Thursday, November 27, 2008

Of Gratitude Clouds and Cacti

Thanksgiving morning. Today I will find it hard to stay on the diet, as I did last night, but I will get to that later. Clouds are hovering in the peaks like wisps of hair on the heads of wisend old men. The streets are just wet enough to generate a slight spray off the tires but it is a beautiful morning. It is the first morning of the year I am wearing my long sleeve jersey and pedal through the desert like a firefly of flourescent green contrasted against the gray dawn.

Climbing Usery Pass my knee is a little sore but nothing serious and I keep concentrating on my pedal stroke. Stopping to take a few pictures of cacti and clouds gives it some rest. I wished I had brought my good camera as the clouds made for some breathtaking shots and my cell phone ruined the best ones unfortunately. Still, I am grateful for the experience of being out this morning.

The smell of fresh rain renews my soul and invigorates my psyche. The desert is green. Rain has brought the plants to life and the subdued light contrasts the colors of the desert beautifully. I stop to take a picture of a Teddy Bear Cholla and the mists suround the top of Usery Mountain.

Behind the pass I turn to Red Mountain and behold the clouds milling about it's top and side, sliding down the back of it like billows of soft snowy white wool. Then, just as I am about to turn south, the sun pokes through and lights up the mountain with its crags and rocky red slopes illuminated and beautiful. I stop to take a picture but the camera blurred it so I am afraid the memory is sequestered to my memory only.

I am grateful this morning. Lately I have been grateful I had a steady job for 12 years. I am grateful for a loving family and the friendship of friends and co-consipiroters in cycling. I am grateful for a roof over my head and a bicycle beneath me. I am grateful for a companion such as my wife who puts up with all my quirkiness and this love of the wheels and highway and thrill of adventure in the open air traversing our own little corner of America. Lastly, I am grateful for the prospect of a job.

I recieved a call yesterday regarding an interview I had on Monday. They said from their side the interview went really well (which is funny as I thought I did OK but didn't do as well as I would have liked) and they were going to recommend to Senior Management that they hire me. Their Corporate Recruiter in Texas said I should have an offer next week around Wednesdayish if everything with my background checks out. It looks good fair readers. Very good. I am not going to count on anything until I get the offer but I am grateful for a ray of hope on the job front.

The location is 30 miles away so I am going to have to get creative on my bike commuting options. Still, where there is a will there is a way. I have many options open and my Brother in-law works fairly close to it so carpooling might be a possibility. If I go that route I am going to purchase a Bike Friday Pocket Rocket so as to be able to pop the bike in his trunk without any problem since he drives a Mustang. If he doesn't want to carpool I might have to result to some other creative measures like driving in, riding home, riding in, driving home, and so on. In any case, it will be interesting and I am determined to make it work. There is much to be grateful for this day. Happy thanksgiving folks!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pedal Stroke Mechanics.

Over the last few years I have developed a rather interesting wear pattern on my shoe inserts. This morning I set out determined to practice a smooth and efficient pedal stroke, since I am taking it easy anyway babying my knee. That being said I concentrated on pedaling with the whole front of my foot instead of letting it roll to the outside. Throughout the ride I grew curious to see if my shoe inserts would show how much I pedalled on the side of my foot. The evidence was pretty convincing I found out when I pulled them out back at the house.

Throughout the ride I discovered a few things. Side to side cleat placement is an art and I think the cleats put dead center are the best solution for me.

On my left leg it was a bit difficult to get a good smooth ankle bend on the down stroke as my knee would over bend. I determined my seat was still a touch high and after two adjustments down the road got my left leg feeling fluid through the stroke. I believe my right leg is longer than my left leg. Different length legs are fairly common, it was just kind of funny to see how much difference a few mm can make in your pedal stroke.

Lastly, despite all the fit fixes I went through my leg still had a tendency to roll left. I think that I have solved the fit issues, and I think the rolling thing is a habit that has been learned over time through keeping the seat too high. So, how many pedal revolutions does it take to unlearn a pretty deep seated habit? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? Who can tell.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Island in the sky.


For some reason I don't sleep well before brevet's. Permanents, no problem. It was no exception for this ride. I found myself wide awake at 3 am after a fitful 6 hour sleep. Seeing as the brevet was all the way down in Marana I figured I would just drive down there early and maybe take a nap if I could. I have to say that the Dove Mountain Basha's doesn't open until 6 unfortunately as I was famished. After an hour nap it was open and I was able to get some breakfast and make my change into randoman.

The parking lot was full of randonneurs preparing for their assault on Mt. Lemmon. I dug through my brevet bucket and pulled out my long fingered gloves, my mitten shells to put over them, my arm warmers, leg warmers, and my windstopper jacket. I was expecting 63 degree temperatures on the top of the mountain according to the weatherman and ever since the 300k last year I have made it a point of taking a little more warm weather gear than I otherwise would. I have come too close to hypothermia on a couple of these and I think I am getting a little more cautious with age. Anyway, I used everything except the arm warmers and the mitten shells.

Lemmon ice.

Calle Sin Nombre

After a quick talk from Susan we were off into the cool of the morning and the breaking dawn. A group of 3 or 4 pulled off the front fairly quickly and I hung out with the slower guys and chatted with Dave Glasgow a bit. He is another of the older guys on these rides that I kind of hold up as a model of where I want to be at that age. This was his first brevet back since he had a run in with a cab awhile back. He picked a doozy of a ride to start on! The group was going just a little faster than I wanted to go so I let them go. I hadn't ridden in 2 weeks to try and let my knee heal up from riding Mike Sturgill's Yarnell 300k permanent a few weeks back. My knee was already starting to twinge a bit so it was just going to be a enjoy the brevet day and not one where I would try to get a fast time or anything like that. Besides, I needed another good relaxing ride. Life has been a little intense and depressing lately with my job search.

I always laugh riding up Sunrise as one of the side streets is "calle sin nombre". I think someone had a sense of humor. I also think it appropriate since it joins up with Sunrise, or is it Ina, or Skyline, or Sabino Canyon? For those of you who don't speak spanish "calle sin nombre" means street with no name. I myself have thought of designing a southwest neighborhood with street names such as, Los Pantalones, or La Nariz, or perhaps El Ojo. But I digress.

The eastward part of the course was a bit of a chore and I saw weekend cyclists bent over with effort and crouched down as they fought the fierce headwind blowing down the street with many names. I wondered what this would do to my ability to make the controls on time. I hunkered down into the aero bars and spun as best I could. I would pass four of the guys ahead of me in here who were stopped to fix flat tires. The wind was blowing all sorts of tire eating garbage into the road. It was rather picturesque at times riding into blowing tumbleweeds.

Bruce Chandler at that grand support stop in the sky.

The ride down "calle muchos nombre" was a grind and I was soon passed by Steve Atkins and Mike Enfield. I was able to hold onto them until just before the first checkpoint but that was enough to get me through the first stretch of big winds. I stopped at the gas station at the corner of Catalina and Tanque Verde, refilled, refuelled, and greased up. Then I was off to discover my shifter was coming loose up on Bear Canyon road. Fortunately Susan was at a secret control and let me use her multi-tool which happened to be a lot more accessible than mine (which was in my saddle bag but that was under my jacket which was hanging off the back of the good old brooks.

#^&*# wind up the @#%@ hill......

I think it was Mark Goldentyer that asked Susan for permission to swear at the Palisades and said that was the toughest thing he had done on his bicycle yet. I believe he had also climbed Mt. Lemmon before so that says something about conditions on the mountain the day of the ride. About a mile from the bottom of the hill I passed a girl who also described the conditions in similar fashion. It was to be a @#$%(*&(* of a day for my first climb up Mt. Lemmon, and me nursing a sore knee to boot. I had been pumping ibuprofen up to this point and hoped it would hold out.

I had been hoping that I wouldn't have to resort to my sissy gear 32 tooth cog on the back (I ride a triple so it really is a sissy gear but hey, I made it didn't I?). Within a mile I was forced into my lowest gear and I doubt I would have made it with my knee and all without it. Coming around corners 40mph gusts of wind would drop me down to 3-4 mph making me grind in even the lowest gears. Standing up wasn't any better but did allow me to use other muscles and rest the posterior periodically. I was glad I had been doing a lot of hill work lately. That being said unless you ride Mt. Lemmon regularly there really is no place to completely train for something like this. The road up it is an engineering marvel. I challenge you to find any other road that stays between 5 -8% continuosly for 20 miles. I am sure there are a few in Colorado and the Nebo loop I climbed over the summer comes close but the Lemmon had it beat for elevation gain by 500 feet.

I apologize for no pictures up until the turnaround as I was thinking I had to be there by 1:52 and I was cutting it very close. In fact even if I hadn't burned myself out getting up there I think I would have still barely missed it even without taking a good rest at the Palisades.

You start with a beautiful Cactus forest in the first 3 miles as you climb up a hillside and then into a canyon. The hill is relentless as you progress. Passing the toll station you then pass into gorgeous riparian habitat to your right in the creek bottom with giant sycamore trees to your right that reach up to the road and wave in the wind as you struggle by. As you leave the wash you see the last Saguaro struggling for life, just as you are, as the grassland starts with Century plants casting their stalks to the sky and quivering in the wind. On up you go, slowly, fighting the wind, cursing it under your breath, legs hurting and crying for mercy. Are you even close to the top? Not remotely, there are still 12 miles to go! Rounding another bend the cliffs dwarf you and the temperature drops noticeably as you ride into the shadow which fortunately also turns out to be a brief respite from the wind. Despite the effort you shiver. Over a bridge and back into a canyon you go! Now you are in the first of the pine forest, able to survive because of the shady canyon and extra water that comes down it. There are picnic areas and people are enjoying themselves at the tables.

I am enjoying myself, but my body is not. It is swearing at me. You &#$^@ loving @#$* it says. I don't tell it we still have around 8 miles to go. Just a mile ago I was looking high up at the top of an extremely high cliff and could have sworn I saw the signs of a highway built off of the top of it. It wasn't the top. Rounding the bend I continue up. Round corner after corner. At least the wind is dying down a bit up here on the mountain. I pass a sign stating I am now at the 6000 foot level and I arrive at the Windy Vista viewpoint which happens to be the road at what I thought was the top of the massive cliff. Bruce Chandler invites me to get some water but I still have a bottle of Gatorade left and I am fearful I am going to miss the checkpoint so I gratefully decline. On up the hill I go. I don't tell my body we have over 1500' feet and 6 miles to go.

I enjoy one of the two almost flat spots for a brief moment as I press on. Soon I am in the pine trees and the wind has finally let up. Around bend after bend I ride through the hilltops. They are deceptive. You think you are near the top but around the next hill there is another one. My bike computer says I am still far below 8000' feet and I press on. I have to stop very briefly around a mile from the Palisades as my legs are completely void of oxygen. Within a minute I am back on the bike pressing on with fear and finally I am there. I ask Susan what my chances of making it are and she says really good and that I only have to be to the bottom of the hill by 5 since the turnaround is a postcard drop. I decide that since I really wanted to have a fun ride today, I will rest.


I sit down for around 15 minutes in which time a randonneur who I think was Mark Goldentyer but I could be wrong comes in and says his speal about the days difficulty in climbing to which I was greatly amused. I thought it was just the way Lemmon was but apparently this was a rather difficult day to do the Lemmon.

Between the Palisades and the Post Office and back there is around another 1000' of climbing in moderate sized hills but they are nothing compared to the big climb of the day. Around the top of the hill past the Palisades the faster guys are on their way back. The other two guys who pulled in to the Palisades after me go to the post office and are quickly on their way back. I stop and sit down and eat my banana. I worked hard to get up here and I decided I was going to enjoy it. Besides the knee needed a rest and I needed to call my wife and let her know where I was on the pay phone.

A couple of pictures and a hill later I was back at the Palisades. Where the weather was a lot warmer. The temperature had been 43 degrees on the other side of the hill and there was ice on the side of the road in spots. On the side of the Palisades temps were nearly 60 degrees. Still descents were a bit cold. I sat and chowed down and chatted Bruce and Susan up. I figure I stayed there between 20 minutes and half an hour pigging out. My plan was to eat up as I had about an hour of good digestion ahead of me as I dropped off the hill. It was a good plan actually as Susan's delicious wraps got me all the way back to the parking lot.

Down the mountain I sped. Growing ever more used to speeding through corners and reliving the past 5 hours as if someone had hit the quick rewind button. In the lower half the winds had returned and I find 40 mph speeds slam down to 14 around corners where the grade is still greater than 5% but the wind is like suddenly rolling into large patches of sand. Amusing it is to be pedalling to go 16 mph on a decent downhill grade to keep up forward motion. Eventually I am at the bottom and enjoying a tailwind as I pass the cacti and bid the mountain goodby, feeling sheepish in my jacket in the near 80 degree warmth of the desert.


I was determined to get a bit of that tailwind heading back before the evening calm came. I only stopped for one last picture and a receipt at Circle K for a nut roll I wouldn't eat until after I was done. Initially the wind was good but I squandered quite a bit of it in my climb up Sabino Canyon road which is where Susan passed me heading to the end. I did get the last bits of the wind after I turned west though and Sundown took me a few miles down the road. I originally intended to only ride in the dark for less than an hour but with all the resting I did it was more like an hour and a half. My lights held up well though and I only had one spot in the section of twisty turns in the last 10 miles where I wondered if I had overshot a street in the dark. On Moore road I decided I was cold enough that I didn't want to just soldier through and put on my jacket. That is where I noticed you could see the milky way out here. The pleides star cluster was rising from the eastern Horizon and cassiopea was overhead watching as I rode the last few miles downhill to the finish.


My knee really hurt the last 15 - 20 miles or so so I probably lost some time to that. With my rests and my sore knee I figure I did good finishing at 12:22 hours. In fact, with the sore knee I figure I did good to finish at all. With the winds and the fact most of my training was in the 5000' elevation gain arena I think I did pretty good.

Now for a few days of icing the knee and getting it ready for the next brevet. Susan helped in looking at my bike position and I moved my seat forward as a result. We will see how that helps. In the meantime I am going to lay off the climbing for a few weeks. After all, 9400' is a healthy dose of climbing for a day's work. Even a weeks worth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Apache Dreams

It is before dawn and I am riding off into the darkness on Broadway road heading out to do a repeat at the end of the pavement past Tortilla Flat again. The air is chill and I am glad to have my knee warmers on. Somewhere in Apache Jct. I see a southwesty housing division called Apache Dreams and I start to think about what Apaches might dream about. Perhaps they are dreaming about a bunch of white folk wallowing in misery on a reservation suffering from diabetes caused by a glut of government surplus cheese. Perhaps they are dreaming of a million pale faces with empty wallets leaving a casino. Perhaps I am on the wrong tack with this Apache Dream idea.

Leaving Apache Jct and starting into the earnest climbing the sun is peeking over the horizon. The tops of the hills are warm and the valleys are cold. A couple of boats pass me heading up to the lake followed by a handful of motorcyclists here and there. The lake is beautiful this morning as always.

My knees are a bit achy but I am bound and determined to do a repeat of the 1000' hill at the turnaround. I think this was a mistake but oh well. I am soon to Tortilla Flat and feeling strong. I have been sick all week so it is nice to be out and about.

I am over the blip before the real hill with hardly a thought and I launch into the real meat of the ride. The hill rises 1000' in a little over 3 miles with long stretchs of 7-8% grade. I figure this is a bit steeper than Mt. Lemmon and should be good practice.

mile from the top I spy a beat up car on the side of the road with no one around. I figure it is hikers until I round a few more corners. Suddenly there are skateboarders carving wide turns down the road towards me. I give them plenty of space as I pass. It never occured to me to skateboard down a highway with a fairly steep grade. They look like snowboarders without the snow. With each turn you can hear their wheels struggle to maintain a grip on the pavement and grit slightly as they slip. Around another corner is a BMW with a bunch of skater bumper stickers on the back. Dad must have bought it I figure. What kid who could earn the money for a bmw would put bumper stickers on it? Anyway, they were nice enough kids.

Having turned around at the edge of the pavement I spy a dark crawling spot on the road as I just start to speed up into the descent. It is a Tarantula! I would see 2 more before the end of the ride but I stopped and took a picture of it and it is at the top of the page. Around the top of the hill I also ran into the Brumbys out for their Saturday morning jaunt. I haven't been riding with them the last few weeks as I have wanted to mix in a little more climbing to prepare for the lemmonizer next week. My knee started aching pretty good on the repeat and I think I should have left it off but oh well. It got worse heading back to town but I figure I have 2 weeks to let it rest and besides, I had only had a week and a half since the hilly 300k I rode last week. It was a little soon to pull a 70 miler with 5000' of climbing I think.

Next week the big hill. I don't know of any climbs bigger in Arizona than the Mt. Lemmon climb actually. A 5500' hill is a humongus hill in my book. We'll see what I make of it. Last hill that big I climbed was Mt. Nebo last summer and it left me feeling pretty tired.