Saturday, August 22, 2009

High Country Brevet 2009, Stick a Fork in it.

Traversing the grasslands

Hmm. Where to begin. I could start by saying everything kind of went south on Thursday night and that I didn't finally find a place to sleep until midnight since the campground gate closed at 10 pm ( I ended up at a nice little hotel down the street from the start line). I could talk about getting out of work late because of a critical project. I could talk about promises kept to my son before I left, but I have worked out most of that stress at this point and it is behind me. The promise kept to my son is a part of his memory now and I think we can rest assured that was a good decision no matter the lateness of my departure (I promised him a bike ride, kind of ironic really).

I treated this as another training ride. I probably should have tapered a bit more before it but it all worked out. Temps were warm heading out of Safeway and the morning commuters were polite for the most part. It was a nice morning for riding, even if 5:30 am did come too early.

The stretch out to Vernon though arguable the less scenic part of the journey always seems to surprise me with something. On this morning, I was riding along when I surprised a couple of deer on the otherside of the barbed wire fence and they started running alongside me. "Cool" I thought. Within 100 yards they had joined about 30 other deer and the whole herd was running alongside me at 22 mph and slowly they peeled away and ran off into the brush. That was certainly not something I have seen on previous brevets.

I had a lot of crosswinds, even starting out but not too far after Vernon they got pretty bad. It was tough to hold the shoulder. I managed to make it though. This stretch went a lot faster for me than last year. I am definitely stronger this year. Near the end of the stretch there are bizarre melons growing on the side of the road. They look like miniature watermelons but I am not brave enough to try one and risk the unpleasant effects. Not while wearing bibshorts anyway.

Springerville from my bellybutton's perspective

I hit a pretty substantial headwind the last 7 or 8 miles into Springerville. I figured if I pushed hard into it though I might be able to get a bit of tailwind before it shifted after I turned at the Circle K in Springerville. I did manage to get a bit of it after my stop at the circle k to top off.

Last year I ran out of fluids before getting to the sunrise turnoff and I had a pretty miserable ride down to McNary. I decided that even though we were stopping off at Greer I would still top off. The stretch between Springerville and the turnoff to Greer always seems to get me thirsty for some reason. As it is a deceptively arduous journey up a false flat in the full sun. There is also a little more climbing than I thought going to Greer but it wasn't bad.

One of the great things about brevet riding is that though the hours are long and one continues to eek out a steady constant cadence endlessly, it is quite therapeutic. I guess there is a zen like quality to these at certain points in the ride. As you move on and your body realizes it is losing the battle and it's will is dominated by the will of the mind things seem to resolve the further you move on. Things that aren't really so important kind of fall out of the thought process.

As I approached the bottom of the big hill I felt myself getting lulled into the same mental process as last year and I had a strong urge to pull over and lay down. Must be something about the area. I did not succomb this year I am pleased to say. I still wasn't getting full breaths but I was getting enough to move me up the hill.

I had a pretty stiff headwind climbing to the quaint little mountain town of Greer and behind me the little innocent wisps of clouds were starting to organize and darken. The post office was open when I got there luckily as I was not able to get an official card or post card from Susan before the event so I got a stamp on my card I printed out from the website. Then it was off to the library where the nice librarian let me have the key to the restroom so I could refill my bottles from the sink. I was irritated upon leaving to find that my bike had been going 60 mph for the whole 10 minutes I had been stopped. I don't think I will go wireless again when I get a new bike computer down the road. I think the power line out front was the culprit.

Bike at the lift ticket window.

Even though breathing is tougher up here I love the last bit of the climb up to the White Mtns. I had a slight tailwind climb up, just enough to make the air around me absolutely still as I climbed up the hill in my own little portable cloud of humidity and heat. It was just under 90 degrees near the bottom of the hill and mid 80's when I got to the top. The high meadows are always a pleasure to ride through even if there are several fake tops to the climb. At least this year I wasn't suffering as much and I knew they were there so I enjoyed it a lot more this year.

No thunderstorms...yet.

I do have to mention that the solid headwind heading back to Sunrise did get a little old, especially since my legs were getting a little tired at this point. Still, if I have learned one thing on these rides is that if you press on things will change eventually and your outlook will change. The last few miles to the ski area travel through some gorgeous country with tall lodgepole pines, douglas firs and aspen trees. There's also a mountain stream and a lake too in case the mountains and trees aren't enough for you.
The ski area was closed on Friday when I pre-rode so I took a picture of me next to the snowboard shop figuring that would be good proof of passage. I also got a receipt at the general store down the hill. I feel kind of funny writing that I enjoyed a bannana popsicle outside the store now because though it was 83-85 degrees when I was there, on Saturday it was dark and probably in the upper 50s with a pretty good wind chill going on with showers meandering around the area hunting out unprotected riders to freeze and torment.

The latest in gas pump technology.

I am pleased to say that up to this point I had been able to avoid thunderstorms. Having left Sunrise though I could see a few thunderstorms down towards Show Low and I knew I would likely hit something. That didn't keep me from enjoying the tailwind and the gradual descent back to the highway.

I have to say that the descent into McNary is a lot faster if you have energy to pedal between the steeper parts. It's also a lot more enjoyable when you aren't tormented by a crushing thirst and an inability to breathe. Still I had a headwind coming down the hill thanks to a thunderstorm out ahead of me. I was appreciative of the fact that although it blew against me it was kind enough to move south before I got to the Casino and heading into Pinetop. It would turn out that the worst I would see was wet roads before the ride was through.

I got past the thunderstorm and then a tailwind kicked in as I dropped down to Lakeside. Around in here I hit a rock and remember thinking that I would have to inspect the tire later as I bet it had been damaged but I figured I still had air in it and only 10 miles to go so I'd just keep going. In the future I think I will be a little more vigilant in checking my tires.

I had hopes of finishing before 3 pm in the last bit but didn't quite pull it off as I pulled into safeway at 3:10. It's still roughly 2 hours faster than last year I think so I'll take it. I walked into Safeway and the first thing I saw was peaches and I suddenly had a wild craving for fresh peaches after drinking maltodextrin and soy protein all day (Thats my training food for Cochise so I am getting the mixture down while it's not so critical if I goof up). They really hit the spot.

The view from the finish line sidewalk.

After the peaches I figured I'd get some extra mileage in by heading out to Fool's Hollow lake and see if Susan was there. I'd originally intended to get another 30 mile loop in but ditched that plan for something a little lower key. It would turn out I'd add 700 feet of climbing and 12 miles to my original total though so I guess it still wasn't a shabby addition to the ride. The guy at the state park didn't charge me when he found out I'd only be in there for a half hour or so.

Seeing as Susan was still 3 hours away from town you may guess that I didn't see her. I got to do some cool riding around the lake though. I even found a road out to the middle of nowhere, which happens to be the same place I had a massive blowout as I turned around. I had been thinking about where to ride next but the blowout kind of made that decision for me. I had a rather sizeable part of the tire with severe thread damage and a good hole in the tube. I figured even with a boot it was extremely dicey, the tire was thrashed. I glued the largest patch in my kit to the inside of the tire so I could be certain it would stay put and patched the tube. At 90 lbs of pressure it was mishapen but I thought it might just hold.

I did in fact make it to the hotel. The tire was on the verge of another impressive blowout and was all bulgy and twisted but it had got me where I needed it to get me. I ended up with just over 140 miles and 6700' of climbing all told. Not bad for a training ride. Hopefully I'll be ready for the next long training ride in late September when I go out to train with Bruce Chandler who will be my crew chief at Cochise.

I think one of the reasons I like brevets is that aside from the fact you do great things. Despite the fact that you do hard things. Which many people often do in this life. One thing that doesn't happen in life often, is a task which you can proclaim finished. At work you get critical issues that come and go, but they are always happening. You have tasks that continue to rear their ugly heads. You have people constantly needing help and work from you and it seems there is never closure. At the end of a day of randonneuring you can say I did it. I finished. I conquered and I have stuck a fork in it and it is done and part of my history.

If you want to see pictures from the official ride you can find them at the following link:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Good and Bad excuses for not training...

Jonas Brothers

It's been a bad week for training. Some reasons are good some are bad. Tuesday night my daughter and I went to the Jonas Brothers concert. Every father has so many really good bonding experiences with his daughter alotted before she grows up and this was one of those experiences. She had been looking forward to it all summer, and since I was going to the concert I have been giving them a bit of a listen these days so I'd have a good time too. I kind of like their music at this point. As far as teen bands go I think they are one of the better groups out there and thoroughly enjoyed the time with my daughter. The light show itself was worth it actually. Anyway, we didn't get back until after Midnight since the show was all the way across town. It was the night before school was starting so she started her first day in the fifth grade a little sleepy I have to say.

My other obstruction to training was a new video game I have been working on. Once again I could be found playing until 3 in the morning just as teenage Paul could, forgetting my need for rest to recover and prepare for things that were more important, like school then, or training now. The result was I only got in 42 miles of weekday training in this week on Thursday and they were a crappy 42 miles at that since I had missed so much sleep this week. So, I suppose it is what it is. At least I got to spend time with my daughter and probably make one of those memories she will remember forever. I think that's worth a weeks worth of training lost actually.

Dang, I suppose a road bike is out of the question then.

I had not intended to ride far on Saturday. I figured I needed to catch up on that sleep I had lost. The body was stupid though and woke up at 2:15 am and wouldn't go back to sleep so at 3 am I am out the door and am determined to teach my body a lesson. If it is not going to sleep then I am going to make it wish it did!
It starts to complain out on the Bush Highway saying it was sorry and it would like to go to bed now. Ha ha, no you don't I tell my body. You left your bed and now you are going to stay out of it. The mind wants to go for a long ride now! I didn't push as hard as normal though. I was tapering after all.
I had originally intended to go out and climb 9 mile hill out by McDowell mountain park but once I got to it I figured I did need to taper and so I would not do the extra mileage climbing it would give me. Instead I headed down to the needle rock recreation area and turned around where I could hear the river and the pavement ended.
The verde river is the third river that gets sucked dry in this country, albeit after it joins the Salt a few miles downstream. Rivers don't last long in the desert. Neither do people if they stay out in the heat too long so I headed back. It was a warm ride back but not too bad. I ended up with 92 miles and 3000' of climbing. Compared with the last three weeks I'll call it a good taper ride for next week's brevet.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Mesa to the great and marvelous town of Kelvin, az.

Sleepy morning in Superior, az

Three is a great number. This weeks ride marks the third week in a row I have done a century on Saturday. I don't intend to keep it up next week though as I am running the high country brevet a week from Friday so I figure I'll take it a bit easy and let myself have a Saturday to ride with the Brumbys.

Back to the ride though. At 3 am it was 75 degrees outside in East Mesa. That's a downright tolerable temperature to ride at and sure beats the 95 degrees of Wednesday's morning ride. Although I would actually be cold approaching Superior as the temperature dropped to 58 in one spot. It was extremely wierd to shiver in August outside in the Arizona desert.

I made pretty good time and made it up to Superior before sunrise. I didn't stop at the rest area, even though it looked open still despite what the cleaning lady said about it two weeks ago. I wanted a water bottle I could stick in the back of my jersey pocket though so went on to the circle k. I was only going to buy 2 but I learned I got a third one free if I bought two. So, one went into the bottles and me, one went in the jersey pocket, and one went into an inconspicuous spot on the side of the store for later.
One of 3 10% grades.

Last year, after my wife broke her leg and I had to give up on the brevet season, I rode a permanent I had set up that included the stretch of road south of Superior in it. The interesting part of this road is it includes a rather difficult hill. I hit this hill in the afternoon when I was tired and I am afraid the hill beat me and I had to walk the last mile.
As I rode south I remembered the last time I rode this hill and I feared it. I kind of was afraid to go down it my memories of it were so bad. How hard it had been to climb and how I had run out of water and food. The memory loomed large and hideous before me and I felt a strange desire to turn around.
By the time I got into the 10% grade climbing up to the ridge I was commited. Once begun there is no quitting. Not unless there is threat to life and limb. Discomfort is not a valid reason to DNF. Fear for life and safety is perfectly valid. Still as I topped the ridge and descended the backside I kept thinking about what goes down must come up. I could have easily topped 50 mph dropping down the 10% grades but my shimmy a few weeks ago has made me a more cautious descender for the present.

The mighty Gila River

Last week I had ridden over the Salt River just before it is sucked right out of it's streambed and into a million homes and golf courses. Today I would cross it's sister, which just a few miles downstream from Kelvin turns into dust and tamarisk. I suppose it goes down to satiate the thirst of Tucson or perhaps it too is sucked into the valleys faucets.

Florence - Kelvin highway

Kelvin, pronounced kehl-vin (for you scientists out there it is in fact named after the same man the kelvin temperature system is named after) is a small town. Why is there a town out on the middle of nowhere named after a British Lord? Well, apparently back in 1903 someone sent a flyer back to Britain pitching the wonderful untapped potential of the Winkelman area, calling it a heaven on earth. They portrayed the Gila River as being fully navigable and another Mississippi river. Lord Kelvin bought the pitch and invested heavily, which I don't believe gave him much return in the end. I wonder if he was surprised when he saw the Gila for what it is. I suppose in a land where we call dry streambeds rivers, the Gila is indeed a mighty river, though it is not a river you could run steamboats up and down. These days he has a little area with 5 or 6 houses named after him and all his dough got his name on a street sign. Still, he at least he has his name on a map. Oh and I suppose he has that temperature system that all scientists use named after him. Not too bad I suppose.

Nice little house on side of road in Kelvin

General store?

On the side of the road is what was probably an old general store at what used to be a stagecoach stop. Back when this highway was probably the best way to get from Florence to Winkelman and had more traffic this store was probably an oasis on a long trip up to the mines. I must confess I was expecting trailer homes and trash when I went down to the river but the area is home to a few nice houses which are kept well and have beautiful green grass. The area actually had a very nice feel to it.

Asarco Pit Mine

The climb out of Kelvin is a three part hill. Theres the bait, the catch, and the sting I figured as I climbed it. The bait puts you at 8-9% for a few miles and then levels off a bit to give you a little recovery. You pass the Asarco pit mine and it's towering hills of tailings on the right. Soon you pass it and work into the second part, you start to notice the hill as it works up to 6% for awhile and then you enter a little canyon and as you reach the end the road hits 10% for about 3/4 of a mile. I stand and work at breathing deeply as I stair stepper my way to the first ridge. Near the top one sees a sign advertising a 10% downhill grade, the innocent thinks "I made it!". But exhuberence turns to bitter disappointment as the downill lasts barely a half mile and then the final 2 miles of the hill come into view.
In the final two miles of the hill it holds a steady 10% grade for over a mile and half. Parts of it hit 11%. You give all you have to get to the next corner, cranking the cranks at very low cadences as you throw your entire weight onto the pedals in a sort of twisted painful dance. Turning the corner only reveals another section of the hill just as steep as what you have come through. You can either stop or move on. You are going slightly faster than a moderate jog as you climb on as your chest heaves in and out trying to sustain your bodies demand for oxygen but falling short. The spokes on my bike make slight noises as they seat themselves further, never having been put under such stress thus far.
The hill laughs at me. It mocks me. It taunts me and invites me to walk. It says after it squeezes the last desperate breath from my body it will make me gasp for mercy. On I climb. Corner after corner after corner the road winds up the canyon. Eventually I pass the first fake top which I fall for but I do not despair and toil on. Another quarter mile after that and I am rewarded with signs showing a safety pullout which marks the top of the hill which the mining country century pamphlet calls the "End of the World" to be the opposing bookend to the ride which begins with the climb to the "Top of the World" which I climbed a few weeks back"

The top of the "End of the World"

I actually mentioned climbing this hill to a truck driver friend of mine a year ago after I climbed it the first time. He said when he drove it he was driving a truck up it and as the grade increased the truck began to slow and kept slowing until nearing the top he was under 10 mph and was seriously wondering if his truck was going to make it, which it did, but it was close he said.

I won't kid you, I am as tired as I look.

It was a speedy ride back to Superior being mostly downhill and starting off with a rather nice 10% drop which I had climbed earlier in the morning. Traffic had picked up a bit but still was very sporadic. Theres just not a lot of people going from Winkelman to Superior or vice versa.
It took me all the way to Superior to get my legs to recover somewhat. They are actually still tired but they were able to move me along at a pretty good clip going back to Mesa, even if I did have to force it a bit. That's what training is for though I guess. If it had been an easy ride back to Mesa then I suppose that would have meant the ride didn't push me. I missed my original return eta by 7 minutes since I stopped for a quart of strawberry milk and a slice of Pizza. Still I ended up being back by 11:07 which isn't too shabby I suppose.
I climbed about 5200' rode 115 miles in 7 hours and 27 minutes. It was a good training ride. How twisted have I become to where I can call a 115 mile ride containing 10% grades of death on it a training ride?

Picket Post Mountain

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Like a pipe with cool bubbling water, I will lay me down.....

I think Simon and Garfunkel got it wrong. Here in the desert, on a morning like this morning, troubled water sounds quite enticing. Since you can't build a bridge over record heat, I say, the next best thing is a surprise pipe holding bubbling clean, cool, water you discover while sweating out your life waiting at a stoplight. I wouldn't have made it without it fair readers. I was suffering and I pull up to a stoplight and at chest height on my right theres a large cement pipe sticking up out of the ground which for some inexplicable reason has crystal clear water bubbling in the top of it (I think it had something to do with the neighborhood irrigation system). I quickly doused my hat and jersey before the light turned. It was wonderful to be cool for a bit.

Today we set a record for the highest overnight low temperature, we broke the record by 5 degrees. It was 95 degrees at dawn this morning folks. For much of the commute I was at 98 degrees. I was working hard too as I had my laptop along for the ride and my bike must have weight 50-60 lbs. And I was wondering why I felt so sluggish and tired this morning. I had the heat and extra weight to deal with. I still averaged close to 18 mph all told though.

It's on days like this that I look back on all those perfect days I squandered in Flagstaff not having been into road biking. I did spend many of them Mt. Biking though so it's not a total loss I suppose. Still, one does not completely realize what they had until it is gone it seems. Ah well, I guess the heat is good training, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, even if it is only mentally.

Tonight's forecast is for 112 degree heat and an extreme heat advisory on.. Should be a lovely ride down to the bus stop, I'm glad it is only 8 miles.


Record Report-
Statement as of 8:25 am MST on August 05, 2009
... Record high minimum temperature set at Phoenix AZ... A record high minimum temperature of 95 degrees was set at Phoenix AZ this morning. The previous record was 90 degrees set in 1998 and 1994. The all-time high minimum temperature for Phoenix is 96 set 15 July 2003. Additionally... 95 degree record high minimums have also occurred on 1 August 2008... 22 July 2006... and 12 August 2003.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Life in a Bottle

Typically water is a substance we take for granted like the air we breath. We turn on the faucet and it comes out. It is virtually a free commodity that even falls from the sky at times. In the desert these times are few and far between and any given tycoon would gladly give his fortune for a gallon of water if caught without in summertime. If one plans on travelling in the desert, plans have to be made. One can't go trotting out of town with no idea where a watersource could be within a couple of hours. Between my house and the Mazatzel divide by Mt. Ord there are 2 gas stations. Both of them are within the first 10 miles from my house.

This created a conundrum when I chose the pass for my ride destination today. In summertime it is difficult to carry 6-7 hours worth of water (in my case it ended up at about 2.5 gallons). So, afterwork on Friday I took the long way home and stashed some water at the turnoff for the western trail about 6-7 miles past the bush highway turnoff. I chose 3 seperate stash locations so if something goofed with one I'd still have the other two. I ended up using one and a half of them, I'll go up and retrieve them tomorrow afternoon on a ride with the kids.

With this water stash I would have water at the 34 and 65 mile points of my trip. This was quite doable. It also gave me a good bailout if I got to it and found the water was gone for some reason. When I was stashing one of the bottles I turned around and there was a DPS car! I don't think he saw me though as he was responding to an accident up the road. It would have been funny if he had though. You have to really watch those nefarious types that hide water in the desert.

Beeline highway a few miles from my water stash

It was 85 degrees at 3:30 am at my house. I had a headwind all the way up Usery Pass but on the backside I thought I was imagining things but I actually felt a bit chilly. I couldn't believe it. As dawn came when I was getting close to the bush highway my thermometer read 73 degrees. I even hit a pocket of 69 degree air up on the beeline. One of the reason's I chose this route is the turnaround is at 4600' which means cooler overnight temperatures. The funny thing was it was colder down by Saguaro lake than up on the side of Mt. Ord.

The idiot of the day award goes to a guy and his girl on a motorcycle without helmets and no taillight. They were practically invisible from behind in the dark. I wouldn't have been surprised to see them as part of an accident up the road.

Ah the great western trail! Funny, they don't mention the strong smell of urine in all of those old western shows. Seriously though the area around this sign wreaked. Fortunately my water stash was down the hill a bit.

The road coming down.

A few miles down the road from the Great Western Trail, the hill starts. It's a fairly long hill with a bit of a dip halfway up as you go past sunflower. You know it's a big hill as about every quarter mile the shoulder pavement is damaged from where a car caught fire. When they say turn off your air conditioner they mean it!

Starting to heat up at 7%

Car-B-Que marking

It's a beautiful morning for climbing. Climbing the hill on a bike is a much different experience. For instance, when you see the 'Whiskey Springs' sign next to a bridge, in a car you just see a bunch of desert, but on a bike you can look under the bridge and sure enough, right under the road is beautiful greenery and all the telltale signs of a spring.
His high and mighty Ordliness

Of course what goes up must come down. I had finished off my bottle full of maltodextrin and had 2 bottles left but it was all downhill, with a few small exceptions, to my stash. Dropping off the hill I was pleased to note a lack of bike shimmy as opposed to last week. The only bummer was some idiot decided to chip seal the shoulder so I had to ride the lane most of the way back down. When the shoulder finally went back to being smooth though I kept hitting burn spots where the pavement was rough which was annoying.
Dropping down into Sunflower

Life in a bottle.

It was getting noticeably hot when I got to my stash. I drank a couple of quarts and filled my bottles too. It was going to be a hot ride back to town. I tried Mick McCombs trick of riding the wrong way on the other side of the highway on the wide shoulder as opposed to getting squished against the cliff face of the south bound lane with no shoulder. It worked pretty good actually. My legs were a little tired climbing the hill but not bad.
The Mighty Superstitions

Coming down the bush hwy I did pretty good on energy and only saw one cyclists coming my way. I am sure the fact the temps were getting into the upper 90s had nothing to do with it. I did see one other cyclist out but I would be most of the way up Usery Pass before I caught up with him. He was an older guy on a mountain bike. I can't figure out how anyone could deal with a moustache in this heat. It would drive me nuts and probably was dripping salt.

The climb up Usery backside was sweltering until I realized I wouldn't need two water bottles at this point and dumped one of them over my head. I perked up noticeably as the air felt cooler as the evaporating water chilled my head and front. I had energy to spare when I reached the top and was able to pedal strong all the way to the gas station just before getting home to get some recovery goodies.

This entire river will be sucked into the houses of the Phoenix Metro area.
All in all it was a good ride. I rode 100 miles in 6 hours and 45 minutes with 6300' of climbing. I also had energy to install a new toilet to boot! (My son managed to crack the tank on the one in the kids bathroom last week). It was a good ride. I'll do it again sometime but probably not anytime soon. The water stashes are a bit of an inconvenience to setup.