29 June 2009

21st Century Breakdown

One of my funkier quirks is that I am good at remembering song lyrics. And not just lyrics, but every tone inflection, "uh-huh" and "yeah" that make up an album -- I sure as heck can't sing worth a darn, but it's sort of an iPod in my head, if you will -- a skill that comes in handy starting about hour 4 of a 24-hour race!

It was without any sense of irony, then, that I had Green Day's latest, 21st Century Breakdown, going through my head as we started the Metro 12 Hours on Saturday. Maybe I should have been thinking of something else, without "breakdown" in the title -- since that's sort of how the day went!

Started well, with Tim, Chris and I establishing a lead pack with team rider Ken from Vesrah. We traded off for the first couple of laps, until I lost my front wheel on a slight off-camber section -- the crash wasn't bad, but the destroyed shift lever made the hills a bit tougher. I rode out the lap, but between the gearing and trying to fix the lever, I lost 15 minutes ... on a course with 30-minute lap times. I finally gave up on the lever, and hopped on my hardtail, fully expecting to spend the next 10 hours "just riding."

However, I was pleasantly surprised -- despite some rough spots on the course, the hardtail rode well, and my lap times stayed pretty consistent. Only, I didn't properly set the lower limit screw on the rear derailleur when I put the bike together last Friday, and every time I hit Craters of the Moon, my chain tried to drop off the largest cog. It gradually got worse and worse, until I finally destroyed the chain about halfway through the race, losing another 10 minutes or so in the process of getting it fixed.

In the meantime, Chris had suffered a double flat way out on the course, after having ridden his way off the front, and now Tim riding was away from everyone, all alone. Also, Kim had gotten to the race with Kate, who was happy as a clam as she tried to chow down on the long grass in the pit. It was so cool to see her out there!

So there we are, with Chris saying he wasn't really motivated to race and me just churning out laps. We rode together for a while -- he was better in the tech parts, I was better on the power sections, and I eventually pulled away from him. I was feeling pretty good, and I really needed a full 12 hours -- it's been more than a month since I had a full race under my belt. So when I broke the chain and lost time, I just had to keep going, and a few laps later passed through the pits and saw Chris sitting there.

With about 3 hours to go, I misjudged the gravel turn down by the dump, and pulled a full-on Jeremiah Bishop -- I seriously thought I had torn my face apart. I was stunned, but not seriously hurt -- thank goodness for sliding -- and since Kim had already left for the evening, I kept riding to see how I felt. (I was worried, after the crash at Kettle, that I had given myself a concussion and wouldn't be able to drive home.) I splashed some water on my face, and everything seemed to be mostly OK, so why not keep going?

What I didn't know was that at that point I was in 2nd place, with a 10-minute lead over Chris. What I also didn't know is that somehow Chris got a fire under his butt, and over the course of the next 2 laps completely shut me down -- as I was about to finish hour 11, calculating whether I had to do 1 or 2 more laps, Chris came by me on the climb up the cap like someone had shot him out of a rocket. It was unreal how much stronger he was riding -- and I just couldn't respond. I gave chase, and was with him to the ski hill, but his skill through the downhill and the first tech section had him out of sight by the river, and I knew he was gone for good by the time we got back to the chalet. Seriously mad props to him for turning it on like that after the kind of day he'd been having.

I put it on cruise control as soon as I crested the ski hill for the last lap -- still chasing, I had pushed it hard over the cap and through the timing tent, but then it was time to be smooth and smart. It was starting to sprinkle, it was getting dark, and I wanted to avoid any bobbles or crashes, so I rode the lap and just had fun with it. Big shout-out to the Metro Mountain Bikers who build those trails and put on this event -- Al and the crew make it fun to race around a landfill for 12 hours!

In hindsight, a couple of lessons learned: first, just keep going when things go wrong. Thankfully, this has finally gotten through my thick head. Second, if I'm going to keep going, keep going -- I feel like I may have opened the door too wide late in the race, and maybe wasn't pushing as long, as hard as I should have (say, around hour 10 -- still 2 to go!). Chris capitalized on that -- damn he was going fast. And finally, hit shuffle on my internal iPod -- I need to eliminate "breakdown" from my vocabulary -- it's about time I get everything in order for a clean race!

26 June 2009

Inspiration

It's always inspiring when you see an awe-inducing feat accomplished. Even more so when you know someone who does it!

On my mind right now:

Kurt Refsnider in 2nd place in the Tour Divide, giving Matt Lee a run for it as they enter New Mexico ...

... and BIG Congrats to Bob Schrank and TT1 on their RECORD-SETTING RAAM!!!

25 June 2009

Media hits

Cross-posting today ...

First distribution for our education program was yesterday, Associated Press in attendance!

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-zambia-bikes_thujun25,0,6318406.story

Media hits in the Trib, NPR and NBC Chicago confirmed so far ...

23 June 2009

Overkill?

On my way back from Kettle, I stopped at the General Store for some lunch, and picked up a pound of Alterra Coffee. Later that day, part of my Father's Day gift was a pound of Alpen Glow beans from Alpen Sierra Coffee in South Lake Tahoe, California. (I'm not a big fan of ordering beans from afar; I sort of want to get them in person or have someone buy them as a gift ...) The other part was an REI gift card.

What to do?

Well, with the new Gentrified REI in place, I wandered over there at lunch today. And in keeping with the coffee theme, I finally picked up a portable French press.

And then it hit me: how many ways do I have to make coffee?

Is the answer "Too many" ? I now have three French presses, a percolator, an AeroPress and a drip machine. I got rid of the espresso machine a while ago (only to reclaim counter space), but that still adds up to 6 different coffee makers. Geez.

In my defense, each has its purpose. I have a large French press and a single-serve one (SRAM schwag from a few years ago), and now the travel one; the percolator is for camping, but is better used for boiling water; the AeroPress just rocks, especially for single-serve shots; and the drip machine is, ahem, "reserved" for when we have company. (Actually, no one I'm related to drinks coffee as strong as I do, so they don't like my French pressing.) And each creates a good cup of coffee in its own way.

But is it overkill?

22 June 2009

Brain-iac

Well, my first Father's Day was awesome! Kate and I got to hang out on Saturday morning for a bit, just the two of us, and she made a card for me at day care and one at home. My special gift was a really cute book called I Love You As Big as the World -- depending on how you read it, it could be from the perspective of the Big Bear or the Little Bear. Yesterday was more family time, and she was happy as could be playing in the water and just being her cute self. It was about as perfect as a first Father's Day weekend could be!

Thankfully, hanging with Ms. Kate balanced out the bit of bad luck from yesterday morning. (One of these days, the universe will turn ...) I headed to Kettle from my in-laws to get in a ride before all the family festivities. Trails had been closed for a couple of days, and were a bit greasy in spots, but in general everything was in great shape. (And the new connector to the new connector was totally cool!)

So there I am, blazing along on the connector, when I get to the second road crossing. This is the one with the big horse trail clearing -- up on the road, down, and then into the switchback rocky climb. Well, I was concentrating on the trail and my line, trying to get momentum, and WAM! ... next thing I know, my head is whip-lashing backward, my right shoulder is scraping something and my bike is falling over underneath me. WTF?!?!?!?

Turns out, the lock on one of the "Trails Closed" signs had rusted in place from all the rain last week, and they couldn't get the gate open. Brown sign + forest + changing light conditions (trail-open-trail) meant I didn't see it, and I took it head-on. Helmet shattered, shoulder throbbing, and I'm standing there trying to figure out what happened. The back side of the sign had reflective material -- the front doesn't. I just didn't see it.

I took a few minutes to straighten my bars, and rode the road for a bit to make sure I was feeling OK. "OK" is relative, and of course I finished my ride, but it may not have been the smartest thing I did this weekend. By late afternoon I was feeling it, and I had Kim drive home as darkness fell because I wasn't focusing too good. I'm better today, so no worries ...

Somewhat incidentally, this week marks the anniversary of THE BIG CRASH(es) -- Father's Day at the Melrose Park Criterium followed by the next Thursday at the Northbrook Velodrome. If you're looking for me, I'll be the one with the rabbit's foot hanging from my neck, throwing salt over my shoulder and knocking wood this week ...

19 June 2009

Wind out of the sails

Woke up this morning to an email that kicked me hard in the gut -- an acquaintance of mine has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, already in Stage 4. Next time I get all melodramatic about my racing, someone please remind me just how precious our time on this earth can be.

Thankfully, the universe has some balance, as I just found out my nephew has e-mail. This was yesterday afternoon:

From: Chris Strout
To: My nephew
Sent: Thursday, June 18, 2009 8:24:22 AM
Subject: Hello from Uncle Chris

Hey Kiddo -- Just wanted to say hi. Love you and miss you!

*******************************
From: My Nephew
To: "Chris Strout"
Sent: Thursday, June 18, 2009 4:30:22 PM
Subject: Re: Hello from Uncle Chris

I love you to.

18 June 2009

Searching for the positives

I've been trying really hard not to let it get to me, but for the past two weeks, I've been dealing with a spectacular run of crap. Work, home, riding -- it's been a sort Murphy's Law rule: that which can go wrong, will. I'd so love to use it as an excuse and just go off and sulk, but thanks to well-timed kicks in the butt over the past few years (you know who you are), I don't do that anymore.

Instead, I hold onto the positives as hard as I can. Thankfully, it seems the bad luck is ending ... no way to tell for sure, but I'm grabbing some lucky breaks here today. Whew.

16 June 2009

On my mind

So what went through my head as I sat at the EMS/aid station on Saturday at about 9:15? This: How Ross Schnell Broke His Hip. "Rad" Ross isn't the first rider to land on his hip and think it's just a bruise. And when you're shaken (not stirred), cold, hungry and have a battery of EMS folks with funny accents hoping you're a case for a heli-vac, it's hard not to think worst-case.

I have to keep telling myself I made the right call -- the damage I could have done had I continued might have put my whole season (career?) in jeopardy, not just one race. But as the swelling goes down and the pedals start to spin more freely, that 9:15 "finish" weighs heavy in my mind ...

Big Bear

I know information is sketchy, so I wanted to do a recap before getting caught up with the real world again.

First, huge thanks to our amazing crew: Nolan, Dillon and Dennis kept it rocking all night long, in the best pit any racer could hope for. You guys were amazing.

Second, big thanks to Brad and Todd for helping me salvage my race at a critical point, only to have it go bad immediately following. You guys sacrificed on my behalf, and I appreciate it.

And last but not least, thank you to Kim and Bonnie for helping make this happen -- it was awesome to be out there with all three of us flying the WBR-Siren colors!

So what happened? Well, I had an awesome race ... sort of. Pre-ride was interesting, and we figured on a mudder -- drying overnight and through the morning was helpful, but running Karma-Karma was the ticket for me. Although Big Bear "is not my type of course," I felt really good out there, and was really looking forward to the race. Brandon's dad said he was out to lap Josh -- my goals weren't quite so lofty, but for once I was really comfortable going into the race start.

A strong start and a stellar bike hand-off by Dillon had me 6th into the singletrack -- not 6th solo, 6th overall. Wow. I lost a couple of places in the first river/mud bog, so I was somewhere in 10th-12th overall when Vegan Rob came by and upped the pace. I was doing well hanging out on the back of his group until the elastic broke -- a couple of guys in front of me got hung up on a hill, and then I was alone.

Figuring on being somewhere 5th-8th solo, I passed Rob when he flatted later in the lap. OK, cool, I'm still doing OK. What I didn't realize at the time was that I had passed into 3rd!

I found that out when I went through the timing tent, although Rob had passed me back and I was again in 4th. It was information I didn't need, but whatever. Cool, keep it rolling, feeling good, no cramping, riding just about everything except that ugly boulder section at the end. Second lap was strong, I slipped once and dinged my knee, no biggie. Trying really hard not to think about being in 4th place -- how can you care at hour 5? Toward the end of the lap, I flatted -- Stans held and with a quick shot of CO2 I was flying through the pit with a super-smooth bike change ...

And everything was good for the next 2 laps. My tire pressures on the backup bike were a bit high, but I did that on purpose even if it meant giving up some traction. Although I didn't know it, I was 8-10 minutes up on the next solos, who happened to be my teammates. I concentrated on keeping it smooth, catching the wheels of team guys when I could and bombing the heck out of the super-fun XXX descents. No cramping to speak of, very little back pain; really, the only "mechanical" I had was that I had forgotten to clean out my Camelbak properly, and there were pieces of paper towel fouling up the bite valve. That was tasty!

And then it all went pear-shaped.

With just over 3 miles to go until the timing tent, where the pit crew was waiting with my "A" bike and lights, I suffered a bad mechanical that rendered my bike un-pedalable. I was off and run/walking -- parts of the last 3 miles are just as fast on a walk as a ride, but other parts are nice and flowy. That kept me positive -- I knew I'd lose some time, I just didn't know how much. No worries. Team rider after team rider passed me, but still no solos. Hmm ... wow, this is good! And then, out of the gathering tree darkness, I see two white WBR-Siren kits and matching bikes materialize. Brad and Todd are riding together, and after a quick exchange of words I send them off -- only to turn and there's Nolan running with my other bike! Game on!

I lost quite a bit of skin on the heels of my feet and about 10 minutes of race time, but otherwise all was good. Roll into the pit, grab my light battery, and as I'm packing food here come Brad and Todd. We roll out together ... for about 300 meters. The flat that had held for the past 4 hours in the pit decided to give way under riding conditions, and all of a sudden I'm stopping again. Brad and Todd sacrificed valuable time and energy helping me get back under way, and we rolled out again, the three desperados ...

What happened next is totally etched in my mind. I was last in line, and I stalled on the first river crossing. A few feet of walking and my heels were screaming -- but I knew there was only one tough hiking section (the one from earlier), so I could hold out a lap for Band-Aids. I was feeling good, at one point passing Brad and sitting a bit too close on Todd's wheel -- I stalled on a small hill, and Brad said, "It's OK, you're just getting your rhythm back." I remember thinking (and may have said), "No, I have my rhythm, I was just too close to him." I was really positive mentally, and ready to keep killing it. My on-course eating and drinking was solid, although I was starting to feel hungry.

I turned my lights on in a short pedal section, the first of us to do so.

We approached a double XXX section -- big boulders up top, a short stretch, and then a killer bombing chute downhill into a river. Todd checks up and says, "Do one of you want to take the lead? I want to take this conservatively." Thinking to myself, that I don't want to go so slow that I get overly cautious, I jump ahead (literally, jumping and catching air), and dive into the boulders.

I've got these lines dialed, I'm juking and jumping and watching my lights bounce all over the trail. I hear something behind me -- Todd exchanging words with a team rider, allowing him to go first into the chute. All of a sudden, the team rider is behind me -- or at least, I can hear his chain and bike as he bounces from rock to rock -- and I get tight. I slow down. I look for a spot to let him pass. I grab a line I've never taken before, and before I know it, my front wheel is out and I'm sliding bike-and-body into a huge, moss-covered boulder that's coming at me at speed. Oh, shit.

I don't think I lost conciousness, but the next thing I know, I'm wrapped up in my bike, my glasses are gone, and my helmet is dangling loosely from my ear. I'm laying on the rock, my head pointed down into the steep gully, my left hip jacked up on a point in the rock. I look up the trail and see lights coming down. I start to run through my checklist, am I sticking out too far? Can anyone see me? Where the hell am I?

Todd is the first to arrive, and Brad soon after. They help me untangle, and get me out of the way of the onrush of team riders. They sit me down and do a quick check. Todd fixes my brake levers, and we decide to roll the hill down to the river and then the aid station. I'm not feeling all that great, but it's all downhill -- I think I even pointed out new lines to Todd on the way down. We splash into the end of the hill, and pull over to the left. The EMS crew starts to check me over. My race is done.

Brad and Todd hang out, again sacrificing time and energy on my behalf. For that I owe them big-time, and I can't say thank you enough. Ultimately, though, I made the call to abandon, and my push for the Series is over. My hip and elbow are swelling, and the quad ride back to the start/finish is pretty painful -- and crazy, since we were way out on the course.

The ambulance crew at the start/finish checks out my tats instead of my wounds, and I'm getting cold. I limp over to the car, grab some clothes and head down to the pit -- a warm shower can wait until Brad and Todd come through. Only it's just Brad, and then Todd comes walking down through the woods -- remember those boulders? One lap later, they got him -- same aid station, cracked ribs you can see through his skin, game over. Damn.

I spent the rest of the night alternating between sleeping and eating as much junk food as I could. Brad was steadily working his way forward, lap after lap, until it became clear that he was headed for a top-3 finish. (Up by 10 minutes with 1 to go, Brad put 4 more minutes into 4th place in the last lap. Wow!) I tried to stay positive when I was around the crew, but as that became more difficult I sort of went into my own little zone. Visions of that rock alternated with visions of Kate, and I really began to question whether all this was worth it.

Again, Kim came through in the clutch, although I'm guessing she wished there wasn't cell reception from the venue :-) I stewed through it, and followed my mom's advice that if I didn't have anything nice to say, don't say anything. Checking results was pretty painful, especially so since the guys I considered the biggest competition for the Series overall all abandoned, with the exception of Brandon and Brad. Only I abandoned first, so I'm the furthest behind. I'm trying hard not to second-guess my decision not to continue, and have to admit that the thought crossed my mind more than once that I wished our bikes had been evacuated out too and I could try another lap or two ...

In the end, I suppose it's another learning experience. I'm batting .500 right now for 24s, which someone pointed out is pretty good in baseball. But I don't like baseball -- and I really don't like giving up on a season-long dream because of a momentary lapse of concentration. Redefining my year's goals hasn't been the most fun over the past couple of days, but thankfully Kim's advice to sleep on it and don't make any rash decisions means retirement isn't as imminent as it was on Sunday afternoon. My elbow is fine, my hip looks pretty crazy, but I rode for 15 minutes this morning after dropping off the rental car, and it felt good ...

See you at Metro?

10 June 2009

Holy cow

So lessee ... about 24 hours from now, we'll be in northern Indiana. In 48, pre-riding the course. 72? Game on, hopefully finished with our second lap. Yeah.

Random taper-nuttiness ...
  • My cousin graduated from the CHP Police Academy! Let's just say if you're speeding anywhere between San B and Barstow ... good luck ...
  • You know how when it rains it pours? Well, in reference to the weather -- yeah, lots of rain. Lots and lots of it. I've not worn leg warmers on a morning commute just twice. This. Whole. Season. Meh.
  • Apart from the weather -- just about everything that can go wrong in the past 7 days, has. Thankfully I'm so well rested that it's all sort of bouncing off me by now, after a couple of dark days. Still, not looking forward to dealing with it next week.
  • In the grand scheme of my life, the "Pyramid," that means my riding is going great. Whew.
  • Huge shout-out to the Greatest Wife Ever for all the support this past week. She's been incredible while juggling a sick kid, a neurotic husband and a whole bunch of household and work stuff. Dang, she's awesome.
  • Be sure to check out live feeds this weekend: http://www.grannygear.com/realtime/public/?view_race=grannyg_2009_bigbear
  • Speaking of live feeds, GOOD LUCK KURT R! It's time to follow those blue dots, and Kurt is out there in support of World Bicycle Relief. Help him meet his goal!
  • Lights are charged, clothing and equipment packed and ready. Just need to pull together nutrition tonight, and pack the ol' rental van tomorrow. Is it time already?!

09 June 2009

Siren Song SL: First impressions

aka The Rise of the Machines

When Brendan called me a while back and said, "hey, I've got something in mind for your bike, we have a choice: same rear end as your other Song, or a new idea I've been working on ...", can you guess what I said?

The only negative was that the new process took a bit longer, which meant that I didn't receive the frame (s -- teammate Todd is on the same ride) until Friday -- why is it that I always end up building or re-building my bikes in the days leading up to national-level events?!

Fortuntely, everything came together "just in time," and I got my rig and Todd's (and a rebuild on the grey Song) up and running in time for a couple of quick spins this weekend. First impression? Dang, Brendan has nailed it again.

The Siren Song SL
So what's new? Up front, the headtube is a bit longer, and the junction of the top tube and seat tube is a bit lower -- leading to better standover height and an even taller brace.

But it's in the rear that the real magic has happened -- thus the subtitle of this post. (For you Terminator fans, remember how the Machines are referred to as "Metal"?)

First off, the chainstay yoke is a super-hot CNC deal now, rather than the welded version I had. It's connected to the seattube via a Cane Creek Cloud 9 damper -- an update of the shock I've been running, with a new placement for the air valve.

The chainstays sport a sexy curve to them, and together with a slight modification to the flex plate give enough clearance for a narrower chainline. The bottom bracket, flex plate and chainstays are all mated with stainless steel bolts.

Speaking of the flex plate: This titanium beauty now has cousins -- exposed Ti seatstays bonded to the yoke at the top and the dropouts at the bottom. They add a bit more give and a lot more bling! Where some folks are seeing carbon, Brendan sees Ti, and it is good.

The dropouts are sweeeeet, especially so since all the aluminum bits are black anno rather than powdercoated. Together with the white front-end and all the exposed Ti, you've got a good-looking World Bicycle Relief-inspired Siren!

The ride
So how does it ride? In a word: Fantastic!

I *think* the bottom bracket rides just a bit higher (at least it feelst that way to me), and the overall feel of the bike is a bit more aggressive than the grey Song. Whereas the grey Song rides like a supercharged Harley, the new ride is a bit more frisky -- still well balanced, but snappier. The feel is a bit more forward, at least to me.

I haven't been able to put the rear end to the test quite yet, but initial impressions are very positive. The build is super-tight, and I feel like the acceleration is snappier with this bike than the last. Having extra standover clearance is a bonus, and I can't wait to get it on the trail this weekend to really put it through the paces. I'm thinking it will climb a bit better, and for sure will be good to go for a full 24 hours ...

Stay tuned for more!

(And in the meantime, check out this other Ti beauty and its seXXy parts: Mary McConneloug's Team Kenda-Seven-NoTubes Seven Sola Gold)

06 June 2009

A gaggle

Three of the hottest endurance bikes on the planet, ready to do battle ...

And a closeup of the twins!

With that, I'm done building bikes. Whew! Time to rest up, pack and get ready!

Sneak peek

One ... two ...

Three!


Two down, one to go. White hot Siren love here in Chicago ...

(the third one is Todd's prototype frame, same as mine but different ...)

05 June 2009

What can Brown do for you?

Tracking confirmed ... OUT FOR DELIVERY!

04 June 2009

Luh-ville

I like Luh-ville. They're bike friendly there. They are in the process of building a 'cross-specific practice grounds. Oh, and MY BIKE IS THERE RIGHT NOW!

In other news, my taper starts ... now. Super-easy rides and bike building for the next few days. This morning's last long block of tempo went pretty well, but I really can't wait to get off the LFP and get some real riding in. We're almost in the 10-day weather window where I can almost start believing the forecast, and it's looking like rain early next week followed by drying, and no rain for race-day -- perfect conditions. Any bets?

Now I really need to get to work (thanks for the reminder Charly), but I'll leave you with a few links:

WBR-Siren Bicycles teammate Lynda gets interviewed by Outside Online blogger Heidi Volpe -- I think that's the super-fast woman we trained with last year at 9 Mile? Great article about how Lynda really is a superwoman, even if she doesn't think so ...

A bike nerd visits SRAM as part of the new Chicago Tribune army of bloggers -- oh, and turns out he's a friend of a friend and we're connected in like 10 different ways. Totally cool guy, welcome to the scene!

And finally, Jeff Schalk's tempo rides are faster than yours -- or at least, I would venture to guess that. It's so cool that he's making such a great go of it -- it's hard to not like someone as nice as he is, who is happy to just be racing his bike without all the prima donna stuff associated with it. I'm just glad he sticks to the short (100-miler) races ... :-)


03 June 2009

Oh, the irony

Dang, why is it that when you're most busy, with tons of stuff to unload into the blog-o-sphere, you're too busy to post?


Let me start by saying ... SIX MONTHS?! Wha ... how ... who ... wow. Six months.


And check this out -- my kid with her ankles crossed, always so chill. Awesome!


Truthfully, she's not doing so hot this week -- caught a bit of a nasty cold, although she's doing better today. Her 6-month "birthday" was kind of crappy -- she was lethargic and blah, I had an absolutely drop-dead horrible day at work and got to see her for all of 10 minutes. Bleh.


On the plus side, going with my pyramid theory, a crappy day at work and little family time means my riding is going really well. Just 9 days to go! Accuweather is saying rain overnight Saturday, which doesn't surprise me -- the forecast looks humid next weekend in West Virginia.


Let's see, what else ... the brain crunch from a few days ago is over, in a very favorable way, so that's good.


Hmm ... oh yeah! How could I forget? ;-)