wonderment at being this close to the front of a gran fondo. I vaguely remember someone’s family videotaping at the roadside, and some hippies swimming in one of the lakes.

At this point, still hanging on within the first 10 places at the front of the group, I was more or less committed to going all in.

What the Hell Am I Doing Here?

Why was I trading off pulls with a guy roughly 1/3rd my size, at the front of a race going 40kmh through rollers, in a field of riders that was unmeasurably more talented than myself?

I still have no idea. But I was.

Then, in an even more obscene piece of lunacy, the pace dropped cresting a small roller into a plateau, and I attacked out of third wheel.

15mi into a 76mi race, I was attacking a field of national champions.

I don’t actually know why. I think I was just teasing the group to see if we could go faster. Checking if there was anyone who wanted to just go balls-out for the next 45mi until we hit the eventual soul-crushing climb of Mt Bachelor. Or, conversely, seeing who had just unwittingly gotten sucked along in the slipstream of the opening descent.

For whatever idiotic reason that spawned this, I managed to power open a non-trivial gap for a few miles by just burying my head and channeling my best Jens. There was no way it would stick, but it seemed the right thing to do.

Eventually, the reality hit me of what it means to be off the front alone.

Having no intention, nor ability, to hold everyone off on the rolling terrain of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway between Elk Lake and Lava Lake, I sat up and slid back into the rotation at the front.

That’s where I basically stayed, through Forest Service Road 42 and Sunriver. Trading off pulls with a small group of leaders who were hell-bent on unleashing a veritable Strava apocalypse for all segments in the first 60mi.

The Adults’ Table

Turning onto Road 42, which led us back toward Sunriver and the base of the climb, a small gap was created in the lead group.

A slight uphill, and a turn on to the rugged chipseal which is endemic in the Pacific Northwest was the perfect spot for it to happen.

Especially when Ryan Trebon decides it is time to actually start riding his bike.

Swooping to the front, it was obvious this was going to be where the race really started in earnest. After all, who was going to pull through 5kmh slower when he slid off? Who would have the audacity of slowing the race down after that?

Barely hanging on at the tail of this new front group, I thought briefly about returning to my plan, and letting the group ride away. I had been boxing out of my weight class for probably 50mi by this point.

(I should probably go back and reference the correct mileages for this, btw, but I’m just going to run with my hazy recollections as further evidence of the permanent mental and physical damage done on this ride.)

I managed to slowly crawl back up the front group, until I was again sitting second wheel for the final flat turn of the day on the outskirts of Sunriver.

Gamely, I even tried to take one more pull at the front, but quickly nudged my elbow and swung off.

My First Sticky Bottle

I fell back through the group so hard that Trebon himself asked me what was wrong.

His was the last wheel in the now diminutive lead group, as he waited for his opportunity to shatter the race on the 15mi climb back up to the ski resort and take his second win in a row.

The organizers had provided a follow car for the lead group, providing water and soda when needed. I waved them through and knew I wasn’t going to hang around long once the road started going up.

Chris’ daughter reached out and handed me a Pepsi. Grasping the cold can, I tried to get a little boost from the car up the short incline marking the beginning of the end. Again, a day of firsts: My First Cav Moment.

Taking Stock

Once shelled out of the group, I could feel every last watt of the effort, but the hardest part was still to go. I limped into the final aid stop as reality began to set in.

*I made it 60mi in barely over 2 hours on 2 water bottles, a Pepsi, and half a protein bar.

*I had led the race, both as lead train puller and delusional attacker, for probably 10 of those in total.

*I still have no idea why, or how, I pulled that off, but I now have a Strava KOM to prove it.

My partner at the front for most of those miles had apparently also dropped off at this stop, and we shared a quick joke about how long this last 15mi would take.

I took a piss, filled bottles, finished a protein bar, and headed off.

I Live at Sea-Level

Up until this point, I hadn’t really noticed the elevation.

Going downhill, pumping adrenaline, not paying a lick of attention to my heart rate monitor. There was no place to really think about breathing.

Now I had 2000′ up with nothing else to think about.

I immediately couldn’t get enough air, and my heart rate immediately stuck in the 190s. Grinding my low gear, 34×25, cursing myself for not bringing a 27.

In short, I was fucked. Wicked fucked. With no way of making it better.

2 bottles of water went down in the first half of the climb. A protein bar shortly followed.

3 stops, 2 hours, 1 drive-by inquiry from the SAG Wagon, and countless thoughts of taking them up on their offer later, I made it to the summit.

It isn’t even a huge hill. Strava makes it out to be a Cat 2, at 3.5% average. But, it is also the biggest mountain I’ve ever climbed, and felt absolutely unrelenting.

I had no shortage of partners in this brutal endeavor, as we leap-frogged each other in a game of suffer-and-pause. The top of the mountain seemed like it would never get there.

Then, all of a sudden, it did.

I turned back onto the highway, suffered up and under the “Main Lot 1Mi.” sign, and coasted down into the parking lot and through the Finish Line.

Then Stuff Happened, I Think

I was so fuzzy by this point, my body didn’t really know what to do. I vaguely remember asking the BBQ Tent what they had to eat. Then I think I walked away to get Froyo.

I may or may not have had a couple conversations. I did hang around at the finish, and made sure to applaud the finishers who came in afterward.

Then I went back down to Bend, sat in a hot tub, drank a beer, tried to breathe again, and started making plans for 2014.