Monday, January 23, 2012

Training - No SoCal

Today I got a wistful text from my SoCal training host.

Kind of coincidental since I've been thinking about the SoCal training camp too, the ones in the past. If I were going this year I'd be leaving shortly, maybe next Wednesday, with a return February 6th.

I didn't have to look up the date for that Monday. Nope, I know it'd be the 6th because I got an email reminding me that the Red Trolley registration is still open for the February 5th race. I knew that I'd have raced Sunday and therefore I'd be flying back Monday.

Work my way back schedule-wise from that return trip and next Wednesday would have been go-day. The Missus would have halfheartedly complained about waking up so early to drive me to the airport, or the fact that I wouldn't be around to share in the household chores.

She'd skip the part about doing a project on her own (like the bedroom the last time, or the bathroom before that), or visiting with friends, or just plain hanging out.

We talked every day of each trip. Inevitably, within a day or two, she'd report that Bella (our extremely affectionate curious adventurous female cat) was curling up with her, or that Tiger was snuggling up on her lap.

Or, more likely, that it snowed heavily for the first time, and she had to shovel. This seemed to happen every year for a while.

I don't think she'll miss shoveling, or doing (her own) projects on her own. But I think that taking a break from me wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

There are other things about the SoCal trip that I'll miss this year too.

My host, of course. He's the one responsible for this whole blog, for motivating me. He's been an inadvertent life coach for me, giving me gentle nudges in directions he felt would work well for me.

Last fall I had an epiphany about myself, a real significant thought. I shared it with the Missus who expressed support (she's very good about that). I confided in my host who, at some point in the discussion, pointed out "Yeah, remember I mentioned that to you like four years ago?"

You did?

Yeah, he did. My huge epiphany about myself was something he'd been trying to tell me for a while.

People that know you that well are good hard to find and, realistically, even harder to keep around. It's easy to be friends with someone you don't really know. It's harder to be friends when you know their limitations, their defects.

I should point out that as much as we're good friends, my SoCal training camp host isn't just one person, it's a whole family, with his wife and two kids a huge part of the picture. Having been doing these "training camps" since 2004, I've watched the two kids grow up from infants to, well, walking and talking people.

Young people, okay, but still people.

I learned a lot about kids by watching them. Every year I'd offer to babysit a night so my hosts can enjoy an evening out themselves. Sometimes they take me up on it, sometimes not. I learned on those nights, solo with the kids, responsible for their children.

When their daughter was really young I was babysitting her pretty regularly. I remember we watched Nemo so many times I was watching the extra boring parts of the bonus features, like the chalk drawing proposal clip when they first presented the film outline to investors (or whoever). The mines resembled balloons drawn by a kid; the sub wasn't much better.

"Why are we watching this? I want to watch the real Nemo."
"Okay, let's just finish this one first."
Pout. "Okay."
I look over at her. Wait a half minute. "Hey, it's done. Let's watch the real Nemo now."

Thirty seconds later.

"Do you want to play the Princess (board) game?" (or whatever - I think those with kids will understand).

The wife ("hostess" made me think of a Twinkie) is just as much part of the trip too. She's a former racer (got her Cat 2 upgrade when she was something like 8 months pregnant - but by then she'd stopped racing). Over the years we've bonded. It's kind of like what happens when you ride four or five hours with someone - there's a bond there that you can't get just hanging out, even if sometimes you don't talk that much.

Now that I think of it she's one of very few female friends I have on my own, meaning the Missus really doesn't know her. Pretty much everyone else I know also knows the Missus pretty well - it's what being with the Missus for the last ten or so years will do, assimilate friendships.

I actually do more training rides with the wife than with the host, although in hours they may be the same since I typically get to do lunch hour rides with her. With him I'll do just a ride or two on the weekend but they'll be a multi-hour jaunts, with the Tour of Palm Springs being a notable exception (the three of us rode for 4 or 5 hours under the hot sun).

I run errands and such with her (and/or him), picking up groceries, the kids, whatever. Whenever my hosts try and get me one of their cars (so I can run errands - this hasn't happened in a few years), I end up driving her somewhere and then taking her car for the day.

With my hosts we've taken field trips, mainly instate, once out of state. We visited Mexico, the first time I'd been in a non-first world country, where dirt roads outnumbered paved ones, and where I started getting an appreciation for rules and regulations (and following them) when building roads and bridges and sidewalks and such.

It was such a powerful experience that I tell people about it somewhat regularly, and I was talking about it just recently.

Over a number of SoCal training trips I've had a bunch of interesting experiences on the bike too. I mean, hey, it's a training camp for me, right?

Mainly I had a bunch of pro sitings, either riders riding (Chris Horner, twice, and a few other slightly lower level pros), in races (Andy Schleck winning a stage in Tour of California), or even in team presentations. I got to meet some of the Jelly Belly pros at said presentation and even got to shake hands with some of the Jelly Belly staff.

One little quirk of mine is that I've made it a point on my easy training rides to zip by the GIA (the folks that rate diamonds) office in the area, an office conspicuous only because of the heavy steel fencing and gated entryways surrounding the parking lot. The whole diamond thing holds a certain level of mystique for me, and seeing where they do... whatever they do, well, I always look over at the place. I'm sure that I'm on their security system now, "the guy on the bike that always slows and looks over at the parking lot, he seems to ride by a lot in late January and early February".

I always, always troll the PCH (aka Pacific Coast Highway, or Route 1), the "easy" road around here. It follows the beach so it's relatively flat ("relative" being the operative term). There isn't a lot of beach "viewing" since, first, it's usually cold for SoCal, and second, the beach is usually a hundred feet down and fifty feet over from the road (so people look like they're little ants). It's more about riding along with the ocean to one side, the wind coming from that same side, and debating whether I should shift into an easier gear or not.

I enjoy taking in the easier riding on the PCH, the typical sidewind (I never get sidewinds here at home), and enjoying the fact that I can roll along with barely a stop for an hour or so. I'm surprised at first, then not, at all the riders on the road. It's usually midday when I'm riding (after the morning clouds burns off) so everyone I see is either doing a lunch ride or not working during the day.

It helps that I don't have an ego on the road, at least not with other cyclists. I may pace off of them, even join a small group (I actually don't remember doing that but I would if I could), but mainly I'm there to ride at my pace.

If that pace, drafting, gets me with a group that passes me, then fine. But if I have to up the tempo much at all, I'll let whoever pass and drop me. Often I'll see the rider discretely check back to see if I'm still there; regardless of their attitude, it's interesting to people watch the riders.

Other times I've caught up with riders, then hung back a bit while I tried to decide whether I should pass them or not. Passing a rider indecisively is a faux pas, kind of like when a car pulls out to pass you and only gets its bumper ahead of you before reducing its speed to yours.

Likewise, if you pass someone on the PCH, you need to pass them. No dilly dallying around. No cheating either because if you slow a bit after 20 minutes, that rider you passed may come zipping by - there are a lot of riders that will ride an hour or two in one direction. There's no "pass then ease" stuff here.

I usually turn inland only for my Palomar attempts; otherwise I get lost and I don't have an easy reference point ("go to the PCH and turn north" is my default route home, and that doesn't work when I'm inland in Escondido). On unsuccessful attempts I turn around before the climb, usually a little less than two hours inland. When I make it I ride a couple hours to get to the base of the climb, spend about two more hours climbing, then returning home in just two and a half hours.

Yes, the two hour climb takes me just over 30 minutes to descend.

My fastest Palomar ride is a bit shorter than that by about 15 minutes, not very fast by any means, but nonetheless I feel it the next day. I'm usually pretty wasted when I get back, sometimes late enough that the whole family is anxiously awaiting my return.

Having said that, it's amazing how much I can ride each day and how hard I can ride when I do ride when all I have to do is ride. I usually start off with a 4 or so hour ride the first day I get there, then I settle in with a bunch of 3 hour rides (PCH loop), some 4 or 5 hour ones (Torrey Pines), and then the Palomar ones (6 or more hours).

After I kind of max out the fatigue meter (it usually takes a week), where I'm feeling this general overall fatigue, I find that the legs can still keep turning over. They just go, as sore or as tired as they felt when I first got up. After an hour or so of riding they start coming around, loosening up, willing to work, able to suffer. Even after a Palomar day I can get on the bike, roll out, and after a short warm up (in my SoCal world that's about an hour) my legs start coming around.

Yes, I can feel the empty pit called my stomach, still hollering for more supplies. Yes, I may be a bit tender when I first sit down (it's usually a two- or three-sit day, where it takes two or three tries to sit down comfortably). Yes, I can't make huge efforts like I could the day before.

But no, it's not terrible being on the bike.

It's about then, a week into the trip, that I start feeling like a pro. Every day I'm shufflin'... Um, wait... pedalin'.

Seriously, though, I get into this routine. Wake up. Cook some food (which might involve putting cereal into a bowl and pouring milk over it). Eat. Eat some more. Figure out the weather for the day - the temps can go up and down 30 or 40 deg F depending on where I go. Figure out kit stuff for said temps. Gather supplies, jam them into pockets and such, do a final debate on vest, long sleeve jersey, and if I should also carry a rain jacket.

Head out, legs stiff. Lactic asid before I get a hundred yards away.

"Am I crazy to set out on a 6 hour ride?"

Keep going. And going. And going.

Hunker down in the drops, back nicely stretched, legs whirling fluently, arms relaxed. Sun beaming down on me, warm air flowing past my skin. A salt crystal on my skin. The familiar resistance from the pedals.

Totally in the groove.

Kind of like that.

Of course there are those bits that I won't miss.

It seems like I get sick almost every time I go out there. I try and budget sick time in my trip, so a 10 day trip means 2 or 3 sick-ish days. I think I went for 20-odd days one year, and I was sick for 4 or 5 of them.

Another thing is rain. One year I think it rained 14 days, a record. Landslides everywhere, flooding, mud, everything. Even the climb up Palomar was closed (I rode past the DOT signs). I seem to bring the New England moisture with me out west. Next drought, just call me over.

I also stress a bit over the actual traveling. I don't mind flying but it's a bit nerve wracking to give my bike to the luggage folks, regardless of how well I packed it.

I usually put off taking the bike out of the bag for a week or so, and I avoid packing the bike until the last moment before I leave. Packing for the trip alone can be stressful since I try and bring backups for backups, even with all the bike shops and grocery stores in SoCal (many more than in CT).

I was looking through my SoCal bag just the other night (it's a green duffle bag) and saw a few dropouts, a bundle of tubes (after installing a few tires, giving a few away, I still had about 8 tubes left). I also saw a slew of cables, cable housing, the extra Sidi shoes I carry with me, a few sets of cleats, and a few chains (the latter which I bought while I was out there).

For the last couple years I brought two sets of wheels too, not relying on my hosts' slew of wheelsets for spares.

All that makes for packing and unpacking something I end up avoiding.

Since it's hard to ride all day, every day, I usually get a lot of stuff done while I'm there. I work on various projects, the main one being the Bethel Spring Series. I realized the other day that I rely on some of that SoCal downtime to get Bethel stuff done, calls and website and spreadsheet stuff.

This year I won't be going, the first off year since 2004. It's all good, the reasons and all, but still, I'll miss it.

And yes it's made me wistful too.

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