21 July 2011

Perpetuating the pain

So before Sunday, I was beginning to think that 2012 might be the year I step back and take this bike racing thing a little less seriously. Really! Not that I care any less, but I'm down to just a few "must-do" events, and wouldn't it be more "fun" to experience Wilderness or Burn or Iron Cross without any particular expectations? I'm all-in for Pisgah36, but after that I was thinking it might be nice to enjoy the weather a little more, rather than making myself work through it ...

But then Chris handed me the envelope, the reward for dragging myself up and over Iron Mountain. And oh damn, if Mr. Scott doesn't know how to perpetuate the pain.

Rather than a check, or a gift certificate, or any number of other prizes that might fit in a No. 10 envelope, my prize for 5-1/2 hours of suffering ... is more suffering. As I've mentioned before, Chris puts on a bunch of great events throughout the Virginia mountains. One of them that was on my radar but was a bit too far to drive for a "short" race in April is the Dragon's Tale -- 40 miles of -- quote -- "Tight, narrow, mossy, off-camber Appalachian sidehill singletrack that runs a tight and rocky spine like a ridgeline." You know you're in for it when the event web site expressly states that you can drop dry socks at the aid station 'cause you just might need them!

Anyway, I opened that envelope, and inside was a free entry to Dragon's Tale 2012. Now really, how can I bring myself to "just ride" an event when I've gotten a free entry? No way! So then 2012 became a little more serious -- P36 and then Dragon's Tale -- and then, oh yeah, PMBAR, Tsali, Burn ...

Now, what will be interesting, is that it's the same weekend as Warrior Creek. Hmmm ... I heard tell of someone pulling off a double last year, and the drive from WC to home is the same as the drive from WC to New Castle ...

Hey Chad, maybe 2012 will be "serious" after all? For fun?

LATE EDIT: Just got a note from SMT that the certificates were incorrect -- my finish is good for a return to Iron Mountain instead! Hmmm ... even more pain and suffering? Mr. Scott, full speed ahead!

And with that ... good luck

Among my many pre-race rituals is one that Kim and I have repeated hundreds of times. Just before I go to line up, Kim gives me a kiss, then whispers good wishes into each of my ears, then gives me another kiss. With that, I'm off.

So we've been working with Kate to do the same. Rather than a simple "Good luck and have fun" (which Kim says too), we've taught Kate to tell me "Break a leg!" She always gets a good giggle from it.

Well, on Sunday, we were going through our routine at the car before the start. I gave Kim a quick kiss, she whispered in my ears, I kissed her again, and turned to Kate, who was standing at my feet. "OK, Kate, I'm ready -- what do you say?"

She got a big smile, her blue eyes lit up.

"Daddy! Have a baby!"

I guess we have a bit more work to do.

18 July 2011

Sunday, July 17

Some victories do not include podiums ...
... and some do!
Sunday, July 17, 2011, will be a day we remember for a while in my family.

My Dad rode a bike!

Let me say that again: My Dad rode a bike! One year, three months and 13 days after an Easter Sunday ride nearly ended his life -- let alone his riding career -- my dad got up on two wheels again. With my brother's help, he got rolling, and managed a few glorious minutes spinning in circles in the street. He's still a long way from his favored century rides, and he's got some strengthening work to do thanks to his new Catrike, but what we thought would be impossible 15 months ago has indeed come to pass.

My Dad rode a bike!

Meanwhile, 700 miles away, I was doing a bit of riding of my own. A train of Gary Fisher-29er Crew members split the peloton on the run out of Damascus, and I jumped aboard as Lee rode off the front and Sam laid down the hammer. I hit the Straight Branch climb same as last year -- third in -- and just like last year, I bobbled a bit on the slick, giving up a few spots.

Unlike last year, though, I didn't fade, and set about making up the difference. By the time we crested Feathercamp Ridge, I was comfortably in a grrove; I ripped the descent into the campground; blew a quick kiss to the Ks as I motored on by on the road; climbed more of the Lum Trail than last year; and survived the descent to Aid Station 2 with just a few dabs and no forced dismounts. Woot!

I rolled out of #2 with about a 30-second lead on the next guy, down about a minute on a guy ahead. No. 11 -- Peter Kotses -- was chasing hard, and my legs were in a bit of rebellion on the never-ending gravel roads that seemed to climb forever ... somehow, somewhere, though, I managed to keep them turning. In fact, right about the exact time my Dad was riding a bike again (!!!!), I made the pass on the guy ahead. Peter was right there, though, breathing down my neck -- right at the 3-hour mark, he was within 15 seconds on an exposed section of gravel road, but then ... then ... then! ... all of a sudden he was gone. I dropped my bottle at the top of the next downhill, ran back to get it, and still he wasn't there. I was alone.

I kept my focus straight ahead, knowing I needed to power the false flats and longer climbs, and limit my losses on the steep stuff. I also needed to focus on the downhills, being smart with my tires but not getting conservative -- I'm not the best descender in the bunch, and stand to give up some time there. I rolled into Aid Station 3 all alone and with no chaser in sight ... What's that you say? I'm in fourth place? No way!

I had no solid expectations going into this race, other than to beat last year's time and hopefully -- impossibly -- score a top 5. I've always wanted to stand on a Chris Scott event podium -- I've been racing the SM100 for four or five years now -- but couldn't dare to dream ... especially as my legs went into full-on hamstring cramps as I climbed out of #3. Hmmm ... maybe that Coke wasn't such a good idea after all ...

... But I thought I knew what was coming, and I just kept looking forward. Every stick that fell in the woods, every squirrel that ran through a tree, every bird that chirped, every bug that buzzed me (and got stuck in my jersey) was my next closest competitor, and I was jumpy. I got nailed just below my right eye by a bee or a beetle going about 20 miles an hour on a downhill, and I could feel the swelling -- but I still had hours to go. No f-ing way I was going to give up on this one, not after I bailed on SM100 last year. Just keep it going, keep it smooth.

And I did. I strategically walked a few super-steeps, but I also didn't hear anyone behind me. I cleaned the hell out of the downhills (mostly), only bobbled one trail feature that I remember riding last year (I came into it a lot faster this year!), and just generally thanked my lucky stars that I have the chance to ride Pisgah as a practice playground every week. Before I knew it, I was back on Feathercamp, though the sign pointing toward Damascus said it was still a full 6 miles to go ... isn't that all downhill? ... um, no ...

Funny thing about Iron Mountain -- from last year, I remembered the first maybe 10 miles, and the last 1 mile. I had blocked from my mind everything in between. Both of the never-ending gravel roads. All of the crazy-narrow bench cut. All the damn rocks. And -- importantly -- all of the insane ups and downs of the last 6 miles. Though generally downhill, we still had to razorback the ridge from gap to gap -- sort of like a flat Turkeypen -- that is, up and down without the steep payoff. Ugh.

I hit the last gap, and the race moto was there -- hmmm, that's interesting! He told me "one more to go" -- meaning one more climb -- and I knew I could do it. I geared down and grunted it out, listening as I heard him a couple of switchbacks behind, knowing that as long as he was still behind me, my next-closest competitor wouldn't be. Just ... keep ... going ... there. Whew. Downhill from here, click into the big ring, and what the hell? Are those rocks?!

I would have sworn up and down that the last descent was a semi-clean fire road. Uh-uh. Nothing doing. This was Old Toll meets Buckhorn Gap, all small sharp rocks and boulders and wet and flying. Game on through the coves, keeping it pinned knowing I couldn't afford to lose any time. Go-go-go-go and wait! There's a body in the road!

Though he was standing next to his bike, that was the thought that went through my head. At first I couldn't believe it, but that "body" was also a racer -- who suffered three flats in the last 10 miles. Total tire detonation. Iron Mountain will eat you alive, and running 1.9s on a 29er hardtail is a risk you take to trade speed on the gravel vs. care on the downhills ... especially the last one ...

Anyway, it was Lee, who unfortunately managed to fall from a solid 2nd-place-with-a-9-minute-gap to standing there, alone, at the side of the last descent. As I passed, I didn't realize he had flatted, and assumed he had just checked up -- so I drilled it. Bombs away. Here was my chance, and I wasn't going to let some rocky, tech downhill get in the way. I rode out of my mind, descending faster than I ever have in my life. I flew through the river, floated the rocky sections, prayed I wasn't going to lose a tire, and pedaled for all I was worth. And there it was, the opening in the trees ... the volunteers on chairs ... the timing clock ... and 3rd place!

I do feel bad for Lee, 'cause I've been there. But I was also super-stoked to break the 29er Crew sweep of the podium, and after Sam showered the crowd with bubbly I'll admit I took a swig. It felt pretty good to stand on the top steps of the pavilion right there in Damascus City Park, and I have to hand it to Chris Scott for yet another awesome event. Heck, he even had his dad out there running the grill, and those hot dogs were fantastic!

As good as it felt, it wasn't until we were back on I-81 and headed home that I was able to get cell reception, and as soon as I did I saw the message from my brother.

My Dad rode a bike!

14 July 2011

Mr. Moonlight

One of the great things about living in Western North Carolina is that whenever things seem to be getting frustrating, there's some sort of amazing moment that serves as a reminder that nothing is as bad as it seems, and that there's a whole big world out there that's pretty awesome.

Thankfully, I had one of those moments yesterday.

After a couple of rough days at work, and two frustrating nights spraying foaming alcohol all over my bike (my fail, not the brake's), I walked upstairs from my lair to a house that seemed rather bright. This was odd, given that it was nearly 11 at night, both Ks were in bed, and the streetlight in front of our house is out. I looked out the window -- and I could see the top of the mountain. Wait, what?

I opened the front door and stepped outside. It was a little humid, a little stuffy, and very, very still. I was overwhelmed by the singing of the frogs and the crickets, an aural assault that was everywhere and nowhere at once. And I could see. For miles. I stepped out into our driveway, getting a clearer view to the south, and was immediately overwhelmed by the brightest moon I think I've ever seen. The holler ahead of me was shrouded in mist, but I could make out distinct details both near and far as if it were daytime. I walked to the end of the driveway, and looking back could still read the license plate of our car parked in the driveway. My shadow stood out behind me in sharp contrast -- no fuzzy edges, no ambiguity -- it may well have been noon, not midnight.

It was magical.

And it was exactly what I needed. I stood there at the end of my driveway, in my underwear, alone and surrounded by a beautiful, surreal night landscape. And I was at my house. My home. My place in the world. I let the night close in around me, alive and bathed in silver light, and the worries washed off me. I found serenity.

Today, of course, it's back to the grind, but it doesn't seem quite as bad, not as difficult ... and here, at my desk, I close my eyes and in my head I see a giant moon, staring down at me. And I know that I'm exactly where I need to be.

08 July 2011

Happy days

OK, so my blog entries may have made it sound like everything was all moody moping around here -- the truth is, that's far from the case. In fact, the last month has been pretty awesome, watching the forest come alive around us as spring became summer -- seeing the new world though the eyes of a 2-1/2-year-old is pretty spectacular!

The holiday weekend was great, as I got my night riding fix and consequently spent all three daytimes at home. Saturday and Sunday were spent on yard- and housework in preparation for a small backyard grilling get-together to celebrate the Fourth. The big rides those evenings capped off a solid month of training -- probably my most challenging block ever, and certainly one of the best quality!

Where to begin?

First, maybe by explaining this photo -- this is my backyard! It's been pointed out to me that I'm living my dad's dream: While I was growing up, he always talked about owning a wooded yard, and even transplanted massive pine trees from New Mexico in an attempt to spruce up (ha, ha) our lot. It went well -- until I ran over a couple of them with the lawnmower.

Anyway, when we started looking for a house, I realized that I shared his dream -- and so when we found this backyard -- and the accompanying basement! -- I knew we found home. It didn't take long before I started scheming -- after all, doesn't our little girl need a fun place to play in? And don't I need a test track for my bike builds? What's the answer? Singletrack!

I attended an IMBA trail building class last autumn, but it's taken until now to get this project started. I spent all day Saturday marking trail, and Sunday building -- so far, it's only about 65 feet long or so, but when complete will be upwards of a tenth of a mile or more. Not much on the grand scale, but it will provide Little K and Squirt with a nice place to run and ride their bikes, and me a fun place to play trailbuilder. And that first night ride at 700 lumens will probably frighten my neighbors just a bit :-)

(Our yard is on a slope, probably in the 5+ degree range, steeper toward the back. Without the trail, there is really no flat ground for them to ride their bikes, other than our driveway -- which isn't as fun, is it? I'm adhering to IMBA trailbuilding best-practices, so this little piece of heaven will eventually be fairly narrow, hardpacked singletrack with fantastic drainage -- and will even include at least one log skinny with alternate lines and up to seven switchbacks!)

What else?

The riding has been going well -- really well, actually. There's a bit of hitch in my giddy-up after my seatpost slipped so dramatically at Tsali, but from a fitness standpoint, I'm not sure I've ever been better. Good thing, too, with this, this, this and this coming up ... yeah, that last week of July is going to be rather insane.

Big K is good, healthy and doing well, though it's hard to believe we're past halfway and -- holy moly! -- about to enter the third trimester. Wait, what?! I'm not ready for that yet! The second one is just getting good!

Seriously, though, everything looks to be all-systems-go. It's a little weird to experience the difference in care between Evanston and here -- it's not an understatement to say we were blessed with a fantastic birthing experience thanks to ENH. Not that here is bad -- it's just -- "normal." The standard of care is high, the folks involved are pretty good, but the expectations are just ... normal. Not exceptional. That's taken some getting used to.

And as for Little K ... geez. Wow. I look back at photos from Christmastime, and I can't believe the changes. We're carrying on conversations now, we're using the potty (last night AND this morning! YEAH!), we're exploring everything, blonde locks flowing out behind her. It's awesome, and so much fun. And funny -- especially when she gets moody and doesn't want daddy to torment her ...

Last but not least, I'll leave you with this. Kim's aunt is a master at finding just the perfect gift that will drive you insane ... from the "Horny" Rhino, to the dancing Elmo, to the sqwaking duck, Kathy knows just what you need. In celebration of the Fourth, we got these little gems in the mail ...


06 July 2011

Six months

I'm going back and forth on what to say today -- I feel like things around here have gotten a bit heavy, that "life" content has taken over while "bike" content has taken a backseat. Which is funny, because it's in direct contrast to the rest of my reality right now.

Tonight marks six months since Mom died. That realization hit me last evening, when I was going back through some old training notes. I came across a couple of scattered references dating back to last autumn, a few mentions around the Holidays, and then of course the timeline of the first week of January. That triggered a few unwelcome memories that I tried to drown out with thoughts of happier times, but once the lights went down, well ... There are still some things I'm trying hard to forget that don't want to go away.

It's weird how it manifests itself. I'm not the same person I was seven months ago -- and not always in a good way. For the most part, I've been OK, better than OK even, given my personal commitment to change that I made back in January ... but then every so often, I lose it. Most days, I am as patient as can be while my daughter does one thing or another that she shouldn't be doing. But then, like last week, I go absolutely ballistic when she refuses to change her pants. Or I start crying when certain music turns up on the iPod. Some songs are known triggers -- it's the ones that catch me off-guard that are the worst.

I just feel uneven -- not unpredictable, but not completely "there" either. Detached, just a bit. I know it's compounded by the physical stress I've put myself through this month with a heavy training load, and intellectually I know it will pass, but my gut really has me wishing I could just curl up in a corner, or go hide out somewhere for a while and just process. There's no need for me to go picking fights for imagined slights from good friends. There's no need for me to be screaming -- yes, screaming -- at a cute little blond kid who only wants to wear Dora-with-a-dress pull-ups. There's no need for me to be a moody mess at work who just seems to be moping about. But yet here I am.

Six months. Winter into spring into summer. Kim's and my birthdays. Easter. Father's Day. Mother's Day. Two becoming two-and-a-half. Three becoming four.

Miss you Mom.