Monday, June 25, 2012

Girl Grease-Monkey

This is me, cleaning off an extremely rusty, grimy pedal. 

So bike building class began last night, and in addition to learning some basics like how to use a bike stand, I also took the chain and pedals off of my project bike. The bike is crusted in many places with rust and ancient road salt residue, and it weighs a ton, and it doesn't look like much but I love it. Why? Because it needs me to get it all clean and oiled and working smoothly. And because it's just a humble little thing, some Sears-Roebuck Generic Ladies Bike that's probably as old as I am, and looks like half the commuter bikes I see being ridden every day on the streets of Chicago. If there's a general aesthetic to the bikes ridden in this city, I'd say it's pre-1980, solid, tank-like steel bikes, with spots of rust everywhere and mechanical memories of dozens of hard winters. Probably 75% of which are Schwinn. It fits here, that kind of bike. The look of them fits the look and the attitude of this city precisely. Not that there aren't other types of bikes around, but the ancient Schwinn is still the norm.

Anyway, this bike I'm fixing up is in that grand tradition, and I'm glad it's mine to fix.

Taking the chain off is tricky (unless the chain has a master link, in which case it pops right off with a quick squeeze of the right tool -  my project bike does not have a master link). You basically use the chain tool to push a pin out of a link, but you don't want to push it all the way out because it can't go back in. So I'd push it out, then wiggle to see if the chain would come off. Push again just a teeeeny bit as I cringe with fear it's too much, then wiggle. Cringe/push, wiggle. Cringe/push, wiggle. Over and over. It was slightly stressful. But I got it off.

Then we had to take the pedals off, and that was my work-out for the evening. This bike has been unused for at least 2 years, and a good chunk of that time it sat outside, soaking in our ever-so-pleasant weather. So it's safe to say that the threads on those pedals hadn't been greased in god knows how long. So I just wrestled with the pedal wrench a while. To get more leverage, I took it off the stand, put it on the floor upside down, and wrestled even more vigorously. At least 10 minutes or more, and neither pedal was budging even when I switched to the Great Big Pedal Wrench (yet more leverage). The girl next to me had the same problem. Then we realized we were pushing the wrong way. Because our bikes were upside down, see, and it's really hard to remember which way is which when your bike is upside down. So. Going in the right direction with the Great Big Pedal Wrench, they came right off. Imagine that.

Let's just call that my upper body workout.

Anyway, I had fun and came away with tremendously greasy hands, so I was pretty satisfied. What's super-cool is that I'm not the only female in the class - it's 5 girls and 4 guys. Makes me happy for the world of bikes, seeing so many of women there with grease on our hands. Girl power! Next week we're supposed to overhaul the bottom brackets, which I find wildly exciting only because I will finally learn exactly what a bottom bracket is, and can stop thinking of it as "everything down there by my feet".

In other bikey news, I went and got Olivia adjusted yesterday - seat raised, handlebars lowered, gears were slipping so a cable adjustment.
Bad news: it fits WAY better, but I still need even more adjusting, argh.
Great news: I get to keep the basket! At least so far, even bringing the handlebars down an inch or more left room for the basket. Yay!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bad Basket News

Olivia waits patiently for noodles outside Furama
At last, the weather is nice again. So I commuted to work today and found myself getting used to Olivia. It's quite different, but the more I ride the more I'm glad I got her.

I have to say that when cyclists insist on the value of a good fit, they are about 100000% right. Road bike, commuter bike, whether you're on it 30 minutes or 30 miles, the fit makes all the difference. With the Pashley, my seat is just a tad bit too low, which I would never have known if I hadn't been riding a bike with the seat at exactly the right height. I also keep finding my forearms all tensed and aching, because I keep unconsciously pressing down with my hands, as though I just want the grips to be in a different, lower place. This leads me to conclude the handlebars need to come down more than a bit. I can't properly love the ride until it fits me, that's all there is to it.

So I stopped at JC Lind, as it's on the way home and he raised the seat for me - though as it turns out now that I've ridden it some, not enough. (Adjustments are neverending, seriously.) He also said out loud what I'd secretly been suspecting: the basket must go. That great big gorgeous thing must come off. There's a bracket to support the basket and it doesn't move. Nor does the headlight below it. So if the handlebars come down, there's just nowhere for the basket to go. It can't be there anymore. I can still HAVE a basket, but it will have to be the smaller one.

Insert sad face here.

I freaking love that basket, man. But I'll go back to the shop from whence it came and have the adjustments made and the basket downsized. I can only sacrifice so much comfort for style. Actually, I am not a fan of sacrificing any comfort for style, at least on a bike. And I have to say that it may be a good thing, because  the basket seems to bring out the paternalistic in nearly every male with which it crosses paths. Which I find exasperating. (Actually, now I think of it, I have encountered more paternalistic bullshit since I started down the bicycling path 7 months ago than I've experienced in the entire decade previous. What is it about females on bikes that brings this out in guys? Ugh.) It reminds me of when I worked in a bookstore with a  cafe: when I worked the bookstore side, normal interactions. The second I stepped behind the cafe counter, though, it was as though my IQ had dropped to single digits. This is the biking equivalent: put a basket on a bike and suddenly it gets all pre-suffragette out there. Anyway, maybe if it's smaller, or gone entirely, I won't get the daily reminders of how smart and strong men are and how much I need them, etc.

In sporty cycling/bike-building news, I am borrowing a friend's old and rather dilapidated bike to take to class with me on Sunday. It will be my project bike, to take apart and put back together but better than before. As for my road bike, I've decided to take the class first and then build my own bike after I've learned everything I can. My head was just spinning with all the unprocessed info, and there were too many decisions every day for me to feel confident in making them all. I really just need to take it all in more slowly instead of plunging in so impulsively. It was a classic set up for regret, so I just decided to slow it down. It's a relief, though it means it'll be a while til I have a road bike to get on.

But that's okay. I have enough bike to keep me occupied for now. :-)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Knowing My Limits (& Introducing Olivia)


Here is a view of my city this morning, taken from the 66th floor of the Sears Tower. It looks rather harmless, no? Well, let me tell you: it has been nothing like harmless lately.

See, yesterday and today (and tomorrow, they say) it's been 95 degrees with loads of humidity. And that is  Very Very Hot. Now add to that the winds we've been having, which are clocking in at 25 mph. I rode to work yesterday and the morning was hot, but totally doable despite the hell-wind. But then the ride home - oh, the ride home. It was hotter, naturally. And the wind was not some nice steady strong gust from the south to push me home, as I'd thought it would be. Instead, it gusted from all directions and I had to battle against it the entire way. It was exhausting, and god only knows what my body's core temp was by the end of it all. I swear I could feel organs boiling. 

What I learned from this episode is that perhaps I can handle 90+ weather, and perhaps I can handle 25mph winds - but I definitely can't handle both at the same time for 8+ miles. When I got home, I really worried for a second that I would pass out. (I'm telling you, my body cannot handle heat. I am genetically geared for temps in the 60s, okay?) I hydrated like mad, but nothing could stop how nauseous I was, or the headache that had settled in. I could tell my body wanted some kind of nutrition (I left work hungry, stupid me) but the whole concept of food was just way beyond me at that point. Honestly, I felt far far worse than I did after riding 55 mountainous miles. 

So that's my decision: no more bike commute if it's 90 degrees or above. If my commute were only a few miles, that would be a silly restriction. But it's not that short and it typically takes me at least 45 minutes, which is just too long for a bod as heat-averse as my own to be pedaling away. 

This is ESPECIALLY SUCKY because on Sunday I went and bought my longed-for Pashley Princess Sovereign and I just want to ride her, dammit! I brought her home from the far-flung neighborhood on my car, because I had a friend with me and no helmet. The poor dear suffered the indignity with grace.

I named her Olivia. Which is an awesome bike name, you must admit.

I actually hesitated buying after a good long test ride, because she just felt so slow. But I figured - hey, commute with it once and see what you think. So I did, and it still felt so so slow. But I looked at my watch and realized that it was the same amount of time it would've taken me to do the trip on Pepe. So it feels slower, but it's going the same speed. I think this perception of slowness has to do with how incredibly comfortable and smooth the ride is. It's like when you're used to driving a little old-ish crappy car (note the picture: I know whereof I speak) and then one day you borrow/rent some high-end car that still smells new. There's less noise, and you're more relaxed as you sink into the plush seat, and your hands don't grip the steering wheel, and all that kind of thing - and before you know it, you're like "Oops, hey whoa, I'm going 95 mph, how'd that happen?!" 

Not that Olivia is going to surprise me by going super fast anytime soon, I just mean that how it feels can be deceptive. With Pepe, I always feel like I'm working very hard, leaned forward and going as fast as is possible for me to go. But the Pashley makes me sit up in quite a decorous way as I glide along, like some kind of stately oceanliner. And somehow I wind up with the same speed with far less than half the effort. 

I will say that so far - with nothing but one (rather awful, thanks to the weather) commute and a quick trip to the store to go on - I can already say definitively that she's more bother than a lesser bike would be. Heavy to carry up the stairs, harder to maneuver in and out of the tight spaces in my basement, and I fuss over how safe she is at any given time. But by god is she ever beautiful enough to make up for it, both in looks and in how luxurious it feels to ride. 

Even a trip to Target for paper towels is a thrilling little event. She really knows how to class up a joint.

According to the forecast, I will hopefully be able to take her for a spin again before the week ends, Fingers crossed!

(And PS: my bike building class starts this weekend. Fun!)

Friday, June 15, 2012

What's Next

I had intended this blog to chronicle my training. And, if you hadn't noticed, my training is over. For now, anyway. But I think I'll keep updating here every once in a while, in case you're interested in what's happening in my Bike Life. Because of course I have all kinds of plans whizzing about in my head.

Here are my bike plans for the future, if you want to know:

1. This weekend, I'm going to go test ride my long lusted-for Pashley Princess Sovereign. I will probably just go ahead and buy it because I am so in love with it and so ready for a right-for-me commuter bike. I did already test-ride the Britannia model, which is basically the same (just the accessories are different, really), so I know I love how it rides. So hopefully, by Monday, I will have this gorgeous thing taking me to work and back every day:

I'm sure I won't be able to resist talking about it and posting pictures and such-like. Plus, I want to winter commute - and I'm sure that will be quite an experience.

2. I will sell the newly repaired Pepe. He's got a nice sturdy new back wheel - I can feel the difference in the ride, isn't that something? I think since he's still so young and I've made some nice improvements to him, that I'll get a good price. And I do think he'd be the perfect commuter for someone. Just not me. As I've never sold anything on Craigslist before, I'll probably talk about what that's like.

3.  I will SAG for the team the rest of this season - not every Saturday, but four or five of them. Plus, I volunteered to SAG at the local ride (Blood Sweat and Tears), so I'll get to know what it's like to be Support instead of Cyclist.

4. This is kind of a big one, and my current obsession: I will build a bike. Including the wheels. There's a shop on the west side that teaches classes and I really, really want to learn how. No idea if I'll love it or hate it, but I want to learn all about components and how a bike actually functions and how to diagnose and fix problems, and this is the most appealing way to learn it, to me. Plus, building a wheel just sounds so cool. The bike I'll build up will be my road bike. I'd just rather build it than buy it complete. So I am sure I'll be all boring about bike mechanics as I go through this. But if it's the kind of thing that interests you, you can come read about it here and maybe learn a bit along with me.

5. Once I have the road bike - which should hopefully be a couple of months - I'll practice riding it on weekends, before the weather turns bad. I want to get used to it. I've never, ever ridden a road bike before, so I'd rather get the hang of it now and then when the spring season starts again, I have a fighting chance to be somewhat decent at it. 

So that's what's next for me. I don't think I'll update as much as I did during training, but I won't completely abandon this blog - and next year, when I try for 100 miles again, it'll be just a continuation of the story. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Not Done Yet

I still pretty much hate cycling as a sport. That hasn't changed. (And to be fair, I generally hate all sports. I am not a sports person. The whole idea of working so hard and constantly challenging yourself physically - just doesn't appeal. Life is short, and I prefer to chill the hell out.) But it's pretty obvious to me that I am not done yet.

I still haven't gone 100 miles. Not even close. It's just how I'm built - I can't be done until I do what I wanted to do.

And it's barely been a week, but I already miss my team. On top of that, my body has learned how to ride 50+ miles without it hurting. It feels fine to be on a bike for hours, and I worked hard and persevered for quite some time to get to that point. It seems stupid to just walk away, when I have this good foundation.

Thinking about it (and believe me, I have had so much time to think about it), I know that I'd like riding a lot more if I weren't so slow. Not because I'd like to be speedy. In fact, I am slightly nervous about going very fast and I enjoy a ride more when I can just mosey along, smell the proverbial roses, etc. But the problem is that when you've been riding for hours and you still have hours to go? That turns an enjoyable ride into a chore. I wager I'd like the whole effort more if, after I've been ready to call it quits for ages, there are only 10 or 15 miles to go instead of 30. It makes a big difference. I would never quit if there were only 10 miles left, no matter how long the ride. But if I've been riding for 5 hours and there are still 40 miles left? I don't mind telling you that to keep going requires vast amounts of guts, grit, and determination. Not that I mind busting out my considerable guts, grit, and determination every once in a while, but having to do it every week is a bit much.

This morning, I picked up Pepe (whose wheel is just SO crooked, poor guy), dropped him off to get a new wheel put on, and then I went to see a girl about a very pretty bike. Then I went to two more shops. Looking for a road bike.

Yes, a road bike. Yes, me. For real. Because road bikes are built for speed, so it should help me go faster. I am less of a beginner now, and ready to try it, though I admit I am wildly nervous.

So there you have it: I'm done with training for now, but not with riding. My plan is to sell Pepe, buy a used road bike (in addition to a new commuter bike, and yes that is two bikes, holy cow look how far I have come), and spend the rest of the summer getting used to it. Then next year, we'll see if I improve, and how much. I think I just need more training time and a faster bike, and I can do it. I don't know that I'll do Tahoe again - that will depend on my skill level. But I'll get to 100 miles somewhere, somehow.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I am volunteering at the North Shore half marathon. My coworker, friend, and (most importantly) TNT teammate Elspeth is running and I can't wait to cheer her on. Poor runners, they tend to have very individual journeys that aren't as shared as ours. I mean, the running team doesn't seem to have the same family feel as ours, not a metric tonnage of bonding going on over there, from what I can tell. So all season, Elspeth and I have shared training stories, checked in on each other after long training days, explored the world of endurance nutrition and hydration, compared gear, and all that kind of thing together. Different sports, but a shared experience. So I'm her teammate, and I'm in it with her until she crosses the finish line.

Plus I've volunteered to SAG for the cycling team for several of the remaining rides. So I really am far from being done here.

Man. I really had no idea, when I signed up all those months ago. The sign-up sheet should come with a disclaimer, like Warning: you may wind up wanting to devote a significant chunk of your life/heart/self to this whole thing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What Tahoe Was Like

First, it was a gorgeous, gorgeous day. Brilliant blue skies and bright sun. No need at all for extra layers or gloves or my bad ass legwarmers. The sun got pretty hot later in the afternoon, but it was basically everything you could have wanted out of a summer day.

We started our ride crowded together at the start, waiting for our designated time (6:10), and I did some nervous weeping. Coach Anne says it's good to be nervous - it shows you care - and I decided I just needed to let all the nervousness out and get it over with. Then we shouted our team cheer, got on our bikes, and headed out. It's reallllllly crowded at the start, as you have like 100+ riders taking off at once. I was immediately separated from my team, which I expected.

The Switchbacks
The first ten miles are relatively flat. You go through town a bit and then it's just like campgrounds: tall pines and quiet roads. It smells like heaven. It's worth going there for the smell alone.

There were lots of other cyclists still, from all over the place, though it wasn't terribly crowded. I began to notice rather early on what some alumni had mentioned: that other teams are not as conscious of safety as we are. Some jerk from California brushed by me going twice as fast as me, and I nearly ran off the road - he never said a word. People passed on my right (a big no-no, but if you have to do it for some reason, give some damn warning) and swerved around debris that they never bothered to communicate to me. On our team, we always call out everything - cars, rough pavement, passing on the left, crap in the road ahead, everything. I'm actually not even very good at that, compared to the rest of my team, but I'm stellar compared to half the people on the road at Tahoe. Anyway, I passed my first accident before we even got to the switchbacks. A girl had fallen, and her team was with her. Later, someone told me she'd been taken away in an ambulance.

There's this long slog of a steep climb. I tried not to get impatient, but it did seem to be taking a LONG time to get to the hairpin turns. I mean, that's what makes it a switchback, yeah? So here I am, in my granny gear,  doing my typical super-slow but steady pedaling on this steep incline, wondering when the hell the turns were coming up, because I know it's supposed to get worse than this and ye gods but this is bad enough.

Then, I saw the turn. And I turned. I saw. I whimpered. Because it only gets steeper. Here's an aerial view I found, and if it looks like there's a part of the road that's going down the mountainside instead of up, allow me to assure you that it's some trick of the angle or something. The road went nothing but up. And up and up and up.

When you get to the turns and look up, you can see the riders ahead, like a line of ants marching. Plenty of people passed me, but absolutely no one was going fast. They're just so steep. And it was crowded.

Many people got off and walked it early on. Once you stop, it's next to impossible to get started again on anything that steep, especially when it's so crowded. About halfway up the steepest part, I pulled over (it was almost flat for about 50 feet of road, so exciting!) and caught my breath. Then I got back on because, dammit, I Am Beth Hear Me Roar. Screw you, switchbacks, you will not win! I made it around another turn, then kept the torture up until just before the next (and last) turn. One more turn and one last steep stretch and I'd be done. But I could tell I just didn't have much more in me and there was no flat-ish spot to pull over and gather my strength again. Then this guy in front of me just fell. Not a violent fall - he was going too slowly for that (we all were). Just a very slow, gradual surrender to gravity.

I couldn't move out of his way fast enough - I couldn't do anything fast, besides breathing fast - and I was about an inch away from being unable to go on at that point, so I just let it go. Got off the bike, walked the last bit. You can only fight the good fight for so long, especially when there's a cyclist on the ground a foot in front of your wheel. There's a photographer at the top of the switchbacks and I hopped on my bike and posed for the camera, then pedaled on. So I did my best til I couldn't do any more, but I couldn't do all the switchbacks. I was glad that I did manage to do about 2/3rds or more of them, though. Yay me.

After that was a rest stop, where I saw Coach Anne and my teammate Emmelin - probably some other teammates were there but I didn't stop, just shouted hi to them as I rode on. Coach Tom had warned that you don't want to stop at that first rest stop, because there's a hill just after it. Never give up momentum before a hill. So I just kept pedaling.

There's a steep and glorious descent from the switchbacks, which I had been intending to fully enjoy until the night before the ride. My roommate Alane had done like 10 Tahoe rides, and she told me about the year the guy just ahead of her hit the guardrail on the descent from the switchbacks at 40 mph and died. Yeah, DIED. That was my bedtime story the night before the ride. Nice. So my brakes and I had a little bonding session along that stretch of road, instead of me flying down shouting "Wheeeeeee!" as originally planned. I did get fast enough to build up quite the wind chill, though - my teeth were chattering, even. And my lips are still windburnt from it.

Then began what I like to refer to as The Stuff No One Talks About part of the ride. Because all that stuff between the switchbacks and the hellacious climb up Spooner, like 65 miles of stuff? IT'S REALLY REALLY HARD OH MY GOD. There was at least one other hill I had to walk up, though I don't know where/which - somewhere between the switchbacks and the rest stop at mile 25. It's the length of the inclines that are so brutal - every hill just goes on and on. There's nothing like that here, to train on. It's just harder. And I kept running out of breath much sooner than I am used to, which must have been the altitude. I just ran out of steam so fast, every time I had to put in some real effort.

But eventually I made it to Mile 25 rest stop (more like 27, according to someone with an odometer I talked to) and filled up my camelbak and my water bottle, used the bathroom, ate some fruit, and hoarded some granola bars. Then I texted Coach Anne before heading back out. She had asked me to text her at every stop along the way so she knew where I was. She planned to meet me at King's Beach, where the lunch stop is, and ride the last 30 miles with me to the finish line.

Truckee Trip
This was my favorite AND most hated portion of the ride.

A few miles after the rest stop, there was a sign pointing to the turn-off for the 100 mile option. I didn't know  it would take me to the bike path instead of the road, but I'm so glad it did. Very few people took the path - most opted for the road instead - so it was a quiet bit of heaven.

It was like this for miles. I loved it. How could I not? Rushing water and trout jumping and shady pines. It was so great, I want to go back and camp there. If only it had stayed so pleasant.

(A side note: My coaches said they were so so proud of me, for taking the 100-mile option instead of just continuing on the shorter path around the lake. But they know me well enough not to be surprised that I did. I mean, like there was any chance I would willingly take the shorter route? Dude. Go big or go home.)

Sadly, the pretty bike path ended after I don't know, like 5 miles? Then you're dumped onto what is basically a wide-shouldered highway which you follow all the way out to the rest stop at Truckee, where you turn around and come back along the same route. It's not picturesque, and cars and trucks zoom by. Not long after I got on there, I saw Coach Anne and Emmelin again, on their way back from the Truckee stop. They shouted words of encouragement at me, and a couple of miles later I saw more teammates coming back from Truckee, the Bufalinos. I thought Truckee would be only a few miles, but after a while I started to wonder. It wasn't long until it was just me on my side of the road, but there was still a steady stream of riders on the opposite side, coming back from the rest stop. In the last 1.5 miles or so before the rest stop, I really began to panic, because no more riders were coming from that way. I would have cut it short and turned back, except I really needed to refill the water.

I did finally get there. Thank god. It felt like forever. But after reapplying sunscreen, eating some salty boiled potatoes (which are nowhere near as tasty as the alumni led me to believe) and visiting the portapotty, I had to go back.

And this is where it was awful. Soul-crushing. The depression began when I realized I was the last person out of Truckee. As in: the last person, out of like 3,000+ riders. LAST.

I TOLD you I am the slowest. Of everyone. Ever. All-time slowest. Proven.

I started down that terrible highway all alone. I just kept telling myself to suck it up and eventually I'd reach that pretty pretty river path again. But it was ages of incline - not terribly steep, but just enough to make you dislike the road. Cars and trucks whizzed by, kicking up the dust and gravel. I'd forgotten my sunglasses, so I just squinted against it and thanked God for my freakishly long eyelashes. And then the wind began in earnest.

I'll admit it: it broke me. I soldiered on for a while, singing Tom Petty at the top of my lungs for a bit (why not? there was no one to hear) and pep-talking myself. But once the wind came, all I could do was feel sorry for myself. I got off the bike for a bit, because I just didn't care anymore about making it up a stupid little hill that just made me want to die, and I texted my despair to Coach Carrie (we texted all day, she couldn't come to Tahoe but she's my morale-booster-in-a-pocket) as I wept on the side of the road.

It was about 5 miles out of Truckee, I think, and I had just been standing there, texting Carrie or drinking water or something, and I heard a twang-like popping sound come from the rear of my bike. But then a support van was there asking if I wanted help. They were the last support van out there, they said. No riders behind me. I wiped the tears away and asked if they could just take me back to the bike path. Sure, they said - it's just a few miles up the road. So they loaded my bike in the van and off we went.

My rear wheel was next to me, and I thought I heard another little pop, and I remembered the broken spoke from the day before. So I checked and found two loose spokes. I know you can ride with one broken spoke for a while without danger, but I was pretty sure you shouldn't ride with 2 broken spokes. The support van were more food-n-water people, rather than bike mechanics people, and they didn't know either. So we decided to take me to King's Beach, which was the next rest stop and where the nearest bike mechanic could be found. Once that decision was made, I got out my phone to text Coach Anne and let her know what was going on.

The Best Coach Ever

I found a text from Coach Anne, which she'd sent just as I was getting into the support van: she was at King's Beach and was riding out to meet me. Doubling back, adding another 20 or more miles to her ride, because she didn't want me to ride alone anymore. If my bike had been working and I had still been crying like a baby at the side of the road, it's the only thing that would've put heart in me and saved me and got me back to fighting strength. It was being alone on that miserable stretch that was making me so despondent. And Angel Anne was coming for me.

I just love her, is all. She's so great.

End Game

I sent her a message saying I was being sagged to King's Beach, don't ride all the way out here. Need mechanic, have broken spokes, I said. Sorry! She told me not to be sorry. But I always feel like a failure when I can't keep going, no matter the reason.

King's Beach is beautiful. But I don't know if I can ever enjoy it, since its the place where I began to fear my bike for the first time. I can't disassociate the place from the feeling of suspecting my bike might actually hurt me. I mean I'm sure it's a great spot to have a cook-out and a splash in the water and all, but it will always be a place of heartbreak for me. Kind of like getting dumped at the Eiffel Tower, or something, you know?

One of the Bufalino girls, Christina, had to bow out after the switchbacks because her lungs were burning so badly. So she and her non-cycling family were driving along the route to cheer on the remaining Bufalino cyclists and planning to drop Christina a couple of miles from the finish line, to ride across it with her sister and father. Very kindly and generously, they loaded up my bike and myself too. And that's how I spent the rest of the day: cheering along the side of the road with them, then riding the last 2 miles across the finish line with my team.

I got to see the rest of the course from the car, except the bit that goes into Incline Village. Too bad - apparently the residents there come out every year, sit at each stop sign, and tell the cyclists to come to a complete stop. If you don't, they take down your bib number, give it to the police, and you get a citation. For real. I'd been looking forward to cheerfully saying "Oh do get a life, won't you?" at each stop sign in that town. Alas. From the car, the climb up Spooner looked hellish. I doubt I could've done more than the first few miles of it. And the descent looked just awesome. God, I wanted that descent.


Anne tells me that as soon as you're too scared of your bike, the ride is over. You can't ride like that, she says. And Gary - a teammate, incredibly inspiring survivor, all-around great guy and soon to be TNT coach - said that if my wheel had failed on that descent, it would be the kind of thing that would make me never get on a bike again. I know that both of them are right, absolutely.

But. Coach Tom had two spokes break on the ride as well. And he kept going. He's a veteran of this ride, and a far stronger rider and more skilled cyclist than I am. And his wheel is undoubtedly of a much higher quality than mine, and stronger. But still. It's in my head now, that maybe I could have done it. And maybe I should have.

But I didn't, and that's that. As I said, I could tell that I couldn't have done all 100 miles in the allotted time anyway. So no matter what, I would have failed by my own calculations.

The whole time I was riding, I swore to myself that this was the stupidest thing I've ever tried to do, Whose bright idea was it to ride a bike here? Dumb dumb dumb, and I for one had seen the error of my ways.

Anne said she expects me back in Tahoe next year. I told her she's crazy. She said Tahoe owes me. It can keep owing me, I said, no biggie. You're not done with this place, she said. We'll see, I said to placate her.

I don't know. I really don't. Except one thing I have learned: Coach Anne is always right.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Only Half-Awesome

I do not have pictures to share, as my camera died on Saturday and my phone only had enough memory for a few scenic views. Anyway, I should keep this short and sweet. I'm awake too early in my hotel room, and I'd rather go back to the bed and bury my head under the pillow again.

I didn't do 100 miles. I did something like 55. As you can imagine, I reek of disappointment. The stench of it is probably seeping through your computer screen.

The ride was very, very hard, and about midway through, I broke a spoke. Actually, two spokes. So I had to be driven the 15 or so miles to the next rest stop where there was a mechanic. He didn't have extra spokes, so he rearranged the existing to better distribute the weight/bear the load, and thought it would be fine for the remaining 30 miles. But then he got a good look at the wheel and said that actually, the wheel was much weaker than he thought and had been bent (twice, because remember it was bent in shipping). After I pressed him (I could see how reluctant he was to say it was totally safe or not), he told me that if another spoke went, it would happen on the upcoming 8-mile steep descent from Spooner Junction, and the wheel would bend and I would hear/feel it hit against the frame, and that would be the end of that. Not catastrophic failure, but failure - and he couldn't say the likelihood of it actually happening. Except I could see in his face that he fully expected it to happen on that descent. 

That descent was all I'd been thinking of for hours. Because as you know, I just love downhills. But it's a busy road with cars whizzing past. And I'd have cyclists in front of me and back of me and probably passing me. And if my wheel gave out going that fast with cars and cyclists zooming down the hill all around me? It wasn't so much the idea that I might get hurt as it was the idea that I could get hurt AND cause a horrible pile up, hurting lots of other people. Coach Anne was with me and gave me the choice of going on or stopping. Since there was a part of me that was not enjoying this ride (which I'll tell you more about the actual ride later, hopefully after I'm a bit less emotional) and I wondered if I was just looking for an excuse to quit, I did a quick mental check: Coach Anne would be with me, so I wouldn't have to worry about the lonely despair I'd been suffering in the 10 or so miles before the spokes broke. My legs felt absolutely fine and I knew I could ride for hours more. 

So maybe I wasn't thrilled about going on, but I could. So, I thought - shouldn't I? And then I imagined getting on the bike, sitting on that back wheel, and going down an 8-mile, 700-foot descent on a non-deserted road. And I realized for the first time ever, I was afraid of actually riding my bike. I've been afraid before, but not of my bike. In my gut, it just felt like a bad thing to get on that bike. So I didn't.

And I cried a lot and felt like shit (and I shouldn't really be using the past tense for those activities), but really I am sure it was the right decision. It just sucks that it wasn't my own failing that stopped me. My legs didn't cramp, no horrid aches in my thighs, no full-body exhaustion. I could have kept going. Except I couldn't. 

I suppose the very bright side of this is that I did 55 miles and still felt fresh as a daisy. And really, I can see now that there's no way I would have been able to finish this course in the time allotted. Really, I'm just not a strong enough, fast enough rider. But I had wanted to keep going until I couldn't go anymore. 

And the other bright side is that with one other exception, my whole team finished the ride. I got back on the bike 2 miles from the finish line and got to ride in with lots of teammates, a few of whom had never done a century ride before. So it was quite a triumphant moment for them and I was glad to be able to cheer them on in real time. 

Anyway, that's my tale. I still haven't gone 100 miles, which means I have to still keep trying. I did have ice cream, though. I only ate half. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What I'm In For

I know I should be starting to get nervous, and I suppose I am - in a very distant, this-is-happening-to-someone-else kinda way. But I mostly think I'm in denial. Objectively, I can look at that elevation chart and know for a fact that this is CRAZY. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel it in my bones. Right now, I'm just feeling the two-hour time difference: I've been awake 2 hours and am still waiting for breakfast to be served. It's the mundane emotions that are breaking through, like being hungry and mildly interested in what the weather's like today.

The first sharp uphill you see there on the map above is The Switchbacks. (They are capitalized, for maximum ominousness.) These have been what worry me the most, as it's such a steep climb and everyone who's done this talks about them as though they are An Ordeal. If the climb didn't last several miles and just get super-steep there, I'd be less worried. But that's a lot of time to climb, even if it comes very early in the ride when my legs will still be fresh.

The other big worry is the 8-mile climb to Spooner Junction, that big ole mountain near the end. It's a far more gradual climb, they tell me - like biking into a strong headwind - so it's less frightening to me. However, it comes when you're 80 miles in. And that is a LOT to ask of legs that have already gone 80 hilly miles. But damn, that downhill is just gorgeous and lasts for ages.

After driving the last 12-ish miles of the course yesterday, on our way into town (from the top of Spoon Junction on to the end), I am now far more alarmed at the whole rest of the course - all the hills that aren't the switchbacks or Spooner. Because those little-looking hills at the end, see those? We drove over those. And they are - just not easy. They're the kinds of hills I see on a ride when I'm already tired and they just make me want to cry. If the rest of the course is filled with these "little" hills, it's not going to be a good time for our fair heroine, let me tell you. As my teammate Matt said yesterday: this is nothing like Barrington. It's like Barrington like how Indianapolis is like Chicago. As in, not very. A vague echo in roughly the same albeit miniaturized shape.

Here's the truth: I have no clue if I can do this. I mean, maybe I can but there is actually a time limit. We start at 6:10am and have to be off the course by 5pm. There are a lot of downhills to go with those uphills, but I really don't know what my speed will be like. The course is around the lake (72 miles) with an out-and-back to Truckee. If you reach the turn-off to Truckee too late in the day, then they won't let you go there and you just continue around the lake. So we'll see if I make the cut.

And of course, let's not forget that the most mileage I've ever done is 63-ish miles. And that is far short of 100. So. There's that.

There is also, however, my stubbornness and persistence and pride. I think it's likely I'll get mad and do all 100 miles entirely out of spite. (Spite for...I dunno, the hills? My inner self who will want to give up?) Anyway, everyone who knows me agrees that it's highly likely I will do the full mileage no matter the hills, or quite literally die trying. And since I don;'t feel like dying, then I guess 100 miles it is!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pepe! Pobrecito!

trapped in a hotel room, poor dears
 Yay, we didn't die in a fiery airplane crash! HOORAY!

That was my first hurdle. I am a Very Very Nervous Flyer. It was mostly smooth, though, with an especially painless (as in lees pain, not pain-free) takeoff. I like to think it's because we had a woman pilot. Nicely done, Captain Karen. Nicely done indeed.

Once we got in, drove an hour to the hotel, checked in, and had a snack, it was off to pick up our bikes. Pedals on, pump up the tires, reattach the bags  - then strapped on my helmet and gave it a quick test ride around the parking lot. It felt perfectly fine, except the gears were very very far from where I'd left them. Seemed a bit strange, but entirely harmless.

It was only when I was getting ready to stop that I noticed something wrong - the back brake didn't work at all. I got off and we saw that the brake itself wasn't attached. Basically, the brakes are held in place and operated by a very simple set of cables, and the cable had become unattached. Which is odd, because it's really really hard to unattach that thing. I have to undo it every time I get a flat (as you know, that's about once a week at this point) and I always rip up my fingertips and spend several minutes on it.

Look! Mechanical stuff!

See how it's supposed to slip out? Anyway, that was unattached, so we did it back up and yet the tire was still rubbing against the brake. It's always been a little tight, and I've had it adjusted a couple of times. But it's  been an Issue, so I figured for whatever reason, it needs more adjustment. Fine.

Luckily TNT sees to it there's a mechanic on site. He's free, too, but of course I put several dollars in his tip jar, because (a) he's a sweetheart, and (b) he took good care of Pepe. He noticed that the wheel was quite crooked - hence the rubbing. He also immediately saw (funny how none of us did) that a spoke was broken, Gasp! Such SCANDAL.

Okay, it's not really scandalous at all, these things happen when you put hundred of bikes in a truck together and drive them across the country. It's not dire. It's just that Pepe's never had any problems despite my carelessness, so I naturally clutched at my pearls a bit. And I know Pepe and I have had our differences, and I know that he's [whispering] not exactly an awesome bike, he's actually cheap and sorta crappy (ssshhh! don't hurt his feelings, he's got a big day coming up), but he's mine and we've been through a lot together. Pepe is my trusty steed, my comrade in arms - we have looked into the abyss together, okay, and I will not have him being wounded, you hear me? I Will Not Have It. So I'm very happy the lovely mechanic took the time to fix the spoke, true the wheel, and adjust the brake cables so that the tire-rubbing business is a thing of the past. Bless him. God loves a good mechanic, let me tell you, and his reward is in heaven. (Actually, his reward is in the tip jar.)

Fixed up good and proper, there's a dear.

So everything is fine and we are seaworthy again. Tomorrow morning, we'll go for a short ride to acclimatize ourselves to the altitude.

As of right now, I am not nervous or scared or anything like that. A little worried now that I've seen the hills - dear lord, I might even have terrible nightmares about some of them tonight. I am from the flatlands, remember, so moving oneself across this topography without a motor seems entirely unnatural. Plus - I mean, dudes: they are some big futhermucking hills, okay? This is scary as all hell. We drove over a bit of the course on our way into town and I thought Well shit. That's scary. I should really, really be scared. But I'm not. Yet, anyway.

You know why I'm not? Because even though it was just those few minutes back on the bike,  they were the best minutes of my whole week. I've missed you, Pepe darling. It's funny, how something clicks after a certain amount of bike-riding. Like a switch gets flipped and suddenly you need it the same way you need to walk, to get out, to not lay in bed all day. And for me, there's the moment when I get just enough speed to where the wind starts to rush in my ears a little. Doesn't take much, just a slight downhill, like I got in the parking lot today. In the second that the wind starts to sound in my ears, I can't stop the smile spreading on my face or the way my heart lifts up. There's nothing left in the world except the feeling of being gloriously alive. No wonder it's addictive.

Of course, it's not all joyous slight downhills. There are also uphills. Many of them. Steep ones. In mountainous terrain. So I expect Sunday to be a full-on love/hate relationship with cycling kind of day. I bet if you could interview me around mile 60 - or god forbid, mile 86 or so (I will explain more about the course tomorrow) - then I would tell you it's all a load of bull-feathers, as my dad would say, and there's nothing good about a bicycle besides getting the hell off it. But for now let's just bask in the joy of a functioning bike and a reunion with a beloved activity, shall we?

Off I go to hyper-hydrate myself, in hopes of avoiding altitude sickness. Look at me, being all careful and stuff!