Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Training - A Few Picture Thoughts

Here in town the most important road has to be Route 10/202. Not only is the town hall, the main fire department, the main post office, and pretty much every store in town on or next to it, it also gives the residents just one of a few avenues of escape from this very hemmed in (since it's in a valley) town.

The town thinks it important enough that it commissioned a study to set out a plan for long term development of said road. You can find the study here, but the bit that's significant, at least to me, is the cover.

Yeah, that's me in that second-left picture.

When I first saw this (because I took some interest in this, being a resident and all), I joked that I'd go look for the helmet cam clip containing the shot. I ride with the helmet cam pretty much all the time, I archive all the rides, and it'd just be a matter of finding the ride.

Based on the picture, I could narrow it down to a fall season ride. The long sleeve jersey indicates some chill, but the shorts tell me it's at least 50 degrees F. The booties put the temperature at about that point, 50 or 55 degrees. I figure I had Atomic Balm on, so I'd be okay down to 45 if I was riding hard, about 50 or 55 if I was going easier. Since it's training I would guess easier.

The route would have to take me through the center of town, going the "wrong" way for my standard Quarry Road loop (normally I head north on 10/202, in the picture I'm heading south). This meant I'd have to look for a non-Quarry Road clip.

Since I've only archived the last two years of rides, I wouldn't have much to search. But, as you might have guessed, I never got around to searching. Heck, I haven't put together a lot of clips or anything.

Today, with a bit of free time on my hands, I decided to import a bunch of files into iMovie (on the Mac). Each file takes a couple hours to import (and it blows up into a huge set of files) and I had maybe 20 or 30 files in mind. I figured I'd import a few of them today, mainly random training ones where something interesting happens - a fun descent, a hard turn or two, a visible trackstand (meaning a setting sun behind my back), or, my favorite, drafting something at speed.

At first it was easy. Clips from Interbike. My training camps in SoCal. A Vegas bit or two.

Then I started looking closer to home. I wanted to capture my last turn on each ride, a very tricky, super late apex corner, at the bottom of a short but kind of steep descent. I wanted to find my bear clip, the snake clip, the turkey clip.

And, of course, I wanted to find my drafting clips.

Well I had one Bushy Hill loop that had enough drafting that I labeled it "20101019_BushyHill-LotsOfDrafting" (the numbers standar for 2010, October, 19th). I reviewed the clip in Quicktime, which is a very "high level" thing, i.e. even little movements of the movie cursor makes the thing jump a minute forward or back. I recalled the ride as I watched the draft part - I'd caught up to some landscaping trucks after a mile or two of riding (they ended up stopped at a light), then proceeded to draft the second truck for a good mile or so.

I liked the clip so decided to import it.


Then, like I did each time I started importing a clip today, I went upstairs to get more chores done.

When it finished importing, I used iMovie to check it out. This is much more low-level, where I can literally move the cursor a second at a time, but I can move the cursor as fast as I want.

I went looking for the green truck but as I zipped by the bit on Route 10...

Something looked familiar.

I went back.

Now, keep in mind that I didn't have the Route 10 Study in mind. I didn't have the pdf file up, I wasn't looking for the study picture.

But I did remember some parts of the picture - a dark red tree (I think), a patched bit of pavement, and a somewhat quiet Route 10. I also remembered that I was on the hoods, not the drops, so I was going very slow, maybe looking around at something.

In my clip, as I rolled past the just-completed new fire station, I took a good look at it (hey, it was my tax dollars at work). Part of the fire station included redoing some pavement, and the shoulder ended up patched for a bit.

I found the original clip in Quicktime (which is when I realized it was the LotsOfDrafting clip), realized that I'd inadvertently scrolled right past the Route 10 bit, went back to the iMovie imported clip, and reviewed it a bit closer.

I also took the time to start opening the Route 10 study presentation, a pdf document, to check out the actual picture. As the document loaded, I found my Route 10 spot in iMovie.

I checked the picture, and sure enough, there was a patch on the road, the dark red tree, and, a key item, a 30 mph speed limit sign.

My view at that moment.
Okay, it's just before because the speed limit sign would have been out of view when they took the picture.

I found that bit in the clip, checked the now-loaded study presentation pdf file, and watched the next few seconds.

I figured that the picture taker was in a car - I didn't pass anyone standing on the sidewalk holding a camera, and the angle of the shot implies a picture taken from a passenger side seat, kind of low actually (not a truck or a tall SUV or a platform etc).

Sure enough, after I went by the 30 mph speed limit sign, a white hybrid rolled by.

The guy in the passenger seat still has the camera up.

I noticed the logo on the car matched the one in the presentation cover.

So, mystery solved. Or curiosity satisfied.

Of course that still leaves me with another 10 or 15 files to import, and at 1-3.67 GB each (and the biggest ones taking 2+ hours to import), there's still a bit of work left before I can start putting together some clips.

I'll make no promises so I won't have to tell any lies - I have no idea when I'll have the next clip together.

But hey, I'm making progress.

Now I gotta hit the trainer for a bit.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Promoting - Silk City Cross Race (Final Week)

So, I just got back from our usually-monthly team meeting, one about the Silk City Cross race.

The fact that we have a meeting is kind of unusual for a cycling team. That we have them more than once or twice a year is even more unusual. And finally, the fact that we have an agenda for each meeting, that's just astounding.

We used to have monthly meetings last year, and I made all but the ones where I was away (SoCal and Vegas). This year we skipped a month or two here and there, but pretty much had a solid schedule for much of the year.

Note: I should point out that I'm just a member of the team. I'm not an officer, not anything more than an involved member.

What's amazing to me is the level of participation from the members of said team. Yes, there's always one or two people who do a lot of the work, but I think that for the upcoming Silk City Cross race, we have a solid 5 people sharing board level responsibilities at the race, meaning each one took such a significant part of the race that the event would be hard pressed to go on without each one's help.

Not just that, there's a good dozen or two who will be working hard just below that. We're not talking just one or two races of work, we're talking helping set up on Saturday, working the day Sunday, and helping break down after everything finishes Sunday afternoon.

Last Wednesday I spent some time talking with Jon, one of the race instigators (meaning he instigated the birth of the event). I'd spent a bit of time just before gathering stuff we needed at the event - generators (that involved a drive down to my dad's), tables, cords, radios, numbers, pins, some other stuff.

He came by the house and we loaded up his car, then talked over and hashed out some stuff on registration and USAC procedures and such. He brought me up to speed regarding some of the unique cross racing things, like staging by rankings and such.

Sunday I gathered some stuff when I finally retrieved the van from Bethel. After a brief scare ("Uh, honey, you have a yellow jacket following you"), we got the van back to the house. I'm happy to report that the FOUR wasp nests are all inert, nary a wasp buzzing around after I parked.

Our van retrieval got delayed a bit when the storage bay's door disintegrated (rotted wood). We waited a few weeks until they replaced the door - I didn't want to empty the bay out on the door-replacement-day and chance getting everything soaked in a poorly timed rainstorm.

I actually emptied the bay last Wednesday, before I met with Jon. After he left, I went and retrieved our new keys, put the red Honda back in, and locked it up. Feeling much more secure (the old door literally had inches-wide gaps across the bottom panel), I felt comfortable putting valuables back in the bay.

Once we had the door in place it took just four days (Sunday) to get the van back home. Fortunately it cooperated, starting immediately, stopping just fine (after rubbing some rust off the brakes), and handling normally. Even heavily laden it drove fine, shocks okay, tires good, various ball joints seemingly happy. At home we unloaded most of its contents and socked them securely away, behind the fresh, new, locking door.

Now it's the final week before the race. Did you ever wonder what "helping just a bit" involves for a helper at a relatively small 'cross race? I can tell you that from last Sunday to race day (this coming Sunday), it's pretty busy.


Today, Monday, I spent some time working on the spreadsheet, the one we'll use for registration. I don't know 'cross racing from Cross pens, but I do have an idea on how to do a registration table. Therefore the powers that be put me in sort-of-charge of registration, at least setting it up. Any mistakes are mine. Any good ideas, you can give the powers-that-be the credit.

Of course we had the meeting. Jon and I hashed out some of the registration details, both in the meeting (I shot down a later pre-reg closing date - so it's my fault it closes Thursday at 9 PM) as well as afterward.

When I got home I brought up the spreadsheet, fixed a few things I saw right away, realized I had to change some other things (but they'd take some time), and emailed the sheet, as it exists now, to Jon. This would let him get an idea of what we'll have on race day - a solid spreadsheet that allows the promoter to spend as little time as possible dealing with paperwork.

At that I downloaded the current pre-reg list, using the ranking sorting, something I never did before. It seemed manageable; I decided to focus on cleaning up the spreadsheet, ultimately putting it aside for Tuesday or even Wednesday evening.


I'll be doing more spreadsheet work, finalizing the changes I need to make for the Silk City race. More categories, more places for results, neaten up some formatting from the original spreadsheet (a Bethel Spring Series one).


Unfortunately I'll be out the whole day. I had to write off Wednesday as far as Silk City Cross goes.


Thursday starts the final push for registration. When registration closes Thursday at 9 PM (per my extremely firm request), I'll start downloading data, testing with "real data" to make sure things will be okay. As I just mentioned before I tested earlier tonight and it was fine, but when it's for real, well, it's for real.

In the software world they say that the final test is User Testing - it's when it's actually released as a final product. No amount of testing will stress software as much as the actual users, and no amount of testing will stress the various formulas in the spreadsheet as much as a slew of real data.


I've set aside this day for emergency spreadsheet work and potentially packing up the car for Sunday.


Unfortunately I'm booked solid on this day, literally from 8 AM to midnight-ish. I won't be doing a single Silk City Cross related thing all day. There's a slight chance I'll pack the car Saturday after work, if I haven't already done it Friday.


The day. I have to be at the race at 7:30 AM.

It'll be a busy week for sure, but one that should be really productive. I don't know when I'll post next, but I hope that I see you at the race.

Linky, one final time.

Silk City Cross race.

Be there!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Training - A Trainer Ride

Tonight I climbed on the trainer, not knowing exactly how I'd be riding. To my surprise I've managed to get on the bike pretty consistently, doing 5 hours in four days, taking Wednesday day off (the Missus and I went out for dinner), then getting back on tonight for what I thought would be an hour ride.

I took the time to adjust the tension on the CycleOps - the trainer was clicking a lot, making a lot of noise, and I wasn't sure what was causing it. I suspected too high roller pressure. I unscrewed one turn, re-clamped it (it's one of those quick-release type tension adjuster - fold the knob in to lock), got on the bike and Hey! No more clicking!

I had a DVD of an old movie I wanted to watch, Wild Geese. It's a favorite movie of mine, at least back in the day. I wasn't sure what it'd be like now but I wanted to watch it. I added it to our Netflix queue and bumped it to the top.

But I couldn't put it in the DVD player - I still had the 5th DVD of the 2006 Tour in the DVD player.

Now, with all this doping and such, the 2006 Tour may seem a bit odd to be a favorite of mine, but it is. It's hard to forget that Landis had doped but I'm also in the mindset that he wasn't the only one. To me it seems semi-fair, at least at the top of the classification.

Although he seems pretty strong, he also has his weak points.

I also like studying race tapes, watching them over and over, finding little gems in the randomness of race coverage. For example, I found that Cadel Evans seemed to be the only one seeking shelter from the wind on some of the exposed climbs. Sastre rode in the wind, as did Kloden. Who knows how much energy they wasted doing that, energy they could have used later in the stage, later in the race.

I watch pack formation carefully, looking at wind cues like flags, banners, and dust/debris. I look and see who sought shelter, who rode in the wind. I figure the shelter seekers are racing smart and are possibly more clean than the ones in the wind (excepting the guys assigned to be in the wind).

Watching some of my much older race tapes, from the mid-90s, it's amazing how uncaring the dopers raced. They'd launch attacks whimsically, attacking at odd places where the others could respond. They rode in the wind. They rode at the front.

They rode like dopes.

But they could, because they had unimaginable power and endurance, because they were doped.

Anyway, watching these races can be educational as well as fun, so I watch them.

The 5th DVD has both parts of Landis - it has the end of Stage 16, when he totally crumbles, and most of Stage 17, when he made that improbable comeback.

Stage 16 is interesting to watch, even for a guy that really doesn't climb that well. What's most fascinating is the absolutely terrible cornering by Michael Rasmussen. I study him as an example of what not to do.

Unfortunately Levi is in the same boat. He, too, exhibits scared cornering, giving away a whole lot of time on a descent after working hard to get clear of the field.

I wonder if those guys work on their cornering at all, or if they're oblivious to the fact that they're giving away a lot of training, a lot of effort, a lot of themselves, when they corner poorly.

This Tour DVD prompted my prior post. Watching Levi work so hard to build a lead, then to throw it all away... all that training, all that recon work, all that climbing, all for nothing, just because he descended so poorly. It seems like such a waste.

What's also interesting (and I saw this tonight, not Wednesday night) is that the big field, in Stage 17, chasing Landis, splits in two on a series of switchbacks. It's a crazy descent with super tight switchbacks, maybe 7 or 8 in a row, very close together. You can see one rider in the center of the field, turning in way early, going slow, and riders behind crowding him in frustration.

It's the first time I noticed the split, after watching the DVD probably a dozen times over.

I'm sure it was Rasmussen - he was the worst cornerer of the bunch, and he was in the Polka Dot jersey (appears white on the TV). I didn't rewind and review, but watching the poor cornering was enough.

Levi, to his credit, hung out at the back, and yes, there were gaps in front of him.

I'm amazed that even in the field, with other guys in front of them, that these guys can't corner. Just follow the guy in front - they're not necessarily super great at cornering, but they're better than nothing.

Cornering works a bit like drafting too. Once you lose your "cornering guide", i.e. you let the gap open up, you lose that guiding thing. A poor cornering racer will end up on his own, woefully wobbling from one bend to another, just like a racer that is out of the draft will go slower on his own.


Anyway, with Stage 16 and 17 on the DVD already loaded in the player, I decided I'd watch the rest of the DVD before loading up Wild Geese.

What I didn't realize is that I'd just started the DVD; I had 90 minutes left on it. I rode and drank water and rode and drank water. The DVD kept going.

I took a break to go pee. When I walked out the trainer room (I keep the door closed so cats don't get in - whirling spokes and cats don't mix well), Bella ran over, her tail curled into a corkscrew (she does this when she's really happy), trembling with excitement. She followed me up to the bathroom, waited, then followed me back down. When she realized I was going back into the bike room she stopped, tail still curled, but pausing at the beginning of the short hallway to the bike room.

I closed the door behind me, got back on the bike, got rolling again, and thought about stuff. My pedal stroke. Powering through whatever I could of the circle.

I watched Landis pedal fast and slow, corner well, and make up a lot of time on the field. I have no problem with his cornering - in fact, I think it's a huge reason why he stayed away on that Stage 17. He could also load up on ice cold water all day, and when it's 104 deg F in the valleys, that's pretty significant.

My legs felt pretty good, tired but good. The fatigue felt vaguely comforting, like getting on the bike on the fifth day of my SoCal training camp, or on a Wednesday after racing Sunday, doing a group ride Monday, and racing Tuesday.

Not that I just did four hard rides in a row, but my legs felt only slightly recovered from my efforts Sunday through Wednesday.

When the DVD finally ended I loaded up Wild Geese. I forgot that this was a movie with a plot, so I suffered through about 30 minutes of plot stuff (okay, one grenade, a couple gun shots) before my tired cramping legs convinced me to climb off the bike.

I walked out the door, this time for the last time tonight, and Bella came running over, tail curled and trembling again.

I brought out the SRM PCV (cyclocomputer), to download data. I knew I had a few hours on there; it holds about 6. I checked it out. HR belt is starting to go, so HR is sporadic. My powermeter pick up is a bit damaged from shipping and such, so power and cadence don't show up.

I just have speed.

But if I can get power to work for a bit, I can map speed and power and HR and get an idea of what I did on the bike. With my tension adjustment, I need to remap the three so no extrapolated data tonight.

Just pedaling.

A little over two hours.

Bella stood next to me, back arched, tail curled, looking back over her shoulder. If a cat could flirt, she was flirting. If I didn't scritch her back quick enough she'd stand up on her hind legs, paw me gently on the leg (claws visible but not extended too much), and try and get me to scritch her.

When I do (and I do), she'd lower herself back to the floor, then try and stand up to meet my hand halfway, doing a kind of porpoise arc dive thing.

As soon as I stopped scritching she'd stand next to me, look over her shoulder, then stand up and paw at me. If she was pawing my knee she'd carefully retract her claws. My bike shorts? She's grab them with her claws, just a bit. She knows the difference between the two, and knows that clothing is okay, skin is not.

Since her claws felt a bit grabby on my knee, I picked her up, clipped her nails, and put her back down.

This dampened her enthusiasm for scritching so she retreated to her cat bed, conveniently located two feet from the chair where I type on the laptop.

I went back to Bike Forums, to moving files into WKO+ from the SRM software, to checking email. I thought about some of the conversations I had today, at the local shop, at work, with the Missus, on the phone.

I heard Bella sighing softly in her sleep. Or snoring, depending on the noise.

When I go upstairs Bella will follow. I'll take a quick shower, rinsing off the salt and sweat, warming up a bit with the hot water.

Bella will wait just outside the bathroom, trotting in when I grab the towel, knowing she'll snag a scritch or two before I leave.

We'll walk upstairs quietly, my feet dragging on the floor, feeling for furry tails and bodies, not wanting to inadvertently step on a cat. They trust us so much they don't get out of the way when we're going up or down the stairs, or walking down a dark-to-us hallway. I usually toe aside a few cats - Mike (body or tail), Lilly (body), Estelle (body), Hal (body).

Riley is the shy one, she'll dash off when I'm six feet away from her, unless she's tired and sitting on a high spot. Then she'll watch me with her sleepy eyes as I walk past her.

I choose to walk around the bed; climbing over the sleeping Missus wouldn't go over well. Bella takes the shortcut, trotting happily across the bed. I'll slowly sink into bed, the weight lifting from my back, from my shoulders.


When I get settled, Bella will paw gently at the top of the covers, waiting for me and/or the groggy Missus to pick up the comforter so Bella can peer under the edge. She'll carefully venture in, making sure there's no Tiger or Hal already under there, carefully step on my left thigh, step in the small area under my right knee, walk around in a circle, then put her paws over my left leg and lay across it, her chest on my leg.

She may suckle her cat bed under the blanket ("Mommy!" the Missus will say for her), a habit she started a while ago. I think we captured her a bit early and she bonded with the bed she slept on with her brother and sister. She has a very wide tongue so she makes a lot of smacking noise, but it's all good.

Each night I briefly worry what we'll do when she wears out the bed. She may want it in ten or fifteen years. Will the bed last that long?

Then I remember my own security blanket. When it finally disappeared, I was okay. Bella will miss her Mommy Cat Bed but she'll be okay.

Or, if she's not in the mood for Mommy Cat Bed, she'll just curl up between my knees, bumping up against my thighs and calves, under the comforter, and go to sleep, sighing and snoring occasionally as she does.

At some point in the night she'll suddenly dart off, so quickly that sometimes I'm not sure she left. I'll reach down and feel the warm spot where she'd been laying, but where she no longer lay.

I'll slowly straighten out my fatigued legs, letting the warmth soak into my hamstrings, feeling the pleasant soreness permeating my quads, my hamstrings, my legs. My back will relax, the relief spreading throughout my body.

I'll drift off, sometimes so quickly I don't remember, other times waiting for fatigue to overwhelm me.

You know, it's a hard life, but someone's got to live it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How To - Lazy Steering

Today, going to work, I watched the various people drive by me, usually going the other way, sometimes those either in front or just behind me.

And, as usual, I watched them go over the yellow line, drift into the other lane (sometimes that was my lane, if they were driving towards me), and do all sorts of stuff that, in a different context, could have gotten them pulled over for distracted or DUI.

Yet somehow this behavior is common and, if the number of people doing it is any indication, accepted.

What is it?

I call it "Lazy Steering".

For whatever reason drivers don't like to turn their steering wheel more than about 90 degrees. It's probably closer to about 75 or 80 degrees, but my point is the part about not wanting to turn the wheel much.

A lot of cars will make it around a curve or a turn without violating this "lazy" rule, but only if you turn in early.

Real early.

I watch drivers cut over the yellow line 10 or 15 or even 20 feet before the end of said line, cutting into the other lane, driving through the intersection, then bisecting the next yellow line 10 or 15 or 20 feet beyond its start point.

If there were cars in the oncoming lanes, they'd have plowed through maybe the driver's side seat, maybe the center console, and possibly even the passenger seat.

Instead, because there's no car, it's okay to cut through the other side's lane.

It's easy for these drivers to fall into this habit - I'll watch one driver consistently cut through the other side of the road to make turns, curves, and such.

It's also easy to simply remain a good driver, without this habit. On a different day I'll follow a driver who just as consistently does NOT cut through the other side of the road to make the exact same turns, curves, and such.

And I'll think, "Wow, this driver actually pays attention. The driver knows how to drive. This driver deserves my respect."

I even asked a coworker if she'd been driving at such and such time in the morning on such and such road.

"Why is that? I think I was at home."
"Oh. I thought I was behind you and I was thinking 'Wow, I think this is L. She drives sooo well. I totally underestimated her. She's perfect, a model driver, knows all the cornering lines, pays attention, flawless driver. Incredible.'"


"I think that was me," grinning.

So there are the good drivers out there, but they rarely make it on our radar. It's the ones that forget to turn their lights on when it's grey or raining, the ones that don't signal, the ones that Lazy Steer that catch our attention.

So what's the big deal?

The problem pops up when something different happens on the other side of the road from the Lazy Steerer, like there's a car or truck on the other side of the road.

I'll watch the Lazy Steerers jerk their vehicle back into their own lane (the proper one), then dance delicately with the shoulder as they deal with this brazen interloper, this intruder in their morning commute.

Okay, to them it's delicately dancing with the shoulder. To me they're 3 feet away from the edge of the road, a foot from the white line even, and they have plenty of space.

But the Lazy Steerers don't know this because, get this, they never really learned where the right side of their car sits. They cut so many corners that they no longer know.

Lazy Steerers reinforce poor cornering habits until it becomes second nature to them. Making a left turn? Start it as soon as you can see the road. Don't worry about the yellow line you're crossing. Don't worry that you'll hit the next yellow line almost perpendicularly. Just turn the wheel, a little less than a quarter turn, and wait for the car to rotate a bit.

So what's that got to do with cycling?


There's only one thing you get for free on a bicycle - cornering.

It's the only thing I know of where I should be able to equal many of the good pros, even the ProTour pros. I may not be able to outsprint anyone at the end of a 200 km race, I certainly can't out-climb any of them for more than 10 seconds, but give me a hard switchback and I'll blow through it with the best of them.

Cornering takes no fitness.

All it takes is practice.

And if you corner with any sense of awareness, you'll know that the absolute unforgiveable sin in cornering is the early apex.

Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, like if you're trying to control the front of the race. But if you're just riding on a training ride, if you're descending down any hill with sharp turns, if you're approaching any hard turn, then the early apex is almost always the worst choice in the world.

But in virtually all normal cornering situations, the early apex is the worst thing you can do in a corner.

And guess what?

The early apex is the same thing as what you get when you Lazy Steer.

Now we've come full circle.

Are you a Lazy Steerer?

If you answer yes, then think about the next questions:

Do you feel kind of uncomfortable in crits? On screaming descents?

Do you find yourself on the wrong side of the yellow line sometimes, inadvertently, staring at a vehicle grille in the face?

Guess what?

Your driving habits are affecting your cycling habits.

Your poor cornering skills in the car are transferring to your cycling skills.

There's a good part of this whole thing though - you can start working on your cornering right now, whatever day this is, whatever season, whenever you're going to do your next race, you can work on your cornering starting the next time you have to drive your car anywhere.

All you have to do is to stop with the Lazy Steering.

Learn to turn the wheel more than 90 degrees when you make a left turn. It's not hard, really.

Don't go over any yellow lines when you go through curves or turns (except if you need to give room to a cyclist or something like that, of course). Wait until your front tires pass the end of the yellow line before even initiating a turn. Steer such that you clear all yellow line paint in the road you're turning into, then straighten out such that you're centered in the lane, not touching yellow or white.

Pretty easy right?

It should be. You should have a couple feet on either side of your vehicle, no matter how big it is, unless you drive an 18 wheeler. Because most roads in the US are designed for at least some 18 wheeler traffic.

If you're not driving an 18 wheeler you don't have an excuse.

Likewise, think about this even for curves in the road. When you enter such a curve, like an exit or entrance ramp, start a bit wide. Wait before you turn in. Then turn in so you apex (are closest you'll get to the inside edge) about 2/3 of the way through the turn.

It's not hard.

Now reward yourself.

Accelerate once you apex, whether you're making a left turn or driving through a curve.

Feel the exhilaration of being able to accelerate at whatever rate you want without worrying about the car sliding into the guardrail or jersey barrier or the bushes next to the road.

See, a Late Apex gives you the best line for acceleration out of the turn. It's your reward for turning the wheel just a touch more than 75 or 80 degrees.

Check it out, you'll see.

Right near the front of the group, with two turns to go.

Blasting fearlessly and fluently through to the final straight, no early apex, no hesitation, cornering instincts properly honed by a whole winter of cornering drills, drills you did every single time you drove your car.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Training - Spin Ups

I realized the other day that my season, as I defined it in the WKO+ training program (where I log my power files), ends at the end of September. That means that October 1 is the beginning of my 2012 season.

Of course by the time I realized this little tidbit October 1 had already passed me by. Nonetheless I decided that I should start thinking about the 2012 season.

First off, I contacted the town of Bethel. I've been speaking to the same lady there for something like 18 years, and she remembers me when I call each fall. I asked for permission to use the course for six weeks in 2012, the idea being that the Bethel Spring Series will happen on those days. I sent her a letter, noting the dates, the arrangements, everything that the town asked for a long time ago. It wasn't much but without the town's permission there is no race.

Of course there's a lot of work going forward but that's the first step.

Second, I decided I had to ride more. I wanted to do a few things this winter, stuff I mentioned before. I also wanted to get some more track bike fluency, since I'm pretty much a novice on the thing. I want to ride the track bike on the rollers, to learn form, and on the trainer, to gain strength.

I even want to have a welder friend modify my trainer so that I can rock on it, tilt the bike left/right. I thought of this a couple years ago but didn't have a welder who could do the work (although someone offered me use of their welder). Now I know someone who may be able to run a plasma cutter down a few lines, then a torch to weld them into new things.

That's all in the unplanned future though.

Since my track bike was in pieces, I figured I could ride my spin bike tonight.

And this is where my training started for 2012.

Whenever I get the itch to ride the spin bike during the season, I force myself to back off. See, every time I ride the thing, I like to do spin ups (pedal as fast as possible, ideally for 15 seconds, usually for more like 6-8 seconds). There isn't much else to do on a bike where the saddle height isn't quite right, the cranks are really wide, and the bars are U shaped bend 7/8" chrome steel. So all I do are spin ups.

Sounds easy, right?

Well, yes, they're kind of easy to do.

It's the four days afterwards that feel painful. My inner thighs, my hamstrings, my thighs, my calves even, they all feel like someone smashed them gently with a sledgehammer. I struggle to walk. I walk stiff-legged down stairs. And on a bike I struggle with the most minor efforts, my legs screaming in protest when I try to make them pedal.

Knowing this it's only natural that when I get that urge to rip out a few 240 rpm spin ups in the middle of the season, I resist. The problem is that if I get so sore from doing 20 or 30 seconds of effort, it means that those muscles aren't conditioned, they aren't trained.

It means there's untapped potential in my legs.

This potential is really untapped - the muscles are barely developed, they're weak, they can't contribute a lot, and they get absolutely demolished in 30 seconds.

That's pretty serious.

If I have this untapped potential in my legs, and I'm suffering like a dog in the races, then I should try and tap this potential.

Since my first race won't be for months, I have plenty of time to recover from some spin ups. Therefore I kitted up, slipped on my track Sidis (they're my old shoes with my old cleats on them - my track bike, and my spin bike, wear my old SPD-R pedals), and hopped on the spin bike.

Oh, I forgot. First, on the spin bike, I mounted a Bontrager cyclocomputer I bought through Manchester Cycle, sponsor of Expo Wheelmen. It displays cadence, the only metric of value on the spin bike. Well that and time, but the cadence is key. Since I'm just turning over a flywheel the speed doesn't matter, just cadence.

I warmed up, the spin bike making the reassuring noisy drivetrain noises, a very unsophisticated 1/8" chain (BMX) pulled by an unsophisticated steel plate chainring and tugging on an equally unsophisticated 20 pound or so flywheel.

After warming up a bit I gripped the bottom bar (no dropped bars - that's on the "welder to do" list), gritted my teeth, and wound up the gear.

When I hit about 230 rpm I realized that I hadn't done this in a while and please don't let my legs get uncoordinated and lock up and throw me off the bike across the room.

With the flywheel buzzing I fought to bring down the rpms. Once I dropped below about 180 rpm I mentally relaxed, knowing that I wouldn't rip apart my knees on the bike, nor go head first into the TV screen in front of me.

I thought about track riding, the powerful acceleration needed to start the single speed bike, the jumps in the match sprint from low speeds, all these things that ought to play in my favor. You'd think, right, me, with the jump. Well, when I watch track vids, I realize that in the world of track sprinting, I'm not one of the good ones, and in fact I'd be hard pressed to stay with pretty much anyone I see sprinting on tape.

I decided that once I got drop bars on the spin bike that I'd work on doing high friction, high inertia accelerations, mimicking the effort needed to get going from a dead stop. I suppose I could do them on the track bike on the trainer, but the initial jolt, that initial punch you need to get the bike going, that would just slip the tire on the trainer, and the itty bitty aluminum flywheel is nothing compared to the massive flywheel on the spin bike.


Maybe I need to add 10 or 20 pounds of weight to the track wheel. Maybe another welder-to-do thing.

While I thought about all this stuff I sat on the spin bike, spinning. I watched the cyclocomputer's cadence numbers slowly dwindle down. It started at 110 rpm, comfy, spinning, no biggie. Then I noticed some 98 rpm stuff. Then, after watching bits of the 2006 Tour, I was in the 80 rpm range.

Time to crank it up, time to punch it.

Bam. I nail it, accelerating as hard as I can. I learn new muscles, react instantly to new inputs, my body twisting and turning and adapting as my legs blew through 150 rpm, 200 rpm, and up into the 230 rpm range, each range a different harmonic for my body, a different style of pedaling.

232 rpm, like last time.

I overspun this time, the resistance a bit too low, and frantically cranked the knob down to help slow down the flywheel, all while my legs whirred furiously at over 200 rpms.

Note to self: too much resistance is better than too little.

After some cooling down I climbed off the bike. My two sprints had bathed me in sweat; the easy spinning between was good, but I could feel my muscles protesting already.

I grabbed my pjs off the floor. I usually sat in front of the computer while I cool down, then shower, then climb into bed.

Bella came over, her tail bent at the tip, her "tell" that she was excited. Her tail trembled a bit, revealing her joy, and she started purring loudly.

I checked BikeForums. My email. Bike news, for the bazillionth time. Thought about doing a post. Belle rubbed up against my calves the whole time, arching up on her hind legs so she could rub her head against my legs.

It's hard typing and such when you're petting a cat.

Finally Bella curled up in a big cat bed sitting on the floor next to me, content, purring.

Tiger showed up, put his front paws on my legs, then jumped up in my lap.

I pushed the chair back to give him room. He curled up on my lap, purring. When I started scritching his neck, his tongue came out, an automatic reaction of his. Then, after a bit, he slowly dropped down to the floor and sauntered away.

I thought about the cyclocomputer and the spin bike. The computer has no max cadence but it has max speed. Regardless of the "speed" of the bike, I could hook up the speed to the cranks. I could get a relative reading for a given rpm, i.e. 100 rpm is 20 mph. Then I could check max speed after each spin up, which in turn would give me max rpm.

Then I wouldn't have to spin up while staring at the cyclocomputer.


I'll have to fix that up next time, figure out a wheel circumference that works. I can't pick up off the flywheel because the cable doesn't reach that way, so I'll have to pick up off the cranks.

Cooled off, and with this cyclocomputer puzzle figured out, I got up. Bella stayed put in her cat bed, although she'd be upstairs in a few minutes. Tiger bounded ahead of me, running to his stick (with a string on it), wanting to play. The other cats romped around, each wanting something. Water from a faucet, a scritch, a treat, attention.

It was dark and quiet. I drank water because I never drink enough. I showered briefly, rinsing the spin bike efforts away. Fresh, clean, pleasantly fatigued, I walked slowly to the next upstairs, to the bedrooms. I climbed into bed, the Missus long asleep.

I lay down, my legs already protesting, my eyes heavy with fatigue. Thoughts swirled through my head.

I have a lot of work to do for this next year.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Training - What To Do In The Winter?

So with the 2011 over for me, what can I do about 2012?

Well, there's a lot.

Now, if I were a relatively inexperienced racer, I'd really focus on getting into the whole scene. I learned the most from a select few individuals, hanging out with them after work, talking about bikes (this long before internet or chats - if you wanted to talk to someone, you either grabbed a landline phone or you met with them in person).

The biggest shortfall I had in the first five or six years as a racer was my inability to ride comfortably in a group. That may surprise a few folks out there because nowadays I feel at home in a group pretty much instantly. Back then, though, it took literally weeks or months of riding and racing before I felt like I was "in the groove".

The first couple years it never did, but by the third year I'd gotten that feeling of "wow, I know how to dive into that turn in the middle of the group!" by the time July or August rolled around.

The next year I had that epiphany again, and the following year I started looking for it.

A few years later it showed up in May, perhaps the year after in April.

Then one miraculous year I threw my leg over my bike in February, rolled out with the group, and immediately started playing chicken with the rear wheel in front of me, diving into the turns marking the start of the Shartkozawa Classic.

I'd arrived.

So if I were a new rider, what would I do?

If there's any way you can hang out with other racers that would really help. Group rides are key, not just for learning how to ride in a group but for the wisdom the veterans unknowingly pass on to their less experienced peers.

Okay, sometimes they know they're handing out a trick or tip ("Try a higher gear and reduce your cadence a bit, it'll allow you to respond to attacks better"), sometimes they jam it down your throat ("Dude, shift up or you'll get shelled when everyone goes for the town line!"), but sometimes it's just casual or accidental ("Try the 53x15 instead of the 21").

A lot of winter group rides are mellow, slower, more double-paceline-and-talk kind of rides, with a couple jumps thrown in for good measure. Even harder group rides will start and finish with a chat-time kind of thing, where guys catch up with the latest gossip, check out whatever new carbon part someone has on their bike, etc.

These kind of non-competitive periods can unearth a lot of gems, produce motivation, and foster friendships that can last decades.

Friendship and camaraderie can help direct your next season. It makes it much easier to go to a race if you have a car pool friend, a friendly face in the pack. Training with such a rider can motivate you to work on stuff you don't work on, or push you to new limits.

I know that training with John prior to our brief trip to Belgium was really eye opening for me. I learned I could ride for 5 or 6 hours and actually go really hard at the end of the ride. I also learned I could withstand some serious hours on the bike without collapsing.

Friendships or just allies, your winter training partner/s may be able to act as a buffer in your forgetful moments, like when you're at your first race in 2012 and you realize you forgot your pump or helmet or front wheel or something.

It also helps in that you can integrate with others formally, maybe join a club. You can ride tactically with a friend in a race, even if you have different jerseys on, but it's much more fun to race together on the same team. I know I've offered and received help from friendly non-teammates over the years, sometimes quite substantial efforts. As rewarding as those moments might have been, they're much more satisfying when it's all teammates working together.

The worst thing you can do is to train solo over the winter, at least as a new racer. You'll be very strong but you won't know how to direct that strength in an actual race.

For more experienced racers, the winter is a bit different.

I count myself as one of those more experienced riders (I think I can, with 2012 being my... get this ... 30th season of racing!!). For those with a few less years of racing, the acid test is if you can dive confidently into a turn in a packed crit within 30 seconds of the first race of the season... if the answer is yes, you're experienced.

If that's the case, riding solo can actually help quite a bit, especially for those of you fortunate enough to be strong on the bike. I know my best years came after a long winter of discontent, of pushing, of worrying, of thinking I wasn't doing enough. I came out of those winters with a huge base, a huge foundation - I could race and train and race and train and I just kept building and building.

For me it was like eating a great diet. By itself it didn't do much, no bursts of energy, no super quick muscle recovery, just good solid nutrition.

Then, when I started demanding more from my body, it had the reserves, the supplies, the foundation to respond.

Not really scientific, my training, not by any means, but it worked. Would it have been better if I'd trained scientifically?

I don't think so, at least not for me.

I can't push hard, not in training, not for long, so the pressure of having to go harder because the computer is telling me to go harder... that's not good for me.

My worst winter was one where I spent endless time on the wind trainer, doing intervals, pushing as hard as I could. I learned to hate 20 minute efforts, completing only a handful I ever started. I hated 60 second intervals almost as much, giving up after getting just a few done.

I tried to jam more training into less time; what I got was a weak foundation, lots of sugary power, but nothing of substance. When I needed more it never happened. My body, build on Cracker Jacks and chocolate, collapsed when I tried to push up a level.

No matter how you train over the winter, you can always work on a few things - technical stuff, stuff that is 100% technique and 0% training.

For me, that's always fun (and sometimes a bit adventurous).

I want to learn how to bunny hop higher. I watched my first cross race since about 1990 or so - amazing bunny hops, they really impressed me. On a related but separate note I'd like to learn how to do a wheelie on a road bike. I haven't managed either in all the winters I've tried these, partially due to fear, partially due to not knowing how to do it.

I also want to work on a few more basic things. One is cornering better - cornering is the key to safe riding as well as fast descending.

People think I descend well, but I really don't - I descend well because I'm cornering better than they corner. Yet I figure I'm cornering at about 70% of what I should be able to do; this means I lose a LOT of distance in turns and such. Descents with turns really emphasize cornering skills; most crits really let you get away with poor to mediocre cornering. Like I said before, I consider myself decent at cornering but not good. I want to fix that.

I also want to learn to optimize my braking - my new-to-me driveway isn't flat so I haven't been doing "stoppies", where I come to a stop with back wheel in the air.

In the old house I had a short downhill leading to a flat driveway, meaning I'd arrive in the driveway going 20-25 mph. I'd hit the brakes hard, intentionally focusing more on the front one (because that's the one that stops you most).

At some point I'd lift the rear wheel off the ground, making the front brake (and the front wheel) my only connection to controlling the bike. By using the front brake and weight transfer I'd life the rear wheel about 10-15 feet from the garage door - then try and stop an inch or so from the door, or tap it lightly if I felt adventurous.

I did that at the end of pretty much every ride I did for about 15 years, until about 2005. Now, with no "built in" practice like that, I feel a bit uncomfortable doing stoppies the few times I've done them this summer. this lack of practice/drills/etc hurt my confidence on the bike. To fix it I need to ramp up my skill drills.

Of course there's also the bicycle aspect of racing. Every year my equipment starts fresh, clean, well adjusted, everything just so. As the summer wears on the bike also deteriorates. Bearing start to wear, drive train stuff, things get dirty.

Over the past few years I've let a lot of stuff go. My orange Tsunami is waiting patiently to go back to its creator, an appointment to shorten up the chainstays outstanding. I never rebuilt that Tsunami after building up the black one. In 2012 I'd like to have two operating bikes, a primary and a spare.

My SRM situation is a bit lean too. I have one working spider (cranks or the PowerMeter), one working head (PowerControl V, or PCV); I own another spider and another head, both with dead batteries. Ideally the second set would be working and installed in the second Tsunami. I have to make this happen.

For this winter my main equipment experiment will be with bars - I really want to try the FSA Compacts, see how they match up with my sprinting style. If they work it'll be great, it'll really open up bar options to me. I think they have slightly shorter reach too, so I can play a bit with more or less weight on the front wheel (based on having my weight more or less forward).

I also need to glue new tires onto my trusty HED Stinger6 race wheels. I finally wore through the rear tire, flatting it at the last race of the year. The front is okay but showing some age. I figure that it'll be a good track tire, if I ever return to the track, so I'll remove and save it. I have some new, slightly wider 23mm Bontrager tubular tires (6 of them actually) waiting for the Stingers, so I'll be gluing up some tires over this winter. I have no idea how these tires will work so it should be interesting.

Finally, with a team that's close by, I want to see if I can get in some fun group rides. Although not as much a fan of night riding as before (at least not in this area), Expo does some evening (and rapidly becoming night) rides on the rail trails. I hope to catch some of them, to glean knowledge from others and to share what I can with them. It helps, too, to build camaraderie, as I mentioned before.

And, of course, it'll help me build a solid base, one that stays solid even when I start piling on stress, miles, and ask it to do even more than ever. That kind of steady state, all winter riding really put me into the best shape of my life. Even if I don't reach that peak again, I'd like to do better than I did in 2011.

Therefore it's what I have to do.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Racing - 2011 Season

I didn't know it when I started it but the August 24th Ninigret would be the last race of my 2011 season. I figured I had one more Rent to go but with the flooding Irene brought that was a totally different thing altogether.

This summer I never really got going, new bike notwithstanding. My biggest problem was trying not to get too psyched up for the season. As a new Cat 2, with stuff happening off the bike, I wasn't sure what I'd be able to do bike-wise. It'd have been great to slay all as a newly minted (but old on the bike) Cat 2 but that wasn't the case.

Early on I tried to control my enthusiasm by intentionally making myself ineligible for my normal season targets - the Bethel Spring Series and the CT State Championships. The former had only one race I could enter, the P123s. I didn't meet the age requirement for Masters and there were no other races at Bethel I could enter.

(And it's a big reason why I declined to drop the M45+ to M40+, despite a few vocal requests to do just that, because if I dropped the age I'd have a goal - to win the M40+ race.)

Without an early season goal to drive my training, my winter ended up blah, my spring blah, and my summer blah. Usually I can get on the trainer and hammer away for a while, my energy level surging and ebbing just like it does on a regular ride. Sometimes I'll do some timed efforts (I hate them), usually I'll ride hard like whatever DVD I'm watching. A pro race tends to have a few hard bits and a really hard finale. My own DVD (I put it together from my helmet cam clips) is nicely segmented into 10 minute efforts, with the one 15 minute race from the last Rent in 2010.

The key here is "Usually".

In previous winters I could do pretty serious efforts on the trainer, averaging 160+ bpm, bumping up to a high-for-me 165-168, sometimes even seeing 170 bpm. And I could do it again and again, revving the ol' engine up, stomping on the throttle.

Then, for the long days, I'd pop in a DVD.

Or two.

Or even three.

I did a few (just a few) 5+ hour trainer sessions in the last few years, climbing off the bike tired and sore, just like I'd ridden... 5+ hours.

On the other hand, last winter I could barely turn the pedals. No goals in March meant no motivation in December. I didn't have that inner drive that I normally have at that time of year. Instead of being anxious to ride, instead of making time to ride, I skipped trainer sessions. I wasn't thinking of races or racing when I got on the trainer - I was thinking of the movie in front of me or focusing on how many minutes I'd been riding or the stuff I had to do when I got off the bike.

This was one of those times that "Life in General" took some precedence over "Bike Racing". Whatever happened on the bike, stuff off the bike was going fine. It's the bike stuff that suffered.

When I went to California I was unfit. I got sick. I had about three good days there, and one of them was a rest day, another was a race day, and the third was a crammed to the hilt ride, a Palomar attack.

I returned home not much more fit than when I left, gaining weight all the time, at least ten pounds over my early 2010 weight, no miles on my legs, no cycle of fatigue from which I could recover.

My racing at Bethel went poorly. In 2010 I could do the 3-4 race, try and win, then enter the P123 race and virtually do the whole race. Twice I stopped to check on riders in late race crashes, and once I sat up on the last lap, soft pedaled up the hill, and sat and talked with some friends... about 20 feet before the line, so I never finished (doh!). Instead of doing 2.5 hours of racing each Sunday, I was getting in as little as 15 minutes of racing, maybe 30 minutes.

This eroded my already weak base.

Early season races ended early for me; I rarely made an hour in a crit. The Tuesday night races started ending earlier and earlier as my lack of form and lack of motivation encouraged me to sit up after just 15 or 20 minutes of racing.

With no base I had no foundation, and my season went down the tubes.

I had sparks of form, in Somerville (a Cat 2 only race no less), in one (just one) Tuesday Night race, and at the Keith Berger Crit.

Other than that, I had nothing. Nada. Zip zilch zero.

And, as a final kick in the butt, my blogging suffered too.

I realized, to my horror, that I haven't even done 100 posts this year. It's 80-something right now, an abysmal number, less than one post every three days. I thought doing two posts every three days was reasonable, and if I could get into the mid 20s every month that was good. That's been my goal, about 22-24 posts a month, or about how many days a full time person works in that month.

My low number means my 2011 blog post total, at this time, represents less than four months worth of goal posts. That's a problem when it's the tenth month of the year.

Anyway, that's the gist of my season. Not much racing, not much writing.

What will change for 2012?

Honestly, I don't know.

I hope that things change. I want them to change.

I'm still working on the Life part of me. The bike is important, of course, and even the Missus has been pushing me to train just a bit more. If I'm a bit more fit it's more enjoyable to race and I actually get a workout each race day. But Life is important too, and I've been a bit stagnant there.

Obviously I want to be more competitive on the bike. When I'm not fit then racing is just plain hard (with no reward at the end of the effort), I race for 15 minutes instead of 60, and I'm disappointed in myself for not living up to my own expectations.

Part of my 2012 goals will be to be good enough to live up to my own minimal expectations. I can define them pretty readily.

First I want to be able to participate in all flat races where there are fewer ex-pros than Cat 2s. When I say "participate" I mean I can chase or bridge or even attack, and I have some semblance of a chance of doing a sprint. Even if I'm dying at the back I'm okay if I can move up for the sprint. But to sit at the back dying and then come off on the last lap, or worse, get shelled before the end of the race... that's not participating.

Second I'd like to be able to race where I make efforts, harder than not, without getting myself shelled. It's no fun to do a race where my average wattage is about 275, my peak wattage is about 600, and I get shelled in 15 minutes (because, by definition of FTP, if I'm averaging 275 watts, my fuse runs out long before 20 minutes).

I like the spiky races where I see a lot of 800-1000 watt spikes, a lot of coasting or easy riding, and although my average may be 200 watts or less, my race ends up being at least an hour long. I don't feel like a racer just motoring along at a steady pace - I feel more like a racer when I'm out of the saddle and feeling my legs work my bike over.

Third I really want to win a field sprint. I haven't done that this year at all, and I was never close, even in a training race. To outsprint a field, even if there's a break or something, there's a special feeling there.

Fourth, if at all possible, I'd like to get back on the track. I want to do some 100% sprints, 100% efforts, and I feel that I work hardest on the track. I think it's the short attention span that does it - 25 second laps instead of 120 second laps.

Of course I also want to hold a good Bethel Spring Series. That work already started for me, with town permission and sponsorship things to do this month. I have ideas to improve the races there, improve the benefits to the racers, and improve the quality of racing in Connecticut (and surrounding areas, where ever the racers at the Bethel Spring Series race).

I have some ideas for other venues, i.e. other races. These are new ventures, not on the calender at this time.

One is on a venue that virtually no one knows about.

Another is a venue that has some history but I hope that it works out.

Both require a lot of work, much more so than Bethel. As they mature I'll share them with you all (of course), but in their nascent stages it's probably best that I keep things quiet. If anything goes wrong I'd rather face the failure privately.

There's also talk of a third event where I'd be helping more than running, but that's kind of on "let's think about it for a moment" for now.

(This doesn't include the 'cross race that Expo Wheelmen is holding October 30th in Manchester, CT, where I'll be helping with registration. It should be a hoot so please show up and join the fun!)

My ultimate goal is to increase race days in the area, specifically crit days (versus road races or time trials). Expo Wheelmen holds a time trial series in the summer. Road races... right now road races are a bit much for me.

I vocalized a very ambitious goal back in the early 90s - I wanted to bring 20 days of racing to Connecticut in a year. I had no idea how I'd do it, no inkling even, but I declared that to the people around me. I may not make it to 20 days ever, but I hope that 2012 allows me to bring you more than the six days at Bethel.

2011 may not have been the roaring success of 2010 but it wasn't bad at all. Maybe a "bridging" year for me, or a growing one. Whatever the nice word for it, it was a poor racing one but a good one otherwise.

I'm looking forward to a fresh 2012 season, full of motivation, full of expectations, full of life. I have a feeling it'll be a good one so don't go anywhere.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Pedal For Paws - 2012

For myself and the Missus, Pedal for Paws, a ride to benefit the Forgotten Felines cat shelter in CT, is not quite the undertaking it is for the folks that really run it, SOC and Mrs SOC. Nonetheless it's still something.

It started some time after the Bethel Spring Series, when Carpe Diem Racing took out a permit for a charity ride. With that done the ride became official, at least on paper.

Then it was up to Mr and Mrs SOC to get together the majority of stuff, getting permission from towns, setting up rest stops (and getting permission from landowners there), and refining the 2010 route just a bit.

(Let me pause here because this is basically a 6 month job, getting everything set up, so kudos to them.)

For me, except for some odds and ends, it became more real when we headed down to Bethel a week ago to pick up generators, tables, cones, cables, and some other stuff we needed for the event.

Thursday we gathered some more stuff from inside the house, the laptop for registration, printer, cables for both, some giveaways, the MiFi wireless card, papers, stuff like that. We packed virtually all of it away in the car, along with the stuff we picked up in Bethel.

I also packed my bike, spare wheels, a lot of Expo kit (in case someone needed to borrow jerseys, rain jacket, vest, etc), and clothing for a couple days, including, for the first time, a change of work clothes (I'd drive back to work after the ride). The Missus packed clothing and such too, but no bike for her on this trip.

Friday the Missus left work early to head down to the shore to deal with pre-reg, forms, and to help with all the last minute things the ride needed. I would head down separately, after work; I needed to take the second car because I had to leave right after I finished the ride so I could get back to work by 1 PM.

It helped too that not everything would fit in one car.

Friday night the four of us (the two SOCs, the Missus, and me) had dinner then checked out the course (dropping the two Missus's off when we went by Chez SOC).

I have this theory on charity and other self-guided rides. I don't worry much about finishing a ride - it's just a matter of "keep pedaling". I do get worried about getting lost or missing a turn. I can't think of a worse thing than riding aimlessly in some area you don't know, not knowing where you'll end up, how long it'll be before you see your car, wondering if you'll bonk, hoping you don't get a flat, etc etc etc.

It's horrible.

Of course the "I'm lost" worry builds up. You don't just suddenly freak out and panic, thinking you just got lost. First you have doubts, little creeping doubts.

"Was that road back there the turn?"
"I hope I'm not climbing this hill for nothing."
"I hope I don't have to climb back up this descent."

The doubts grow in strength, multiplying.

"I haven't seen a route arrow in a while."
"The cue sheet said left on East Street from North Street, but I don't even know if I'm on North Street!"
"I haven't seen any other riders for a while now."
"Heck, I haven't even seen a tire track in the sand on the shoulder."

Finally I think I'm totally lost. I stop. I check the cue sheet for clues on where I went wrong. I pull out a map (if I have one).

When I think of things like this I think of this book about Paris-Dakar, about an ad exec and his girlfriend who tries the world's most well known difficult rally ever.

(They're sponsored by Perdue which means "lost" in French, their vehicle - a Mercedes Gendelwagen - had "Fresh Young Chicken" on the sides of it, and the girlfriend was a model/photographer who everyone looked at right after they read "Fresh Young Chicken"... the whole thing didn't seem destined for success.)

Anyway, Paris-Dakar gives route info without maps. Part of the route included going through some wadi in the desert. A wadi typically brings to mind a little chasm in the rock, place where the SAS would hide during the day while running around behind the lines in the Desert War.

The ad exec/rally-racer looked in vain for a particular wadi noted on the route notes, driving back and forth along a vast flatland, an hour or two each way, trying to figure out where this chasm lay.

Well, a wadi is technically a gorge of some kind.

And in this case the chasm was a few hundred kilometers wide.

The ad exec and his girlfriend, in their Perdue/Lost Mercedes, drove back and forth within the wadi.

They didn't make the time cut that evening and they were out of the race.

See? Their Stress-O-Meter was on high for a while, they didn't have any signs, and they ended up lost.

Back in the self-guided ride thing, a lot of times I'll have stopped to check my bearings while still on the route - like the wadi thing, I just didn't know I was supposed to be on this road for 45 minutes of riding.

So SOC came up with this idea of an SDC-Stress-O-Meter, one that starts beeping as the route becomes less sure, hills pop up, and a lot of intersections go by with no reassuring "yep, you're going the right way" signs.

I guess there are a few spots where my Stress-O-Meter starts to register:
1. Any major intersection where I may miss a turn
2. After any turn, in case I turned incorrectly
3. As I start a long-looking descent or ascent, because I don't want to turn around
4. Any time I've been riding for a while, say more than 5 minutes, with no signs

Based on my Stress-O-Meter, along with a reality-check limit of signs (because each one takes time and energy to make, and each one takes time and energy to put up), the SOCs and another guy (Clark) marked the route.

I was coming in, that evening, as the Stress Test.

To make it even more of a test, I'd drive the course, with SOC as my wingman.

The twists and turns that make the ride so fun also made driving fun too, with a worried sounding Mrs SOC (I was driving her car, for the first time in my life), caution me on some of the pending bumps and such. It kind of reminded me of US style rally racing, where the driver isn't supposed to know the route before the race.

Suffice it to say that we never had any "events", and my Stress-O-Meter only protested loudly twice, both times fixed with signs. We found a couple crooked signs, a few missing ones, but otherwise we were good to go.

Saturday morning we got up early enough that it was dark out (how quickly the seasons change!). The Missus had made 4 servings of steel cut oat meal the day before (instead of making 40 servings like last year before we realized in our bleary eyed state that we were reading the cooking chart sideways). With that, some coffee, and a final packing of the car, we headed out.

A few of the Forgotten Felines folks beat us to the start and we quickly unpacked and set up. Quickly because rain would fall in spurts, fizzling out after a few minutes, then starting again.

I set up the generator, computer, and printer, remembering to turn the vent to "On", the choke to "Run", and the eco-throttle to "On". The backup generator stayed in the car, but the gas can (a real easy to use and No-Spill CARB version) hung out nearby.

With registration up and running (and the Missus at the keyboard), I kitted up, met up with the hardy band of raiders for the day (SOC, Rob from Expo, Dennis from Expo, and a local rider Bill).

The ride itself was almost anticlimactic after all the worries and stresses going into making it happen. The weather featured light rain at the start, tapering off into just "gray", and then, miraculously, turning into blue skies with sun. As soon as that happened it went to gray again, but still, it was nice to see the rays finally break through.

SOC in front of me, with Dennis in front of him.
We're on the Causeway so we have to go fast.

We went by a few police cars marshaling a different charity event, a walk. The kind officer at the intersection was pointing one way for the walkers, the other way for the "Paws" people.

Pink... princesses? A different charity event, a walkathon.
In fact there was a third event in the area on the same day.

Dennis's very polite bike - it didn't spit water at you like everyone else's.
Bill in the background.

(Note: fenders help others on wet days.)

I wasn't riding very well, suffering at best, getting shelled at worst. I didn't even contest the early town line sprints (there are probably a dozen on the 50 mile loop), knowing that any efforts now would make me pay later.

I thought of the World Championships, recently won by a certain sprinter. He sat in the whole time, let his teammates do the work, and came through at the end. Any showboating would have just hurt his chances so he did what sprinters should do, hide from the wind until 200 meters to go.

It doesn't mean it was easy, it doesn't mean he just loafed along. I know that I've been under incredible strain in some of my races, just trying to sit in, while my teammates are hammering at the front, keeping things together, chasing things down.

So in my little Walter Mitty world I thought of this ride as something like the Worlds. Okay, like the Worlds but without a field sprint at the end - my goal was to be semi-coherent towards the end of the ride, instead of a zombie like last year.

In fact, somehow, I managed to take all of maybe 30 seconds of pulls in the first 25 miles. Every time I was second in line, steeling myself for a short pull, we'd make a turn, a rider or two would flow by me, and suddenly I'd be at the back again.

At first the sprints were pretty short, just a few pedal strokes as a green town line sign appeared out of the grayness. Later, as the weather got better, the sprints got a bit more heated.

I had the additional handicap of having some idea of the course, i.e. where we'd be climbing, where we'd be stopping at the rest stops. This let me give up a bit easier, knowing the others would have a good reason to stop.

Rest stop #1. Rest stop girl demonstrating Angry Birds to Dennis.
Rob to the left, SOC to the right.

I got shelled once, really hard, on a climbing bit leading to the second stop. Then I got shelled again on a short bridge climb, then finally at the end when I simply gave up.

I did give a couple sprints a go at the end, losing one to SOC, taking a hotly contested one (four jumped for that instead of the usual two). And, I have to admit, the boys let me take two in a row near the beginning, during one of my two pulls.

I thought I heard "sandbagger" when I took one, but you never know :) Seriously, though, I realized that, okay, I'm a Cat 2, at least on paper, and I ought to ride with a little more "oomph", but right now, no, I'm a barely-Cat3 in terms of fitness, more like a Cat 4 or 5.

Towards the end of the ride I pretty much sat up, spent, tired from the ride, the late night, the early morning, and the idea that I still had to drive an hour plus back to work. SOC refused to let me finish the ride alone so he sat up too, shepherding me the final mile or so to the end.

The Missus was there, still at the registration table. Things had gone smoothly, with a day of practice (from last year) and a lighter load of registrants.

Ultimately things went well. I think we had a couple lost riders (their Stress-O-Meters must be a be more finely honed than mine, or maybe they didn't register at all), a decent turn out, and no falls.

And better yet we raised a few thousand dollars for Forgotten Felines. That's what this was all about, so that's what we wanted. In the end, that's what we got.