30 August 2010

Block-head

Whew. Hard to believe, but the last "block" of training for the season is done. And oh boy, I am cooked!

I rode to work on Friday with a few pushes to open up the legs for Saturday.

Saturday I Saved the Trails -- a fun 45-ish miles screaming through DuPont on behalf of Pisgah-Area SORBA. Not a "race" per se, but if it smells like a race, looks like a race and sounds like a race, what is it?

The Challenge was fun -- there were quite a few local hammers in the mix, though somehow I managed to get out ahead of them on the opening doubletrack and never looked back. The course was fantastic, even with an extra climb up to Airstrip (missed a turn, dropped back down to do the correct route), and a few minutes spent wayfinding at the Grassy Meadow and at the intersection of Buck Forest and Lake Imaging (unmarked intersections). Van put together a fantastic route, and I'm getting closer to having ridden every inch of trail in DuPont, with the exception of Rocky Ridge, and most of it in both directions. Turkey Knob "Road" was a pleasant surprise, and descending the rock gardens on JoAna and Grassy Creek was a lot more fun than climbing them ...

One word of advice if you're headed out there: Take a noisemaker. Folks I ride with might get annoyed by my little bear bell, but it saved my ass more than once on Saturday. Hikers hear you and get out of the way, fellow mountain bikers hear you and figure out the best way to share the trail, and -- most importantly -- equestrians hear you and don't freak out ... as much. This late in the season, on a Saturday early afternoon, there's a lot of built-up tension on the doubletrack out there, and those horse folks seem to be looking for any excuse to stick it to the mountain bikers. I've not quite figured out how "multiuse" translates to "my horse is skittish around anything resembling a bicycle and therefore you are scum of the earth and should not be on *my* trail, and who can I call to get you in trouble?" but that's the way it is. It's also why I hit those trails super-early, and make sure I've got plenty of ringing going on!

Anyway, Saturday was pretty much a solo TT, and I focused on having fun and drilling it as much as I could. The Siren Song was again *perfect* for those trails, though I didn't do my equipment any favor when I dropped into Grassy Creek and buried it BB-and-hub deep before jumping off and climbing out. I spent the rest of the race listening to my drivetrain collect sand and grit while simultaneously oxidizing under me ...

And I did have fun out there, cleaning stuff I'd not seen before and using it as a fun warmup for next weekend and the PSR. Thanks to PAS for the opportunity!

Sunday was much more laid back, with a late start that got pushed back even further, and a fun ride with friends to explore the top of SMR and the beginning of Squirrel Gap. I wasn't feeling 100% -- for some reason, my upper abdominals felt like someone had bounced up and down on them, making it hard to draw a deep breath and feeling like I was about to get a side stitch at any moment. Then I remembered -- someone *had* bounced up and down on them, when I was chilling with Kate that morning! D'oh!

We ended up running out of time, and instead of hitting all of Squirrel, we bailed at Horse Cove. So it was mostly a fire-road ride, but was fun nonetheless, and sitting in Mills River afterward was the perfect end to the weekend ... I darn near fell asleep in my dinner when I got home!

This morning closed out the block, again riding to work with some long efforts. Last night Kim and I were wondering if it would even happen, and how the heck I'm going to do it for five straight days coming up, but once I got rolling this morning things really came together and the legs were there. I'm sure my actual efforts weren't as strong as they might be were I fresh, but I didn't completely fail out there, and I felt good about the workout. Which is good ... SM100 will be darned near twice as long as DuPont was, and then PSR is only a week later! Yikes!

In the meantime, though, I've got a few days to rest, recover and rebuild; I get to go out to lunch on Wednesday with a customer (hmmm ... 12 Bones or Blue Sky?!); and this weekend will be a ton of fun hanging out in the Shenandoah Valley. We're slowly starting to pack for the house move, and thankfully I've got full access to good coffee ...

27 August 2010

Second half

There's something both exciting and scary about tomorrow's Save the Trails Challenge at DuPont State Forest. I'm signed up for the 50-miler, and since it's technically not a "race," I have no idea what I'm in for -- there's no pre-race planning, no course intel, no time checks, no idea of the competition. But I've ridden just about everything out there, and I'm feeling good on the bike ... all I can do is prepare myself as much as I can, following my own well-worn plan, and let the chips fall where they may. I just hope I don't fall down beside them ...

The funny thing is, that's sort of my whole life right now. Not only does tomorrow kick off the second half of my race season, it also starts the craziest month of my life: I can't even begin to grasp how insane the next 30 days will be. I just need to be confident in my preparations, and know that just like in an endurance race there will be highs and lows, and I will make it through them. And just like at tomorrow's race, I've been down each of these trails individually before, though not necessarily in this direction or in this order. Or even this close together.

Bring it on!

23 August 2010

Breathe out ... so I can breathe you in

I had a near-religious experience yesterday on my drive back from Chicago. I'd been on the road for 10 hours or so, across the flat plains of Indiana, the rolling hills of northern Kentucky, and finally, thankfully, into the mountains. I'd been running Pandora on my phone the whole trip, letting the digital gods take the music where they wanted. Once the hills really got going, though, I lost the signal, and it was time to switch to iPod mode.

I worked my way through a few albums, promising myself that I'd stay away from Foo for a day. It went well for a couple of artists, but then I got restless -- and went ahead and threw on Dave Grohl & Co. I was on the straight section of I-40, Knoxville just past and the Smokies in the distance, and the Shuffle kicked off with the live version of "Everlong" from Skin & Bones. Now, in general, I'm not much for live versions of songs, but there are a few I really like -- and that applies to pretty much this entire album.

So there I am, rolling I-40 in my big orange truck, Grohl playing the audience like he plays a drum kit, building to a crescendo ... and in the middle of the song, he pauses. Stops cold. It's the last song of his set list, he's been playing these Los Angeles crowds for three straight nights, his acoustic prowess has never been better, and ... nothing. The song stops, and the crowd, which has been singing along the whole time, begins to cheer. The band holds. The crowd noise grows. Holds. Noise. Beat after beat, nothing from the stage. For what seems like an eternity, surely longer than it should be, "Everlong" hangs in the air ...

And then, BAM, "... and I wonder ..." And at that moment, just that moment, I burst out of the trees to the vast expanse of Douglas Lake and the French Broad River, the headwaters of which are 100 miles to the south near my new home. And I wondered: if everything could ever feel this real forever, if everything could ever be this good again?

We had a fantastic weekend in Chicago, spending time with family and collecting the last of our belongings from Evanston. It was quite a whirlwind, especially for me, but it was fantastic to see Kate play with her cousins and get silly with her grandparents, aunts, uncle and friends. That's the toughest part of this move, that we (and especially Kate) are now distant from family, but as I entered Pigeon Gorge and rolled down the window to breathe in the smell of the Cherokee National Forest, I knew I was heading ... home.

17 August 2010

Times Like These

Overdrive kicked in yesterday - we're 5 weeks from the opening of Interbike, and the stress level in the industry ratcheted up a notch from last week to this. Thankfully it coincides with a bit of a break from the bike this week as I head north for a few days, but unthankfully it also means long days and even longer evenings of head-down, butt-up show-and-sales prep.

2011 will never know what hit it.

We're essentially reinventing ourselves and our brand, and even a whole category. The ball was already rolling a year ago, but it's picked up momentum, and come Eurobike/Interbike, we're flipping the switch and will find out where this thing will go. It's going to be pretty spectacular -- but then again, I've drunk the Kool-Aid, so I may be a bit biased.

What's kind of awesome is that it's exactly what I signed up for. A year ago this week, I was driving around Chicago in the SRAM van, and "Otherside" from the Red Hot Chili Peppers came on the radio. (Q101, aka "RHCP Radio.") There I was, on Halsted, in the summer heat, windows open, breathing in all that is Chicago, and I realized I was done. Finished. It was time to move on. Kim and I had been talking about it for a while, but for some reason that moment crystallized it, and the die was cast.

Not too long ago, a FB Friend of mine posted something to the effect that songs often have a place -- he was specifically referring to listening to RHCP on the beach in Venice, California, sun shining and palm trees surrounding him. It got me thinking, and I made me more aware of that reality for me. Specifically, it got me thinking back to those last few years in Chicago, and the massive amounts of Renee's "angry music" I was listening to. I tend to get into ruts by artist, completely immersing myself for a period of time in complete discographies (or as complete as my budget will allow!), and I'll often allow a particular artist or genre to take over my emotions. That's not to say there's not diversity in the music or artists I listen to, but there's often one defining artist for a given time period -- and often that's tied to major changes in my life.

So the Chili Peppers were with me in this transition -- all the way through about Sea Otter, when I got to experience the PCH with "Road Trippin" on the mind. But in the meantime, the Foo Fighters have been making a strong push, and Virginian Dave Grohl's voice has been in my ears a lot as I moved from Chicago and we've settled into the mountains of the Southeast. These past couple of weeks have been pretty much all Foo, all the time as I get ready for SM100 and the Stage Race. In particular, I've spent a lot of time with "Home" from Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace and "Times Like These (Live)" from Skin and Bones. The music is giving me a sense of place, grounding me even as everything goes crazy around me.

And that place is beautiful.

03 August 2010

All or nothing

It is the definition of cruel irony that I would move to the land of Waffle House, even sign up to be a WH Regular, only to discover that I'm allergic to wheat. Specifically, wheat gluten. No more golden goodness, no more double pecan waffles smothered in syrup, no more raisin toast.

No more wheat.

I'd suspected for a couple of years that some sort of food allergy/intolerance was causing me a bunch of small health problems. My in-laws, in particular, had dealt with me going through several phases -- soy everything, soy nothing, no dairy, no nuts, no shellfish, on and on ... but it wasn't until I arrived in North Carolina that I finally put all the pieces together. An old racing buddy of mine wrote a blog entry about his lifelong battle with Celiac's Disease, and his return to being "on the wagon" in not eating wheat products, and a lightbulb went off in my head.

I began to do some research, and the symptoms read like a checklist of everything I'd been fighting. We're talking 25 years of health problems, all interrelated but difficult to pin down. And in the blink of an eye -- really, about two weeks of being completely gluten free -- I was cured.

Almost.

See, I can't seem to give it all up. Unfortunately, gluten allergy and intolerance requires a very strict adherence to a wheat-free diet, and that can be difficult to manage. Thankfully, our local grocery stores are very gluten-free friendly, but even then, gluten can sneak into products you wouldn't think twice about. Like the Brach's caramels in the candy bin at work. Or the medicine you take when you've got a headache.

And then there's the hush puppies.

It's hard not to fixate on what I can't eat. Really tough some days -- on Saturday, I broke down and ate fried pickles (dipped in flour batter) and hush puppies (also battered), and I paid a heavy price. Living symptom-free for several weeks had lulled me into a false sense of security, and I wantonly crossed the line.

It won't happen again. This is an all-or-nothing proposition.

We've been experimenting with gluten-free pizza crusts, bread and cookies, and yes, even waffles. I've found a source of gluten-free bars that I can eat on my rides, and Honey Stinger gels (and honey itself) are safe. Thankfully I have a fetish for Mexican food, and have no problem eating loads of corn-based processed foods like tortillas and chips. And of course staples like potatoes, veggies and any sort of meat.

That said, I long for a hamburger on a bun. Restaurant pizza. Olive Garden pig-out on breadsticks, salad (with croutons) and lasagna. Southern biscuits. Sweet potato fries from Blue Sky Cafe (battered). Fried pickles. Hush puppies.

But -- and this is the important thing -- I'm healthier than I've ever been. Mentally and physically, gluten avoidance has helped turn my life around. I can still eat ice cream, and you'd be surprised at how flavorful many of the gluten-free products have become. It's going to require a lifetime of diligence, but pretty soon it should become old hat, a habit just like any other. I've quit smoking, I lost weight, I've fought other fights -- I can do this too. And I'll be better off for it. Much better off.

But about those waffles ...

02 August 2010

Too kind

We finally had a meeting of the Daddy Ride Club last evening, the first time in months -- since Nolan and Stephen took me out to Kitsuma for the first time and promptly dropped me ... going downhill.

This time around was a bit better, at least for a while. I was late getting over to the Arboretum, and thankfully Nolan and Stephen waited for me -- I was absolutely flying to get there from NMR, and burned a few matches making my way up and over Bent Creek Gap. I'd never made the crossing before, so I ended up taking the long way around to the back entrance of the Arb, where Stephen was waiting -- the trip is is not entirely downhill but thankfully is most of the way. Still, churning and burning on a 5.5 in. travel bike with no suspension lockout isn't the most efficient way to make up time!

We collected Nolan and headed back up. These gravel roads were new to me, and were really fun! Singletrack is great, but I guess I'm still new enough to the area that getting out and climbing some two-track is A-OK in my book. The long loop around was nice and cool, our first cloudy and cold day in a long time, and I cruised with Nolan chatting about his new little boy and our impending house purchase. And then we made the turn onto 479 and were staring straight up the hill ...

We grunted it out, and made it back to the Gap. Nolan decided to cruise home, and Stephen and I had a brief debate about whether to ride up Trace Ridge or down. Now, he was on a hardtail Siren and I was on the souped-up Mojo, and add in this weird conversation vortex that seems to happen every time the DRC gets together, and you can kind of grasp how difficult it was to make this decision. Nolan's lucky he missed it.

Anyway, we decided to go up, which meant cruising 5000 to the trailhead. And it was cold -- like, mid-60s cold, after having climbed and sweated for the previous hour. It's been a long time since I was that cold on a ride, and I kind of checked out a bit mentally on the downhill. Add in several days of killer workouts, and truth be told, I wasn't all that ready to tackle Trace. And it showed.

Stephen's account is too kind -- really, he was racing darkness and I was racing demons. He cleared stuff he'd never cleared before, while I was reduced to crawling up the rocks and frequently spinning the rear tire on damp roots. And being such a good friend, his form of encouragement was fantastic ... when I told him I was having a bad day, he replied, deadpan, "Yup, you are." I mean, geez!

I still haven't gotten the hang of the Mojo in pedal mode quite yet -- for instance, I big-ringed 5000 to the Gap on my first ascent on the gravel, but then couldn't get it together in the granny to make it up parts of Trace. Add in a gut-bomb from eating breaded-and-fried goodies from Okie Dokie's the night before, and tired legs from three previous days of mountain climbing on my bike, and let's just say it wasn't pretty.

And then it got weird -- we were heading down Spencer, being smart on the wet rocks, and all of a sudden I was flying sideways, doing a kick-out in mid-air. I landed on my left side, re-twisting my ankle, my bike half-buried in the sandy soil. WTF?! Stephen said it was cool to watch; all I know is that it hurt to land. Best we could figure is I caught an edge on my tire tread in the sand, causing me to unweight the rear just as it hit a rock, flipping me out and sending me sprawling. No skidmark, no chance to react, just down. And out.

Everything was mostly OK, though, and we finished out the trail and popped back onto the road. I had promised to ride Stephen back up to the Gap, but that was before I knew he'd drill it -- and I was cooked. Done. Finis. It was all I could do to stay with him, and two turns before the top I cried uncle. I was seeing stars, gasping for breath and was all over the bike, ragged and barely hanging on. I didn't want to make him any later, but I just couldn't finish the climb at that pace, and he was nice enough to ease off and roll it up with me. It was a painful way to finish this training block, which probably means it was exactly what I needed ...

I turned around and took it easy on the roll back to the car, which is thankfully very downhill. Even so, I was happy to step off the bike when I got back to the river, and crawling into bed last evening was absolutely heavenly -- my body was done. This morning the coffee tastes good, and is probably the only thing keeping me upright ...

Thanks again to the DRC for a great ride, and can't wait to get back out there again soon!