Friday, May 30, 2008
I’ve spent this week in Cheyenne. I know what you’re thinking; I get to go to all the exotic destinations. Puerto Rico one week, Wyoming the next, but all this traveling has kept me from two races, and may have done me in for tomorrow’s race at Sundance.
Wyoming doesn’t have any white sand beaches, and my employer sent me here for some training, so I won’t bore you with why I’m here, but I did learn something valuable that you ought to know:
When eating dinner in a landlocked state with more cows than people, stick with the steak and avoid the fish.
Last night I ate at the Albany Restaurant in downtown Cheyenne. I’m not much of a red meat eater so I ordered the salmon. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but something in it was tainted.
Putting it lightly, I woke up in the middle of the night with some pressing urges. I made my way to the bathroom and spent some time on the toilet not knowing which end it was going to come out of me. After the worst of it I stood up to make my way back to bed. The next thing I remember was coming to on the hotel room floor. I don’t know how long I had been out, but my neck and chin were killing me. I crawled into bed on
my hands and knees and waited for morning.
This morning when I looked in the mirror, I saw this raspberry on my chin. There’s a matching one on my shoulder, and another just below my eye. I must have landed directly on my face and jarred my neck because it hurts to move. I still can’t eat and my stomach feels like there’s a herd of squirrels running around in there. I don’t know if I’ll make it to the race tomorrow.
Next time I’ll order the cheeseburger.
Friday, May 23, 2008
I’ve spent the last week in Puerto Rico. I missed the race at Soldier Hollow on
Saturday, but I’m not complaining. I’ve
hiked through a tropical rain forest, swam in blue Caribbean
waters rimmed with white sandy beaches and wandered the limestone fortresses of
Old San Juan.
But there is a problem.
The place we’re staying is too far away.
From everything. The beach nearby
is rife with hazards, falling coconuts are the least of them. The closest panaderia is five miles away and San
Juan is 50 miles from here. We have a car, but there are five of us so the
car goes where the group goes. Sometimes
that has meant too much windshield time in traffic and not enough time actually
getting away from it all. I needed a
vacation from this vacation.
The island of Culebra
and her larger, more famous sister, Vieques, used to serve as a bombing range
for the U.S. Military. It’s only
been a few years since the military pulled out and left the islands to fend for
themselves, economically speaking. In
other words, Culebra is still an affordable vacation destination. And since the 60-minute ferry ride from the
main island costs just $2.25, these islands have become the place to go for Puerto
Ricans needing a vacation.
But first we had to make a trip to the market to load up on
tropical fruits. Longtime Hooptedoodle
readers know my philosophy on diet when in the tropics, which is to eat your
body weight in tropical fruits before you leave. [New discoveries this trip have been Guayabana
and the red Sweet Cucumber I’m holding in this photo, it tastes like a cross
between a cantaloupe and a watermelon, with a pumpkin-like aftertaste.]
Most visitors to Culebra rent cars and point them straight
for Playa Flamenco, “the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean”
according to the Lonely Planet guide. Mags
and I followed them because it also offers the only campsites on the
island. But that’s where the
similarities ended. Instead of renting a
car, Mags and I rented bikes.
Untethered at last, we headed over the hill, just a mile
away from Playa Flamenco, and left the crowd behind. The snorkeling there at Playa Carlos Rosario
was unbelievable. I saw fish of every
color imaginable, including some colors I didn’t think occurred in nature. Mags saw a Reef Shark, but fortunately he was
gone before I got a look at him.
Next we rode our bikes through town to the other end of the
island—it’s only about 14 miles long—to Playa Bravo, which lies at the end of
mile-long hilly singletrack. Tourists
can’t drive to it, and you certainly can’t expect them to walk that far, so the
beach was occupied by a total of zero people when we arrived.
Picture it, a broad, sweeping arc of white
sand with coral reefs a hundred feet offshore.
It was a small piece of Caribbean splendor and I
never would have gotten there without my bicycle.
There is only one way to enjoy a beach this good…
Thursday, May 15, 2008
As a bicycle commuter, you're going to need something to keep your pants out of your chain. Sure, you could just wear tight pants, but who wants to change clothes every morning after you get to work? (You weren’t going to wear your tights all day were you?) For those of you that work in cube farms and lack office walls that go all the way to the ceiling, changing your pants in your office is an invitation for sexual harassment charges. And if you can’t bring your bike with you into your office, you become fodder for the adage that the further you are from your bicycle the more ridiculous you look in cycling clothing. Face it; there are simpler ways to keep your pants out of your chain. (Most of the time.)
For such a simple task, there are a lot of solutions. The easiest, of course, is just to tuck your pants into your socks. This method works great and is fool proof, unless you’re a hippie who won’t wear socks (i.e. me in the summertime), but doing it makes you the biggest dork on the block. Especially if you wear tube socks. Try it and see.
Elastic bands work great in a pinch, but who has one handy when you need one?
They break easily too, and they’re not much better than tucking your pants into your tube socks if you’re sensitive to people laughing at you. I've also used a yellow LiveStrong bracelet to do the job, but I don't recommend them because they're hard to put on without removing your shoes.
Next there are the Velcro straps people wrap around their pants. They often have the added utility of being reflective and come in hi-vis, day-glow colors. I have several of these, but have found they are more useful for wrapping tubes and tire levers into a tight package that fits easily into a jersey pocket. It’s not that they don’t work well to keep your pants out of your chain; they’re just cumbersome to put on and the Velcro wears out easily. I need something that will last and I need more convenience. I need something solid.
Pant clips are simple little tools. They’re just little hoops, actually more of a horseshoe shape, with an opening on one end that lets you slip it over your leg and your pants at your ankle. If you're crafty you can make your own out of an old spoke, or you can buy plastic pant clips but they won’t last. The reason I am writing about pant clips at all is that I broke one in the middle of an intersection on my morning commute last week. I have a metal pant clip that I use every day, but the roads were wet this particular day so I put a plastic clip on my left leg too, to keep it off the back wheel. When it started to slip I reached down to adjust it and snap, half of it was bouncing toward oncoming traffic.
Metal pant clips just feel better. They don’t lose their spring. They’re simple, they’re cheap. Most importantly, they’re reliable. I have owned only one metal pant clip in my life. It was a gift from a friend in 1995, the same year my bicycle became my primary mode of transportation. It’s been jangling against my keys and spare change every day for thirteen years.
I like the jangle of my metal pant clip because I don’t forget it’s there. It reminds me that wherever I am I can look forward to a bike ride home. Once in graduate school I was playing with it during a particularly boring lecture on aquatic chemistry when I dropped it onto the hard tile floor. I might as well have dropped a plate in a fancy restaurant, it was that jarring. I really enjoyed riding home that day.
I feel no shame in saying I’m very fond of my metal pant clip. Most of us tend to be sentimental about tools we use. Attachment to inanimate objects has no rational basis, but you have to admit that caring for things that serve us well is one of the few nice things we do. If I lost my metal pant clip I would never ride again. Well, I might ride again as soon as I found a new one.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Sherwood Hills is my favorite course on the Intermountain Cup circuit. Last year it was held the weekend after the fourth of July, so it was hot and dusty. This year they moved it up nearly two whole months and, coupled with one of the snowiest winters in several years, ensured us of cooler temperatures and softer mud. My brother pre-rode the course several times before last Saturday, and would give me snow reports. “There’s still 12 inches of snow in the parking lot.” he said just two weeks ago.
So I wasn’t too surprised to learn that the promoters had to reroute the race course. They cut several miles of new trail, started us in a new place, but still managed to preserve most of the great serpentine singletrack that makes this course a racers' favorite. They even shoveled the last of the snow off the course in time for the race.
But they couldn’t control the weather. A storm moved through the area on Friday and delivered 0.8 inches of rain to nearby Brigham City. I mounted up some mud tires on my new Reynolds wheels.
Sherwood Hills is the shortest course of the series, so they stagger the start times for different race categories; beginners at nine, sports at eleven and pros and experts at one. Mags and I showed up in the morning as the beginners were finishing. Most of them were covered head to toe with mud. I counted two broken derailleurs.
Most people don’t know this, but Mags loves mud. She took one look at the racers and decided she wanted to race with the Sport Women that afternoon. I loaned her my front wheel with its mud tire. As usual, she didn’t disappoint. She started off in last place because she’s not one to be assertive at the start line. By the time she came through to start her second lap she had passed three or four women and was riding in fourth place. She passed another one right in front of us. She’s such a show off. She says she passed a couple more and may have been in the lead when her tire went flat. Next she discovered her pump was missing a couple parts and was ready to throw in the towel when Chris Holley (number 8 in the photo on the right), whom we bought her mountain bike from, came along and fixed it for her. She passed one rider before the finish so she didn’t finish dead last.
I should be upset with myself for letting Mags race without a working pump, but I think it may have been better for her to do that well and still lose. It may have given her the bug--In her own words, “I actually had fun racing this time.”
My race wasn’t much better. I was strong for the first two laps, but suffered from stomach cramps for the next three. I think I was riding in third or fourth place for a while but with the cramps I slipped back to seventh. I also wished I had switched back to my regular tires because the course had dried out enough to make the mud tires a detriment. I would have been eighth but I was able to hold off a surging Johnny Hintze in the final hundred yards. That’s two consecutive sprint wins for me. Hey, there's got to be some advantage for a mountain biker being 6’5” and weighing 185 lbs.
Monday, May 5, 2008
I raced in the Showdown at 5-Mile Pass on Saturday. At 44 miles, it’s the longest race in the ICUP series. It was a cool morning and I spent much of my warm up time trying to decide what to wear. Arm warmers? Jacket or Vest? Knee warmers? Finally I decided to go with only my jersey and arm warmers, knowing full well that I would be rolling them down shortly into the race.
The race started out a little slower than most ICUP races. All of us except David Welsh got the message that 44 miles is a long race. He took off at our usual starting pace—the kind of pace that we use to spread out the group before we get into the narrow singletrack. I looked around as I watched him pull away and was relieved to see that nobody was trying to cover his move. After the race, Bart, the eventual winner, told me that Dave was panting when Bart caught and passed him. Dave must not have been too blown, because he did finish second.
I settled into a good rhythm in fifth place behind Kevin Day. We rode the entire rest of the way together, never more than 10 seconds between us. The picture above sums it up pretty well. If you look really close, you can see the top of Kevin’s helmet directly behind me. And his elbow is visible just to the right of my hips. We worked together some, but he seemed to be willing to take longer pulls. I was happy to let him do it.
It’s kind of strange to ride with someone for 44 miles and hardly speak to him, but that’s what Kevin and I did. There were a few words spoken. I once told him “good work” as I came around him to take my turn pulling. Another time he apologized to me for making could have been construed as a move from behind me on a steep hill. I stepped it up for a second or two, but knew it was too early in the race to worry about little attacks like that. Kevin said he was just trying to keep his momentum up the hill. I would have done the exact same thing. And once he stopped for a second to tighten the skewer on his front wheel (I think) and I asked if he was OK as I went by.
That’s about all we said. Oh, there was one more exchange we had at the bottom of Yellow Page Hill, which is the feature this race is most notorious for. It’s the steepest, loosest, longest hill in any race I’ve done. I make no exaggeration when I say that no human can climb it—at least not mid-race. Instead, it’s like a mandatory hike we all had to take mid-way through each of our four laps, and it’s guaranteed to make both of your calf muscles cramp up.
Here’s what we said at the bottom of Yellow Page Hill:
Me: This sucks
Kevin: Oh my Gawd!
By the start of our fourth lap Kevin and I had worked out a routine. He pulled in the same sections and I pulled in the same sections. It was as if we weren’t racing at all. I knew that there was no way he could get away from me before Yellow Page Hill, and that there was no way I could get away from him before the bottom of the long, twisty bobsled-like gully.
The race began at the bottom of the gully. I was in front and there were about four miles to go. I would have loved to let him take a pull, but he wisely didn’t come around. On one of the many short climbs I felt my right hamstring start to cramp up. With visions of a complete breakdown streaming through my mind I shifted quickly into my granny gear and spun my way to the top.
Apparently Kevin hadn’t noticed me in pain, because he didn’t attack me then. He probably could have locked up fourth place with one small effort to put a ten second gap between us.
The instant the pain in my right hamstring subsided the same thing happened to my left leg. Back into the granny gear I went. Kevin surely had to notice me this time, right? But he still didn’t attack me. Maybe he was being nice because I didn’t attack him when he stopped to fix his wheel. Maybe he was in pain too.
Finally with a mile to go he made his move, but I was able to sit on his wheel all the way to the last 30 yards. He slipped a bit in some loose sand and I had to veer right to miss him, but he lost most of his momentum then. Well, he lost more momentum than I did. It set us up for a sprint finish and I was able to come around him a beat him by a bike length to finish fourth. That makes two years in a row that I’ve passed someone in the final seconds of that race.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
There has been a little progress in the bicycle ban in my office. Apparently common sense does prevail, even in an office full of engineers and scientists.
But first, a little office humor…
There was a promotional poster for Bike Month last year (May is Bike Month, don’t you know?) that depicts a bicycle in a cubicle with the caption “Enjoy getting to work as much as you enjoy leaving.”
There are a few of these still hanging around the office. I have one in my cubicle. Sorry about the fuzzy cell phone photos.
This morning I saw that the poster in the upstairs break room had been modified to reflect the current bicycle policy…
I fixed it quick; for fear that it might appear we’re being too flippant about the issue. But not before I snapped a photo.
And now for the progress: The committee (they found room for me on the committee) has drafted a proposed bicycle policy that allows bikes in cubicles so long as they don’t block escape paths, track in dirt and aren’t stored in conference rooms. All of which should go without saying, but since we’re a government bureaucracy we can’t take anything for granted.