Monday, April 29, 2013

singlespeeds, singletrack, and not a single moment of free time...

I'm hoping that in the five minutes I have allowed myself to write this blog, that I can cover everything I've contemplated spewing here...  here goes nothing.

This is my last week of classes.  Friday starts my first week of finals, and it consists of an eight a.m. two-hour genetics exam, an hour break, followed by a two-hour chemistry exam.  My only other exam is the following Wednesday.  Also, Friday is Skyler's tenth birthday so I have a party to prepare for on Saturday.  Thankfully, she's chosen to have her party at the Skate-Inn (yet again) which means I don't have to clean the house for guests, I don't have to clean up after them when it's all over, and I don't have to provide entertainment. It's a busy freakin' week! I'll be concluding the weekend with EFTA's Battle at Burlingame MTB race.  

The Root 66 Series' Fat Tire Classic was two weekends ago, and I'd preregistered.  However, as the weekend approached, I kept getting this nagging feeling that racing would be a bad idea (I really had a lot of schoolwork to do), but oddly enough, Skyler really wanted to go and do the first-timer's race.  This would have been an ideal race for her, but that would have meant leaving at some ungodly hour and being there all day because my race would have been in the afternoon.  There's no way I would have gotten anything done all weekend.  So, at 6am on Sunday morning, I made the executive decision that Skyler and I would spend the day local.  She easily convinced me to take her to breakfast, and I told her that when we got home, I would work on my paper while she did whatever she felt like until lunch time.  Wouldn't you know, I got oodles of work done. After a light lunch, we loaded up the bikes and went for a ride at Goodwin.  Skyler is getting more comfortable and more enthusiastic about riding every time we go, and we had great time.  When we got home, we did some baking, and while I definitely missed the whole racing thing, I undoubtedly made the best decision that I could have.  

I've been messing around on the singlespeed for a few weeks now, and if I'd raced the Fat Tire Classic, that's what I would have used.  The reason for being so single-minded (yeah, cheesy pun) was prep for singlespeed-a-palooza which happened yesterday (April 28).  I'd heard awesome things about this race from others who'd done it, and I felt a little guilty because I made the registration cut-off the first day while a lot of die-hards didn't get in in time.  I'm not entirely new to the singlespeed; I have a 26" rigid Redline that I've played around on in the past, but since I've been riding the 29ers lately, I have been neglecting the smaller wheeled bikes.  I got a rigid 29er SS instead so I'd have something more similar to my Specialized Fate.  The SS rig is a Soma Juice frame with Stan's Crest wheels and other bits and pieces.  I LOVE the frame.  It's light and responsive. After some adjustments with bar size and stem, I've almost got it exactly how I want it.  As a side note, if anyone wants to buy that Redline, let me know.  I'm short, so it's actually an ideal bike for a tween-aged kid.

no gears
Singlespeed-a-palooza is more than just a bike race; it's a veritable celebration of singlespeeds which coincidentally includes carousal, hoppy beverages, a shedload of ice cream, and one hell of a delicious spread.  The course was carefully chosen to make for a most enjoyable ride, and we had some gloriously good spring weather.  I'd talked my friend Melissa into doing the race back when registration opened, and when the Root 66 race for that day was cancelled, she was happy that I'd peer pressured her into what will prove to be the dopest race of the season.  She's been racing singlespeed since she started racing (originally a bmx racer back in the day) and had only just started dabbling in the world of gears; this was her kind of gig.  We rode out to NY together alongside a car full of our guy pals.  

Dark Horse Cycles, the shop that puts this event on, allowed camping in their yard, so we all slept there - some of us in tents and some just in sleeping bags under the stars (silly boys).  We ate our breakfast in the shop's parking lot before pedaling about a half mile over to the race venue at Stewart Forest (Montgomery, NY), and got our timing chips strapped on with enough time to pedal around and get the low-down about the race.  Shortly after that, we were at the starting line and rearing to go.

podium car - fast girls travel in packs
The race started out on a dirt road which was ideal because if you know anything about singlespeeds, you'll know that one gear means it takes awhile to create a decent gap in a crowd of over one-hundred. The open women started with the open men, and the sport men, fat bikes, and sport women were staggered at two minute intervals behind us.  When the start was called, it was a mad scrabble of clipping in and furiously spinning because much of the first section of road was a descent.  As the dust began to clear and the lead group of men started to pull away, I could see that the road was changing to an incline; I could also see one of the other women that I was up against.  As the incline leveled off, we were all going pretty steady, and it wasn't until the next incline that I decided to try to make a move past her.  I'd intended to go all out in the beginning so I could put some distance and some humans between myself and the other girls before we hit the woods; this seemed to work because I never saw another woman racing during the entire 24 miles.  I didn't know it until I saw her come through, but Melissa was just a couple minutes behind me and was trying to chase me down the entire way as she was catching glimpses of me throughout the race.  

During most of the race, I was riding with one guy who seemed to be pretty well matched to my pace (after a good chunk of the race, we finally introduced ourselves), and it wasn't until I started popping on a couple of climbs towards the middle-end that I really encouraged him to just go on past me.  I still managed to keep him in sight the rest of the way and somehow got my mojo back after only a few tough little climbs.  Having no idea where I stood the entire race, it was tough to know what I should be doing or where I should be putting out effort.  I never bothered to throw a GPS on the bike, and I've never ridden there before. Also, I don't wear a heart-rate monitor, so my only measure of capacity was the way my legs felt on hard efforts and the time it took for me to recover after one of those efforts. Aside from the fact that I just kept telling myself to go harder, I had no way of knowing where I stood except that I was keeping a good enough pace for people to tell me, "I think you're the first woman rider."  Every time I heard that, I was like, "Cool, but where are they!?" It's tough not knowing!  Fortunately, I did a good job of whispering sweet nothings into my own ears during the race; that's the benefit of being your own coach - you can bring your coach with you during your race, and they won't leave your side (and if they do, there are ways to push the demons out and bring the coach back).  I told myself that I had it in my legs to go hard, and when I felt like my legs were done, I told myself to eat a GU and GO HARDER!  It worked.  In the last section of downhill, one of the open men (who had gotten held up with a flat tire at some point in the race) came up behind me and told me that we were almost done.  I think he said something like, "this is the last section... let it roll and have fun."  And so I did!  I rolled through the timing tent in just under two hours which is probably the fastest I've ever finished a 20+ mile race.
First ever podium beer buzz 
As it turns out, I was the first woman, and Melissa finished less than two minutes behind me as the second woman.  We were stoked to be on the podium together, and Dark Horse Cycles hooked us up with some hefty prizes - cash, limited edition budweisers, and really unique trophies.  A lot of our buddies did well too.  Alby King finished in eighth (men's open), Donnie D in 15th (men's sport NJ and first race in a long time), and Jesse finished the race after having 3 flats, a bottle-cage debacle, and two beers to take the edge off.  Our friend Oliver finished first in his category (sport men NJ).  

Same gear ratio as my winner of a bike - 32X18
What a blast.  I'll definitely be racing more singlespeed events, and I'll probably be racing that bike in some of the regular races as well - either in women's open or men's singlespeed open.  Crap.  This has taken longer than five minutes.  I'm racing Sunday, so it's likely that I will have something to say again soon... come back next week.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hop Brook Dam - Root 66 Series Season Opener

When a race is really challenging, it's always fun when something happens to make your experience more complicated.  Well, I like fun, so it makes sense that I'd lose a contact lens out there - YET AGAIN!  I'd noticed early on that my left lens felt a little "off" (pun absolutely intended), so I was consciously trying to keep it comfortable for the long haul out there, but somewhere in the middle of the 3rd lap, on one of the fast gravely downhills, my eye teared up and the wind blew.  Before I had a chance to blink, I could see out of the corner of my eye that there was a folded up piece of silicone lens on the inside of my glasses.  Lucky for me, I plan in advance for situations like this, and I brought my glasses along (so that I can see on my way home at least).  This has happened far too often, and it makes the rest of the race a whole lot more difficult than it normally should be.  I managed to stay upright, and my lack of depth perception had me picking the straightest lines without knowing what sort of jagged rock might be in the middle... I finished and did not die.

Coming into this race, I was hoping to beat my time from last year.  Unfortunately, I finished 2-3 minutes slower.  I'd like to blame that on the wind resistance, but I'm sure there were times when the wind was helping me along instead of pushing me backwards.  Like anyone, I have a long list of excuses for not living up to my own expectations... however, I'm going to look at the cold hard facts: 
  1. I have ridden the road only once this year (on a mountain bike). 
  2. It is only the beginning of April.
Based on just this, I know that I need to get my lazy ass out on the road and do some work there.  I can ride tech all day long, but that doesn't mean anything if I can't maintain speed on a fast xc course.  Quite frankly, these xc courses are pretty tame compared to what I constitute as "epic mtb riding."  Don't get me wrong, I don't huck 4ft drops or anything nasty like that, but I like a good rocky trail with some steep climbs and hairy descents.  That stuff is fun!  However, I also like to go fast, and when the race courses offer opportunity for that with a bit of challenging singletrack here and there, I am generally pleased.  If I want to go fast, I need to practice pedaling harder, and that means I need to go somewhere that I can pedal hard without being forced to slow down.  That's what the road is for (yeah, I know... yucky road.)  Also, it's early, so I have time to start riding the road...  ugh.  

So, here's the breakdown of the race:
I warmed up with almost a full lap, lined up with the rest of the ladies (5 in the open/elite group), and tried to keep up with them through the first lap.  I kept Sue and Madeleine in sight for most of the first lap.  Sue flatted on the second lap which was disappointing to me (and obviously to her as well), and I found out later she tore her sidewall.  For the rest of the race, I did my best to stay consistent until my vision was impaired.  From there on out, consistency was met with some cautiousness.  I was grateful that we only did 4 laps because I don't think I was ready for climbing at race pace for the two hours I was out there - never mind another 30 minutes of it.  When I saw Kate pass me as she moved up from the Cat 1 group, I knew I was going way slower than I wanted to be, and so at that point, my brain became fixed on my getting through the next lap without getting caught by anyone else in Cat 1.  Somehow, I managed to do that, but Stacy B. wasn't far behind.  In fact, her time was a couple minutes faster than mine.  

The best part of the day was the drive there and home.  Skyler accompanied me to the race this weekend, and she's at the age where she can check in with friends throughout the day but ride around and have fun too.  She wants to race the first-timer's category (for her second time) at Winding Trails, so I might have to do that along with her and see where she's at...  I don't know if she'd be comfortable on her own.  Anyhow, on the way to the race, we kept doing math based on what the GPS was telling us for "miles to go."  We'd convert the miles to feet, and then based on our speed, we'd calculate how many feet we were traveling per minute and second.  On the way home, Skyler got cupcake crumbs all over herself and spent most of the ride looking for them... and eating them.  I'm looking forward to bringing her to lots more races.  She was a fun travel buddy.  

So, that's it for race day, but I can't help but mention something about the USAC/UCI non-sanctioned vs sanctioned race debacle.  It is in rather poor taste that these rules were clarified 1/4 of the way into 2013 rather than prior to the new year.  Being an amateur racer, I would NOT have renewed my UCI license this season if I thought it meant I couldn't do EFTA races, the NH100 or Singlespeed-A-Palooza. Now, having already registered for non-sanctioned events, I'm stuck with either braking the rules, downgrading my license (and missing out on the Pro XCT events that I'd been looking forward to), or forgoing a bunch of awesome events that I've already committed to.  At this point, I refuse to give up the events I already registered for.  Here's hoping these issues can somehow be resolved... it's looking like USAC needs to step up to the plate to contend with the UCI over this rule as it applies in the U.S.  The current ruling is too restricting on all accounts for racers in the U.S., and the USAC needs to lay-off their monopoly scheme.  I doubt they will have this straightened out before the Pro XCT events this summer (if at all) which is very unfortunate, so it's looking like a downgrade for me.  Before I do anything hasty, I plan to email the New England USAC rep to let her know my concerns.  I'm sure I won't be the first or the last.  

See you all at Winding Trails, and I will be breaking the rules for Singlespeed-A-Palooza...  
"Eat my shorts." -Bart Simpson

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring Break - Part 2: Flying, Riding, Driving, Eating, Riding, Eating, Driving, Eating, Riding, and Flying

After doing some very last minute packing and doing my mommy duties by way of waiting with Skyler at the bus stop, I was off to meet the guys to get our Western MTB Adventure underway.  Our travels went smoothly, and we arrived in Denver around 4pm to some baggage confusion.  The place where Marc's bike was supposed to be was empty, and nobody seemed to know where it could be... fortunately, after about an hour, someone who knew what a bike box was told him where it was.  A bit of sketchy parking, and some hustle in the busy passenger pickup area had us in Dan's truck and on the road faster than a NASCAR pit crew.

Downtown Boulder, CO
Our first stop was downtown Boulder.  What a cool town!  We went into University Bicycles, and I must say, that place is the biggest bike shop I've ever seen.  I can't even imagine the money in that building with all of the high-end bikes they have for sale.  A shop employee recommended we go to Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery for dinner; the wait was long, but the beer was good. We were all
pretty exhausted after a day of traveling, so after a stop at the grocery store for some necessities, we went to Dan's to crash for the night.  Dan is in the middle of relocating his family to Colorado, so his new home is awaiting all of its furnishings...  it's going to look great with the family in it and some furniture.  It's also quite nice to know that I have a place to crash anytime I decide to spread my wings and fly out West for another vacation.

View from the backseat of the truck
The next morning marks DAY 1 of our MTB Adventure.
Tile from the wall of the pizza place in Vail, CO
Me getting the feel of the Yeti at Lunch Loops 
Here we all are... ready for something EPIC! 
Before we could do any riding, we had to do some driving.  Crammed into Dan's pickup truck, we picked up rental bikes for Kevin and myself at Golden Bike Shop - FS Yetis for us both (SB95), and then we were on the road.  For anyone who likes amazing scenery while they're road-tripping, I highly recommend I-70.  I don't know that it can be beat.  We stopped in Vail for lunch and ate at a pizza place.  I had a veggie calzone without cheese while Marc had the meat lasagna... more on that later.  To sum up Vail, it is a really cool ski resort area if you like spending $1 each on french fries.

Dan played the role of tour guide well, taking us straight to Lunch Loops in Grand Junction, CO where we went from sitting with full bellies in the truck straight to pedaling up gigantic hills at a high altitude. Needless to say, meat lasagna and anything with red sauce was probably not the best food choice.  I can honestly say that I don't remember the last time I felt that awful on a bike.  The trails were amazing, the scenery was unreal, and the bike was a great fit, but my lungs were forsaking me in the worst way.  While it wasn't overly hot outside, the heat was a shock...  I questioned my ability to ride out there.  I also questioned my choice of a full suspension bike (not for long though).  Towards the end of that first ride, I started to feel a little better... it also helped that the ride ended with an awesome downhill run.

That's me coming down the rock in the front... so cool!
Day 2 of our MTB Adventure started with only about an hour drive this time.  We headed to Moab where Dan had the day already planned.  He had also informed us of this plan at least 10 times, but every time he said it, it sounded different so I really had no idea what we were doing.  Well, as it turned out, we we parked at the Negro Bill Trailhead (interesting name choice) so we could ride into town and had pedal uphill to the Slickrock Trailhead.  Coincidentally, there was a Jeep Jamboree going on while we were there, so we got to see some very expensive, very pretty, and very smelly vehicles driving up and down the same slickrock we were pedaling on.  The loop out there is like something I would have imagined on another planet.  It looked like a rolling desert made of rock instead of sand.  Here and there were pockets of sandy soil where plants were growing almost as if someone had landscaped them into the scenery on purpose.  Riding on the rock was like nothing I'd done before.  Rocks in New England have traction when they're dry, but there is still not enough traction to ride up a steep rock without the chance of slipping.  At slickrock, the only thing you have to worry about is having enough power to keep turning the cranks on the way up... if you stop pedaling, you will tip over (possibly backwards).  It took me awhile to get used to climbing on the Yeti, but by the end of our ride there, I was pleased with the bike and the way it felt.
Don't forget to stand on your head!

We took a break at the trailhead and downed some snacks before setting out on our next part of the adventure.  I had no idea what I was in for...

So, to get to the Porcupine Rim Trailhead, most people take a shuttle up the mountain before climbing the technical trail and descending down the 11 mile downhill on the other side.  Not us.  We are all pedal all the time.  We set out up that hill guided by Dan and completely unknowing of just how long we would be climbing for.  We left Slickrock at about 1:30.  It took us an hour to get to the trailhead and another hour of climbing to get to the lookout.  While it would have been nice of Dan to tell us just how long it was going to take for us to get to the top, I suppose it's fair to say that it'd been awhile since he'd done it so he probably had no idea... plus, we weren't exactly doing it with fresh legs.  At one point, Kevin seemed about ready to kill Dan...  I will admit to biting his head off at one point when he asked why were stopping as we were attempting to eat some candy bars before death could set in.  We didn't believe him when he said the lookout was just ahead.  It's funny, Kevin and I thought that after that we'd start descending... WRONG!  We had more climbing to do.  By the time we started descending, I was thinking, 'okay, the long hard part is over.'  Little did I know how long the descent would be.  Full suspension was absolutely the right choice.  I had the time of my life descending back to the truck and even got in some 'hucks' off the small drops while rolling a bunch of other steep rocks.  Towards the end, they guys let me go up front to 'take us back to the truck,' and I had the impression that the trail was going to be more of the mostly rideable stuff we were doing.  Again, WRONG!  The trail got insanely tricky towards the end, and I had to do quite a bit of hike-a-bike.  It was still fun though.
Porcupine Rim's Witches Tongue

Back at the truck, we cleaned up as best and as quickly as possible and drove into town because Moab Brewery could not be ignored.  The food there was pretty good, but with it being so busy, the service was a little rough...  no complaints though; they had what we needed so desperately... sugar and fat!  Unfortunately, our late arrival to town meant that a lot of the shops were closed, so we didn't get to explore, and on the drive back to our hotel, I couldn't keep my eyes open.

Kevin posing on Mary's Loop in Fruita
'More Fun' at Fruita, CO
Day 3 brought us to Fruita (where our hotel was) and back to Lunch Loops in the afternoon.  At Fruita, the terrain was totally different from what we'd ridden in Utah (which was totally different from Slickrock to Porcupine Rim!).  We started the ride off in Fruita with a trail called 'More Fun' which we accidentally did opposite the suggested direction.  This was no problem except that it started off with tough technical climbing that left me feeling like I left my lungs and legs back in Utah.  We saw lots of people going in the opposite direction, and most of them were runners.  Completing that trail, we started onto 'Mary's Loop,' and found that again, there was a lot of traffic going against us, but this time it was all mountain bike traffic.   I've never seen so many people on a trail in my life.  What a gorgeous loop!  We decided that after the previous day's torture, we should stop and have a lunch break somewhere out of the sun, so we went to Buffalo Wild Wings where we made smart lunch choices this time.

Lunch Loops after lunch is only a good idea if you don't eat meat lasagna or red sauce or sit in a truck for four hours.  With tired legs, we made our way up, up, up on some really fun trails.  I think Lunch Loops has the best trail network out of all the places we went... mostly because all of the trails were marked at junctions and all were built by and for mountain bikers.  We rode a trail called, 'Free Lunch' that had huge rollers and drops that were marked by a sign that read, "entering play area," and another sign that read, "end of play area."  Some of the features (okay... most of them) were above my head.  Literally.  I impressed myself by trying some easier rollers.  I have to admit that for our ride at Lunch Loops, I was pretty well spent...  I didn't talk much, and I sure as heck didn't want to stop for too long because I didn't know if I'd be able to get going again...  fortunately, the guys kept things fun and moving along, and we took the same descent out that we took on the first day.  It was an excellent way to end the ride.

The "guys"
Somehow, I was finally able to convince they guys that we should go to a juice/smoothie bar, and as it turned out, everyone liked it!  Dirty and happy, we set back on the road to Castle Rock where Dan's house is, stopping in a town called Rifle, CO at Rib City Grille for what was our absolute best dining experience of the weekend.  The town itself was a little off, but the restaurant was kickass.  The rest of our drive back was not quite as good as our drive out West.  We hit snow storms in the mountain passes which added stress to our exhaustion, and had a near death experience as some butt munch went zooming past us going the wrong way on the interstate just miles from Dan's exit.  It took us all a few moments to register what was going on, and Dan saw the telltale sign of a car wreck in his rearview mirror as that vehicle swerved in traffic and rolled into a ditch.  We were lucky.  And tired.  I never slept so good on a floor as I did that night.

Our last day didn't leave us with much time since we had to be at the airport by 1:30 for our 3pm flight, and we still had to drop our bikes off in Golden.  Fortunately, Rhyolite Bike Park is less than a mile from Dan's door, and behind the park is a mesa with a fast, flat, and flowy 3 mile track.  We rode over to the mesa, climbed to the top, did a lap and then came down the bike park's dirt jump downhill track.  Dan and Kevin wanted to play at the park, so Marc and I went back up to the mesa, and after doing a quick lap, we decided we'd race around just one more time.  It was the perfect way to end the weekend, and we all felt surprisingly good...  I should note that at the top of the mesa, the elevation was around 6,300 ft which is higher than the elevation at porcupine rim!

That was it... we packed up, dropped off our bikes, and Dan cried when he dropped us off at the airport (haha).  The trip back was quiet...  Over the course of the weekend, I'd been trying to get some homework assignments done, one of which was starting and finishing a 300+ page book.  As we were descending into Providence, I finished the book.  It doesn't get much better than that... especially since, in true New England style,  it was pouring rain and chilly.  I was in bed shortly after 2 am and back at school the next morning for 9am.  Best Spring Break EVERRRR!
Fruita, CO
P.S.  Go to Colorado.  Go to Utah.  Go ride a bike!