Monday, May 30, 2011

The Gravel Metric

The wind whips up, shifting yet again from a would be tailwind into a deadly headwind.

The rain picks up, pelting me in the face with hail-like raindrops. Perhaps it is hail, and I'm just too delirious to tell.

I turn yet again, ready to race another 5 mile stretch of gravel, riddled with potholes, mudpuddles, and the occasional dead animal.

Welcome to my Sunday in Hell.

When I first heard of the North Central Cyclery/Half Acre Cycling Gravel Metric, I was completely stoked. A chance to ride on some awesome gravel roads, ala the Strade Bianche in Italy? Awesomeness.

I knew I would have the perfect bike for the job. My road bike would do just fine, especially when equipped with the same tires used by many teams in Paris Roubaix - the Vittoria Pave Evo CG Tubular. I could only fit the 24c version on my bike, but I thought it would be more than enough.

The forecast for the day called for a 40% chance of thunderstorms. Psssh, thought I. That means nothing. The temperature was reasonably warm, the roads were dry, and I thought I could fly.

Turns out 40% is a pretty good chance. More on that later.

The ride started out with about 120 cyclists rolling out from the NCC shop in DeKalb. Well, at least we tried to rollout, until just half a block from the shop, when our progress was impeded by the longest freight train I have ever seen.

Great timing, guys.

Anyways, once we were able to get rolling, things went pretty smoothly. The pace was kept low for the rollout, which was nice, as it gave my legs a chance to warmup, and myself a chance to move up towards the front.

And a few turns and a stop sign later - all hell broke loose. We hit the gravel.

I managed to make it into the main break, a group of 10 or so riders. We were absolutely flying, with my sense of speed (I no longer use an actual computer) somewhere between "holy crap" and "insane". I used my better judgement and slipped quietly off the back of the group, knowing that my legs would likely not make it at that tempo for the entire ride. I found my way into a nice little group of 5 going only slightly slower than the leaders (I began kicking myself once I realized we were basically going the same pace - which had slowed down a bit).

We hit the first checkpoint, somewhere in Esmond, about 16 miles in. The checkpoint workers were quick, and I was able to roll through as they marked my wristband. Quickly back up to speed and into the group, we did the one thing that you don't want to do on a long ride - we took a wrong turn. It happened at an intersection where the road does a bit of a jog to the right. Instead of going mostly straight, we did a full turn to the right, and ended up about a mile out of our way.

Oops. (In hindsight, had we gone the way we were thinking, we would have been back on the actual route in no time.)

The group I was with decided to break up for no apparent reason, so I was left looking for a new group once I was back on the actual route. I got in with 3 other guys, 2 of whom were on 'cross bikes and the other on a mountain bike.

It was at this point that I noticed it getting darker. That could only mean one thing:

Rain. And lots of it.

I stopped preemptively to put on the rain jacket that I had stashed away in my saddle bag. I quickly caught back onto the other 3 just as it began raining.

Let me rephrase that: just as it began pouring.

It went from dry to torrential downpour instantly. Along with the rain came lightning, which seemed to strike on every side of us (and fairly close by). It was at this point that I was thankful to be riding behind a mountain biker, who, thanks to his higher bottom bracket and more upright position, was just ever so slightly taller than I.

If the GH were going to strike us with lightning, that guy would be first. See, mountain bikers do have a use in society.

Just as we passed the 32 mile point, we came across the second checkpoint. With my cuesheet now completely soaked (the rain jacket really wasn't doing much at this point), I was relying only on the stakes that the organizers had so graciously placed on the course. I asked the brave checkpoint workers which way, thinking that it would be down the gravel road to the right.

He pointed down a muddy ditch to the left.

Normally, I wouldn't have had too big of a problem with this, if I had been on my mountain bike or if I had this guy's bike. But, as I said earlier, I was on my road bike with 24c tires.

I managed to make it about 100 feet before falling over. Looks like I'm walking. To give you an indication of just how muddy this section was, have a look at this:

What the organizers were thinking by not telling us about this section, I haven't a clue. It probably would have been fine if it wasn't raining, but as it was, I had a nice 2 mile walk to think things over. My only thought was "The one benefit to carbon bikes in this situation is that they are extremely light to carry."

Eventually, we did get back on gravel, but only for a little bit. My Speedplay cleats, which normally are the greatest cleats in the world, had become jammed with mud, and I quickly gave up any hope of ever being able to clip in again. Mashing on top of the pedals it was.

Quickly, we came to an intersection that wasn't marked with a stake (which meant we were supposed to go straight). The other two directions had nice, smooth gravel roads to ride on. The way straight ahead said "Dead End: Dirt Road Ahead." I believe my reaction was somewhat akin to this:

More walking. Or was it? This road looked actually somewhat rideable, and to my disbelief, I was actually able to ride it in low gear.

Who'd thought that I'd ever need a 36x27 in the middle of flatland Illinios?!?

While the rain was doing a fairly decent job of keeping my bike clean, I was having a bit of mud buildup on my brake calipers (which didn't really matter, since I didn't need brakes to slow down). I thought it might be a good idea to try and wash the mud off by riding through a puddle.

The downside to puddles is that you can never tell if they are 1" deep and you can skim right through them, or if they are hiding a sudden dropoff. The one I tried to ride through: dropoff.

With my momentum lost, it was back to walking.

Fortunately, I had plenty of company at this point, having completely resigned any hope of ever riding fast again. We all walked along at the same point, until we came to this:

I'm not sure if this was normally a stream, but with all the sudden rain, the ride had suddenly turned into a game of Oregon Trail. With no option to caulk the wagon, take a ferry, or wait to see if conditions improve, we were forced to ford the "river". Even at the shallower upstream end, the water was still up to my bib shorts. I felt bad for the shorter riders, some of whom said it was up to their chests. Surprisingly, my legs actually felt warmer after going through, which I chalk up to them saying "Aw, screw this."

Soon after the river crossing, we came upon a set of railroad tracks. I turned to one of the women I was riding/walking with at the time, and said the following:
I want to stay on these tracks. They're flat, reasonably ridable, and I'm pretty sure DeKalb is that way.
She merely laughed at me, and we continued onwards, thankfully back on gravel, with all of the dirt sections behind us. (As it turns out, I wouldn't really have been right, as those particular tracks don't really go anywhere in the direction I was thinking.)

We came upon another right turn, and started to turn down it, only to discover a bunch of riders coming back the opposite way. We stopped to ask them if we were actually going the right way, and they replied that the third checkpoint was at the end of an out and back section. A 3 mile each way out and back section. While the thought of skipping it and pressing on was tempting, my desire to finish this whole damn ride won over.

Now, going back to what I said earlier about puddles: they can be kinda terrifying. So imagine the look on my face when I discovered that what once had been a road was now a puddle as deep as my hubs.

Yeah, it was a fun 6 miles.

The only saving grace of the whole section was the actual checkpoint. Despite the fact that it was now raining harder than ever, the checkpoint workers were miraculously still there, making sure our sorry butts weren't lying dead in a ditch somewhere. After checking in and attempting to get my wristband marked (even Sharpie doesn't work when it's wet), I noticed they had a case of Corona in the back.

"Yeah, you want one?" was their reply to the three of us standing there.

It wasn't so much a question of do I want one, it was more like how many would it take for me to keep riding. Knowing there were still a lot of riders behind us, my present group of three each took only one, toasted each other, and headed back down the road a bit to some random farmer's shed.

To whoever own's that shed: thank you. It provided a temporary bit of relief as I drank the most delicious cervasa I've ever had. I finished mine well ahead of the other two guys, and not wanting to be a litterbug, somehow found room in my back pockets for the glass bottle. With that, I headed back out through the road/lake, for the 20ish miles back to town.

It was a slog. When heading out of the barn, the wind was coming from the west, meaning that it would be a blissful tailwind for most of the way back. After getting done with the 3 mile out and back, the wind was coming out of the east. It was a strong headwind the entire way back.

I was virtually alone at this point. Another rider (on a 'cross bike) caught me after I took a nature break, and we exchanged words. But he never actually rode with me, instead dropping back about 100 meters or so, and staying there the entire time. I have no idea why, as this left both of us fighting the headwinds alone. But that's the way things go.

It was a bit of the blind leading the blind at this point. Perhaps the reason he dropped back was because he didn't know where to go. Then again, neither did I, as even my cue sheet that I had packing taped onto my top tube was largely illegible. To make matters worse, I had abandoned my glasses along time ago, figuring that the small gain in visability outweighed the downside of my horrendous vision. However, it lead me slowly rolling through every intersection, making damn well sure there wasn't a stake telling me to turn somewhere.

Finally, we were off the gravel, and much to my surprise, I found that my left cleat could clip in! After a bit of stuggling, I also got my right clipped in, and could now apply 0.0001% more power. This actually did come in handy, as there were a few sections where the paved roads no longer existed: soil from the adjacent fields had completely washed across, and torrents were sweeping more soil (and a few cyclists) into the ditch. Miraculously, I managed to stay upright for the entire ride, and eventually made it back to DeKalb, praising Hincapie for being alive and remembering to bring a change of clothes.

All in all, this was without a doubt the most epic thing I have ever done. 5:30 in pouring rain and lightning, about 2:30 more than I was hoping for (thinking the course was all gravel). Sure, I've done muddier races, longer riders, and harder events. But all of those were in fairly decent conditions (well, I was expecting the mud at least). Plus, all of those other rides I had an option to quit. The Gravel Metric was pure survival. While I could have probably eventually bummed a ride back somehow, my body wouldn't let me quit, instead saying "Eff it, we're going to do this." Would I do it again? Maybe. But definitely on a different bike, and definitely not if it looks like more than a 10% chance of rain.

And what raffle prize did I get for my efforts? A Park Tool bottle opener. Which is a bit fitting, considering all I wanted when I got done was a cold one (disclaimer: Yes, I am of age).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My EPIC Recovery/Return to riding

Before I start, I'd like to give a big thanks to Chris, Courtney, Carl and everyone else that visited me while I was laid up. The named people are life savers for: realizing that I had been in an accident, temporarily patching me up, getting me to the hospital, and riding an hour and a half in an ambulance with me - things would have been a lot worse with out you guys.

As many of you know, I had a rather a traumatic accident over spring break which left five transverse processes (use the Wikipedia machine if you don’t know what these are) on the left side of my lumbar vertebrae fractured and some internal organ damage. I was hospitalized for three days and then released and given a back brace to wear for the next few weeks.

(Note the Northwestern Cycling socks)

The doctors said that it would be about 6-8 weeks before I could even start to think about riding a bike, and some time after that where I would be able to do anything serious.

But I’m THE ЯH!ИO.

I laugh at time lines, and several basic laws of physics/nature do not apply to me.

On Friday, I decided to restore my bicycle to it’s former glory, and then do a recalibration ride to get used to physical activity from 5 weeks of forced inactivity.

Saturday, I did a Century. Yes, that’s right. 100 MILES (actually 105). My longest ride ever by 21 miles. All the way to Highway 50 in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and back. Only 5 weeks after my incident.

With the encouragement/help of Doug, I completed this “fat burner” ride, and still had several hours to spare in between returning home and going to guard the rock. Sadly, there are no pictures, as I am extremely un-photogenic in any light.

Doug and I met at 10am at Ravinia, and headed on a slightly meandering path northwards. He was riding his Scott Addict R3 with his brand new MADFIBER wheels (they are SICK), and I was using my trusty Trek 2.1. Traffic was light, and most drivers were nice (one guy gave us the finger, some wannabe suburban gangster in his mom’s SUV told us to get on the sidewalk, and one sedan ran a red light and almost clipped me – all in all a good ride).

(What would have occurred if that sedan got any closer)

The reason we called this an EPIC ride was three fold – foremost being that one of the riders involved was a recovering near-cripple and the other had only been on four outdoor rides this year, two was the distance covered, and three was the weather conditions. Those conditions ranged from sunny and calm to cloudy/drizzling with 20 MPH crosswinds. Somehow, I still managed to get a nice burn on my face, and a little around the whites of my eyes (yes, it’s possible to burn your eyes...). Don't let the little things scare you - the roads are perfect, scenery is pristine and the company makes it all the better.

That ride will be the start of hopefully many such (probably shorter distance) EPIC weekend rides from here on out. They are a great way to get to know your fellow riders, and frankly, riding a bike is (or at least should be) fun and non-stressful (damn cars).

Remember, if someone who fractured 5 spinal bones, suffered mild organ damage, and sat on his rather large/firm ass for 5 weeks straight can do these rides, so can you.

Keep an eye out for an email regarding the next EPIC ride - probably this upcoming Saturday.

Side note:
I'm probably not going to do many road races/crits this summer, but I'd like to make an effort to get out to the Northbrook velodrome and hopefully compete in the Allvoi cup. It would be awesome if we could get the Chicago-based riders to do track racing on a regular basis, and even be a force in the collegiate scene.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Racing with the Pros

It isn't often that, unless you are lucky enough and talented enough to have a Pro license, that you find yourself in a race lined up next to professional cyclists (events like the Grand Fondo excepted). So imagine by surprise when, in looking at the lineup for the Spooky Cross race in Irvine, CA, I found the following competitors:
  • Chris Horner: Team Radioshack member, 10th in the 2010 Tour de France GC, Winner of GC at the 2010 Veulta Cyclista al Pais Vasco
  • Sid Taberlay: 5x Australian national mountain biking champion
  • Brian Lopes: 4x UCI mountain biking world champion, 6x World Cup winner
And me, basically Schmucky the Clown.

What was I doing going up against these pros? In the SoCal Cyclocross series, there aren't very many Category 3 riders, or at least not enough to justify having a separate race. Rather than throwing us into the plethora of Cat 4 riders (who, as is the case across most of the country, seem to be multiplying every race), the race promoters decided it would be a better idea to have the 3s race against the Pro/1/2s.

Great. Just terrific.

So far this season, it hadn't really been a big deal. Sid was the only one of the three previously mentioned who actually raced the entire series, and while he absolutely dominated the field all the time, he was still respectful of other riders, knowing that we were out there turning ourselves inside out just as much as he was (or maybe not. Sid never seemed to look tired).

Fast forward to Spooky Cross:

(Image from 333f on Flickr)

Thats me in the blurry middle, right behind the Ritte rider. The race itself was awesome. Contrary to traditional SoCal weather, it had actually been raining most of the week prior to the race, which created my kind of course: muddy. Especially considering most Californians were not used to such conditions, I was at home. Add in the fact that the race started at 8 PM under the lights, and I had my dream 'cross course.

At the starting line, I took my traditional place towards the rear (even I realize I'm not actually that fast). Surprisingly, Horner was running a bit late, and actually lined up behind me. That's right, I was about to start in front of a Pro. Holy crap!

Since this was a Halloween-themed race, the rider next to me turned to me before the start, resulting in the following exchange:

Him: "Man, that guy has a really great Chris Horner costume."
Me: (turning to look at Horner) "I know! He should get some sort of prize for that!"

Chris looked directly at both of us and smiled. It was great. Fortunately, über 'cross promoter Dot Wong decided Chris should start at the front.

Chris: "But look at all these people who got here before me. It's only fair."
Dot: "Oh, come on."
Chris: "Alright . . ."

I've never see anyone be more modest about ripping everyone else's legs to shreds.

The race started fast, obviously, but I managed to keep to my strategy. The week prior, I had gone out very, very hard, and ended up bonking massively towards the end. This week, I wanted to ride comfortable hard: hard enough that I was pushing, but not so hard that I was going into the red. Fortunately, on this type of course, that proved to be a very fast strategy.

I was flying. I was sticking with riders who so far this season had been dropping me like a sack of potatoes. I was feeling great: my tire pressure was dialed in, my nutrition was dialed in, even the temperature was about perfect. With about 3 laps to go, the inevitable happened: I got lapped by Horner.

It happened in a sand section, which is always my notorious weak point. I was right on the wheel of my archrival, who had just spent a ton of energy bridging up to me. I heard shouts of "Go, Chris!" and knew I was about to get eaten alive. Chris was very respectful, just as I was to him. I purposely went wide on the corner (as that was actually a better line), and he cut inside to pass us with virtually no impediment. I shouted "Go, Chris!" as well, and to my surprise, he actually turned around and replied with "Thank you!". I may have blushed, honestly.

And then it happened. In a word: Hincapie.

With a lap and a half to go, I was making an off-camber corner from sandy soil onto tarmac. The corner had been slowly washing over with sand, which I didn't pay attention to until I hit the ground. The crash wasn't really bad, and at first I thought that nothing was wrong. I got up, and noticed my right shifter was slightly twisted, which again I didn't think was a problem. I did the upcoming run up, and tried to remount, only to steer directly into the caution tape lining the course. My bars were twisted about 15 degrees, and it took a bit of wrestling to get them back square. I tried to remount again, only to realize my chain had come off. This was a problem, as I am running a single ring with a chain guard in the front. How the chain managed to come off is beyond me (crashes do funny things), but I knew without an Allen wrench, I had no hope of sneaking the chain back on.

Dejected, I made it my goal to at least finish the darn race. So I did the only thing I could: I started running. That was until *kerCHUNK!* My now loose chain had managed to wrap itself around my cassette in ways I couldn't have even dreamed of. My rear wheel now no longer spun, and I was forced to get off the course to find the nearest USAC official, where I, reluctantly, had to DNF.

The only upside to this was that I got to see Chris win by about 20 seconds over Taberlay, who outsprinted Lopes. In the obligitory post race interview, Chris talked while drinking a beer, still his modest, casual self. It was so awesome to have a pro-caliber rider just chilling like the rest of us.

For those of you who have never tried cyclocross, I highly recommend it. It builds bike handling and tactical skills like nothing else. Or at least go out to a ChiCrossCup race and heckle people.

And last but not least: I will break this curse. One way or another.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bike & Build - 90 mile warmup

Hello from the road!  I am currently in Oklahoma - nearly halfway into my cross country ride from Boston to Santa Barbara with Bike & Build this summer.  It has been fun, exhausting (mostly from leader duties, to say nothing of the biking), and generally awesome.

As we made our way out of the mountains and into the midwest, our days have been getting longer.  A week ago or so was our first century day, followed by a 90 mile day in to Bloomington, IN (famously captured in Breaking Away). 

And lo and behold, when we rolled into town there was a bike race happening a block away from our overnight host.  Well, between peer pressure and my own secret desire to race my bike I decided to sign up for the Women’s Open.  I had 90 miles under my belt already, but that just meant that I was really warmed up, right?

As they started call ups I realized that Becca Finley - of Marian University - was on the line.  Oh crap, I thought, this is going to be really fast and I’m not quite sure how my legs are going to hold up.  And fast it was.  I was hanging on for the first 20 or so minutes until I unfortunately (or fortunately for my legs maybe) got caught behind a crash and lost contact with the peloton.

I spent the last half of the race with a two other riders, then by myself when they clearly didn’t want to work, then with two others that I bridged to.  The racing, however, is not the interesting part.  It was my fan base of 31 Bike & Builders who were cheering at the top of the incline with letters painted on their chests doing coordinated cheers and the wave and ridiculous things on every time I came through.  The announcer took note of the mayhem and spent a couple laps talking about Bike & Build and how I had already biked 90 miles today.

I finished for 20th.  Mehh.  But it was maybe one of the most fun races I’ve done.

I will be sure to post more updates throughout the summer.  Here is a list of fun/crazy/weird things that have happened so far:

-Epic rest stop involving minigolf, rootbeer, ice cream and a train ride through a field

-Given a warning by a sheriff for riding naked (see backwards chamois pic below)

-Free Chuckie Cheese tokens

-Free tickets to the City Museum in St. Louis (maybe the best playground ever!)

-Full on Thanksgiving Dinner in June

-Awesome generosity from our hosts and local restaurants.  We have worked donation magic in nearly every town.  Including free Chipotle in three different cities!

-So much ice cream!

-Ridiculous quad muscles.  And tan lines (although considering that it's me, maybe they should be called burn lines).

And finally, I hate to end on a sad note, but yesterday Paige Hicks, one of the riders on a different Bike & Build route, died after a she was struck by a passing oversized truck.  She was a trip leader and a current student at Brown University.  This is the first death for Bike & Build and the community has come together in a big way to deal with this terrible tragedy.  It is yet another reminder to all cyclist to be aware of their surrounding at all times.  She was on the shoulder of the road, doing all the right things and yet this still occurred.  Please keep her fellow riders and family in your thoughts.  

Ride safe.


Monday, July 19, 2010


I arrived in Cochbamba, Bolivia about three weeks ago to do some study-abroad development work over the summer. Soonafter finding out that I would be spending six months of this year in South America, I started to worry about how possible it was to keep riding. A few months before leaving, I had learned that Cochabamba has a velodrome and had emailed with a few local cyclists about joining a club team, so I figured I could just start there and see what happened.

After two days, I went to the velodrome, which happens to be in the worst part of Cochabamba. The building itself was only half constructed and seemed sort of abandoned. After walking around the barbed-wire perimeter, I saw the silhouette of a guy walking in the shadows of the bleachers, so I called him over to open the pad-lock. He had one eye. I was alone and very much creeped out, but decided I should probably check it out anyways. The track itself was nice, and he said that sometimes people used it on the weekends. So I decided I´d go back on Sunday, probably with a few friends and pepper spray.

I also re-emailed my cyclist friend, and he said they all meet for drinks once a week at this one bar and that I could meet everyone if I went. After looking through some of his club-team pictures on his¨"Cyclist of Cochabamba" blog, I realized that his team was a masters 50+ all mens team that was the creepiest option yet. I gave up on cycling in Bolivia after that, and instead joined a gym that had spinning class every hour. That would have to suffice.

After about a week at the gym, I was walking through one of the main plazas when I saw two beautiful bikes. One was a BMC and the other a sea-green Bianchi, both with Ultegra shifters. A group of five 40 year-old-ish men were holding them, dressed in regular clothes, just chatting. I guessed it was my last chance to ask about cycling, and they seemed like they might be somewhat serious. After talking to them for a few minutes, I found out that they were on a club team that road mostly on the weekends, usually about 40 miles, sometimes through mountains. Again, it was all middle-age to older men, but they seemed nice enough. Once of them, nicknamed "Conejo¨(or "rabbit"), said he had several bikes that were my size, and the I could rent one from him for the time I was in Bolivia. Yay, things were looking up. He gave me a SCOTT bike, and it fit, and I liked it.

When I went to pick up the bike, Conejo asked me if I had ever heard of a velodrome. I mentioned that I had been on one in Chicago a few times, but never on a track bike. He told me I should take my roadbike to the velodrome that afternoon so I could maybe try track. It was more popular in Cochabamba, and much safer than riding on the city roads. Since I hadn´t been on a bike in about two weeks up until that point, I decided I could just show up and ride in circles and that would be better than nothing.

Once I got there, Conejo pulled me around for about 45 minutes at a pretty fast pace. The altitude was affecting me, but my legs were feeling strong. Once we finished, he led me over to meet the director of Cochabamba track cycling. The director asked me what experience I had and whether I´d be interested in track racing. They were having a race that day, and there was only one other girl signed up, and I could do it on my road bike. I figured it would be a good experience, so I signed up for two events: 500m sprint and a 3K individual pursuit. (Note: all of my track terminology is in Spanish, so if parts of this don´t make sense, that´s probably why.)

After the 500m event, I found out I came in only shortly behind the other girl. I was happy, since she specializes in track racing and I had a slow start. Then I did the individual pursuit and was happy to not have her pass me. Still, I lost to her in both events, as expected. I started messing around on a random track bike that belonged to the velodrome, and found that riding fixed gear bikes is pretty fun. While I was doing that, Conejo called me over. The director told me that this race was actually a qualifying race for Bolivia Track Nationals, and that I had qualified. Nationals was going to be the following weekend. I´d have to learn to ride a track bike, but if I did that I´d get a free Cochabamba kit and probably earn some points for the team. Obviously, I died.

I spent the next few days going to the velodrome after work and figuring out how to not fall on the track. By Tuesday I felt secure enough to do both events with the track bike, and told them Tuesday night I was in. I missed work Wednesday to train a little more. I woke up Thursday morning with my only hope being not to fall during the race.

I spent the morning napping and watching, since my events were in the afternoon. During our lunch break, I started warming up, feeling slow. At that point, nine of my friends showed up to cheer for me, and all of the sudden I started feeling some pressue. I kept wondering what I was doing at Bolivia´s Track Nationals, especially since I had gotten on my first track bike less than a week earlier, wasn´t Bolivian, and could barely pronounce my event names in Spanish. I felt especially out of place once the inauguration ceremonies began and I couldn´t sing the Bolivian national anthem nor recognize any of the provincial politicians that came out. Eventually, I decided it just was an experience and not a big deal. The race was running 3 hours late, but they finally called my first event, individual pursuit, and I went for it.

It was only nine laps, but it was the most exhausting 3K of my life. I´m not sure whether it was because my child-sized helmet was too small or because of the altitude, but I couldn´t breathe. After the first kilometer, I really didn´t think I would finish. Eventually I decided I couldn´t just get off the track at nationals, well, because it was nationals. I kept thinking I would either fall or finish. Finally, I finished.

Because of further race delays, they postponed my second event until the next morning. I couldn´t take another day off work, so I ended up just calling it a day.

Anyways, I met a bunch of locals, and had a lovely time. It was really random, but now I´m interested in track racing in the US. That was probably my first and last nationals experience in any country, but it was really fun, so I´m happy.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Horrible Insanity of Moving

Allow me to summarize the three biggest things that have happened to me so far this summer:

The Horribly Hilly Hundreds

First off, just a week after finishing finals, I put on a bit of a different cap.

Alright, well not just literally. I turned from being a rider and racer to being an organizer of the Toughest One-Day Challenge Ride in the Midwest. For those of you unfamiliar with the Horribly Hilly, the event (not a race) consists of 100k and 200k routes over some of the steepest, nastiest climbs that southwest Wisconsin has to offer, featuring 5,700 and 10,700 feet of vertical elevation gain, respectively. Five years ago, with the ride having already sold out its 1300 slots, I stepped into the role of an organizer, being a rest stop captain.

Let me tell you: that sucked. Seriously consider your sanity before taking on a similar job.

Four years ago, I was actually planning to ride the darn thing, but before I could sign up, I got roped into being Route Commander, meaning that I was in charge of making sure the routes were not under construction, marking the courses ahead of time, and coordinating SAG vehicles on ride day, among many other tasks. I must have been crazy. I still think I'm crazy.

But four years on, I'm still doing the same job, and loving every minute of it.

Becoming an organizer is a different experience. It allows you to see all the behind-the-scenes goings-on that it takes to put on a bicycle ride/race. It really gives you an appreciation for the volunteers at any of these events, without which, our racing would not be possible. It allows you to lose a significant amount of sleep (in the years I've been doing this, I have stayed up for periods of 44 and 39 hours straight).

But most of all, it allows you to meet new people. My interest in HAM radio is a direct result of the HHH, and I couldn't be more thankful for that experience. Electronics geekery aside, I highly recommend that everyone finds at least one event to volunteer and give back at. It is highly worth it.

The Insane Terrain Challenge

The second major event put on by the Viking Biking Club (which explains the horns in the first photo) is the Insane Terrain Challenge. Not satified with only 10,700 feet of climbing in 124 miles, the designer of the Horribly Hilly set out to create a route with at least 100 feet of climbing per mile.

With the Insane Terrain, he succeeded.

My involvement with the HHH punched my free ticket to ride the ITC. I learned this on Thursday before the event, meaning I had two days to prepare for the 125k, 7,800 ft epic.

Thursday night, I decided to go and test my fitness on my favorite hill for repeats. It's been a few years since I've done repeats on it, but a few years ago, while I still had my fitness from being a ski racer, I would do 5 x 5 min intervals, which would take me to the top of the hill, and be hard as hell.

Thursday, I did 5 * 3:45. I think I'm going to need a bigger hill.

With the reassurance that I was actually on form, I started out last Saturday at 6:30 AM. I soon found out there is one thing in any ride that I absolutely cannot stand:

Big guys who can climb.

It upsets the natural order of things! Skinny guys are climbers, big guys are sprinters (or just guys like Alphonse in the new Lance commercials), and guys in between are just wankers at both. Everybody knows that! That's exactly the reason I don't typically go for sprints, and you don't see Clydesdales winning mountain stages.

But this guy was just unbelievable.

First off, he could just waste me on the downhills, which was to be expected, as he had a bit of an advantage in potential energy. We didn't actually ride together until after the last water stop, when I stopped to refill a bottle knowing that it was going to be freakin' hot, and he didn't. We got into a pattern of him getting away on the downhill, me catching back up halfway up the next climb, and riding together up the rest of the climb and on the few flatter sections of the course. This continued until I think 3 major climbs to go, when something amazing happened.

The guy dropped me. Flat out dropped me.
I was dropped on a climb by a Giant-factory-team-kit wearing Clydesdale. WTH?

I wasn't even feeling bad. The entire ride so far had gone great. Moving in a pack of mostly fast 200k riders, we covered 19.5 miles in the first hour (with several big climbs included in that stretch). I was one of the first few 125k riders, and up until meeting with this guy, I was pretty much alone after the 125/200k split, with not so much as another rider, car, or even a farm in sight. We were in the middle of nowhere, and it was very peaceful. I felt like I was on a long, solo breakaway.

Until Mr. Giant (the bikes, not the rider's physique) ruined it.

I still managed a decent time (despite this not being a race) of 5 hours, which could have been a bit better had I not been suffering on the final climb up Mounds Park Road (Nats riders - that was the last climb you did). Somehow, I made it to the top, and someone took a sweet shot of me trying to post up in my polka-dots before nearly falling over due to going 6 mph. Alas, I have yet to find said shot, but you can be assured it was full of awesomeness - just for the Womens.


If you haven't figured out the title of this rather lengthy post by now, each word refers to one of three events. Which means the third event is an upcoming move.

That's right. In about a month and half, I'm packing up my stuff, and moving here.

Sylmar, CA (click on image to hugeify).

There are two things I immediately notice about where I'll be living:
1) It'll be hotter than bejesus.
2) Mountains!

The reason I'm moving out there is a co-op position with St. Jude Medical. It's a 6 month position, meaning it will basically take up Fall and Winter quarters before spitting me out for my final quarter at NU.

While I'm saddened that this won't give me a chance to see Northwestern's fledgling mountain bike team succeed (other than at Michigan Tech), the opportunity to come directly into Spring Break as a lean(er), mean racing machine makes it totally worthwhile. I'll have to trade the ChiCrossCup for the SoCal Cross series, the Velodynes for actually riding outside, and Walker Brothers Rides for . . . well, nothing compares to the Walker Bros. rides. Maybe surfing. I'm stoked on getting to surf again.


The Great Egyptian Omnium

This was originally posted to my blog,

With Lance crashing three times in a single TdF stage and Interpol hot on his case, it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity. Between the doping, cancelled races, folding teams, bickering riders, and charisma-less stars,the sport has certainly seen better days.

The “Clinic” section of Forums may be thriving, but cycling isn’t—not when Riccardo Ricco is still winning stage races.

Add to that my declining form and a crash rate that has smashed my Wankability Index to 56, and it’s easy to become disillusioned.

But then, cycling surprises. Like Lance in 1999, it comes smashing out of memory and into our hearts.

I may vomit when an unabashed doper receives a call-up at ToAD, but I also cannot help but thanking people like Chad Briggs and Gary Dahmer for their generous support.

As an Abitibi veteran, I’m used to sleeping in weird places with strange things. I’ve fallen off of desks and on to aero helmets, insisted on hugging handlebars to sleep, and have shared a bed with more than three people.

Naturally then, waking up on a race weekend to a breakfast of peach covered cinnamon french toast in bed was startling.

But the most startling part of the entire weekend was just how things came together. A great race promoter—Chad Briggs—made life easy for me and my cycling friends from Lindenwood.

First offering us his floor and then arranging accommodations at the Davie School Bed and Breakfast through Gary, he made sure we were more than well taken care of.

And then he found some of the coolest roads to race on in Illinois. Between sharp rollers, long climbs, smooth and safe descents, and winding roads, he put together one of the most enjoyable road racing courses I’ve ever ridden. In addition, he put on a painfully tough and technical TT and a genuine downtown crit.

Yes, the fields were small, the drive was long, and the payout was not SuperWeek sized. But in years to come, I hope to see more people make the drive. Between the great courses and dedication of the promoters and sponsors, the Great Egyptian will only grow and continue to impress.

I know I'll be back.