29 January 2010

Lunch at 2600 ft.

Managed to get a quick ride in before our predicted foot-or-so of snow this evening: destination, Hutch Mountain. Heading south/southwest off of Jackson, a 400-foot climb with steep pitches right off the bat, and a bull mastif with a voicebox problem, thankfully fenced in, as a terrain feature just when you think you're cresting the climb and realize you have one more switchback to go. Holy cow that hurt!

Back via Howard's Gap after passing the old sanitarium, a fun little climb that is sort of the Soulor to Hutch's Aubisque. Then rolling back into Fletcher Valley via Patty's Chapel, to Jackson to Souther/Burney Mountain, to Mill's Gap to Lower Christ Church Road ... I'm not bragging, I just think all these road names are fun!

Now it's time to hunker down and ride out the storm -- there's a big blue blob coming our way on radar!

Just a few things

Go Vicki! Some of you may remember Vicki's name from her diary in Cyclocross Magazine, and on Sunday she'll be making her dream come true as she lines up with the world's best in Tabor. If you're not familiar, Vicki placed 4th at Master's Worlds a few years ago, and made it her goal to make the Canadian elite squad ... and now here she is. She's not shy about thanking her support crew, including her coach (and mine), Steve at Bell Lap Coaching. It's pretty fantastic to see her have this success, and it's cool that Steve's a part of it!

Wear and tear: I'm not wholly bought into the "central nervous system training" movement afoot in endurance coaching circles, but I do believe in the cumulative power of fatigue. I know when I'm overreaching, I tend to crash, which causes more overreaching, which causes more crashes ... and the cycle continues until you just. have. to. stop. I also believe that training through the winter, especially in colder climates, contributes to season-long fatigue. There's a hint of that in an interview published with Christian Vande Velde today -- last year, he stayed in Chicago for the winter, and I wonder if that ultimately contributed to the downward cycle of his season? Just musing here, as I know he knows how to take care of himself ... but note that after his autumn ride at Palos with a few friends from SRAM, he headed off to Hawaii instead of staying home ...

Speaking of Worlds: OK, wow. Cyclocross Worlds, just 6 hours from here. Masters in 2012 and 2013; the Big Show in 2013. Wow. Let's see ... 'cross age equals MTB age plus one, for the year in which the Worlds are held ... 2013 is 3 years from now ... I'll be in a new Masters age bracket ...

In the meantime: We're expecting up to 10 inches of snow here in the next 24 hours or so, perfect weather to curl up with a cup of coffee and log-in to live coverage of Worlds from Tabor at 5 a.m. on Sunday ...

Ride on folks!

27 January 2010

Is that a turn signal?!

When we're traveling, Kim and I are pretty strong believers in "what's meant to be is meant to be" -- as in, we run maybe 10 minutes late to a destination, and sure enough, on the way there we encounter a major accident that just happened that we might have been a part of. It's kind of our way of dealing with running late, or needing to stop for a minute at a rest stop, or putting up with slow service at a road-side restaurant.

I guess this is one of those things where you take the good with the bad, since this morning I stopped twice early on in my commute for some minor adjustments, putting me about 30 seconds or so behind where I would be otherwise. And then I got hit by a car.

I was about 30 seconds from the end of my first interval of the year, just a nice steady tempo over the rolling hills on Clear Creek Road. I was past the elementary school, traffic had thinned out, and I was heading slightly downhill on a straightaway. I was feeling good, and had big-ringed a couple of small hills as I warmed up for my intervals.

There I was, wind in my face, and I could hear the approaching car. There was another in the oncoming lane, so I kind of figured the one behind me would slow up -- folks on these back roads have been pretty good about giving me space. But then the one behind was next to me, the nose of the minivan edging into my field of vision, and WTF, is that a turn signal? Really? HOLY CRAP THEY'RE TURNING!

I turned with it, and grabbed onto the passenger mirror as I pushed my bike to the right and let it fall beneath me. Somehow I managed to stay completely upright as I hung from the mirror, with just a little ding in my right shin from the chainring -- the bars were turned a bit and my computer was jettisoned into the leaves, but everything was otherwise OK. I dropped a couple of F-bombs while I collected myself, walked it off for a minute, and checked to make sure the bike was intact. The teenager who hit me was in tears, completely mortified, and owned up to the fact that she saw me, but thought she could beat me to the corner. I figured she was going to be in some pretty deep sh*t for destroying the mirror on her minivan, and knew there was nothing to be had from making it any tougher -- I reminded her that waiting 30 seconds next time would be a better option, and sent her on her way.

The rest of my ride was great, and I managed to finish the intervals, including jamming (as much as I could with a backpack on!) up Terry's. Maybe it was adrenaline, but I felt pretty good, although my shin is starting to swell and I feel a little shaky now that things have calmed down. I'll double-check the bike this afternoon, but I think it'll all be alright ...

Be careful out there folks.

25 January 2010

The perfect day


This photo pretty much sums up my weekend. Yes, Kate is falling asleep in her backpack, but only because she was so overstimulated from her first time up in Pisgah, she barely napped the whole weekend!

Friday afternoon we drove around, showing the Ks my commute to work and making our way up Bearwallow. Then Kim made really good ham pizza for dinner, yummy!

Saturday was an absolutely *perfect* day. We slept in, woke up when Kate did, made French toast for breakfast, listening to John Denver, then Kate napped while I went exploring on some local "trails" (Jackson Park, the location of the NCGP UCI race), Kate woke up just after I got home, we headed up to the mountains to hike the upper part of Spencer Gap, almost to Trace Ridge, then we drove home via the muddy Bent Creek Gap before chilling out and walking to Papa's & Beer for dinner, where I got loaded on horchata. Kim and I settled in to watch the Spike Lee joint of Passing Strange, and by the time Stew was deciding whether he'd found The Real and whether it was all right, we were both wiped out and ready for bed. Perfect!

Sunday was ... wet. We managed to get out and drive around Brevard and H'ville, but too soon it was time to send Kim and Kate on their way back to Chicago -- thankfully, just before the tornado warning was sounded. I spent the evening cleaning up after their whirlwind trip, and was very, very sad to be alone again. I streamed a flick from Netflix (Sling Blade), and that was it.

Back at it today ... lunch ride up Merrill's Cove with a couple of our engineers. Nothing like a 30+ mph descent to forget about your woes for a moment!

20 January 2010

Bearwallow

You remember the beginning of Road to Paris, when Lance Armstrong is climbing some damp Pyreneean road, lifting himself through the freezing fog and light rain, snow on the side of the road, his jacket open, his movements light and rhythmic?

That was not my morning.

The freezing fog and light rain was the same, my jacket was fully unzipped and hanging at my sides, the road was wet and there was even some snow. But rather than dancing on the pedals as I ascended Bearwallow Road, it was more like I was dry-humping my stem, heaving my bike forward, inches at a time, each pedal revolution stretching the chain to its limits as I made my way up the side of the mountain. There was no Johan Bruyneel, there was no car waiting for me with warm tea at the top, there was no film crew capturing my early-season workout. There was just me, a few killer switchbacks, and a granite tarmac that sapped my speed in every possible fashion.

For a few minutes there, I didn't even feel like I was riding a bike. That was rough.

Bearwallow Mountain lies just east of Cane Creek World HQ -- the most direct route puts you at its base in about 15 minutes. And then it goes up, starting with a straight run to the base of the switchbacks, which then pitch you up several hundred feet before "flattening" out to probably 4-5% or so. And it's on the local Western NC version of chip-seal road, which is made with a super-aggressive grey granite that Michelin uses to test tire compounds. This was my first "real" road climb since I've been here, and was yet another wakeup call that I'm running heavy, out of shape, and have a long way to go before I'm ready to race.

As if I needed another reminder.

On the positive side, I'm now about 10 days into my season, hitting regular workouts and starting to feel good (finally!). My coworker and I hit Young's Gap yesterday at lunch, a gravel climb that takes us from one valley to the next, and by the time we got to the switchbacks at the top, I was starting to feel good. Like, really good -- like, I feel like a bike racer again.

But then I hit Bearwallow this morning :-)

Seriously, though -- things are going well. I miss the Ks, and am excited that they'll be here on Friday. Work is going well, and I've had a chance to visit some very important accounts that are located relatively nearby -- and along the way see some of the coolest shops I've ever seen. We're all suffering a bit, but the folks down here seem to be pretty switched on when it comes to merchandising and selling ... and I get to come home to the mountains every night. Pretty sweet.

The weather has cooperated, and even this morning it was near 40 when I set out. Yesterday was near 60 on my way home, and I'm pretty jazzed to be able to ride to and from work without needing lights -- we get that much more daylight here. We're expecting rain this afternoon and tomorrow, so I'll "cross-train" and go for a long hike up in the mountains before work -- my new favorite hobby. The weekend looks nice, and I'll get in some quick road rides before heading back to the mountains with the Ks -- Kim is bringing our hiking backpack for Kate, and we'll finally get to really use it!

In the meantime, I'm heading up to "the city" for a Strive Not to Drive meeting this afternoon. I'm excited to see what Asheville's got cooking for bicycle advocacy here in the basin, and anything we can do to raise awareness will be good!

19 January 2010

Pisgah

It wasn't supposed to be a death march.

One of our suspension guys, Jeremy, invited me to experience the "real" Pisgah on Saturday. We were to depart from the Ranger Station at 9 a.m. "We'll have my girlfriend and a junior rider with us, we'll keep it mellow."

Yeah.

What he neglected to tell me was that we'd be doing the first part of Stage One and the last part of Stage Two of the Pisgah Stage Race, climbing up to Buckhorn Gap via Clawhammer, then turning left onto Black Mountain Trail, then bombing down Avery Creek Trail, then going back up Clawhammer, but turning right up to Pressley Gap to bomb down the lower part of Black Mountain and Thrift Cove back to the cars. Three hours, he said. No sweat.

Yeah.

He also neglected to tell me that we'd have with us fellow sus guy Paul, a former pro downhiller, and "Wild Bill" Lanzilotta -- only a Google search can do him justice. I'm in full-on whip-me-into-shape mode, so I figured my first week back should be big -- hell, go big or go home, right?

Yeah.

I was doing OK, hanging with Jeremy until the upper reaches of Clawhammer while Bill flitted back and forth between us and his son, further back down the mountain. I should have realized that the singletrack cutoff we took might foretell a more sinister future -- it cuts off some fire road climbing via a quick downhill and a granny climb back to the road, and I was ... um, challenged. Once back on the road, though, I was alright -- until Bill and Jeremy decided to go ahead near the top, while I fumbled with my clothing and tried desperately not to overheat as I climbed myself into the pain zone. And this was the "easy" start to the ride.

Black Mountain Trail sucked. There's no two ways about it -- all the way over to Avery Creek, for nearly an hour, we hiked and pushed and swore and -- every once in a while -- pedaled. We were climbing through 2-3 inches of snow (at least!), crawling through deadfall every 30 feet, and I was just generally hating life. By the time we got to the last upper pitch -- the part where it gets steep -- I was on my last nerve, and ready to tell Jeremy where he could stick his Pisgah. It was not fun.

I stopped to eat and regroup, which was a good thing -- the top end of Avery Creek would have been tough enough even on a good day in January. As Bill's 12-year-old kid came whizzing by me at a waterbar/3-foot drop where I balked (and crashed), shouting "who's the slow-poke now?", I knew I had hit my limit. I stopped again, ate, and regrouped. Thankfully the bottom half was super-fun, although I took it *a lot* slower than just about everyone. I mean, how often have I gotten to ride these types of trails, let alone with up to 8 inches of leaves on top of them?!

We bombed down the fire road to the horse stables, where I ignored every instinct and ante-d up for the last bit. Ho. ly. crap. I thought the first climb was long -- climbing over to Pressley Gap just about killed me. The final 200 yards were more snowy hike-a-bike (even on a dry day it's a hike), and I was dripping from every possible pore. I feel bad that Jeremy and Bill waited for me -- catch you in July guys -- but the final descent was a blast, and I had fun riding parts they warned me about. I did ditch once in a corner and re-twisted my bars, but otherwise was fine until the mud-hole pit down in the cove ...

Jeremy's "5-minute descent" probably lasted three times that, but I was grateful they waited at the intersection, lest I get completely lost. Our 3-hour tour ended up being over 4 ... But it was a fun way to finish up, and now I have a clear picture of the work I need to do to learn me some mountain biking ...

Sunday was rainy, so I hiked up Yellow Gap and along Laurel Mountain (another part of Stage 2) until it was time to turn around and go home. Crab-crawling the side of the mountain to avoid ice on the trail was quite a trip ...

15 January 2010

Dawn at 2400 ft.

Remember this?

It's the view from the front door of Cane Creek World HQ in Fletcher, NC. That's Hutch Mountain, and center-left is Terry's Gap -- my new "long" commute to work. I was all excited that I climbed the "tough" side this morning on the way here ... only to find out, it's only a 200 ft. climb. Two. hundred. feet.

Dang, I am out of shape.

In my defense, I had a backpack on. And yesterday was a travel day, and a day off the bike, so my legs were a bit heavy from all the riding earlier in the week. And I had a headwind -- into a straight climb (no switchbacks on the south side!)

But dang. Two. hundred. feet.

The "real" Pisgah is on the menu tomorrow, a group of us are leaving from Brevard at 9 a.m. Sunday is supposed to get ugly with cold rain, so we'll see -- I've definitely got plenty of stuff to do at the house if I'm shut in. In the meantime, it's supposed to be nearly 60 here today, so I'm looking forward to a lunch ride and then a re-assault on Terry's on the way home ... those 200 ft. will whip me into shape pretty quick!

13 January 2010

Dawn at 3200 ft.

Well, not actually dawn -- by the time the sun really came up, I was back down around 2400 or so. My coworker and I are headed out of town in a few hours, so I took advantage of this beautiful, clear but cold morning to head up, repeating my first hike in the Pisgah. This time up to Yellow Gap was just a bit hairy, as the foot of snow I climbed through a month ago has now developed a solid crust of ice, especially where the FS trucks have gone through ...

The FS road is closed, so I knew I'd be on my own out there. Let me tell you, it's a bit surreal going from morning runs/rides through the third-largest city in the country to being -- quite literally -- the only person for miles in any direction. My tracks from the snowfal are still there, and have been joined by the aforementioned tire grooves, as well as, incredibly, some bike tracks. Maybe I'm not the only one with studded tires around here?

Things are going well here, although I'm missing my Ks quite a bit. Phone calls and text videos just aren't the same, and hearing Kate's voice each night before she goes to bed breaks my heart a little. Just a few more days 'till I can see them!

10 January 2010

Pisgah!

Finally! With beautiful sunny skies, temps on Saturday in the low 20s and Sunday in the high 20s, I knew the timing was right ... and boy was it ever!

Saturday was ... an adventure. Just over 3-1/2 hours, up the FS road I've been hiking until I reached the north end of Laurel Ridge, turn around, catch Yellow Gap Trail (which doesn't go to Yellow Gap) down to the river, only to realize there's only one way out ... at least, if I wanted to stay dry. But what the heck, it was in the 20s, the river was running ... 5 river crossings later (one was a mistake, so back across I went!), freezing water up to my thighs, feet numb but water poured out of my shoes, I saw the end of the trail ... only I was right back where I started, at the campground! Darn it, that wasn't what I planned!

I was determined to make the best of it, so I headed up FS 5000 toward the back side of Bent Creek Gap. My friend at work had told me that Trace Ridge was one of his favorite trails ... what he meant was Trace Ridge was one of his favorite descents. I, being bull-headed and ignorant of the area, instead headed *up* Trace Ridge -- what a climb! Between the snow, the rocks and the terrain (not to mention the frozen feet), there was more than once when I was hoping the end of the trail was near ... only to find out that it kept going up!

That's when I encountered my one mishap, and it was a doozie: I was nearing the top, and on a short downhill I surfed the snow crust right into a sapling ... BAM! Over the bars, both knees landing on a rock, the sapling jammed into my wheel and destroyed the rim. It spun, but had a HUGE wobble ... thankfully, disk brakes still work in such situations, but I needed to be ultra careful not to get sideways ...

I made it to Spencer Gap, which from this direction was mostly downhill. What a fun trail! (even on a bad rim!) That dropped me back to FS 5000, and since it was getting late and I was cold (and the way to Bent Creek Gap was frozen solid right about there), not to mention I had a bum wheel, I headed back down the road to the car. Heater turned on full, blasting at the floorboards, I drove home barefoot and got feeling back in the toes as quickly as I could ...

Today was more of the same, and unbelievably fun! Unfortunately a friend of mine had to bail, so I headed out alone, back to North Mills River. This time, new front wheel mounted, I climbed up FS 5000 to Bear Branch (which I night hiked halfway the other day), and climbed the singletrack to the top. Then, instead of turning left to head back down, I turned right. The map said the road ended, and I wanted to find out for sure ...

I rounded the top and dropped down the other side, through some pretty deep snow -- this side faces north, and hasn't yet seen the sun since the snow 3 weeks ago. I half rode/half hiked down the back side until -- you guessed it -- the road ended. I had half a moment of hope that there was singletrack there, but alas it was not to be ... 30 hike-a-bike minutes later, I was back at the top and headed down to FS 5000 ... 15 freezing minutes later I was turning right to head to Bent Creek Gap ...

Thanks to being maybe the only person in the Asheville basin with ice tires, I made it up to the Parkway, the tunnel under which is the demarcation between Mills River and Bent Creek. I snapped a photo and headed down ... man was it COLD! I intentionally went slow, first to not die on the ice, second to mitigate the effects of the wind -- the wind chill was NASTY! I found myself slowing to a crawl, just so I could pedal again to generate some heat ...

I turned right to head up Spencer Gap -- again, a ton of fun! It was mostly ridable to the backside of Trace Ridge, where the snow cover got just a little too deep. So I did a short hike, and then I was atop the ridge ...

I now understand why folks outside Wisconsin insist you can't mountain bike day after day -- these trails are ROUGH! Even the fire roads aren't "smooth" -- Cheeseheads and those that love them are definitely spoiled that the trails there are so buff. That said, Trace Ridge ROCKED -- what an awesome trail, and now I know for sure that I had it "backwards" -- you're supposed to *climb* the fireroads and *descend* the singletrack! 20 bombing minutes later (was it that long? I lost track!), I was back at the Trace Ridge Trailhead, and back on the fire roads to the car ...

All in all, a successful debut in the Pisgah. I've pretty much seen what there is to see on the north side of North Mills River, and that's the part that everyone dismisses and says isn't the "real" Pisgah. I say, bring it! These trails are so much fun ... it's like someone took the SM100 course -- my favorite of all time -- and plopped it outside my front door!

I didn't take too many photos, but here are a few ...

This has nothing to do with being liberal, as those who have ridden with me -- and seen me crash into big tall wooden things -- can attest!
Someone told me I'd never need these tires here. I say p'shaw ... even if I only ever use them this once, it was worth it!
Which way to Yellow Gap?
From the side of Seniard Mountain, looking out at Middle Ridge and beyond. (Facing east)
The "top" entrance to Bent Creek, at the Parkway. It was COLD!
Spencer Gap to Trace Ridge -- my new playground!

08 January 2010

MY TURN!

While my bike has been taken out for a walk lately, I've not yet had the pleasure of sampling the sweet Pisgah singletrack that I can see every day ... at least not on two wheels. Instead, after Wednesday morning's hike I decided to do it again Wednesday night, taking a different FS road (and a bit of trail!) toward Bent Creek from the Mills River side. Flatter, with much less ice, my night hike was fun and only just a bit hairy at times.

And then this morning I went back to the same spot as Wednesday morning, starting a little later and getting to see the moonset/sunrise in spectacular fashion ...



(You can see from the second photo why they call these the Great Smoky Mountains! My house is somewheres down there over yonder ...)

This time I kept going once I reached Laurel Ridge, making it up to about 3900 ft. before I needed to turn back. The road kept going, something to explore next time ... this ridge is exposed to the north, which is where the 30-ish mph winds are coming from today, and I was in full-on Himalayan mode, hood up and hunkered down into my jacket as I climbed through the ice crust over the snow. The FS road is fairly sheltered, but there were a couple of spots where the wind came through ... and, let's face it, 5 degrees is still darned cold!

It got up to 37 degrees yesterday, and I was able to confirm a couple of things (with help from my trusty National Geographic map) since the snow had melted some: 1) this climb will be perfect training for the first climb of the SM 100 -- not quite as steep, but similar feel, and I can't wait to do it on a bike; and 2) tomorrow is the day!

I'll probably mount my ice tires just in case, but the FS road is 95% ridable up to the ridge, and better yet, it's got a sheltered off-shoot of singletrack that drops back down to the river and over to the FS road I hiked Wednesday night. I think I've got to cross the river at some point, which could be dicey, but the stuff on the north side is pretty dry and I should be alright. Depending on how it goes, I will probably park at the campground, ride up to the first climb, drop back down to the singletrack, make my way over, and then head up to Bent Creek Gap before dropping back down to the car. We'll see!

(Oh, and the singletrack is called Yellow Gap trail ... even though it doesn't go to Yellow Gap. And they wonder why folks get lost in Pisgah?!)

What I'm NOT doing is heading down to Southern Cross, or to the Winter Bike League ... it's been too long since I saw real dirt, and the trails are calling!

06 January 2010

My morning

20 minutes from home, 45 minutes to 3800ft., 45 minutes down, 20 minutes to work. Is this heaven? No, it's North Carolina.

02 January 2010

Generations

One more found photo from my parents' 40th ... May 1974 and December 2009 ...