Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It may have been Coyote Ugly, but I felt like Princess of the Kingdom...

While I managed to find myself at the top of the podium this weekend, I am sad to announce that first place in pro/open doesn't necessarily mean that I didn't get my ass kicked brutally by the Cat 1 ladies.  I had a terrible race, and all I can say is that school has been my priority for the past month or so - training has not.  Other than that?  No excuses. More on all that in a bit...

The weekend, as a whole, was marvelous.  John H and I rode Friday night from my place over through Mansfield Hollow and back, and we loaded up my bike and a small amount of my luggage while settling  on last minute plans for Saturday's departure.  My week-long English class had me in class through Saturday afternoon, but fortunately, we were out by 1:15, and I was home within minutes of my release.  I've found that I actually save time by commuting on my bike because I don't have to locate a parking spot, lock up my car, or walk across campus.  John and Chris had already packed up my gear; I'd stashed it on the side of the house for just that reason.

We were on the road before 2pm.  The trip north consisted of a whole lot of coffee, some community french bread pizza (I think we all gnawed on the same piece at one point or other), reading aloud (I read to the boys), and a GPS-related off-road adventure (technically, the GPS called it a road).  We had a fun trip - even the mishap with the directions was an adventure.  We finally rolled up to Coyote Hill sometime shortly before 6pm (I think), and after checking in, we hustled out to the course to pre-ride.  It was awesome.  I wasn't sure how I would feel on my 26 inch hard-tail, but I love that bike and the way it handles - no complaints... at least not then.  

We had a blast checking out the loop.  It's the best course, in my opinion, on the schedule.  It's fun, technical, and punishing.  We were in good spirits as we set up camp, chatted with our NBX/Union Velo pals, and headed out to find some food and beer.  We were looking to meet up with the aforementioned pals but couldn't remember where they were going, and we were pretty ravenous.  We ended up at a place called Bailey's Tavern on their outdoor deck.  They had a delicious beer called "Switchback" which ended up being an odd compliment to the Bailey's Cheesecake that we all shared for dessert.  They also had a little something called "fried pickles" - more on that later.

With bellies full, we headed back to the venue where we had set up camp, per suggestion of the property owner, in a nice little patch of woods right near where we'd parked.  A good night's sleep was not had by all.  John left the tent early on to prevent waking us up with his coughing; he was suffering from a cold.  Chris and I stuck it out, but I can honestly say that I woke up at least 20 times to rotate my body around the rock in the center of my "bed."  When I finally decided to emerge from the tent, John was a little more chipper and spry than I care for in the morning. I hope I remember this correctly:  He said, "Cock-a-doodle-do" and "I was just about to wake you guys up because we have a lot to do!"  Ummmmmm, no -   I just woke up.  Looking back now, it was probably not a good sign for my hydration levels that I didn't have to pee right away when I woke up.  TMI?  Get over it.

Breakfast for me was oatmeal, dried fruit, eggs, and coffee.  Breakfast for those ding-dongs was everything else on the menu.  It wasn't my place to tell them not to eat that crap, but I wasn't so sure about racing in the heat after a bunch of sausage and bacon.  As it turns out, it was probably the fried pickles that I should have been worried about.  I'm getting to that...

So, I had brought the Jamis (26er) because I screwed up the brakes on my Fate (29er) the night before we left.  Rather than try to get my bike to the shop via someone else while I was in class Saturday, I threw the Fate in the basement, pulled out the Jamis, pumped up the tires, and decided it was going to get to race its little steel heart out.  I love that bike.  I really do.  But...  big tires would have been a brilliant move out on that bumpy bitch of a course.  I took one hell of a beating as I muscled that thing over every bump I could.  I had fun, but I was in a sorry state as early as the second out of the three laps.  I was honestly ready to quit, especially when I started overheating and got the chills, but I realized I would have to face myself in the morning.  After the flat tire the weekend before, there was no way that I could have left Coyote Hill unfinished.  So I finished.  It was a sad, sad sight.  At least, for me it was.  I had better expectations for myself going into this.  I don't really know why, but I thought that my lack of ride time wouldn't be a problem.  Boy was I wrong.  Luckily, I am down to one class only two nights a week, and I should be able to find plenty of time to actually ride my bike.  

Anyhow, the boys had a great race.  Despite puking up fried pickles "on fried pickle at a time," John came in 6th, and Chris, in his first mountain bike race ever, came in 3rd behind fellow teammate, Rich.  The whole race day was a blast.  It took us awhile to get out of there, but we were eager to get over to Burke and our buddy Jesse joined us for this part of the adventure. We'd intended to do some riding after the race, but there was no way in hell my ass was getting back on a bike just yet.  We found some good food and great service at the Tamarack Grill and then headed up the mountain to check-in to our campsite.  As it turns out, a lean-to at the end of May is the way to go.  We decided not to waste any time setting up a tent and just threw all of our bedding down in the lean-to.  

Jesse and Chris, the young (childless) guys of the group seemed to not value the importance of rest or sleep.  They headed out for a ride down Dead Mooose in the dark while John and I limped around the campsite.  While I showered, I was entertained by a group of noisy campers who were clearly having a fantastic time, and as I laughed along with them, I was informed that the party was at site ___ (I can't remember now).  The info was passed along to Jesse and Chris, and those silly boys made their way over to join the fun.  John and I awoke to the sound of, "ready? go... *BANG*!"  Apparently the party site had a gigantic box full of "poppers" and the boys thought it would be funny to pop some confetti into the lean-to at us.  Lucky for them, it was indeed funny.  After loading up on some beers, they headed back to the party, and we headed back to dreamland.  Next up?  Wild animal knocks over beer bottles at picnic table 5 feet from where we are sleeping.  Luckily, it scared off easily, so I put the food away (should have thought about that earlier), and the rest of the night was uneventful.  

Monday morning we broke-down camp, headed down the mountain for a quick breakfast, and suited up for an epic ride.  Jesse hadn't been to Kingdom Trails before, so we had to fit a little of everything.  We started off on the Burke side by riding up the mountain road to scoot over to Moose Alley, and we took the trails the long way into town.  After a quick stop at the truck for more water, we headed up Darling Hill for an epic loop on that side: Coronary, Pasture Point, Troll Stroll, Webs, Eager Beaver, Violet's Outback, Sidewinder, Old Webs, etc...  It was awesome, and we followed up with a good soak in the river before heading home.  

I couldn't have asked for a better group of friends or a better weekend.  I can't wait to do it again! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It's nothing worth 'weeping' over...

Yeah...  this last race, EFTA's Weeping Willow, couldn't even be chalked up to a good workout.  When I realized I was going to have to DNF, I had it in my head that I'd figure out my tire dilemma and head out to ride and explore until the race was over.  Then it became apparent that it wasn't likely that the air would stay in and I was having a good time chatting it up with a good group of people, so I decided to call it a day.

I was probably sunk before I even started the race, but I just hadn't quite noticed yet.  About a couple of miles in, my bike became progressively more and more squirrelly in the front end.  Thinking back, it felt weird when I started the race, but I just thought it was because I was so out of breath.  Now, I realize my tire was probably bogging me down even more than my out of shape lungs were.

So, I finally conceded to the idea that I'd be better off just turning around and heading back rather than trying to finish the first lap, so I hid in the brush and cheered as the men and women who'd started behind me tore their way through the single track.  I inched my way slowly back to the double track, attempted to ride the now very flat tire a little further, and eventually came across a man who appeared to be comfortably reclining in the woods next to his buddy.  These guys were spectating, but only because one couldn't move, and the other was there to make sure he was okay while help came.  I offered to get back as quickly as I could to send for help, the reclining man offered me CO2, and because I couldn't figure out the fancy contraption he used to inject his CO2 cartridges, I graciously allowed the poor guy to put the air in for me.  Don't worry, I brought my bike over to him.  If anyone knows this guy, please tell him thank you again, and I really hope he's okay and recovers quickly.

I was off again, but I knew I was probably going to be racing the slow leak that I had coming from some unseen point on my tire.  By the time I was within 200 meters or so of the start/finish area, the elite men were already starting to come through on their next lap, and people were already notified of the injured man and on their way to retrieve him.

It was a brilliant day for spectating.  The weather was lovely, so standing around all afternoon talking to friends in the sun kept me pretty upbeat despite my first DNF (and hopefully last) of the season.  It is the past couple of days since that I've been getting upset about it.  It's weird how I can be DFL at a bunch of races and care less about that than not finishing.  Anyhow, after I checked out the situation with the wheel, it's apparent that I wouldn't have finished the race even if I had been prepared enough to have my own pump with me.  I had a hole in the rim tape that looked like it had been there awhile; there was Stan's caked around the hole that seemed to have loosened up.  I'm guessing that all of the wet stuff I'd been riding though last week was the final straw, and the sealant could have gone at any time.

So the worst part about it all, is I didn't get a good ride in Sunday, and this week, I'm enrolled in an intensive week-long English class that is consuming every waking moment of my life (with the exception of the 20 minutes or so I'm taking as a break to write this ).  I'm hoping to get outside, regardless of the rain to bust out some intervals on the pavement.  Here's hoping...

One bonus for the week is that the books and short stories I am reading for this class are fantastic.  Tobias Wolff and ZZ Packer are my new favorite writers.  Also, I got my grades for the spring semester and it looks like all of my hard work paid off - four As and a B.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Battered by the Battle...

Yesterday I decided to pretend like I was ready to do a longer-than-usual mountain bike race.  I told myself that it would be good training, and it was a sweet deal.  Really, it was.  You can't usually pay the normal race fee and get more than 20-25 miles for it. This one was a little over 30.  Kudos to the guys and gals at NBX and EFTA for putting on a really well-organized and fun event!  The t-shirts were awesome.

I pre-rode a little bit of the course before the start, and it seemed pretty clear that this was going to be a really, really fast loop.  There was a section of bridges with some slippery roots, and there was a ridge line  with some fun lines through rocks, but there was nothing I felt the need to walk.  In fact, the technical sections were just my thing.  I kind of wish there'd been more of them, but at the same time, the rest of the single-track was fast and flowy.  I hardly used my brakes to slow down in corners because the berms were so perfect that I could just let the gravity and wheels do their thing.  It was SO FUN!  Oh yeah, and there was a big log to go over in the beginning of the loop that I forced myself to ride over 5 out of the 6 times, and it made me feel like I really accomplished something this season, even if I didn't make it to the podium... ever.  More about the podium later...
...But, before I realized how fun it was, I had the usual mental demise that almost forced me to quit.  I say "almost," but I don't think it ever really was an option.  Basically, on laps 2 and 3, I was a mess in my head.  The negativity crept in, and I was having a hard time getting it out.  I even got that horrible feeling like someone was sitting on my chest and I might cry.  That's probably about the time that I realized I could snap out of it if I just put my mind to it.  There's that moment when you hit rock bottom of the negativity spectrum and realized that it's your own fault you're there, and it's that moment when you can bounce out quicker than ever.  I told myself to 'cut the shit,' and 'you haven't really been training, silly...,' and 'when's the last time you rode more than 25 miles on a bike?'  Once I came to terms with the fact that the only real problem I was encountering out there was my own shitty attitude, I was fine.  In fact, laps 4, 5, and 6 were amazing.  

When I came through lap 4, I was told that Susan was only 15 seconds ahead of me.  Of course, I assumed they were exaggerating to make me move a little quicker.  However, they must have been right because I came through the technical section on lap 6 and saw her on the trail below.  I knew that if I stayed off the brakes on the descents and got out of the saddle to power through all the climbs, I'd be able to catch her.  My legs were tired, but I had it in me mentally to get out of my own way, so that was all that really mattered at that point.  I was excited.  I had something to push for, and I actually felt like pushing for it.  What I didn't anticipate or hope for was to find her at the top of a hill with a snapped chain; that's not the way I like to make my move.  I was tempted to help her out and then race her to the finish, but at that point, she looked like she had it under control.  So, off I went.  I still went as fast as possible at the end.  I don't know what my lap times were, but in my mind, that lap was my fastest.  I ended up on the podium with Karen and Jena - they were about 10 minutes ahead of me.  This seems to be my consistent distance behind the leaders, only this time I was only 10 minutes behind after 3 hours instead of 2, so I'm moving up in the world.  
All in all, no complaints.  It's time for me to start training.  I have a 100 mile race to finish in August, and I can't be getting all mentally mushed after only 10 miles.  School will be done this week... or maybe in a month; I might be taking a couple summer courses to knock them off the list of requirements for my English degree.  I should know more on that by next week.  Either way, I won't be taking 21 hours of in-school classes.  I'll be working, but work doesn't have homework or papers.  I can't wait to ride my bike!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Logic: If I am to get faster on my bike, then school must give me a break....

 Massasoit was a beat-down for me.  It seemed to me like I really long cyclocross race - complete with run-ups.  I am at the point where I know I am suffering because I haven't been putting in the work I need to, but at the same time, I know that my sanity requires me to ride for pleasure right now as much as possible.  Sure, I've been hitting the "fun" rides as hard as I can, but to keep up with the fast girls, I'm going to have to start doing "fast" rides in lieu of the ones that I use to maintain my sanity.  

The end of the school semester has been throwing me into a panicky whirlwind of papers, finals, and catch-up, and quite frankly, I can't do it all.  Not all the time, anyhow.  I can safely say, I'm almost done for a spell.  I have a paper almost done, another paper to write, and 3 final exams to take.  Sure, I am likely taking two summer courses just to knock them off the list of requirements I have to meet to graduate someday, but those should be cake compared to the load I've been carrying the past few months.  I plan on celebrating next Friday with a beer and nachos.  

So anyhow, Massasoit was tough.  I hung on, but barely.  I went as hard and as fast as I could go, and I even managed a stellar crash with a speedy bounce right back onto the bike.  I might have lost 15 seconds there.  I'm reminding myself constantly that it's early in the season, and I hadn't really intended to be very fast yet anyhow because of my school schedule.  The real race season is coming; I have hopes that by then I'll be a little faster.  

This coming Sunday is the Battle at Burlingame.  I'm not sure who's racing the Pro category besides myself, but I'm really excited because it's a 33 mile race.  In the world of mountain bike racing, you don't usually see anything over 30 miles unless it's considered a marathon category race.  The race is being promoted by some really cool people out of RI, so it's sure to be a fun time.