The Death Ride 2012: That Was Easy

That Was Easy.

I know. I feel a little funny starting out my Death Ride report this way, like I’m gloating, and useless gloating on the internet gets ridiculous. But I worked hard and planned well, and maybe all the planning and training that I’ve written about will help someone other Death Rider someday. Having an amazing coach who put me on a plan that profoundly improved my fitness this year helped a lot too.

The short version: I finished the Death Ride with 9 hours and 45 minutes of moving time, 12 hours elapsed. The weather was perfect, the people were perfect, I had some sit bone discomfort around mile 85 that was mitigated by the generous re-application of chamois cream, and at no point did I feel smoked. I came, I saw, I kicked its ass, and I left feeling like I could have ridden harder.

The longer version.

Cycling is my mental escape, as was motorcycling. When I ride, it’s so easy to forget about what the hell I’m doing with the rest of my life. I first threw myself into bicycles after having broken off a four year relationship and engagement in the fall of 2010. The relationship, with another cyclist, has had its fits and restarts since then, and cycling, as always, is one thing in life that is clear to me, something I can cling to when everything else is sideways.

I also am grateful to have the freedom to work from home and set my own schedule. This allows me the time to train. I’m also single, no kids, just a couple cats (of course).

In other words, I ride a lot.

So don’t beat yourself up if the Death Ride wasn’t easy for you. If it wasn’t easy for me, I’d have issues. I’m so impressed by the people who complete this ride who have demanding careers, families with needs, who have come back from emotional or physical challenges, or who haven’t grown up as athletes, to complete the ride. It’s a huge accomplishment. What I did was not impressive, it was what I was supposed to do. I was healthy and prepared. I grew up in sports, so my mind is used to gearing up for hard shit, and with a ride like this, your attitude is more than half the battle.

The nitty gritty.

I arrived at 12:30 on Friday and parked my Sprinter Van, the rig I used to haul motorcycles to races, in a roadside parking area about two tenths of a mile up from Turtle Rock Park. I brought a scooter and unloaded it, and then got a few things situated.

I didn’t have a ticket to ride. DR announced online months earlier that starting at 7 p.m. the night before, they would start selling the tickets of people who’d cancelled or not shown up to pick up their registration packet. I was there at 3. With a chair and a book and my water. I was second in line. By 7:15 p.m. I had my bib numbers and was on my merry way, sashaying past over 300 people all standing in line, anxiously awaiting their tickets.

In line for no-show Death Ride tickets

Speaking of which, I had never seen so many amazingly fit people in one place at one time. I’ve never done a marathon, or a triathlon, so this was kind of my first rodeo for something big like this. Eye candy everywhere. I think the opposite end of the earth would have been, like, an Applebee’s in Missouri.

I was asleep in my van by 10, alarm set for 3:45. Very cozy in my summertime mummy bag and on top of a 2.5″ inflatable sleeping pad.

When I peered outside into the darkness a few minutes before four a.m., there were bicycles whizzing by. Kind of a lot. Wow! Shhhoooom. Shooooooom. Shoom. Little lights flickering in the darkness. I was excited to ride, despite the cold, which really wasn’t even that cold for a summer morning (or night?) in the mountains.

Breakfast at Turtle Rock Park, in a nicely heated cafeteria style building. Coach Thomas had told me “eat and drink early and often,” so I put together a pretty full plate of eggs, pancake, and bacon. For the first half hour, I would be barely pedaling, and then after that, my effort level would still be only a Zone 2 (110-150 watts, 125-145 bpm). If my tummy was full of breakfast grease, I figured it was okay because I wouldn’t be working that hard for a while and I’d have time to digest it.

The descent from the start, down through the town of Markleeville, and to the base of Monitor Pass, was dark. And there were so many riders. It was somewhat dangerous probably, but it fun. We all had lights, it was cold but not too bad, and we were all speeding through the early morning in a kind of careful peloton. Although, ever the racers, my riding partner and I quickly grew impatient with the slow descending around us and kind of charged forward on our own.

Shortly before the first pass there was a spookily lit checkpoint next to an ambulance, where officials made sure we were all official riders with bib numbers on our bikes and jerseys.

Monitor pass began. I was again impressed with the sheer number of riders around me. It was motivating, but I stayed within my power zone, hoping to see higher power numbers up Carson, the last pass. Many people passed me, and I passed many people. Some people I passed, I thought, “wow, that’s going to be a long day.” There were so many…interesting…bikes. And people. The people watching was phenomenal, and made the time go by fast.

Before I knew it I was at the first rest stop.

Monitor Pass 1 (to rest stop): 140w, 150 bpm, 7.4 mi, 1:05 (PR on time, not power, maybe aided by the draft of all the people around me)

The descent down the backside of Monitor was amazing, as always. I got to “play” with a cyclist who had a helmet camera, and he put together the cutest video about his day out with his team. Look for us descending Monitor starting at 2:10, I’m in blue. The whole video gives you a nice flavor of what the whole experience is like.

Coming back up Monitor I was high on life. I was playing music from my iPhone, the weather and views were incredible, and I was happily spinning with a high cadence in the rad mountain bike gears Rickey Fogle installed for me, heart rate just a touch under 160.

Cheese, Ascending Monitor


Monitor 2: 141w, 153 bpm, 9.1 mi, 1:20 (PR on time, not power, again, the draft from hoards of people)

Ebbets 1, at least the bottom part, was a bit of active recovery. I really slowed things up, then once I hit the cattle guard went back to my plan. I hadn’t seen the backside of Ebbetts before. I didn’t enjoy the descent, it was bumpy, narrow, too many people, so I just made my way down carefully, turned around and started climbing back up.

Ebbetts 1: 131w, 149 bpm, 10.8 mi, 1:23 (from junction with Monitor)
Ebbetts 2: 136w, 156 bpm, 4.6 mi, 0:42 (HR seemed really high for my wattage back here, I might have been bonking)

Descending the front side of Ebbetts I saw one crash. There were already several people standing around to help, but no emergency personnel, so I didn’t see what value I would add besides possibly making someone behind me crash, so onward I traveled. There was a lunch stop at the bottom, and we were stopped for about a half hour, eating sandwiches and Cup O’Noodles.

We had maybe 15 miles to go to get back to the van, by Turtle Rock Park, where another stop would occur. On the way there I ran into fellow SJBC rider Laura Hipp, got to chat with her a while, and then finally we stopped for some cold drinks and the generous reapplication of chamois cream.

Me, and Laura Hipp, SJBC

The march towards Carson was uneventful. My private battle with the headwinds actually made the time go by quickly; I would huddle with a small group of riders for a while and rest, then leap out, sprint moderately up to the next small clump of riders, huddle, rest, leap, sprint, etc. When the climb really kicked into high gear, I tried aiming for over 150 watts, I really wanted to finish strong with higher power numbers on my last climb than my first. I must have been fatigued, because I only managed 2w more than the morning’s first climb:

Carson: 142w, 153 bpm, 3.4 mi (from the rest stop to the top)

The Death Ride organizers always serve ice cream at the top of Carson Pass, and then you can sign the year’s official Death Ride poster. The whole thing was a little cultish, like Burning Man, and I was totally drinking the Kool-Aid (and eating the ice cream).

I Scream

I love the honey badger so much my friends started calling me "Cooley Badger." I kind of like it.

We still had something like 20 miles to go after getting to the top of Carson, but they were uneventful. A fast, bumpy, car-addled descent, but just the thing this ex-motorcycle racer loves (yes, I passed some cars). In the end, I was nowhere near the fastest, but nowhere near the slowest either. A happily average sized fish, but in a ass big pond.

Congratulations to all you other Death Riders out there. Thanks Cupertino Bike Shop, Coach Thomas, and life!

Roxy, about five minutes after I got home from Markleeville.

Posted in Bicycles | 2 Comments

CCCX XC #7, Fort Ord, July 7, 2012

In the quest for true love on two wheels, I did a mountain bike race a week ago Saturday at Monterey’s Fort Ord, part of the CCCX cycling series. I don’t know exactly where I fit in with bicycles, I just know that I love them and want to be rad. So I’ve been trying out different things.

It’s so different from motorcycles. As soon as I got on a “crotch rocket” I felt like Will Smith in Independence Day when he flies the spaceship for the first time, and it became clear pretty quickly that I wanted to be on the fastest, sexiest bike and make it my bitch. That led to road racing. I knew I didn’t want to set land speed records, or race supermoto, or dirt bikes. I loved the sheer speed and acceleration, the aggression, and the glamour of road racing.

No such clarity with bicycles, so onward I pedal.

I had a seat dropper on my mountain bike, a device that’s triggered by a lever on the handlebars which will raise and lower your seat post. Great for learning how to ride down very steep, technical terrain, but it’s heavy and I wouldn’t need it for a cross country race, so Friday night I replaced it with my standard seat post. I’m not a climber. And I know the weight doesn’t matter that much, but I swear to you, it feels like a load of pancakes in my stomach when that dropper is on and I’m trying to hustle up a hill.

I wasn’t thrilled thinking about my smooth front tire in the sandy loose stuff at Fort Ord, but wasn’t unthrilled enough to do anything about it. Figured I’d just be careful and if sliding happened, it’d be good for my skill set.

Race mornings start early: sunrise over Mt. Hamilton

Sophie Bee and I planned to arrive at registration when it opened, at 7:30. Early, but I’d been wired up since three a.m. like me, Christmas morning, circa 1982. We wanted to get a full lap in on the course as a warm-up before starting. This would be Sophie’s first mountain bike race since racing here a few years ago and injuring her back, leading to surgery, poison oak outbreaks, and all sorts of nonsense, so I was glad we could cheer each other on.

My warm ups are pretty miserable. I puttered around the course, watching Sophie zoom up the climbs. I remembered my goals for the day:

  • Don’t crash: avoid charging into unfamiliar turns or feeling pressured by faster people behind me
  • No chain drop: fortunately this hasn’t been a problem on my Santa Cruz Blur TRc, but I dropped the chain on my old bike three times my last race here.
  • No wandering off course: this happened last race. A combination of fatigue and distraction.
  • No more poison oak: see “don’t crash,” above.

As we got the 15 second countdown for the start and all eagerly awaited the whistle, I pretended I was trying to get the holeshot in a motorcycle race. Instead of looking for the twitchy shoulder about to wave the flag, I tuned myself to the sound of that whistle, and off I went. I tried to draft some girls who got out of the gate fast, and by the time we turned off the road and into the course, I was third or fourth, behind a quick junior and another fast looking lady. I wanted to be as far ahead as I could be and make girls pass me.

I don’t remember when I passed Chantel, the junior, but it was fairly early on, so all I had left was Anya Thrash (best competitor name ever), and she was very quick. My heart rate was pushing close to 180 chasing her; I felt good, but had no idea what to expect with four laps and a bit over an hour and a half of racing, plus I wanted to stay true to my goals. So I slowed down.

Coach Thomas was like a broken record in my little brain, too: “eyes up the trail. Eyes up the trail. Eyes up the trail.”

My poison oak outbreak was feeling prickly, like it recognized its brethren out on the course and got excited. It’s kind of been killing me the past week or two. And I also got my period. On the third lap. But I kept pedaling, and each time I came upon a “lapper” (a slower rider from a grid that left before us), I passed him as promptly as I could, hoping that other girls might hesitate more, allowing me to charge ahead even further.

There was this one lapper I came across. Oh my god. He was huffing and puffing, and doing alright on the climbs, but each time we got to a corner or a sand trap he parked it and this was all in a very tight, long section of singletrack. I felt like I was on an Ninja 250, following around a slow R1 at a track day. I almost punted him. When we got to the short paved portion, I expected him to sit up a bit and rest like the other riders were doing, but no, he raced me! We both stood out of our saddles and sprinted down the road. Needless to say, I beat him to the trail head and off I went, but I was smoked by the effort.

A couple looks over my shoulder indicated that Sophie was not in the vicinity. I couldn’t quite believe it, because she kicks my ass every time we ride, so I hoped that she hadn’t had any problems.

There were several sand traps on the course, some that seemed deep to me. A couple laps I tried to fight my way around them, one or two laps I plowed and prayed.

I smiled for the photographers. I counted down the laps, occasionally forgetting how many I had left.

My heart rate held steady in the 170s the whole race, but I was trying hard to conserve energy on descents and carry corner speed, and then have some energy in reserve to run up the short, steep little climbs.

When the finish came, I was ridiculously happy to have met my four goals, but on top of that, only one girl finished ahead of me. I won my age category, the 35-44 beginner women, and came in 2nd overall. Sophie came in a few minutes behind me, also winning her 45+ category and very thrilled by the race.

CCCX XC Domination!

We stayed and watched some of the Cat 1 and 2 racers, including my friends Sarah and Bri. Here’s Sarah coming across the finish:

Damn this poison oak. It’s like I’ve been in this honeymoon period with mountain biking, and now it’s thrown up a pretty big red flag. Well maybe not a red flag, more like a yellow. Like finding out that your super rad boyfriend, like, is rude to wait staff, or gives you yeast infections.

So far mountain biking is worth it.

Cheese & Poison Oak

Posted in Bicycles | 3 Comments

Call Me Maybe: Alta Alpina Challenge

The march to The Death Ride carries on.

Everyone I talk to says that TDR is overrated. “Too many people, it’s amateur hour. The Alta Alpina Challenge is better supported, has fewer people, and if you do it right, more challenging.” But the conversation always ends with, well, but Death Ride is one of those bucket list type things. If you haven’t done it you should do it. Once.

Two weeks ago I ordered a SRAM XX mountain bike derailleur and 11-32 cassette. It was a lot of money. Racing and riding bicycles is not feeling cheaper than motorcycle racing right now (but it is, I’m just being dramatic). On Thursday I took my bike to my good friend Rickey Fogle, and with his broken foot (courtesy of a run-in with a careless driver a few weeks ago) he installed my bad ass mountain goat climbing parts.

That afternoon I did an easy ride around the neighborhood. While descending Mt. Eden road, a bee flew down my shirt and nestled inside my cleavage. It stung me hard and I yelled, but was unwilling to stop until I got to the intersection with Pierce Road (which happens to coincide with the end of the Strava segment, but this is merely a coincidence). Turns out it was a yellowjacket, so no stinger to worry about. The little things.

Friday, pack, leave, fuel, food, check-in. Sorensen’s gave me a complimentary glass of ass kicking bordeaux and access to wifi, a situation that makes you write emails you wish you hadn’t. I mellowed out a little then drove to a house in town where some friends from Alameda Velo and ACTC were staying to have a nice dinner. After some chit chat, we got down to business to plan out when we’d start and how we’d roll. We had plans to ride in a paceline for as long as we could, and would try to stay together for at least the first 2-3 passes.

Our paceline ripped. Hard not to, with tailwinds and fewer than a couple hundred feet of ascent in the first hour. We picked up a few stowaways along the way. I dared to take a quick photograph while taking my turn leading the charge:

One of these things is not like the others

Kingsbury

I was trying to remember Kingsbury Grade. I think I was drunk once and in a packed SUV driving (well, I wasn’t driving) over it in the snow on our way from South Lake Tahoe to a rowdy Basque restaurant in Gardnerville (and dollar blackjack at some grand casinos afterwards). We paused briefly at the rest stop at the bottom, then set up the hill.

My new gears were great and allowed me to spin up the hill at a high cadence. Some riders in my group got away from me a bit, and I was a little reckless in chasing them down. It was dumb because I didn’t really let myself chase, but I didn’t stick to my 130-150 watts plan either, and ended up averaging 157 watts and 161 bpm up the 8 mile, 5.8% grade hill.

A bunch of guys in drag greeted us at the top of “Queensbury Grade.” I’ve seen stranger things. It was surprising to be on a bicycle ride surrounded by women with bigger boobs than mine, but they were fun and they had food, so it was okay.

One of these things is not like the others

The descent was great fun. Many of us reached over 50 mph. I like to rest a knee on my top tube, having once read that this can stabilize or settle any potential speed wobbles, and it kind of feels comforting to do so while screaming down a hill. Effective or not, I like it.

It was a long haul back to Markleeville from Queensbury Grade. By the time we got to the base of Ebbetts pass, with our supposed three passes left, we had already ridden 62 miles. Two weeks ago, I rode those three passes, and it was a seventy mile ride. My brain doesn’t work very well on long rides, but I tried to comprehend the enormity and reality of a 135 mile ride.

Ebbetts

We continued our paceline up the slight grade at the base of Ebbetts, but I dropped my chain three times. While switching from the big front ring to the small. I was vexed because we had encountered quite a few other riders, and I was enjoying the dynamic of having other riders around to help motivate me and to vary the scenery. Each time my chain dropped, I got passed back by this chick, I’d pass her again, chain dropped, rinse and repeat.

As the grade spiked up past the cattle guard, my bottom bracket started screeching. I’ve had this problem a few times, and lube usually clears it, although I’m not certain of the underlying cause. This wasn’t just a little squeaky squeaky, it was like an out of tune violin being played by a five year old. Not a violin prodigy kind of five year old, but a regular one. Sometimes I would shift down to the 28 tooth cog in the rear, or even the 25, and the pitch of the horrible violin would change. Sometimes it sounded like an overweight opera singer’s vibrato. Riders would come by, or I would pass them, and everyone asked about the noise, sometimes giving their opinions on the noise.

As you can imagine, while exerting myself and having to endure this trauma, it required an extra level of patience to handle these constant inquiries. I daydreamed about asshole responses that I would never say, because the people are nice, right? They’re not trying to be dicks. It’s not their fault. But I had to live with the noise all the way up the hill, not them!

I was surprised by how much the noise bothered me. It was an awful noise, but I’m not usually rattled by nuisance problems. But it possibly isn’t just a nuisance problem. While on the climb I had lots of time to imagine all of the havoc I was wreaking on my beautiful new bicycle. That grinding along, squeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaa squeeeeeeeeeaaaaaa, was destroying the delicate inner workings of my bottom bracket. This is where the stress came from.

I was going to hammer everyone at the rest stop for lube when I got there. But about halfway up, a white truck with a camper shell and a mountain bike mounted to the back passed me, and I saw him again parked up just past the beautiful mountain lake. “Do you have any chain lube?” I yelled while still pedaling along. He did, and I was overjoyed. I dumped a bunch on the right side of the BB and the noise was gone. Thank you, dude with the chain lube.

To add insult to injury, I’d also forgotten my iPhone, having left it in the truck at lunch at Turtle Rock Park. I like to take pictures, and play music from the phone’s bad ass speaker while I climb, so instead all I had was Carly Rae Jepsen on repeat in my head:

Hey, I just met you
And this is crazy
But here’s my number
So call me maybe

Over and over again. Sometimes in tune with the out-of-tune violin.

Kinney Lake, Ebbetts Pass. Imagine this is me, only there's no snow, and there is a loud screeching noise

Julian and Jon got to the top before I did, and once I was up there and we were rested, we decided to head down on our own and tackle Monitor.

Monitor

I’d been wiggling my toes and trying to keep them awake and fresh, but by the time we started climbing Monitor, they were killing me. My knees, legs, heart and back all felt like champs, but my toes were a disaster. Again, not a nuisance problem, because for most of 2011 and early 2012, I was dealing with the ramifications of having lost a toenail from too-tight cycling shoes. For a girl who loves perfectly groomed toes, the thought of losing yet another nail and facing yet another year of not being able to get french style pedicures was unbearable.

I felt bad, Julian was probably feeling great, and wanting some company and scintillating conversation, but my troubles were too much to bear and I mostly just humped along. Jon, who ordinarily kicks my ass without even trying, was bonking and suffering behind us. We were all feeling pretty ready to write off the fourth pass, so when we got to the top of Monitor, we took a long rest.

Rest Stop Shenanigans

A silly European guy in a yellow jersey offered me a date out of a ziplock bag, and when I said “no, thank you,” he said, “okay, but would you like a date?” As in the fruit. Or whatever the hell a date is. Several of us riders sat around in a tent and discussed our woes. An older model Range Rover started to leave the rest stop, and we heard a terrible crunching sound; it drove over someone’s bicycle. Not to dwell on something negative; the amount of work required for the Alta Alpina Cycling Club to put on this event was huge, I just can’t even fathom it, and they did an amazing job. It looked like the man whose bike it was knew the guys at the rest stop, and there was not a lot of drama. It was odd. We left and descended Monitor into a wall of wind.

Once at the bottom, we toddled along the road into Markleeville, collectively dreading the comparatively short, inconsequential climb back up to Turtle Rock Park, where our cars, food and salvation awaited.

I’d eaten a bite of bagel and fruit at almost every rest stop, and wasn’t too hungry when we got back, but after sitting around for a while I managed to eat two hot dogs. I asked a man we were chatting with, who was a local, where I could find some poison oak treatment. While riding over 9 hours, I got to watch the poison oak outbreak on my thigh grow larger and more inflamed. We drank chocolate milk and dusted the salt, sweat and sunscreen dandruff off our skin.

I went back to Sorensen’s to enjoy wine, shower, poison oak anxiety, and a wifi connection that pretended to work but actually didn’t.

We rode three passes, riding 111 miles and climbing 11,000 feet. Here’s a map of the area’s passes; we began at Turtle Rock Park, went to Kingsbury (Queensbury), back to Turtle Rock Park (A), to the top of Ebbetts (H), to the top of Monitor (I).

They put a sticker on your bib at the top of each pass; some riders rode eight passes. I had breakfast today with two of them (dudes, not passes). Maybe next year I’ll do eight (passes, not dudes).

It was a lot of fun riding with the Alameda Velo crew, and enjoying a great meal at their digs Friday night. Thanks Cupertino Bike Shop and Rickey Fogle for my rad new gearing and coach Thomas Chapple. Thanks to them, the important parts of this ride, as in, could my body actually handle it, were no big deal. Today, I feel like nothing even happened yesterday. But my toes still hurt and I need a pedicure.

Posted in Bicycles | 4 Comments

Pesky, the First Real Road Race – June 23, 2012

I don’t remember exactly when I decided to enter the Pescadero Coastal Classic Road Race. Sometime last week I think. I’ve been wanting to do more racing, but have felt a little bit intimidated by it all; the effort levels, the danger, the endless possibilities for failure, the unfamiliarity of it. I’ve been intimidated by it in a way I never was by racing motorcycles. Motorcycles, I just had it in my head what I wanted to do, and I did it.

I think I’ve been holding myself back a little bit out of not having specific cycling goals. All I know is that I want to be a power machine someday. I want to be able to twist my throttle and beat bitches. Or, help teammates win. Or pass dudes, or sandbag, that sort of thing. But bicycle racing comes in so many different forms, that beyond simply having a high horsepower motor and fast aftermarket parts, I still don’t even really know what I want to do with it all.

Road races?

Long, hard, dangerous things with cars, hills, and where climbers kick ass? Here’s a video from a men’s field in the Pescadero race last year. The rider is a weaker climber and better descender than most of his competitors, so remember what that looks like as you read the rest of my report:

Crits

Where sprinters kick ass and girls ride around and around in a pack? Here’s a video from the 2012 Cat’s Hill Classic, where some retard drops a bottle and creates a chain reaction (remember this too as you read on):

Cross Country

Off road bicycle racing with varying terrain. Here’s a video from the CCCX XC race at Fort Ord I competed in earlier this year. I was in a slower field:

Downhill

Mountain bike races down steep, technical hills wearing full face helmets and crash gear? Here’s a rider from my friend Roxy’s last downhill mountain bike race. I kind of want to be him when I grow up:

Aaron Gwin Race run from Plattekill PGRT from Aaron Gwin on Vimeo.

Super D

Like downhill, only more pedaling:

Sure. All of the above.

In motorcycle racing, an individual sport, I never felt a need to have friends to encourage me or help me along. I asked questions, I figured it out, I made it happen. But I’m kind of aimless right now, quietly longing for guidance and an awesome team of women racers to commiserate and train with. But my aimlessness is not completely without aim. My fitness goals fall somewhere between this:

And this.

Last Thursday I parked at Pescadero High School and rode the race course. It’s about 30 miles, and the race would be nearly two laps, starting at the high school, winding around one loop, and then almost again, finishing at the top of Haskins Hill. I thought that riding it might help me make a decision about whether or not to race it. The course starts out flat, then climbs the relatively minor, two-part climb Stage Road, turns right onto Highway 84 in San Gregorio, turns right again on Alpine road, and another right up Haskins Hill (Pescadero Creek Road).

I’m not a climber. I’m not a sprinter. What am I? I made a mental list of my strengths:

  • Endurance: I’m a 50cc scooter with a ginormous gas tank. I don’t make a lot of power, but I can go all day long. Maybe this would come in handy during a two-and-a-half hour road race.
  • Pack riding: I don’t have the strategy figured out yet, but I feel very comfortable in a tightly packed mosh pit of girl cyclists traveling at high speed. Call me brave or stupid, I don’t mind either.
  • Descending: Maybe I could catch back up to people on descents, then sit in the pack, rest, and edge my way to the front by the next climb.

Maybe this wouldn’t suck that bad.

Friday I was putting my Zipp 303s on and we noticed that the glue on one of them looked funny. My awesome guys at Cupertino Bike Shop confirmed that it looked funny, and although I’m sure the way I was storing them must have contributed to the glue situation, they offered to reglue for free. Only, they wouldn’t be ready for Saturday.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the late tennis great Arthur Ashe:

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

Bummed, I realized though that I would still race on my heavier, less aerodynamic training wheels, get a great workout, and pop my bicycle roadracing cherry. And I would forget about my fancy wheels.

Zipp 303s

Friday night I couldn’t fall asleep. I almost called my coach to tell him to sleep in, because I wouldn’t be racing. I’m a Cat 4 racer, the rookie category for women, and we’d be lumped in and scored together with the faster Cat 3s, so the possibility of scoring any points would be pretty much zero. And It would be very painful because I would try to keep up with those 3s. It would hurt. A lot.

I didn’t make the call. For a 10:30 start time, I had a bagel with cream cheese and a big ass non fat sugar free caramel latte around 7. Another half bagel and banana around 9:30. Pescadero High School was abuzz with activity; bicycles criss crossing everywhere, dogs, cars, tractors, a guy on a megaphone, a long porta pottie line, CHP, and me.

Here’s a pretty picture of the view from the parking lot from fellow racer Gritchelle:

Pesky

I’d carry two bottles filled with electrolytes and two energy gels with caffeine. I was nervous about riding so long without any food, but also didn’t want to want to become nauseated by the effort. That’s the most painful thing ever; not only is your heart exploding, your lungs heaving and your legs burning, but you want to throw up your insides. Horrible! I hated it! So no food.

On the start line, the girls all just stand around. 40 or 50 girls. A guy talked at us on a megaphone, then blew a whistle and we started riding. We had a pacer for the first mile or so as we rode through the town of Pescadero, but once we turned right onto Stage Road, the race got going.

Things were kind of chill for about thirty seconds, then some girls started sprinting for a prime. First and second girl past an arbitrary line would win a prize. Once that nonsense was over, everyone calmed the fuck down, and we kept riding along towards the real climby part of Stage.

Coach Thomas had told two things that I was fixating on:

1. Stay with the lead group as long as you can.
2. If you are having a rough day, or feel sick, you can quit. People do it all the time. But on the other hand, if you keep at it and finish, you might be pleasantly surprised by your results.

I was trying to stay with the lead group up Stage, and I was quickly starting to suffer. Girls were handing me my ass on a paper plate, and all I could do was watch my heart rate climb up to 190. I could faintly hear some Bossy McBosserson comments about the centerline rule, because girls were going into the oncoming lane to pass slower climbers (like me). Socially, my goals were to keep my head down, be quiet and polite, and not react if any girl sassed me. Physically, I was dying and wanted to quit.

I was pushing so hard I didn’t even know where I was, and I know the climb pretty well. I kept looking for the pretty house, and then the green water wells. The top seemed to be forever away, and yet it came to me before I knew it. I started to fly down the hill and pass back all the rude girls who didn’t wait for me at the top. By the time we turned right onto Highway 84, I was back with the lead group.

Riding in a pack is so exciting. I’m sure it will seem exciting to me until shit happens and I break a collarbone or something. But it’s exciting for now. You’re constantly scanning the wheels in front of you, to your sides, looking to the front of the group to see if girls are attacking or swerving, and occasionally glancing at your computer. There was occasional chit chat, but not too much. The pace became more manageable, and I saw my HR dip into the 150s.

I needled my way up to the front of the pack by the time we hit Haskins. And I dropped like a bag of hammers to the back by the top of the two mile climb. I was certain I was DFL by the time I got to the summit.

From the first climb up Haskins, when my arm warmers were still deployed:

Still managing a smile for the camera. Ham.

The summit came and went so it was time to boogie. I hurried down the hill, passing girls on the technical parts and then latching on to a strong looking girl on the flatter part towards the bottom. This girl was rad. We chased back up to the lead pack. I gave her about a minute’s break, but warned her that I wouldn’t be able to keep up her pace for long. “That’s okay, I just need to recover!” She said, gasping. She recovered, then jumped back in front and we eventually chased back to the lead group.

Once I was back on the bus I drank some fluids and tried to be cool. Speaking of being a cool bitch, I would always think of this scene at the standing start of motorcycle races, and, not surprisingly, in the middle of a nervous peloton:

I was not a cool bitch. I practically threw a grenade into the middle of the peloton by accidentally dropping my water bottle like an asshole. “BOTTLE!” “BOOOOOTTTTTTTLEEEE!” “BOTTLE!” “WHOOOOA!!!” I apologized profusely to the ladies who witnessed my rookie move, knowing how much trauma I could have caused. I didn’t hear any crashing, but I was still upset, so a few miles later when we were riding through the town again, I pulled out of the pack to a turn worker with a radio and asked if there were any crashes in the women’s race. No. Phew! Pedal pedal pedal pedal pedal…

Stage Road. Super, here’s to sucking again. The pace seemed slower this time, so I was kind of hanging on, and at the end of the short first descent and up the start of the second climb, I was in front. Of the WHOLE pack. I was like, dude, wait, what? It didn’t last long, nor did I want it to. I couldn’t believe it, but I was staying with the lead group, and a half hour later when we hit Alpine and Haskins again, I was about four back from the front.

Red flag. Everyone was stopped in the neutral feed zone at the base of the hill. Apparently there’d been a bad crash in the men’s race on the descent past Haskin’s. At first I was dismayed; I looked behind me as more and more riders started trickling in, riders I would have had a much better chance of finishing ahead of if we’d been allowed to continue. But then I realized that I’d had an amazing race so far, and besides that, I wasn’t the guy getting hauled away in an ambulance. Life was good.

We were stopped for five or ten minutes. We were probably 11 minutes away from the finish, and that much closer to my post-race margarita. The waiting was agony. Finally, we started again, but they started us in the same waves we rolled in on. I guess the officials had kept track of the breaks in the field, and held back the other groups. Yay!

I brought up the rear of that lead group…but I was in the lead group. I saw the other girls pass the finish line, girls I’d remembered seeing at the start, and was pretty surprised by how many girls kept coming.

Rolling down the hill back to the high school and the car, I was so hungry I saw some chickens on the side of the road and wanted to eat one.

I still had some pep on the descent and the ride back, but by the time we got to the car, I was starving and delirious and spilled my chocolate milk everywhere. No matter, I was actually having a hard time getting it down anyway, and couldn’t put down much solid food for the rest of the day.

Got our results a few hours later – 21st of 40 overall, and 5th of 18 of the Cat 4s. Thomas told me that I’d PR’d my CP5 (critical or “max” power over a 5 minute period) at 235 watts while going up Stage Road the first time (when I was wanting to die). Also, that the first 60 minutes of the race were the hardest, with CP60 at 180 watts.

“By the time you got to the first climb up Haskins you had already ridden at/near your max fitness levels for an hour so just getting up the hill at 210 watts for 10 minutes shows great endurance, and then being able to repeat that effort later (same time and power up the second climb up Haskins) shows that again.”

Thanks as always to an outstanding coach, Thomas Chapple, my friends at Cupertino Bike Shop, and the nice people I’ve met at SJBC. Without them I wouldn’t have the motor I do now, or a great running bicycle. Can’t wait for my next race! Just don’t know what kind of race it will be…

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Death Ride Training Camp – June 15-17, 2012

For those not familiar with The Death Ride, it’s basically a big, long, hilly, punishing bicycle ride. It’s kind of famous. I’d had plans to ride it this year, although I didn’t have a ticket (tickets for the 2012 ride sold out in 2011) and was just planning to head up the night before and try to get a no-show spot. At 129 miles and around 15,000 feet of climbing, all while at serious elevation, I’d hoped to finish it in around 12 hours, with stops.

But plans change, and for some disappointing reasons I’m not going to be taking my tour of the “California Alps” on July 14. Instead, I’ll ride the Alta Alpina Challenge on June 30, which covers the same mountain passes (Carson, Ebbetts, Monitor), has fewer people, and better rest stops (from what I’m told, although I’m also told that The Death Ride serves you ice cream bars at the top of your last mountain pass, and that sounds pretty awesome).

This past weekend a group of friends, many of whom are also coached by coach Thomas Chapple, headed up to Markleeville to preview several of these passes and enjoy a weekend away. Some of the riders there will be riding The Death Ride, while others just came along for some high altitude training.

I’ve been pretty bummed out lately, so I was really looking forward to spending time with old and new friends and riding bikes in a beautiful new place.

Friday night we all ate at Stonefly, which served lovely, elegant food and wine. It was so good we made a reservation for the next night too. I had several glasses of wine and daringly added a gin and tonic at the Wolf Creek Inn across the street. Drink a lot and then bicycle over four high altitude mountain passes the next day? Don’t mind if I do!

Saturday started out slow at breakfast. The Sierra-to-the-Sea bicycle tour was in town and had a huge buffet breakfast there at our breakfast joint, but the food was great and we finally got out by around 8:30. I’m more accustomed to starting out big rides much earlier; 7 a.m. used to feel late. But my 9 a.m. we were off, riding down Highway 89 towards Monitor Pass.

It was already very warm. Up Monitor, the fast kids got away, including my beautiful French friend Sophie Bee who was ripping up the hill. I hung back and rode with Dana Freedman of Team Tibco II, and Rikke Preisler of Metromint. All three of us are in our late thirties, though Rikke has been married for 16 years and Dana and I, well, we’re not married. She has a boyfriend and my fiance and I just broke up. So we talked about boys. And racing. And then boys again.

The Dana

The scenery was beautiful and it was really nice to ride with some awesome ladies.

The Rikke

The descent down the backside of Monitor was long, smooth and fast. Really fast. Sustained 50 mph fast. You have a lot of time to think about hitting a bear, or a tire blowout, or a motorcycle coming the other way having blown their turn and ending up in your lane. Scary.

Coming up the backside of Monitor was the most challenging pass of the day for me. Sustained 8% grade, long sight lines, and an impossibly high mountain staring you in the face. An hour and a half later, I made it back to the top. I mostly rode solo, because I wanted to be able to find the best balance between cadence and power and heart rate, so that I wouldn’t overdo it cardio-wise while also being nice to my knees. Ride any faster my heart would suffer, ride any slower my knees would suffer, so, I tried to find equal suffering for both without ruining either.

Markos came along and jollied me up for a few minutes. “Does that braid make you hot?” He asked. “What?” Eventually he must have grown tired of Lady Gaga (the iPhone 4S has a great speaker) and pedaled on.

Eventually I made it to the Monitor summit. For the second time.

This pass makes me think of big lizards.

The descent down the front side of Monitor was more technical and fun. Our SAG (support-and-gear) wagon was waiting for us at the corner of Monitor and Ebbetts, so I hung out there, ate some food, and waited for Dana, Tim and Sophie to come along before I set out for Ebbetts. My pokey little puppies didn’t want to be pokey with me up Ebbetts, so I set out again with Perry in tow, who I was sure would drop me, but he was battling some nasty leg cramps. I rode along and eventually caught up to Thomas Preisler (Rikke’s husband), Markos, and Bill, Sophie’s boyfriend. “I thought you were a slow girl,” Markos said. “I am, but you guys are riding slow!”

Ebbetts winds along a river for a while at mostly 2%, so we toddled along. Then you pass a cattle guard and shit gets real. You’re first faced with this 16% wall of asphalt, which fortunately doesn’t last too long, but then you’re left with a serious climb the rest of the way up (with some additional stupid steep walls).

I just kept puttering along in my Zone 2, 110-150 watts, keeping an eye on my heart rate and not letting it get too much over 160 (except for the asphalt walls, which I just stood up for and powered through). Thomas and Bill had taken off, while Markos dropped back to ride with Perry. Eventually I found Bill again, and he was suffering. Cramps. I rode with him for a few minutes while playing music from my phone. “Come on, be the Dancing Queen Bill!” I guess he didn’t feel like it that day and eventually dropped back.

Towards the very end I started to catch Thomas, which surprised me because Mr. Rikke is a strong rider. And then, the top.

The highest I've ever pedaled

I was happy that my power output up each of the climbs was roughly equal, a sign that I’d paced myself appropriately. I even edged a little higher up Ebbetts:

Monitor Front Climb, 8.2mi, 2,498 feet, 142W, 152 bpm, 1:15:16
Monitor Back Climb: 12.2mi, 3,059f 141W, 155bpm, 1:33:46
Ebbetts (junction to summit): 11.0mi, 2,781ft, 146W, 161bpm, 01:20:52

I didn’t stay too long and turned around for the descent, getting stuck behind two slow motorcyclists. The road back from Ebbetts to Markleeville was painfully long, with a headwind, and my feet were swollen from the heat and altitude. The rest of me felt pretty good, but because of my fat feet there was no way I could do another pass.

I found Sophie lounging underneath a shady tree in town, and I joined her. Bill and the rest of the gang eventually joined us.

Sophie Bee

More beautiful food Saturday night. A fun evening on a dark patio drinking with friends. Another cozy night at the Woodfords Inn.

We climbed Ebbetts again on Sunday, leaving from breakfast at Ali’s Cafe and just doing a simple out and back to the top. I rode with Dana and Tim up the hill, then wanted to go fast down the hill, so Coach T followed me down in case I had to be scraped up off the pavement, and then he pulled me at lightning speeds down the flatter bottom portion of Ebbetts. Out of over 600 men and women on Strava, we were third fastest on that segment (QOM for the women), and I got 5th overall (1st for women) for the more technical portion up top.

Going fast makes me do this

I know it’s dangerous to pursue downhill QOMs. But it’s fun, I ride within my limits, and I carefully consider the risks. If I die doing this, my family and I will have no one to blame but my stupid self. I would be riding just as fast even if it weren’t a competition, and, if you’re riding 30 mph down a hill, in other words carefully, you can still get very, very hurt if you crash. I might as well enjoy myself and save the brake pads.

Thanks so much to Thomas, a fantastic coach who organized this weekend for all of his clients, including setting us up at a nice inn, finding great food, and providing SAG and comic relief. Next up: shoes a half size bigger, and mountain bike gears for my Cannondale SuperSix EVO. Then I’ll be all set for Alta Alpina!

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