Wednesday, February 02, 2011

California - Day 9 Schooled

So there's this guy Jan who's been trying to get me out on some of the more infamous area rides. The two he likes are the Swamis ride on Saturday (which I've "done" before which means I was in the group for however long it took for them to pass me) and the Pendleton ride on Wednesday. We missed the Saturday invite so I felt determined to make the Wednesday one.

On Tuesday I did a ride out to the Wednesday ride start point, timing it, making sure I'd be on time. I mentally set out riding gear for a 42 degree start (7:30 AM), ignoring the 65 degree forecast by 10 AM.

But, to be frank, I felt pretty bad on the bike. I've been fighting this phlegm thing for a while. For a few days my left nostril's been like that ever-filled bread box or whatever. I'd blow my nose, think, "wow that's like half my brain!", and a few minutes later do the same thing.

I can tell you that cars give you a whole lane when you're doing the hakkalugi like that (okay, technically not a lugi but bear with me). When you start blowing snot around like that, suddenly everyone observes an 8 foot passing rule.

Anyway, I figured I was okay to go for today, Wednesday, not great, just okay. I was reasonably okay Tuesday, a little lethargic, but nothing major.

This morning, though, I didn't feel that great. Some chills while feeling hot. I didn't take my temperature or my blood pressure (I have all the stuff here to do it though); instead I had some leftovers, some coffee, dressed for 42 degree weather, and set off on my ride.

I realized quickly that things weren't that bad in the "cold". Having been spoiled by 75 or 80 degree weather, I typically shun 40-odd degree weather while I'm out here. But once I got rolling, like a mile out, I thought, "Hm, this is just like a beautiful Bethel!"

I stopped to adjust my saddle again - I finally got it right but it's been a bit distracting. It's interesting, the whole saddle height thing. Initially when it was high I felt like, oh, my legs are stretching soooo much. I dropped it and immediately started pushing back on the saddle, trying to extend my legs a bit more. Also I felt like the bars were "really high", like a comfort position bike.

Then I raised it a touch, then a touch again, and suddenly everything felt familiar. Bar drop good. Leg reach good. Slide back to stretch a bit, slide forward to get a bit more power and speed.

What's surprising is that all that adjusting happened within a centimeter of saddle height. Too high, too low, a little too low, just right. Just millimeters separated the last two but they counted.

I'd set off a bit later than planned so I worked some to get to the ride on time. A tailwind out to the shore helped a lot. I considered calling Jan when I was a mile away - it was just a minute or so to the ride start.

But my new phone is next to impossible to pull out of my pocket so I canned the call and rode hard.

I saw the ride start to depart just as I rolled up to a red light, 30 yards away. I had to "negotiate" that intersection (ahem) and presto, the ride and I merged.

About a mile later, as I filtered through the group, Jan found me.

"Hey! I didn't see you before the ride!"
"Yeah, I rolled up as you guys were leaving."

We rolled out easy, went up this one really steep hill just before Camp Pendleton. I heard some guys talking behind me.

"Did you see so-and-so last time? He rolled up in the big ring!"

I looked down. I was in the 39x23, and I was working.

"Yeah, and he was sitting."
"I think you get more leverage when you're standing."
"Well, yeah, you can get your weight into it more."

This exchange disarmed me. If some of the guys were talking about this stuff, I should be okay. Plus I was okay on the little hill, even if it was as steep as our driveway (and 5 to 8 times as long).

Disarming bunch, warming up on a shallow hill.

We rolled up to the entrance to Camp Pendleton. Out of respect for our military and yada yada yada I shut off the camera. I didn't want to even film anything that could reveal any military secrets.

Suffice it to say that everyone was body scanned, retinas checked, finger printed, and as we filtered through the wall of armored personnel carriers, machine gun emplacements, barb wire, and various observation and gun towers, I felt assured that we'd be safe here.

It took surprisingly little time to clear the gate (considering all that we had to do) and the ride proceeded.

We immediately stopped in a little parking lot. Apparently the ride used to start there but it got a bit crazy so now everyone rides in. We got a nice short lecture from a guy Brett about not being stupid out there. He also pointed out the wind blew from the east today (out to the shore) and that please keep that in mind when riding the narrow bike lanes. Give the next rider shelter by riding as far to the east side of the lane.

With that we set off.

Still disarmed by my overheard exchange, nothing for the next couple minutes gave me any hint that it'd be any different than any given "group ride". I figured it'd be kind of like a Cat 3 group ride, where I'd struggle on some hills, be good on the flats, and move around the group at will.


I kept having to ease and brake as the group slowed for various things, kind of normal when the front isn't riding hard. I'd then surge as the group accelerated collectively to close all those gaps.

The wind really affected me. I was on the east side of the group and doggedly stuck it out because Brett said so. But after about a minute of really high effort riding, I realized that I was cooking myself while everyone else spread across the wide bike lane in echelon formation.

Screw this, I thought, and I slid left to seek shelter.

But it was too late - I'd been working at something like 275 watts for a while (600-800 watt spikes followed by a bit of softpedaling, rinse and repeat), way deep for me, and had already pegged my heartrate.

Then, as the road kind of came out on an exposed plateau, that surge thing started again and just didn't stop. I surged but the gap didn't close. I kept surging, surging, surging, and the gap stayed constant.

Someone up front had just buried it and we were all scrambling to stay on wheels. My legs started to get really tight, a hateful feeling, one that screams, "Unprepared!"

At about this time I realized that I felt like I'd just inhaled a cork. I couldn't breathe well, at least not so I'd notice. I felt like I was underwater, holding my breath. My legs loaded up, I felt like my head would explode... and I sat up.

Yeah. Bye.
Wind from the east. That'd be the right side of the picture.

The group rolled away from me, over the top of a longish, gradual hill, hammered by the eastern wind. I could see the group kind of lined up because the road curved right, giving me a nice view of the pack.

(Remember the long gradual hill which curves right.)

A few minutes later one John Howard rolled by. He's the former world record holder in a gazillion things, land speed record on a bike (158 mph), 24 hour distance paced (514 miles?), did (won?) the Ironman, some other stuff. Plus he's won countless national titles and such.

I latched onto his group as he and his three companions looked like they were going nice and steady. I finally felt okay enough to take a pull, pulled too hard, and watched them roll away from me up a short steep hill. Just over the top we went through the exit from the base.

(Remember this, the short steep hill before the gates.)

Then cam some weirdness. A tunnel only for military vehicles and bicycles. Does that make a bicycle a military vehicle?

It says "Tactical and Government Vehicles Only".
That makes my bike a Tactical Vehicle (I prefer that to "Government vehicle").

Then a weird road in the middle of nowhere, complete with a bike path on one side. Massive road, but ending abruptly in the middle of nothing.

I knew the ride went out and back on the same roads so I twiddled along here. I tightened my front derailleur cable, debated whether or not I should take off my vest (no), ate a Balance Bar thing, and kept shaking my head mentally at the ease with which the group dropped me.

I'd see riders coming back in ones and twos so I knew I was in the right place.

I rolled back under the funny tunnel and up to the north gate (I figure it's the north gate since it's on the north end of the base). For those of you Googling information on Camp Pendleton for nefarious reasons, let me state that this gate also bristled with immense amounts of firepower, most of it hidden, and all sorts of anti-vehicle concrete barriers and such.

I stopped at the top of the short steep hill where Howard and company dropped me, tried to get the phone to a more accessible pocket (fail), straightened out my kit, and glanced back at the gate complex.

Riders poured through it.


I got rolling and let the group engulf me.

Even suffering I noticed something. See the sign on the big military vehicle thing?
"Student Driver"
I chucked each time I saw one. Of course I got shelled shortly after this.

The same thing happened as when I got dropped before. No real surges, no real anything, just slowly cooking the toad in the water until BAM, it's boiling and you're dead.

It got strung out so I looked back to see if I needed to let anyone by me (so I wouldn't gap them).

I was last in line, another gapped line of riders a second or two behind me.

When I looked forward a gap had opened. I made an effort, out of the saddle, pitiful actually, to close a gap to the two women in front of me. Then they made a similar (but not pitiful) effort to close another gap as the front surged again.

I watched them ride away.

The women at the back, working hard.
I got back on after this one. Note everyone clinging to the right for shelter?

Worked me right off their wheel. Oh yeah.
Wind from the east. That would be the left side.

Jan rolled by me, powerful, but gapped that fatal gap. I got on his wheel but came off almost immediately. I watched him power off into the distance.

A little while later a guy rolled up behind me. He asked how I was doing.


We both chuckled.

We started talking - I learned at some point his name is, ironically, Fred. He asked a few things, like where I'm from, how long I'm staying, and where I got dropped. To the last question I had to admit that I really didn't know.

He described three critical points in the ride. The first was where the route dipped down into a little valley and then climbed out onto a plateau.

"Does the climb kind of curve right?"
"Yeah, that's it."
"Well that's where I got dropped."

The second critical bit was a short steep climb just before the second gate.

"Oh, that's where John Howard and a few other guys dropped me."

Fred grinned. He must have been thinking, "Oh, man, this guy got totally worked over!" He continued on.

The third bit was this wide open area after the tunnel. It's windy, fast, and narrow. Devastating if you're not near the front.

Yeah I know that part. I sat and rode, alone, and thought, man, if I made it here, it'd have been ugly.

I told him that I feel like I got schooled. I mean if I go to a "shop" ride that has no racers on it, there's one level of expectation. If I go do a "group ride" like Gimbels, there's another set of expectations.

Swamis is a ride unto itself because I only ever saw riders like John Howard, Michelle something (world tri champion that year), and some pro women. And I only lasted like, oh, 30 seconds, so it doesn't really count.

The Pendleton ride, as far as expectations go, ranked below Swamis but not much different than Gimbels. Frankly I was shocked at the high level of riding exhibited by the group. They were, almost uniformly, extremely smooth, competent, powerful. They had the fluency to tap hips, even push them, without the obnoxiousness of a feeling of "I have something to prove".

It's kind of like if you're driving a car and Micheal Schumacher is next to you, and he absentmindedly says "Turn in a bit sharper" or "Hold the shifter lightly" or something like that. It's so ingrained in his head it's almost instinctive for him, but for you (and me) it still requires thought.

So, yes, I feel like I have a decent base of riding skills. But these riders, they were (with one exception which I won't identify) exceptional.

Compared to them I felt like a Cat 6.

And that's on bike handling!

So, since Fred seemed to know what the heck was going on, I asked him about the level of riding in the group.

"Oh, well, there are some good riders here. It wasn't like last week, when Chris Horner, some Jelly Belly and Type 1 guys showed up. But it's still pretty impressive. Brett (did the short speech at the beginning of the ride) is the national kilo champion and got second in the pursuit to Chris, who was here too (or Chris and Brett or maybe two other names). Brett got shelled so the ride was hard. So-and-So won the season opener last week. Of course you know John Howard. He mentioned some other names that escape me now.

What Fred didn't mention immediately (I had to pry it out of him, a normal thing for really good riders) is that Fred himself is current Cat 1 on the road and track, an ex-(domestic) pro, an ex-EDS Team track racer, and holder of multiple Masters National Championship titles.

"So," he concluded, looking at me, "You had some good company out there."

Yeah, for the brief time I rode with them.

I rolled back to home base, my legs starting to twinge. I actually ate and drank, so I must have ridden hard. I did ditch the vest at some point, and I did draft a truck at high speed (50+ mph). The front end of the bike felt stable, partly because I'd put the Bastogne up front (non-aero). It felt nice to have that secure feeling, no wiggliness, no uncertainty.

Bike with shadow after I got shelled.
Note non-aero front wheel. Really helped on the fast bits.
I stopped to tighten the front derailleur cable.

After the ride I thought about what happened. I had excuses of course. I haven't been feeling good. My lungs hurt when I breathe deeply. My left nostril is the never ending mucus factory (it's yellow, not green, for those biology people). I haven't been training much.

But it is what it is. Excuses don't matter. I thought of a surprising incident a month or two ago. My nephew came up to me at one of our visits to my dad and brother's.

He looked at me with the seriousness only a six year old could have.

"Do or do not. There is no try."

I looked at him with a surprised look on my face. Such deep thoughts from a young boy.

My brother laughed at my bewildered look and explained. "Yoda said that."


"Do or do not. There is no try."

Good words to live by, especially when you've just gotten schooled by some very good riders.


Jancouver said...

Glad you made it. Too bad you didnt make it all the way. The wind made it super hard today and I also struggled on the way back but after some serious TT effort I made it back to the group. As per the "(with one exception which I won't identify)" its OK to say it. After all I have been riding just for about 3 years and with my hight I do look/ride funny :)

PS The group was smaller and slower than usual :)

Aki said...

Ha. It wasn't you for sure. In fact I almost went off the road a few times because of this rider. At first I thought it was accidental, then later I thought it was simply a rider unaware of their surroundings.

I can't believe you made it back. When I last saw you it looked really grim.

And Fred did say that this week wasn't that bad, and that Swamis would have been much harder. Yikes.

agilismerlin said...

keep at it Aki,

this pic reminded me of your past builds :)

lsd and sleep, just a thought
it'll all come around


Aki said...

Ha, great picture.

I realized I'm still sick, not fueled. As soon as I punch it my legs load up. Horrible. I'm going to hydrate (haven't been), focus on my comfort diet (pasta/rice with meat sauce), stay warm, and see what happens.