Thursday, August 11, 2011

Life - Shelled

I debated naming this post "Life" or "Training". I learned a bit of both, but ultimately I decided to choose "Life".

Wednesdays are my day off from work. I typically poke around the house a bit, get some errands done, and generally goof off until I start getting that "I really need to ride" feel. Then, pending weather, I either choose to ride indoors or I hurry up and get on the bike.

Training, as you might have guessed, doesn't rank super high on my list of priorities. Racing, okay, that's fun. Training not so much.

This particular Wednesday I had a big project at hand. It'd make me a lot of usable money in a very short time, therefore my motivation was high to get it done. I was prepping the blue car for its final drive, at least under my ownership.

In other words I'm getting ready to trade it in.

The dealer wanted to have it as close to stock as possible. I was glad to oblige, since I could sell off whatever I removed.

To accomplish this I had two major projects, one minor one, relatively speaking - I'd put the stock wheels on, the stock air box, and find the stock stereo head unit (for them to install).

The first project was to revert the wheels to stock. I'd have to jack up the car, swap wheels, and I'd be done. It's easy enough that I went rummaging around for the original lug nuts prior last weekend. The aftermarket lug nuts on the car don't work with the stock wheels so I had to use the stock lug nuts.

Of course I couldn't find them.

I swore to the Missus that I had them in this white mailing pouch, like a USPS or FedEx or something, the plastic-y paper, full of heavy steel Nissan lug nuts. I found just such a package in my travails but it contained, to my dismay, all the sway bar mounts and collars.

So I bought another set, knowing that if I did, I'd find the lug nuts miraculously. There's this thing that happens to me sometimes, when I really need it to happen. I don't know if it's me doing stuff subconsciously or what, but whenever I really, really need something to get done, it gets done. I don't rely on this "thing" necessarily so I bought some aftermarket lug nuts.

I also needed to install the stock air filter box thing, project number two. I had installed an aftermarket intake - as equipped from the factory the car was so quiet inside it wasn't much fun to accelerate. With the cold air intake the car takes on this wailing shriek when you punch it, an aural reward that makes boys happy - ears perk up and such.

Last weekend, when I went to put the stock air box in place, I realized I'd swapped it out when the original air filter needed replacing. I try to upgrade parts when they're worn or need servicing, not when they're still new. I logically tossed the filthy original air filter, leaving a huge gaping hole in the air box.

So when I got the replacement lug nuts I also bought an air filter.

Since I wanted to put off the OEM lug nut search as long as possible I decided to do the air box first. I got out the cardboard box holding all the parts, quite heavy for just a plastic shell and some tubing. I pulled out all the parts, getting all the ingredients in place before I started cooking. I grabbed the big air box, put it aside, and looked in the box.

White plastic-y bag.

Heavy.

Full of.. you guessed it.

The air box went in without a hitch. The wheels went on pretty quickly too, the driveway strewn with an impressive array of alloy wheels.

Just to put it in perspective from a life point of view, when I was in my 20s I dreamed, and I mean dreaaaamed, about buying alloy wheels for my car. At that time I had a GTI, black number, with 14" wheels. Alloys, fine, but stock ones. I really wanted 15" wheels. I knew, in that faith way, that I'd get wheels, maybe just not on that car. I'd grab the chance if I could ("carpe diem"), but if it didn't happen then, it didn't happen.

Well it took about 12 years to get my alloys. Instead of 15" wheels they were 18", and instead of some 205s the car took a staggeringly wide pair of tires, 275 fronts and 315 rears.

A guy at the track (velodrome, not the car kind) called them "rollers". That be them.

So here I was, a dozen years later, with not just one set of alloys in the driveway but three (another set, 15", were on the red car).

With the blue car all finished (I'm just going to hand them the OEM radio, letting them install it), some food in me, and cats properly scritched, I got ready to ride. I figured I'd ride over to the shop and do their Wednesday ride, a hilly number. It usually takes 2 hours, has some tough hills, and it's, well, it's hard. Last year I romped around on the ride, pushed to my limit on the longer climbs, enjoying the punchier steep short ones.

It was a bit early so I did my Quarry loop, about an hour ride, not really pushing it. I kept seeing 140s wattage-wise, rarely saw anything sustained in the 200s. At the end of the loop I zipped over to the shop, still a bit early, and refilled my bottles, got a couple Hammer gels, and collected myself just before the ride. I'd say close to 30 people showed up; it's be a good ride.

I took it easy at first, hanging back, bridging a small gap (30? feet). Things felt normal. At these rides I try not to lead at all, instead just following, letting myself relax when someone in front opens a gap, bridging said gap, then repeating the process. This way I don't increase the speed of the ride but I get some speed work in.

Well that was the plan.

When the road started climbing steadily, I watched the gaps grow. I went around one or two riders, but, even close to the back, I realized that I was already approaching my limits. I scrambled a bit when I realized we'd be hitting a somewhat challenging hill, moving up towards the front.

(I say "scrambled" but we were going all of about 18 mph. It wasn't a major effort.)

On that first hill I was the first to get popped off, from the group of 25 or 30 riders, few or no racers included.

Right, I forgot to mention that this is a recreational ride. Okay, fine, there's a guy or two that race, probably the Cat 4s or 5s. I don't think we had any 3s except one guy who I saw briefly when we rolled out of the parking lot and never saw again.

The rest of the riders are just that, riders. One guy, a friendly sort who is a customer where I work, he rides in running shoes with toe clips (that are way too small), pedaling somehow with just his big toe.

He rolled past me, as did the guy who normally rides recumbents (he rarely stands, a habit carried over from the 'bent riding). Another guy went by, one that had asked me at the beginning of the ride how I was doing after my (relatively speaking) spectacular year in 2010.

Obviously not as well.

I rode alone, panting, totally tweaked, up the moderate hill.

Everyone was waiting at the next intersection, sipping from bottles, chatting, watching. After a moment of rest, we started off again.

Again the gaps opened in front of me. I hung back, behind a rider that must have had SRAM shifters. The rider was in the big-big and tried to shift into a lower gear in the back. The SRAM shifter doesn't let you move the shift lever without actually shifting, so if you try and shift into an easier gear and you're already in the biggest cog in the back, it unceremoniously dumps you into the second biggest cog.

In other words it shifts you into a higher gear.

This rider, whether realizing it or not, kept shifting while in the big-big, so the chain would drop into the big-next-biggest-cog. A pedal stroke of the bigger gear was enough, the rider would shift into the big cog, then try and shift into an easier gear again.

Chain drops into the next biggest cog.

Repeat every 15 or 20 seconds.

This would have been mildly amusing had I not been going almost cross-eyed trying to hang onto the wheel. I wanted to say, "Hey, you're in the big ring. Just shift into the small one" but I couldn't. Unbelievably (or not), after about 7 or 8 minutes of this nonsense, I finally got away from this comedy of errors.

No, I didn't surge around the Shifter. The Shifter dropped me, shifting gears regularly.

With the magical pull of a wheel in front gone, my pace slowed dramatically. The few riders behind quickly rolled by, leaving me to suffer alone on this long, not really steep, not really continuous, mainly uphill road.

Again I found the group waiting, and again, after a short pause, we set off.

One one particularly steep hilled road (Lost Acres), I practically ground to a halt, in my biggest cog (the 25 tooth), mildly regretting fitting the huge 44T inner ring. Mildly because a 39T inner ring would have just made me go slower. I had a hard time getting the pedals to move down, pushing down with my foot, pulling on the bars, sweat drizzling off my forehead.

I looked down and saw the sweat dripping onto the steel bolt in the stem cap. I tilted my head to direct the sweat elsewhere.

I sometimes swerved a bit erratically, for whatever reason.

A quick pedaling sound behind me woke me up. I sat, held a straighter line, and waited.

"You doing okay?" the guy asked.

"No", I replied, not even looking up.

I glanced over. Sneakers. The nice guy from the store.

"You want a gel?"

"No, it's just my legs. They're not working."

I could feel his sympathetic feelings, his concern. He stopped talking, knowing it wasn't going to help. He pedaled next to me, the rhythmic sound of his drivetrain a metronome for me to use as a pacer.

As the hill steepened I'd have to stand.

Next to me he rode steadily.

I slowed. My legs stopped working again.

He rolled on ahead, not accelerating, looking back, deciding to get over the steep part before waiting.

I struggled on, downstroke after downstroke. I tried pulling up more, using my hamstrings. Sat down, butt way back, tried to recruit my glutes. I writhed on the saddle, looking for some cure, some untaxed muscle group, some reserves hidden away somewhere.

Nothing.

At one point I was in my bottom gear, pedaling about 40 rpm, thinking about one downstroke at a time.

We went down some crazy descent, twisty, curvy, awesome. I flew by riders that had dropped me 10 or 15 minutes ago.

Just because I'm not fit doesn't mean I don't know how to ride.

On the next hill they all rolled by me again.

Sneakers waited for me, as did one other guy, a racer (he did 5 races a couple years ago - he should be a 4 now) who liked going fast down hills. He understood the benefits of sharing the pace when bombing down descents, and he also liked being able to follow someone who likes descending. He grinned, started going, and egged me on.

We blasted down a cool winding descent, flying along, until I accidentally knocked my frame pump askew. Trying to get it back in place at 35 mph didn't work so I had to ease (one handed, holding onto the pump, while in the 55x12), fiddle with said pump for a good 30 seconds, and then get going.

By then both he and Sneakers were gone.

They waited for me.

Again.

We rolled together back to the shop, a slightly downhill type road, a good direction for speed, the racer pulling a lot. He eventually pulled off to go home, but we caught another rider to replace him. He'd been twiddling along solo, but with a group he found motivation to work hard.

Sneakers dropped back, leaving me with the white jersey guy. We took longish pulls, 30-40 seconds apiece.

On the two short rises before the shop I came off. The first one ends at a light - it was red, allowing me to catch on. The second one pops up just before the shop, and I didn't catch the guy until he'd stopped in the parking lot.

I felt totally cooked. A couple guys asked what happened to me, shop owner included. The Missus called. I'd ridden by her office 3 hours ago; now the sun had set.

"Where are you?"
"Shop parking lot."
"Did you do the shop ride?"

I thought about that question for a moment.

"Yeah."

I just didn't do it with the group.

"It's getting dark."
"Yeah, I'm about to leave."

I said my good-byes, rolled away towards home. It was pretty dark, especially under the trees. My tail light works well, but without a headlight I had to pretend I was invisible from the front.

There's something meditative about riding in (near) dark. I get this hyperawareness of the road, I hear more noticeably (since I can't see as well, even if I had a headlight), I can feel my legs better.

The day's heat had given away to an almost coolness. No pavement baking me, releasing the pent up heat energy collected over the day. A hint of a breeze, enough to cool but not enough to slow a rider.

It felt like Fall, the time of (for me) notebooks and pens. Or, as I mentioned to someone who has a teen kid, laptops and flash drives. I don't know what kids bring to school now, but for me, if I was serious in my time, I'd have college ruled notebooks, ones that focus my writing, ones that encouraged me to write neatly.

School always meant an exciting mix of known and unknown. I knew part of the environment, the physical structures and such. But the people, the experiences, that was all a deck of cards thrown in the air. I could be drawing bad cards or good cards, but until I started the school year I had no idea. Some years weren't so good, others were fantastic. They all felt stressful at some point; it's only looking back that I realized it was all good.

Bike racing (and riding) isn't much different. I know my bike, I know a lot of the courses. It's the people that drive the pedals that change, from year to year, from week to week. I have good years, bad years. Good patches, bad ones. Even good or bad weeks.

The toughest days on the bike seem so stressful at the time. Struggling up Palomar 30 minutes into a 120 minute climb, in my bottom gear, one down stroke at a time, wondering what I got myself into.

Hanging on at the back of a single file peloton, going warp speed, wondering who was at the front pulling, wondering how the heck I can move up for the finish.

Blasting around 8 turns every 1/2 mile in Birmingham, MI, on a course I'd never seen before and would never see again. Pouring rain, so much so that sheets of white would drift across the road. I was shivering before the race, partially because of the cold, partially from fear, partially because I felt I had a chance of finishing in the top 20 overall (I was 21st). I never crashed to the ground but I broke my rear wheel, pulled my foot out of my shoe when trying to stay upright, and did a number of inadvertent power-slides on the neutral support rear wheel that they'd pumped up with about 120 psi.

When it was over I was happy. I also knew that it'd be a special day before I took those risks again.

This year I know I'll take something like this away from this year, regardless of the results.

The tough part is just getting through the tough part. Then I can look back and say, "Oh, man, that was a tough part", whether it be a year or a month or a week or a day. I just need the tough part to be over.

1 comment:

twofeetofftheasphalt said...

Your 'college ruled notebooks' served you well. Thanks for this post. I read like honey pouring out of a jar.