Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sixty Solo

Holy shamoley, I rode 60 miles.


For real! Dan is all "You need SAG, what if something had happened, call me next time and I'll support you" etc etc. Maybe he's right, but I just figured I have a cell phone and can call a taxi if I can't move my legs anymore. Or catch a bus, get on the train. Or really, appeal to any passing cyclist. One great thing about cycling is this genuine care among total strangers - countless times I've stopped to stretch a leg or whatever and had passing cyclists ask me if I was okay. So I just took it for granted that if I got in trouble, I could just wait for the next bicycle to come by. Failing that, I could figure it out. I am pretty resourceful.

But! I didn't get in any trouble. At all. (!!!!!!!!) Not a single leg cramp, thank you sweet baby jesus, though one of my hip adductors (aka groin muscle) got a little whiny at one point but I stopped and stretched it and no worries. I made a point to stop every 45 minutes to do my leg stretches, eat something, and drink plain water (I filled my CamelBak with electrolyte drink), and I think even though it slowed me down, it was worth it for the difference it made in how my body felt.

So okay, I went from my house (at 7am) to the lake front trail (1.5 miles), then north to Hollywood Circle, which is the northern end of the line:

That's only about another 1.5 miles, so I just went around the circle and headed south.

And I just went to the end. Well, almost the end - it just stops for a while at about South 72nd Street, so that's where I turned around - about 17.5 miles straight from one end to the other. (So it goes from about 5800 North to 7200 South. Which is slightly mindboggling to me, since I'd dread a drive that long - and that was only the first 2/3rds!)

Like I said, I did stop along the way. And whenever I thought of it, I took a picture. Here are some, let me share the scenery:

 This is just blah, normal spot on the north side of the path but I thought I'd let you see what it looks like if you never rode/jogged/walked it before. As you can see, it's quite a luxury to have this here in the city - paved and well-kept, with markings and signs and jet-ski rentals and all.

But then I headed south and who knew? There's a bird sanctuary and a native prairie and some huge gorgeous old building and stuff i never knew about. And, of course, terrific views of the city. There's really nothing like coming toward the city from the south, along the lake.

And then there was this sand trap, which I had to get off and walk my bike over. It's right near the Museum of Science and Industry.

I had a moment where I thought "This is crazy. I've never even driven this far south on Lake Shore Drive." Then I saw the sign that said "Lake Shore Drive Ends" and it was all like Whoa, we are not in Kansas any more, Toto. I mean I guess I knew LSD ends, I just never thought of going past the end. Much less on a bike.

This is where I turned around:

WTF is a "Walk Bike Zone"? Seriously? Well screw them, I didn't want to walk my bike. 

So I turned north and did the whole length of the trail again. Here's Museum Campus in the distance...

And look, here's Buckingham Fountain. Turned off. Not exactly picturesque. But then, it was quite windy today (a fact my legs will wearily attest to) so I suppose they can't have the fountain on when it's that windalicious.

Anyway, I just toodled along headed north. There were lots of joggers and people walking and whatever, but not horribly crowded - just enough to keep you on your toes.

When I got to the north end circle again, I looped back south, got off on Foster, stopped at a CVS and bought a bag of the saltiest chips they had and 2 liters of water. I got all set and, with about 40 miles under my belt, headed west. I had to pass within a block of home and MAN did I ever want to just pull on in to my building and call it a day. I think 40 miles is a sensible mileage, perfectly respectable and exhausting enough, and I was quite ready to go home.

But what would be the point, when I'll just have to do 65 miles next week? And then 70 and 80 and 100? Better just to get it over with, so I heaved a sigh and kept pedaling myself to the North Shore Channel (3 miles). It's this path that follows the river up there, all the way north to Evanston until after about 6.5 miles you hit the Arboretum.

There's this sculpture park along most of the way, and here is by far the least interesting sculpture there:

But it's where I stopped to refuel for a moment, so that's the picture I took. Really, you should visit it if you're in the area. A bunch of fun stuff to look at on a nice path.

After that, I was too freaking tired to remember to take pictures. I just wanted it to be over. And eventually, I made it to the Arboretum, turned around and came back down the trail, over again (straight into the by now fierce wind) toward home, and got all choked up with happy tears when I saw my own neighborhood Crafty Beaver store. Because I made it. I really, really made it.

And I didn't want to kick my bike or need to ice my hoo-ha because the new seat may not be heaven, but it is entire celestial bodies away from the old seat. It doesn't hurt! It is not torture! It is mere discomfort! I can LIVE with that!.

Then I dragged my weary legs up 3 flights, called for pizza to be delivered, and went straight into a glorious hot shower. That's the best thing about doing a course that starts and ends at my own front door: no hour-long drive home. Immediate shower and pyjamas and pizza and nap. Bliss.

So that was my 60 miles. I really did it. I am just kinda stunned I did it. By myself. Sixty freaking miles. And when I'm not stunned, I'm just absurdly proud of it. Look what I did, look look look, didja see????

I'd throw a party, but I'm too damn tired to do much besides fall asleep on the couch now. Which I am long overdue on that, so let me get to it.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rain Delay

Our training ride is cancelled today due to rain. Even though I was really looking forward to it all week (I want to tackle the hills again! I want all those glorious swooping downhills! I want to HAVE A GOOD RIDE, DAMMIT) I am secretly hugely relieved. I just really, really didn't want to ride in the cold cold damp. And also, my neck is all stiff and no amount of massaging will loosen it. I think this is due to the fact that I ditched the basket and got a backpack instead (more on that later), to carry my stuff to work when I bike commute. The backpack is super convenient, but as a rule backpacks have never been comfortable for me, and the idea of riding 60 miles with sore neck/shoulders is just utterly depressing.

Anyway, I'm also a little happy about the cancellation because when the forecast looked so awful yesterday, I googled about and came up with an alternative 60 mile route, right here in Chicago. Tomorrow is supposed to be nice, and I've kind of fallen in love with the idea of a very early morning solo ride around my beautiful city. So my training ride isn't really cancelled - just delayed until I do it by myself tomorrow.

So all this means that I can stop force-feeding myself oatmeal, put away the spandex, drool over pictures of Eleanor (Eleanor Dashwood, that is - I have names all picked out for my imaginary bikes, you know, and Eleanor is the cream and navy Sonnet Bliss. My literary friends can guess what the cream and claret Sonnet Bliss's name is.) And then I will just crawl back in bed with a heating pad around my neck and shoulders.

I love rain, when I'm not made to be outside in it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

DIY Helmet Fun

Take one boring black matte helmet:

Add fun reflective stickers (found on Amazon):

Et voilĂ ! You have one heaping helping of jazz-it-up:

Are you driving behind me in the dark of night? Then you will see this:


Thursday, April 26, 2012

New stuff!

Have I mentioned how much pain my bike seat causes me? If I haven't adequately conveyed that yet, then I have been derelict in my duties as a writer. I am actually pretty good with pain and even with discomfort. My mom made me sleep in curlers for special occasions when I was a kid ("it hurts to be beautiful" was her catch-phrase), and I didn't like it but I could handle it. I am talking about those brush curlers, remember those?

Yeah, those. Imagine straddling/sitting on a pile of those for a few hours, okay? That's what I'm talking about here when I say "discomfort".

And here's the problem with the world of cycling: everyone tells you it will hurt, everyone says you'll get used to it. Everyone says to give it time, it takes time to break a saddle in. But no one can ever say when you should just give up on a bike seat. How long do you break in a saddle before giving it up as wrong-for-you? I have gotten answers that range from "after about 100 miles of riding" to "three years". and various points in between. So here's my entirely uneducated, non-professional answer: when it's nothing but pain from start to finish, and it doesn't get better after a few (three or four) rides, get rid of the damn thing.

On every single ride - EVERY SINGLE ONE - when I get to the finish line, all I want to do is to get my bike off of me, jump up and down on it, and stomp away. I never want to see it again. All the flesh from about my tailbone to my pubis feels like it's gone several rounds with Rocky Balboa. I cannot handle it anymore.

So I bought a new seat, despite my aversion to spending more money on bike stuff. It was like $34-ish, so not a huge deal. Worth every penny if it works. Here is what it looks like:

I have no idea if it will feel better. I had it put on about 4 miles from home, so I rode on it for not long at all. It feels cushier. And a little bigger. But that's about all I can say right now.

Anybody want an old-to-me (but not exactly "old") bike saddle? If not, I think I might just ritually burn the old one. Perhaps I will turn it into a fundraising event: charge for marshmallows to toast over the flames.

Speaking of Stuff I Have Bought, I am writing to you from a new computer. Look, here is an awesome picture that is so totally informative:

This is not bike-related, but what the heck. It was a major new aquisition. No, I don't have the money for it. But I do have renter's insurance, so it works out. Some jerkwads stole my old one (burglary - yes freaky, no not freaked out, yes everyone's fine, the end), so hey look new computer. It's quite a nice upgrade, I must say.

But back to bike-related new things. Like my helmet:

It is black, and matte, and boring. BORING. But I wanted a Bern because :
1. I love the visor, keeps out the sun and some wind and probably rain too.
2. I love that the visor is removable - just a few bits of velcro and a couple of snaps.
3. I love the winter knit that you can snap in when the weather turns cold. Awesome JC Lind guy let me try the one he had in the store and it is wonderfully warm. I don't have to worry about finding a super-warm hat with ear-flaps to fit under the helmet.



It's so soul-crushingly boring. Look at that yawn-fest. Boring black matte. Not to mention that these days I'm almost always wearing my black jacket, so this is like the worst example of a biker neglecting the high-visibility imperative. The white one was at least... well, white. Which is, you know - not prone to blending in with the dark.

Right, so, obviously I had to fix that. So I found these:

These are little reflective stickers.  Which I have slapped all over my boring black helmet, to add color and fun and personality. BECAUSE I AM A GIRL, OKAY? I love the finished result but I just realized that I left my helmet down with my bike and I am not going down to take a picture of it right now. Sorry, I am just too tired and I have tons of leg stretches I have to do. (This is my new thing - to be Stretching McStretcherson, with all my diligent stretching, in the hopes of avoiding more leg cramps.)

Tomorrow should be sunny so I'll take pictures of my new helmet and my commute. How's that? It's a deal.

Also, my charley-horsed leg is fine now.  It was a little sore Monday but the pain was all gone by Tuesday, so no worries. Well, not exactly right - I worry. Hence the stretching. Which I need to go do now, so bye!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Charley Horse Of The Apocalypse

Did you ever see that old version of Wuthering Heights, with Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon? There's this part where they sneak into the garden of the rich people so they can eavesdrop and look at the pretty ball gowns. But there are watchdogs and one of them clamps on to Merle Oberon's leg and won't let go.

(Full disclosure: this scene has always been a fail-safe way to make me laugh. It's sick. But I find it HILARIOUS. Like doubled-over laughing hilarious. I don't know why. It's just funny to me.)

Here, for your reference:

God that cracks me up.

Anyway. That's the way it felt - like a vice on my leg and stopping everything - when, about 7 miles from the finish, we were stopped at a stop sign, waiting for cross-traffic, and all of a sudden my body just rebelled. I'd had a soreness in my right quad a few miles before, so we'd stopped and I stretched it. Other than that, it was a fine ride. And then it was like the jaws of death clamped around my right calf. Actually, it started as little pings of cramps in my left leg, then weird random places on either leg, as though I couldn't get comfortable in this very standard Stopped position. It was almost like my legs were all What do we do, jab here? No here, no wait over here, or there - whoa rally the troops, all pain report to right calf immediately, GO!

I am very bad at that whole "rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10" thing. Either I can function or I can't, the end. (Same with this "perceived exertion" business: it's hard or it's not hard, the end.) And I couldn't function. All I could do was curse and yelp and look at Coach Bill in total panic and ask what to do. I didn't know, because I couldn't get off the bike without using my leg, and my legs weren't working. It was a baffling few seconds. Anyway, as to the pain - the only thing worse I ever felt was when my dentist was doing a root canal and the tooth was infected and he hit a hot nerve. It was the most primal flight-or-fight response I've ever had in my life, and it was in a dentist's chair. So I guess that one went to 11. Which makes this a 10?

So. I couldn't finish the ride. I couldn't. I'm so upset about it, even a day later, even with my leg still hurting like hell so I know there was no waiting it out - I still hate so much that it stopped me. I stretched it as much as I could on the side of the road. Bill did god's work in massaging the muscle until just the smallest knot remained. But there was no getting past it. It felt like a rock lodged deep in my muscle, and it wouldn't move. And I knew, no matter how much I wanted to go forward, it was not happening. It was like this was hovering in the road before me:

Which pissed me off, I must say.

Coach Bill made a call, and I got sagged. (Technical note: In cycling they have SAG stops and I think SAG stands for like Support And Gear. They are our help stations, to give us water and food and rescue us when we need it. I have used SAG as a verb: I was sagged.) We stood on the side of the road and waited til they came, then loaded my bike into the Jeep and I was hauled back in defeat. Coach Carrie was there for me and let me cry on her shoulder, and told me stories of the multiple times she and other very experienced riders have had to cut a ride short - or cut it short because they just didn't feel like doing it. Everyone was really so supportive and reassuring. And it helped.

But I still feel like a failure, of course. My only goal, every week, is just to do the miles. To finish. I don't care if I can't go as fast as I'd like, or if I can't climb a hill, or if I hate every second of it. All I care about is that I do it. And I couldn't do it. The physical pain is one thing, but my hysterical crying had nothing to do with the pain. (Crying doesn't alleviate pain, only cursing does. FYI.) Wanting to not quit, and having to quit - it just kills me. I just wanted to keep going, and I hate my body for not letting me. I hate that I can't make my body better, faster - it just doesn't want to do what I try to teach it do and it's making me miserable, frankly. It's like my body is the slow kid in class, and here I'm trying to get it to do calculus by June 3rd.

It's just sad. I'm sad that it happened. Thinking about it gets me all weepy again, so let me think of other relevant things to tell you about the day.

First off, I got to ride with team mate Lisa and witness quite possibly the most epic and legendary thing I've ever seen: she was sick to her stomach the whole time. Vomit and everything. Plus a lot of pain, the kind that caused her to bring up that part in the movie Alien. (I believe she said she just wanted the damn alien baby to claw out of her stomach already, and leave her in peace.) But here's the epic part: SHE DID THE FULL 55 MILES. She felt like crap on a stick for all of it, she rode with me and Coach Bill so she could do a more leisurely pace, she held my hand while I wept over my charley horse, but she still did the whole ride. That woman is a freaking LEGEND, man.

Also, I have to say that the CamelBak is such a brilliant thing, and for once I am sure that I was totally hydrated the whole time. I also had a bottle full of electrolyte-filled drink, which I drank up. I found one I liked, btw! Gu Brew, orange flavor. Same effervescing tablet set-up as Nuun, but tasted way better - like Tang.

Furthermore, I did much better on nutrition this time, though I still need to be more regular about putting things in my mouth. I filled my bento box with:
1. Dried apricots, which really hit the spot as they are sweet but no sickly-sweet, and also high in potassium
2. That Middle Eastern sesame candy - also not too sweet, and sesame seeds are packed with magnesium
3. Parmesan-crusted boiled potatoes, which I should've made saltier. These fulfilled the easily-digested carb requirement, and the need for salt.
4. Oatmeal cookies over-stuffed with dark raisinettes, because carbs + sugar + raisins (super-high in potassium). Also because YUMMY.
This did really well, except how the potatoes need to be more salty. Between these snacks, which I tried to eat every hour or so, and the electrolyte drink - plus drinking a full 24 oz of water before I got on the bike and taking very regular and healthy swigs from the Camelbak - was a very good combination. I think I might finally be getting the hang of this nutrition/hydration thing.

So it was educational and all, the ride. What I did of it, anyway. I don't know what caused the end-of-the-world charley horse, besides just simple exhaustion. I had orange juice with breakfast, I ate a banana at the rest stop - all my nutrients are there, and I hydrated so I don't think I did anything wrong. The cause for cramps like that tend to be a lack of certain nutrients, dehydration, and exhaustion. (Of course I've looked it up, I DID say I am a total Hermione, right?) We were in Saint Charles, which is mostly flat and full of wind. There are slow steady inclines and declines, but no real downhills where you can coast or take it easy every once in a while. So my theory is that my legs just never got even the teensiest bit of rest. It was just constant mid/high-level exertion for hours and hours, and they couldn't handle it for that long.

Coach Anne's theory is that God didn't want me to finish the ride for some reason. Which would fit in with the feeling of dread I had on Friday, I have to say - I really was scared of this ride, for whatever nervous nelly reason. I hate the the ride proved me right.

Anyway. I will lay here with my sore leg and hope for the best, I guess. There is my sad tale, and now I'll lay around moping, I feel like I got dumped or something. Like I should be out with my girlfriends, being fed a large ice cream sundae while being told I'm better off without that loser. In time, I will look back and see that's the truth. But for now, I am all dejected and but whyyyyyy and it's-not-fair and generally sad about it.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Bicycle Dreams, Ctd (a.k.a. Here Comes The Math)

Just a quick word on the price of super-uber nice city bikes like those I mentioned in my last post: if I use it as my primary transportation, it will just about pay for itself in a year. Seeing as how these are bikes built to last for many many years, it's quite the bargain even if I buy one that is on the way upper end at like $2000.

First, riding to work most days means I wouldn't need a monthly CTA card. A ride on our public transit is $2.25 each way, and I save money by getting the $86 monthly pass. Let's be prudent and say I'll only bike 10 out of the 12 months in a year - that's $860 less that I am paying for transportation.

Then there's the car - and I am considering this as a car replacement when my car finally dies. Mine is paid off and luckily quite a reliable little beast. Still there are expenses. Even liability-only insurance on an old-ish car in the city is about $350 per year. Then I have to buy a city sticker ($100) and a licence plate renewal ($100) every year. Let's say it's a good year and I only have to do oil changes and minimal gas and a few tolls and parking meters and no major repairs and no parking tickets. (Incidentally, that would be one MASSIVELY LUCKY year, but we can dream.) Let's say $300. I think that's an extremely reasonable low-ball.

Also, my work would reimburse me $240 per year for bike commuting. Thank you, Bike Commuter Act of 2008!

So that adds up to:
$860 (public transit fares)
$350 (car insurance)
$100 (plate renewal)
$100 (city sticker)
$300 (car maintenance, gas, incidentals)
$240 (bike commuter reimbursement)
$$Priceless$$ (never again getting a parking ticket or hunting for a parking spot or scraping ice off my car so I can get anywhere or suddenly having to fork out hundreds of dollars to ensure I pass the car emissions test, etc.)

The Pashley costs like $1,300, which is less than some of the other dream bikes, more than others, but about what I'm okay with spending. So say I spend $1,300. I am still coming out ahead, even considering an annual $70 bike tune-up and the occasional repair - because bike repairs are just not costly in the same way car repairs are. Um, unless you get hit by a car or similar. I will try not to get hit, promise.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bicycle Dreams

So the leg is now fine. I did nothing all day on Saturday - just hung out and decided not even to do laundry, as that would require 3 flights of stairs - and when I woke in the wee hours of Sunday morning, it was entirely back to normal. Yay hurrah, but man oh man am I sick of my leg cramp issues. I've decided it's all about hydration, so I'm now constantly sucking on a water bottle.

Here is my confession: I really don't actually want to do this anymore. The training, the workouts, the endurance stuff. I hate pretty much all of it and I just want it to be over now. BUT IT'S OKAY I AM NOT QUITTING DON'T FREAK OUT. It's just really become a chore lately. So anytime I find myself wallowing in my displeasure of the whole endeavor, I try to distract myself. Thoughts of ice cream are helpful (especially visions of milkshakes), but what's really doing it for me lately are dreams of a new bike.

Don't get me wrong - Pepe is a sweetheart and has been a real trooper. But I feel like we're college roommates who will only be pals until we graduate and then it'll just be fond memories of mostly putting up with each other, not a BestFriendsForever! situation. Pepe's really not ideal for commuting because, aside from the lack of conveniences like a rack and well-supported basket and such (which can be added on), he's aluminum. Which means he doesn't feel terribly sturdy and I feel every tiny bump in the road - and in Chicago, those are more like craters in the road - and I can't imagine him withstanding the winters. And I would like to try to bike commute on winter days too. I find myself dreaming of a chain guard, so I'll never have to take measures to preserve my pants again. And integrated lights, and cushier tires, and broad flat smooth pedals.

Right, so: On Sunday, I went to the JC Lind Bike Shop because they carry Bern helmets (and I needed a new helmet). They also carry gorgeous, gorgeous bikes. All of them the non-sporty, practical and beautiful commuter and cargo-type bikes. Many times, Dottie has written about bikes from this shop, and I realized I was at the very place she'd mentioned so many times on LGRAB - but for some reason, I played dumb and didn't just tell the guy, like, "I know you because of Dottie, and omg the pretty bikes I've been dying to see them!" I don't know why I acted all blank-slate. I guess because it woulda felt too stalker-like. Though I bet he's had a bunch of beautiful-bike stalkers come through his doors.

ANYWAY. I looked at the bikes. I have a little list in my head of bikes I think I might love - like the Retrovelo Paula, for instance, and a Corvo Citta and the Bobbin Birdie. But mostly I've narrowed it down to two. And one of them was at JC Lind:

The Pilen Lyx. In awesome beautiful blue.

For wonderful pictures that really do it justice - and a great review, incidentally - go look what Lovely Bicycle posted. Dottie also had nothing but good things to say about it. So I got to dreaming about it. And actually, I was mostly dreaming about how practical it was. Sturdy and steady and that wonderful back rack and you can ride it on the grass as easily as the pavement. But also ooh pretty. Pretty blue, pretty curve in the frame. Pretty pretty pretty. And practical!

Alas. I have to put it out of my daydreams. It only comes in one size, and I tried it and it's just a smidgeon too big for me. Big enough to be intolerable. I'd have to hop off and hop back on at every stop, which I just can't handle. I even emailed Pilen to ask them if they ever considered making it in more sizes, and they actually emailed me right back! They said that they've been discussing making a smaller step-through frame (WOOHOO!) but basically don't get my hopes up because it will be a long time in development. Sadness.

Here's a suprising thing, though - after the disappointment of the Pilen-too-big business, he steered me to a Gazelle. Now  I do love the practicality of a Dutch bike, but their looks - and weight  - have never been a big turn-on for me. Yet he had me get on the Gazelle and oh my dear lord did I ever love it. There's how a bike looks and how a bike feels, and it felt GREAT sitting in that cockpit, people. You're completely upright. I felt like I was perched on the couch, watching TV. Felt like I should have a snack and the phone to my ear, or something. You don't have to reach for the handlebars - they're just exactly where your hands rest naturally. You're just sitting up and back and watching the world go byIt was so unexpectedly awesome.

But it was insanely windy and getting late so I didn't test-ride it or anything. And it has coaster brakes, the kind where you pedal backwards to stop? And I don't think I'd like that. He also pointed me toward the Civia Loring, which I had a brief crush on a while ago, but I'm over it. I realized I just love the front basket more than anything - take that off, and I am not fond of the frame, and it doesn't have lights and the bamboo fenders are just impractical. Of course, I could put the front rack on a bike I DO like. But anyway, the Dutch-bike option is there as a back-up, to-be-explored bike if I don't get my druthers. And as long as we're talking about druthers...

So with the Pilen out of the running, I could turn my full powers of wishful thinking onto my other choice - my secret top choice, the more romantic choice, the bike that stays always in my imagination not because of the practicality but because it's a glorious English beauty: The Pashley Sonnet Bliss.

I mean for godsakes, just look at it. LOOK AT IT.

Look at it in navy, even!

Of course I would settle for a Pashley Princess Sovereign:

But I'd like more color, you know. Hence, the Sonnet Bliss preference.

Even just the name: Pashley. It just feels luxurious and lush and romantic rolling around in your mouth: Pashley. Pashley Pashley Pashley. It's far too easy to say Pashley! on a passionate sigh as you clasp your joined hands to your heart, like a silent film star in love.

Actually, from what I've read it's quite a practical bike, built to last and easily able to carry a load home from the grocery store and withstand the winter elements and all that. It's just that I WANT it because of the looks. I would allow myself to actually GET it because it meets the other practical criteria for a good bike.

Anyway, I will head to Boulevard Bikes, which carries Pashleys, and take one for a spin sometime. Meanwhile, I'll just keep dangling the image in front of me as incentive: if I get through training and manage to do the ride in Tahoe, I get to have a beautiful new bike.

That is, if I can afford it. Because right now it looks like all my spare cash might have to go toward meeting my fundraising requirement. (Our group fundraiser went well, but we split the proceeds and my share is really just a drop in the bucket.) I think part of the reason I'm disliking the whole endeavor so much lately is because of that threat hanging over my head - that I'll have to go through this not-so-enjoyable training and then have to fork over most of my savings to do a ride that is only getting more scary and less exciting as time goes on.

But I banish those kinds of negative thoughts with my bike dreams. Pretty pretty bike, with a smooth ride and comfy saddle and swept-back handlebars. It's a very soothing vision. Far more soothing than me sweating in spandex and choking down sports drinks, you know?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Trappings of the Trade

Well, our ride is cancelled today. We're supposed to be getting awful weather, so that's why - but so far it does seem terribly pleasant, at least here in the city (which means nothing in the suburbs, of course) I am very glad it's canceled because that saved me from having to ditch training. Why? Because my calf, it hurts. Like a really, really, really super sore muscle that hasn't gotten any less sore for 3 days now. So I am icing it, nothing to worry about yet, but I'm glad I didn't miss a training since there is no training to miss. 

Instead, I just hobbled around the apartment for a few minutes taking pictures of things that - well, things that I'd barely/never heard of before but in the last couple of months have come to litter every corner of my living space. Let us take a look at these things that have entered my life, shall we?

First up, my most recent purchase, Tiger Balm:

(Note that I still can't find my good camera and I'm a crap photographer in any case, so you're looking at images from my horrendous-quality cell phone. Fun!) 

My coworkers insisted I'd love some liniment on an extra-sore muscle. The great Sarah Oaks had given me a little packet of Bio-Freeze over a year ago when she was cleaning out her desk, so I rubbed some of that on. It felt icy without the hassle of trying to deal with an ice bag on the back of my calf at work, so that was convenient enough for me to head to the pharmacy and buy Elspeth's favorite: Tiger Balm. And I have to say: meh. The BioFreeze got colder/tinglier, and the whole sensation (from either product) feels nice enough, but it is so obviously not doing a damn thing. The muscle doesn't feel any more relaxed or soothed or less sore or anything. Waste of money, at least for me.

Also tingly, though not a waste of money is this here chafing cream:


It's called Brave Soldier Friction Zone. It works. See, people who cycle face the same unpleasant issue as people who do a lot of running: we chafe. In the case of cycling, there is a whole pelvic-area-in-contact-with-seat issue to be dealt with. I got this because the reviews said it lasts a lonnnnnnnnng time (other brands have to be applied more often) and so far that part is right. I like it, and the way it smells. However, it is very very tingly on my girl bits when it is first applied and that is just not something I want to deal with at 6am before a long ride, you know? Nothing I read about it mentions the tinglies, but it is mostly men who use it. But men have sensitive parts down there too, so what gives? 

Anyway, it works very well but when this tube runs out I think I'll look for something girl-specific.

Moving on!

I broke down and got a CamelBak:

It's nice and small and streamlined. It holds 50 oz and has extra little pockets and my favorite thing about it is that this exact model was on clearance for $33 and I got the last one. Hurray! I have not yet used it on the bike, but I did fill it up and walk around the apartment with it for a while, and I am pleasantly surprised at how barely-noticeable it is. It'snot at all heavy. This is good, because I really have to get on this hydration issue - I've finally realized that I need far more water than I (or anyone else would) ever think I need. Like, I already drink a lot of water throughout a day when not exercising, so I figured I should be drinking like twice as much as normal. But no - I think it's more like twice that. So 4 times what is normal for me - and what's normal for me is already way more than what most people drink. That's a whole hell of a lot of water.

Anyway. Water is the key for me, I think, so here's hoping the backpack o'water fixes things. We are also constantly being told to replace our electrolytes so I got some of this:

Nuun is very popular because it's not very sweet, has few calories, and is insanely portable - this tube is smaller than your average salt shaker and has 12 effervescing tablets. Each tablet turns 16 oz of water into a sports drink. It's brilliant in theory, but in practice it's yuck. So far, anyway. The Strawberry-Lemonade flavor is gross. I suppose I can try to find a flavor I like, but the lack of Nuun sample-packs in the wild make it rather cost-prohibitive.

Along the same lines, this week has been my self-declared Nutrition Experimentation week. Hence this pile of stuff:
This is what's left of my original, somewhat larger stash. All of these things are specifically for consuming while exercising for hours and hours, and here are my brief impressions of everything I've tried this week:
Clif Bar, crunchy peanut butter flavor: Pretty tasty, actually
Gu Energy Gel, peanut butter flavor: Haven't tried it yet
Honey Stinger Energy Gel, "Gold"Flavored (not pictured): Had this before spin class Wednesday night. I figured that since I'd just spent 45 minutes commuting by bike and was just about to get on the spin bike for an hour, it all counted as close-enough to intense prolonged exercise, for experimentation purposes. It is very very sweet, like thick honey-water, but doesn't taste bad, flavor-wise. It's just sickly-sweet, which I don't like. I also don't know that it did much of anything for me.
Gatorade "G Series" Prime chew-thing: I had one of these months ago and it was dry and bland but absurdly filling, like it expanded in my stomach to insane proportions. I think that it would come in handy if I skimp on breakfast - I could just make myself eat one of these, if I had no other option.
PowerBar Energy Chews, raspberry (not pictured): Delicious! But basically just candy. Gummy candy filled with jelly-like gel, and actually kinda made my teeth ache. But tasty as all get-out.
Honey Stinger Energy Chews, pomegranate passion and orange blossom flavors: HOLY CRAP SO YUMMY DELICIOUS. They are like Dots, but with about 100 times the flavor. And such a gooooood flavor. They are a joy to eat. But - and here it comes - they are basically just candy.
Honey Stinger Waffle, vanilla and honey flavors (not pictured): Also just DEEEEEEEELICIOUS, especially the vanilla. But also, basically, just candy. Or candy-cookie, anyway, as they are based on the brilliant stroopwafel.
My honest-to-goodness problem with all of this sports-specific nutrition stuff is: why can't I just eat real food? (Answer: I CAN, DAMMIT, AND I WILL.) Take the Honey Stinger Chews, for example - and I'm only picking on them because they're right here in front of me. They have very little potassium (40mg per 10-piece serving) or sodium (80mg), so why wouldn't I just eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich? I don't like sweet stuff when I'm really exercising hard, so I think some salty nuts and a handful of dried apricots and some of my oatmeal-and-dark-raisinette cookies will take care of the need for carbs, calories, and electrolytes. And they'll do it more enjoyably and far more cheaply than $2 for a pack of 10 gummy candies, for godsakes.

And last but far from least are my new shoes:

They are Chromes, and they are bad-ass mamajammas. They are totally hipster,  I know, but I don't care. (I hope hipsters on fixies see my fat middle-aged behind on a cheap hybrid wearing their beloved cool shoes and their heads explode. MWHAHAHA.) They're designed to wear on a bike - the canvas is indestructibly tough, the rubber is thick and grippy, and the soles are stiff like a brick wall. They even have this little elastic loop to hold the laces so they don't get tangled in the chain/crank, and the insoles are removable so I can wear my orthotics and I just love the red soles.

Anyway, yes - this means that I've kind of officially given up on clipless pedals. Even when I manage to clip in and go, being attached to the bike freaks me out. The coaches always tell me that cycling is 90% mental, so here is the psychological truth of it: being clipped in makes me go slower because it makes me insanely nervous. I cannot get out of my head when I am attached to the bike, so I give the hell up. I will wear stiff-soled shoes on normal flat pedals and I will work on the proper pedal stroke. (Which means you're supposed to move your feet as though you're scraping mud off your soles every time you pedal, see.) This is so much less stressful for me. And I like the shoes, so it's a win-win.

Also, so long as I'm busily appalling Serious Cyclists(tm), I'll show you my latest project:

These will be my legwarmers! They are a purple-wine-like color and thick ribbed wool. I'm making them up as I go, but a legwarmer is basically just a tube that gets larger as it goes up, so I can't mess up TOO badly. See, legwarmers work better than pants because what if I'm in Tahoe and it's cold in the morning but then I want to strip off a layer in the warm afternoon? What would I do with pants? But legwarmers are small enough to roll up and put in a pocket. Plus, I just want some good legwarmers. Like, for life. In the winter.

Note that Serious Cyclists(tm) wear legwarmers that look more like this:
So that's what makes my retro Flashdance-looking homemade legwarmers so appalling and so TOTALLY AWESOME. I can't tell you how I constantly feel, over and over again, every day, how I am Not One Of These People. Not that there's anything wrong with them, at all, and they love their hobby and just like how I can get totally geeky and picky when discussing, like, knitting needles (only Addi is allowed in metal, and wood are generally better but bamboo can sometimes be shoddy though bendy and I want to try those ones made of casein and blah blah BORING TECHNICAL TALK). It's just that I am here and doing it for charity and for fun and because I want to. Not because it's My Thing.

So one of these is not like the other ones. That one is me. And I have decided to embrace it. I shall proudly eat real food! I shall proudly wear normal shoes! And I shall proudly model my homemade legwarmers!

I'm good with that.

So there's an overview of Products I Have Explored. I also think I need a new helmet - I dropped mine. Not dropped hard, but still - combine the drop along with the fact that it's already 2-3 years old and it should go. (I will still get a non-aerodynamic Bern, though, because I like it, so there.)

Oh and just as a PS, here are another pair of bike-ish shoes I got. Skate shoes also have the sole stiffness for mucho pedaling. These are not quite stiff enough, but I kept them because they have the removable insoles and they are so cute and comfy and summer-casual and they're on sale. So I thought I'd pass it along in case you're in the market for a cute pair of shoes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Things I Have Learned: Bike Commute Edition

So it's a month or so since I started riding the bike to work and back. It's about 8.5 miles each way, and I have recently (like 2 weeks ago) graduated from the lakeshore path. Yes! I have achieved biking-with-traffic! And I have to say that the world of bicycle internet-ness was very, very, very helpful. (Dottie and Trisha and all their LGRAB commenters over the years: I am looking at you.) But I figured I'd add to the impressive body of work by listing out some things that I didn't know until after I'd hopped on the bike a few times.

So if you commute to work by bike, this may apply. If you bike to work in a sizeable city, this will probably apply. If you bike to work in Chicago, I am fairly positive this will all apply.

So here are my insights:

1.  I had already known to check the weather, of course – because I live in a place where sunny blue skies have no correlation to temperature, and one can easily wear/shed several clothing layers (and always carry both sunglasses and an umbrella) and STILL not be adequately prepared for the weather turnings. But now I know to specifically look at the wind. Anything more than 10mph means something significant to my commute, and which direction it's blowing matters SO MUCH now. One day I was 20 minutes late to work because of wind. Another time I got home in record time. This is the kind of thing that you want to plan around. So lesson learned: check the wind.

2.  If traveling on the north side, check to see if the Cubs are playing before you decide to bike up Clark Street. Never, ever, ever bike through that stretch of road on game day. The bike lane is full of drunks. It's also full of sober people who don't think anything of strolling slowly in front of car traffic, much less bike traffic. Avoid it at all costs.

3.  I got my first flat! Then I got my second flat, the same day. HURRAY. So I've learned how important it is to know how to fix a flat, how to have the necessary tools on hand at all times. I had everything I needed to fix the flat, except for the know-how and a pump. Both of which are really important. (What you need: tire levers, a spare tube, pump. It's actually ridiculously easy.)  Good thing my teammate and fellow bike commuter Matt had the time and the inclination to teach me, plus a hand pump to help the process along. But if you don’t have the tools or the bike-savvy friend on hand, then...

4.   Know where your nearest bus/train route is. This is obviously assuming you're in an area with public transit. If you're not (or even really if you are) then have a functioning cell phone so someone can come rescue you. Anyway, I knew where my nearest bus stop was, so I walked there. And then I learned how to use the bike rack on the front of the bus! Which is another thing you never learn until you have to, but fortunately the CTA driver was nice and helped me. Here are instructions with a video, if you are in Chicago and want to study before you are tested! (Of course, you can take it on the train as well, but not during rush hours, and you don't want a stop that has no elevator, and there are less train lines than bus lines, etc etc etc.)

5.  Like any other form of transportation in the city, it's never 100% reliable. Construction suddenly crops up at a previously peaceful intersection, a detour re-routes you to a street you don't know, the bike map you consulted turns out to be wrong - or you get a flat tire - or any number of other unexpected blips. This happens on trains and in cars too, so it's not quite right to think that commuting by bike is somehow more of a hassle. It’s actually kind of fun, if you're the kind of person who, like me, enjoys a good bit of adventure now and then. In a car, you just bang on the steering wheel and tear your hair out. On the train, you sit there fuming and waiting for the conductor to tell you what the hold-up is. But on the bike you wind up asking construction workers and friendly pedestrians and fellow bikers for suggestions on alternate routes. You try new paths down side streets you never knew were there. You learn how to put your bike on a bus. You feel like a modern-day Lewis and Clark, striking out into new territory with only two wheels and a determination to go forward, not back.

6. It didn't take forever to feel comfortable and non-terrified on the streets. Even the streets of a city as big and crowded as Chicago is. It took me like 1.5 commutes to be totally fine with riding in traffic. But I believe I've adapted so quickly because I already feel entirely comfortable driving a car in the city. And that DID take me quite a while, when I first moved here. But if you can drive it, you can bike it. Actually, the bike commute is a million times more enjoyable/less exasperating than the car commute along the same route would be.

7. It's easier for me, and safer for everyone, and just less likely to freak me out if I think of myself as driving my bike. Not riding it. I treat it as a vehicle, and that way I never wonder what the rules are, and I never take stupid chances that would hurt me or someone else. I am always making mental notes of where the cars are in relation to me, and I'm always looking out for pedestrians and other riders and rogue possums in the road.  Just like I do when I'm driving the car. (But I'm not allowed to drive the car through Lincoln Park, so driving a bike is way better.)

There, that's all I can think of for now. I'm sure I'll discover more as time goes on. Do you have any? If you're in Chicago, you should come by our happy hour tomorrow and tell me all about it. If you're not in Chicago, you can use the beer-less comments section below to tell me all about it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Come Drink Beer For A Good Cause!

Training is hard! Tax-time is depressing! Let’s drown our sorrows together and fight cancer at the same time!

As you may know, I'm part of a company team - some of us doing marathons, half-marathons, triathlons, and of course century rides. We all have fundraising commitments to meet and there’s nothing we like more than to do this the fun way. So we're having a Happy Hour Fundraiser!

When: THIS THURSDAY, April 12, from 5-7pm
Where: Monk's Pub (Lake and Wells)
Requested donation: $30 cash for buckets of beer and some pub grub.
Added bonus: We’re also holding two raffles – one for Bulls’ tickets, the other for a $25 gift certificate to Monk’s. Bring extra cash so you don’t miss out on a chance to win!

Please RSVP: by clicking here. We’d like to get an accurate head count. And if we don't see enough interest, we'll likely have to cancel. So come on! What are you doing that's so important that day, huh? Grab a friend and come drink some beer with me, people. 

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Near-Bonk Experience

I am here to tell you that 45 miles SUCKED and it's all my own damn fault. WARNING: this is a long post because there is much to tell even if I leave out the part about the cupcakes and whatever, so sorry for my inability to condense it down. If you don't have the time or inclination, just stop right here because the essential part is that this ride was crappy and turd-like and I hated it and the end.

Allow me to list the factors that contributed to this suckage:

  1. I ate maybe 4 bites of cereal before getting on the bike, and that's all. This is stupid, and the only reason for it is that I am just not hungry at 6am. Or even at 7am. This is a real problem for me, but I do usually manage to choke down a decent breakfast. Not yesterday.
  2. I also did not drink a full bottle of water in the car on the way to the ride. This is because I stayed at Dan's house that night and so the ride meet-up point was all of 15 minutes away. And because I (obviously) was just not thinking. DUMB.
  3. We rode in Barrington, which is universally acknowledged to be the most difficult course because it is filled with hills and so called for probably twice the energy I usually use on these rides. Maybe more. It was HARD, yo.
  4. Also I think my allergies were kicking in some, because I just had this constant need to rub my nose and eyes and I just wanted a damn nap. This is mostly important because allergic reactions dry out your body, so I needed even more hydration than usual (see #2).

Okay, there's the set-up or foreshadowing or hind-sight being 20/20 or whatever you want to call it. Alls I know is, after about an hour, I really was not enjoying the ride. It just felt hard, and 10-15 miles felt like 30 or more. And the hills- MY GOD THE HILLS. There are two truly awful climbs - the team calls one of them Double Decker, because it's like two hills in one. It is shortly followed by the steepest hill, called Serendipity. So basically you go up a hill that looks kind of like this, except not so loooong:

And then it is quickly followed by a little bit of flat terrain, then you turn, then a  little bit of a dip to get your momentum - but very little - and then there's another hill that looks a little bit like this:

I could be exaggerating. But not by much.

So I fought the good fight and made it over the first double-decker hill, but then everything went wildly wrong and  I only made it maybe halfway up the crazy steep hill. First, my feet came off the pedals, which has never happened before, so I was trying to get my footing back - and then I somehow shifted wrong and was spinning out, completely missing the opportunity to gain any momentum. So I flailed about desperately trying to get in the right gear, but I have no idea what happened. I just did it wrong, and when I hit that hill it was like hitting a brick wall. I got off, walked it back a little, tried again, but it was a no go. My bike was going so slow on that hill that it was slowwwwly falling over. So when I was about an inch away from hitting the ground, I gave up and walked it. Sometimes I have to admit to myself that even my stubbornness and inability to give up is just not enough for some tasks. So I realized that I wasn't good enough yet, for that hill.

Stupid hills. Coach Matt was with me, and he is awesome (in ways that will become apparent when you learn how much whining I did) and about 5 miles from the rest stop when I started moaning about how icky I felt, he asked me about what I'd had for breakfast. I confessed, he berated me a little, and we agreed that I would eat a good amount at the rest stop.

And I did. The best thing is that my brother Dan was there. He volunteered to help the team! So there he was in front of a table filled with granola bars and peanut butter sandwiches and pretzels and trail mix and all sorts of stuff. I had a banana and a pb sandwich and chugged some Gatorade (blech, I HATE Gatorade). Then I asked for a hug. Which he gave me. Because honestly, you guys, it was really harrrrrrrrd and I just didn't want to get back on the bike. And I'd only gone 25 miles! Not that 25 is oh-so-easy, but I would normally not get tuckered out til about mile 40 or so (sticking with my pattern of hating the last 5 miles). I just wanted to go home, honestly, and the thought of going another 20 miles made me want to cry.

But I got back on the bike, and off we went. And for the next 8 or so miles, I had a near bonk experience.

At this point, I'd like to thank Lance Armstrong for bonking once. It's this thing I've heard over and over: Even Lance Armstrong bonked at the Tour de France. And thank god he did, because it is a comfort to the rest of us and proof that even the best can really screw it up.

Omigosh, my non-cyclist audience, what if you don't know what bonking is? It's what they call it (possibly a cycling-specific term, since this is the first time I'd heard it) when your body just runs out of energy. It's like hitting the wall, and it can be caused by a lack of nutrition or hydration or both. I don't know that I was in full-on Bonk Mode, but I'm fairly sure I was pretty damn close. It felt like exhaustion, but weird abnormal exhaustion. Here is a sampling of things I said to Coach Matt over those 10 miles.

"My body is freaking OUT. What the hell?"
"Why is this so harrrrrrd, it shouldn't be so painful, it's flat here!"
"This doesn't feel like a normal tired. It's not normal."
"I will never get off this bike,will I. I will die on this bike. I am going to die on this bike, Matt. The end of my existence, pedaling into the afterlife."
"I hate this. I HATE THIS." (Matt said, "Hate is a strong word." I replied, "Yes, and I use it. Hate.")

Basically, it felt like I'd done like 75 miles already. I found myself almost falling asleep on the bike - yawning and my eyes half-closed, and I kept looking at these big lush fields of soft green grass... and wanting more than anything in the world to go lay down in the grass for a nap. I dunno, it just felt like I was bruised and beaten and bleeding. But I wasn't. I found myself trying to think of ways to say "I want to stop now". But I know if I said exactly that, the answer would be "Of course you want to stop, everyone wants to stop sometimes. That's normal." I wondered if there was some cycling-equivalent of a safe word, where I could just be like "No seriously, dude: rutabaga," and we'd stop and the call would be made and we'd get towed home. I even began to think like a little kid, scheming plots the likes of which have not crossed my mind since about age 14. Like, hey if I fall over then this would totally end, and I could fake like I hurt my ankle or something, that would get me out of it ... You see the level of distress I'm talking about? At one point, I even thought to play the girl card - start crying and that'll work! But then I realized I was thinking that because I kind of already WAS crying and I was trying to justify it to myself.

Dude, I am just saying: it was a whole new level of bad.

Meanwhile, poor Matt had to listen to all my pathetic whining, And he was behind me, so he really couldn't see the yawning and all, or else maybe we'd have figured out sooner that it was primarily dehydration that was the problem. When I said at some point that I felt nauseous, he told me to drink, drink, drink. And a few miles after that, I began to feel normal-tired. Not freakish vampire-sucking-my-strength tired.

The thing is, I only sometimes feel hungry on the bike rides, so I have to just make myself eat regularly and ignore my usual "only eat when you're actually hungry" rule. Obviously my appetite signals are not a reliable news source when I want to know what's up with my body. And most importantly, I have to figure out a hydration system. Because see this?

I am not capable of this, the drinking-while riding thing. I might be able, with practice, to manage reaching down and retrieving the bottle, but the idea that I would then be able to keep my hand off the handle bars, squirt water into my mouth, then replace the water bottle - all while remaining in motion - is frankly just absurd. That's like varsity-level coordination, okay, and my powers of physical coordination are at a level that even Pop Warner wouldn't admit to its ranks. So generally, I've been stopping every 45 minutes or so and chugging a bunch of water.

And obviously, that is not working. I keep thinking I'll figure it out, but now the time has come to actually figure it out. Which means I think I have to investigate (heavy existential sigh) a CamelBak solution. God I am SO SICK of spending money. But then I'm even more sick of having a horrible ride due to dehydration. (Yes, once is enough to make me sick of it. It's a horrible, horrible feeling and I never want to experience it again.)

Anyway, after The Miserable Time followed by focused water-drinking, I got to feel more normal and we had 10 miles left. Funny how 10 miles now seems like "oh, just ten miles, that's doable." Coach Anne and teammate Gary came back to find us. I think everyone else probably finished more than an hour before me, honestly, so they were probably wondering where in the hell I was and when I'd be getting back. So Coach Anne asked how I was, and I told her I'd been feeling epically awful and whiny and tired, but now I just felt normal whiny-tired. She gave me the option of going forward to where all the hills were, or turning around and doing the same distance on the less hilly terrain.

I chose to go forward to the hills. Which might sound like a slightly heroic choice, but honestly I just figure you might as well try. You never know til you try, etc. As I said to them, "I'll try and I'm not expecting much but if I can't make it up a hill, so what? I get off the bike and walk it, it's not a tragedy." That's how I think of it - it's only a tragedy if you don't even bother to give it a whirl.

And you know what? I made it up that goddamn hill this time. I was heaving and huffing and making noises like a dying walrus, but I actually got over that hill. "You. Are. Awesome!" they all shouted. "But I want to lay down and die right now," I replied between gulps of air.

Then we rolled back in to the small group left waiting for me. Which included Dan, who will officially reign as Best Brother of All The Brothers, who hugged me and told me I am awesome. It really was so terrific to have him there, and being a real part of it. I looked at the clock and realized it took me like 5.5 hours to do 45 miles. So it was much slower than my average 10 mph. I expected to be slower because of the hills, but this was just insanely slow - probably because of the bonk, but still. It's just not acceptable to me, to finish so late when people have to wait for me, and I took that time out of their day. I freaking HATE that. Ifeel like such a burden, and a drag on the team. It sucks.

So my goals for the coming week are: get a good hydration system in place, and work on speed. And ride to work every day, weather permitting. And eat a full breakfast before next week's long ride, come hell or high water.

There's my story. And a shout-out to Dan for being a part of it, because it does feel great to have someone really share the experience.

Next week: 50 miles. FIFTY MILES! Honestly, after dehydration and monster hills, fifty relatively flat miles sort of sounds like a piece of cake.

Mmmmmmm cake.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

EPIC FAIL: Power Grips edition

Complain as I may about the whole concept of Going Clipless(tm), I never fell off the bike while just practicing. In fact, I had managed to not fall of the bike at all until I welcomed these straps into my biking life.

Basically, what happened was: I practiced putting the feet in and out of the strap-equipped pedals for a few minutes in the alley, while holding on to the side of the building for support. Then I ventured out onto my shady little neighborhood street with my left foot in the strap and the right foot trying desperately to do the flip-up/slide-in motion - which is apparently more coordination that I can handle. I'm sure I was quite the graceful figure gliding down the street, especially when I gave a yelp and a bit of a wobble as my foot finally made it in the straps. Then I (wisely) decided to practice stopping long before I got to the intersection, and my right foot just would not come out.

Aaaand I fell. The end. It's funny how it happens in slow-ish motion, yet really doesn't afford you much time/opportunity to do anything about the situation. I mean, aside from shout "Timber!" Okay, well really I just kept trying to pull my foot out at different angles. Didn't work. Fortunately, it didn't hurt. Unfortunately, a guy watched the entire performance from across the street. Fortunately, he did not laugh and asked me if I was okay.

So then I got up and tried again. And fell. I returned to the alley so that my embarrassment might be less public. And then I fell again. "Third time's the charm!" I thought, as I climbed back on the bike - and fell again. (Side note: great news, you guys! I learned how to fall on a bike at super slow speeds without getting too hurt! GO TEAM!) Then I gave up, because four times is enough and I needed to get to work. Screw that whole "once more unto the breach, dear friends" jazz - this girl knows when she's beaten.

On my ride home from work last night, I stopped by the bike shop and had them put my old pedals back on. There are no words for the massive relief I felt, riding home on pedals I once again could understand.

I don't get it, Power Grips - how are you so hard to learn? HOW? It's just a strap. I have been defeated by a STRAP, for godsakes. Well, and the whole thing where you have to flip the pedal and slide the foot in, that's hard. You might as well ask me to do origami with my toes, sheesh.

Right so, I still have them. I didn't bother to try to return them at the shop last night because it was cold and I just wanted to get home. (I think they'll let me return them, but if you are a biking type and interested in trying them, I'd be happy to loan them out.) Now I will dedicate myself to trying harder with the clipless pedals.

So long, Power Grips, it was (not) nice knowing you.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

40 Miles and a Fun Day

Yes, that's right: FORTY MILES, PEOPLE!

Actually, more like 41, according to people who have little computers on their bicycles. I am not one of those people.

I know what you're thinking. (I mean, besides how thoroughly awesome I am.) You're wondering what it was like? The answer is: pretty miserable. Okay, not the whole ride. But it was seriously, super-duper COLD and instead of warming up as the day went on, it just got colder. All of me just ached. As usual, the last few miles were the least enjoyable - but since we add 5 miles every week, then this means I'm making progress (i.e. I used to get miserable at mile 25, now the misery doesn't kick in til like mile 36).

To add to the fun, we did the ride in Skokie again - and that's the route where I did my first and most miserable ride, forever known as The Death March. Remember the 17 miles from hell? Well, this time I sailed past that memorable spot 8.5 miles in, where we had decided to turn back because 17 miles was enough. To think that only 3 weeks ago, I couldn't do even 1/4th of what I did yesterday - that's kind of mindblowing. The whole route was peppered with traumatic memories like that. (Yeah, that's right, I said TRAUMATIC, okay, it was psychologically scarring, believe you me.) We stopped at the light where last time I bent over my handlebars and willed myself not to weep, and I gave a silent salute to my old self for not giving up that day. I shuddered a bit as we pedaled past the spot where I was so sure we were almost at the rest stop but it turned out to only be Mile 4 - otherwise known as the place where my soul died a little. Ah, memories.

Anyway, I rode with Coach Bill this time, who was patient with my super-slowness. And it's so sweet, how the team waits for me to get to the finish line, even though it always takes me so long, and they cheer and shout and rattle cowbells as I finally ride in. As I'd spent at least the last 20 miles dreaming of my car's heater, I immediately got in and turned it full-blast. Thirty minutes later, I was technically thawed out, but there was still this deep deep shiver in me - you know how that is, when your organs are actually still cold? But I stopped to get a felafel and could barely order because my teeth were chattering. It was a real lesson in what it means for your body to be Out Of Energy. The chill only went away after I'd eaten.

Which, btw, I had the biggest, fattest, saltiest, yummiest pile of french fries in my whole life. They were better than all the other french fries I ever had because they were totally 100% guilt-free.

Nothing tastes better, man.

Then after mumblety-mumble hours of sleep, I awoke today and was pleasantly surprised to find my legs fully functional. (All my joints were horribly achey and my legs were just dead yesterday after the ride. I really could barely move.) So I took a moment to marvel at my powers of recovery and then baked a batch of scones, and headed out on the bike to the Ladies Who Bike lunch, which is a monthly thing that Dottie at Let' Go Ride A Bike does. It's really a terrific group of women, and I'm not just saying that because they might find me talking about them on the internet. They're so wonderfully encouraging, all of them, and everyone bikes for different reasons and in different ways, but they all seem to do it just because they like it. There's no dogma there, and no judgment. Just friendly fun girl talk and bike talk. I love that they all came over to look at my bike and tell me it seems so nice, and to validate my choice to leave the fender on, and suggest alternative water bottle solutions, and stuff like that.

I don't have pictures from the Terrific Lunch, but Dottie will. Actually, I don't have pictures of anything because I can't find my camera. I had it, and now I don't, and I dunno. I did mention that part of training is my life falling apart, right? Because that's still happening.

After the Lunch of Terrificness, I pedaled myself over to Performance Bike which I have to say -- it's a great bike shop. The guys there are always really helpful and very available and never condescending. Every time I go there, I know I'll get the help I need. Bless them for being so friendly and so reliable. Anyway, I had them adjust my bike seat, which is frankly so painful that I have to ice my hoo-ha after a long ride. (Man, the things I never dreamed this whole endeavour would entail.) I don't want to buy a new saddle until I at least try adjusting this one, since I hear that sometimes it's all a matter of finding juuuust the right angle. So they did that, and we'll see how it works out.

The other Big Thing is that I had them put Power Grips on my pedals. See, I've been trying the clipless pedals and it's not working for me. Which, if you didn't know (I didn't), is a whole Thing in the cycling world. Basically, it's special shoes that attach to special pedals, so that you are attached to your bike. You can click in and out of the pedals with a particular jerk of the foot. Anyway, I've been practicing but it freaks me out and I can't manage it.

So I decided to try these foot straps instead.

Ideally, I'd prefer not to have any kind of foot-retention thing going on, but everyone insists that it is just SUCH a help on the uphills that it would be stupid not to at least try. So they installed these and, after I delivered the infamously yummy chocolate-orange scones (NOTE: BAKED GOODS FOR SALE, IT IS PART OF MY FUNDRAISING, EMAIL ME IF INTERESTED), I made my way home with these new straps at my feet.

Aaaand, I didn't use them at all. They require a certain amount of coordination and practice, too. ARGH. So I just mashed them down under my clogs (not exactly the right footwear for this) and got myself home. I will take myself to the lakefront path tomorrow and give it a whirl. You know, where there are not cars whizzing impatiently by and buses trying to kill me, etc.

Okay, so that was my bike-centric weekend. I'll just say it again: FORTY FREAKIN MILES!

Oh god - that means next week is 45. Please pray for warmer weather. And stronger legs. Thanks.