Tuesday, August 8, 2017

COMEUPPANCE, PART TWO (or in current day parlance: Reality Check)

     First, some history.  Several years ago I sought a coach to help me get faster.  Long story short, I didn't and returned to what I had been doing.  That, basically, was riding with the fast guys on Sunday and putting in miles during the week.  I was content to be fastest in my age group in Texas.  Well, when you are the oldest in your age group, and finishing last, you look forward to the next year when you again become the youngest.  That is 2017.  I managed to earn an invitation to Senior Games Nationals in the time trial, but not the road race.  No biggie, except for a few times when I managed to win, those were merely good 40k workouts.  But I trained a little harder for 2017 and did well in the early races (see previous posts).  My expectation for Nationals was a modest top ten.  Then I went and took silver in the 10k time trial.  The drop to 8th place in the 5k was poor judgment, not poor performance, on my part.  When I looked up the times, and also the times in the USAC Nationals a week earlier, it looked as though I could hang with those guys.  Attitude adjustment!
      But next year I wouldn't be the youngest, so I needed to be faster.  Time to give another try at being coached.  My friend Carolyn has been tearing up the roads this year (including winning Nationals), so I tried her coach.  No luck, his roster is full.  She suggested Owen, also a national gold medalist, and he accepted me.
     Owen doesn't have any old guys as clients.  Yes, a few seniors over 50, but that isn't really old.  This is going to be a two-way street in learning, in that my body can't do what a 50 year old can.  In addition to riding, he will be sending me various strength building exercises.  The first one seemed simple enough: ten 30 second core exercises.  No problem, I've been doing planks and push-ups for several years now.  At Gold's Gym Body Flow, Shawna would remind us that "core" is more than abs.  I now know how very weak my lower back is.  So embarrassing (even though no one saw me), however I confessed to the coach.
     Then there were the push-ups.  Easy enough: three sets of three.  I've been doing eights sets of twenty-plus and a final of sixty or seventy.  The kicker is clapping your hands as you push up.  When a young man, I could show off, clapping twice.  Try as I might, gravity got me first.  I blamed it on trying it after riding (I really know better than do any strength exercises after riding).  But this morning, fresh, I still couldn't do it.  Actually, I did manage it once, but hitting two arthritic thumbs together brought a whole new set of pain.  I'll still work on it, but this exercise might have to be adjusted.
     This morning I had a set of lunges to do before straddling the bike.  Easy enough, I've been doing lunges this past year also.  Well, these were a measly five sets of five (each leg).  But not just forward/back.  The second set was forward/twist upper body.  Looked easy enough on video.  Might have to work on balance.  The third set was sideways.  I've been doing yoga, no sweat.  Oooh!  I thought my hips could go wider than that.  The forth set was three-quarters back.  I need to revisit the video.  The last set was a backward lunge.  Ok, no problem there.  But my knees weren't happy, as I got on the bike to warm up.
     My power meter has been ordered, so until then we are going with heart-rate and cadence.  Three sets of five minutes at 100-110 rpm in zone three.  My practice this year was thirty seconds at 100+, three sets.  So I was elated to complete the three sets as requested, other than a turn-around.  I did exceed the heart rate for a short time as I concentrated on the cadence and didn't shift appropriately.  I'm hoping the legs work tomorrow.  I've had the heating pad on my low back for the last hour.
     Just two days into being coached and two weaknesses have been exposed.  Fortunately, I have six months before racing again.  And tomorrow is a day off.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

COMEUPPANCE 2017

     So, we left Georgia on Thursday and arrived home on Friday.  This was a squirrel-ly vacation so it took awhile to get the house squared away.  However, I arrived at the Bicycle Sport Shop Sunday ride on time, with bike and accoutrement intact.  Due to a granddaughter softball commitment later, besides not really liking the Buda ride, I opted for the beginner/recovery ride.  Just as well.  We noodled along to the turn-around, then several of us went further.  Five miles out I said good-bye to my companions and returned to the shop at a reasonable speed.  This was a good recovery ride.
     I planned to do the somewhat faster Monday night ride, but it was cancelled.  The universe interfered with cycling and I logged zero miles during the week, plus a strained back muscle which kept me pretty much immobile for a few days.  Anyhow, things were sorted out by the weekend and I prepared for the really nice NW Hills ride.  I like this ride, in either direction.  My recent mountain retreat should stand me in good stead for the climbing.
     Ten of us left BSS and for about thirty seconds all was good.  I drifted to the back and felt like the hammer had been put down from the start.  Then I looked at the measly sixteen/seventeen number on my computer.  Flat ground.  Ah well, the legs are tight and will respond better once they are warmed up.  Half an hour later reality set in.  I skipped the Great Northern sprint and met them as they came back to Shoal Creek and informed Chris (the leader) that I'd be turning around.
     I cruised back down Shoal Creek at fourteen mph, waiting for the HR to drop to an acceptable level.  Well, going out I was about twenty beats high and coming back it was still ten beats high.  Pook, ding-fu!  To add insult to injury, I had a door open on me.  This hasn't happened in years.  Fortunately I was paying attention and there weren't any cars behind me.  The GoPro was mounted on the seat post so I only have the rear shot.  I didn't give the occupant a wave.  Later on I almost got squirrel-ed.  Other than that the return was uneventful, but the HR remained high.
     Back at BSS, I spread out my mat and stretched, being interrupted by a rider who inquired if I had a pump.  I carry my floor pump in the car so was able to assist before returning to stretching.  LJ and Andy returned, with one other rider from the beginner ride.  The others went for additional mileage.  I loaded up and came home.
     I rode Monday and today at Old Settlers Park.  HR was back to normal as I cruised for an hour at sixteen mph.  But the legs might take a few more easy rides before they get their strength back.  That's what I'm blaming it on, the mountains.  They ate my muscles.  You are welcome to your opinion, I'm sticking with this one.  I have no more races for a few months, so I'm back into building mode.

Friday, July 21, 2017

NORTH GEORGIA'S SIX GAPS, THREE AT A TIME

     Our annual family get-together in Suches, Georgia is now in the history books.  Since this is a cycling blog, I'll restrain myself and just relate my cycling.  Our base of operations, High Valley Resort, is on Hwy 180.  This happens to be between Wolf Pen Gap and Woody Gap so I can stumble out of the cabin and start riding (depending on which gaps are on the agenda).
     Traditionally, I ease my way into riding the mountains by going in a counter-clockwise direction.  This gives me about a mile of warm-up before ascending the easy side of Woody Gap.  This is enough to get the heart rate up in the 80% range.  But then the other side of Woody is a five mile, twisting descent.  Today I had a slight wind in my face, so actually had to pedal to hold a mostly 28 mph speed.  Turn left at the stone pile and traverse another five miles to Turner's Corner.  Ideal weather.
     I consumed a Clif Bar, turned left and started the seven mile climb up Neel's Gap.  The start is gradual and I was in cruise mode for awhile.  All too soon the climbing began.  An unrelenting couple of miles of 4-6% grade, about a mile of downhill, then a lot of 8% grades with a fair amount of 10% ramps.  The acrid smell of over-heated brakes hit my nostrils.  Up ahead I saw a large RV with smoke billowing from its wheels.  Really guys, you need to use your gears to hold your speed down.  I turned on the GoPro, but too late to get a picture.  This is the first time in twelve years that I've witnessed something like this.   It generally takes me fifty-five minutes to reach the top.  Today's account was fifty, with some help from the wind, now at my back.  A couple of riders passed me on the upper part, and they were still resting at the top.  I only took a couple of minutes before enjoying the downhill.  I can't say this is a lightly traveled road, but for the most part I go fast enough that only a few vehicles pass me.  Most of the three mile descent has two lanes (in my direction), so traffic has never been a concern.  All too soon the left turn to Wolf Pen Gap arrives and the torture begins.
     I love Wolf Pen Gap, especially since they resurfaced it a couple years ago.  Multiple banked curves make this three miles really exciting.  Of course, in this direction, I was going up, not down.  Half way up, the same two guys said hello again as they passed.  Once at the top it was a quick breather before the downhill.  This side has banked curves also, but only a mile and a half.  There are a few more climbs before getting back to the cabin.  Three hours exactly, as predicted.
     There were a few days of non-riding, including a baby-sitting stint as son Kurt defended his six hour record in the Merrill Mile (you run around an almost mile oval for six, twelve, twenty-four, or forty-eight hours).  This wasn't his year.  The number of laps completed was the same as last, but two young guys did more.  Still, a podium finish.  My next ride included the same gaps, just in a clockwise direction.  My descent of Wolf Pen had me braking more than usual.  I don't know if I had more speed between curves or just getting more cautious.  Still, I love those three miles.  I also enjoyed the seven miles of the other side of Neel's.  These are wide, sweeping curves that you can take at speed.  I noticed the pavement beginning to get cracks, mostly in the curves.  I had to be more careful in taking my line.  Seven minutes faster going this way.
video     We had rain every day of the two plus weeks of our stay.  Mostly in the afternoon.  But on my next ride, I didn't want to be caught in a downpour, so just went over Woody to the stone pile and back.  Only sixteen miles total, but five of those were coming back up Woody.  A good work-out.  Sadly, after cresting Woody and headed down the other side, I noticed the GoPro vibrating more so than usual.  As I headed for a big bend at 30 mph the mount broke and it clattered to the ground.
It took awhile for me to get stopped and return to pick up the pieces.  Astonished, there in the middle of the road were the camera and all the pieces (spread out a little but all within sight).  Keeping an ear out for traffic, I picked up the camera, checked to see if it were still running, then turned it off.  As it turns out, I'm only out the mount, everything else survived the impact.
     For the Fourth of July I donned my stars and stripes jersey and once again did the counter-clockwise route.  Another two hours, fifty-three minute, thirty-five mile, 4,000 feet of climbing, ride.  I've always gotten some acknowledgement of my jersey.  Not today.  Bummer.  The jersey was part of my coast-to-coast ride and holds lots of memories.
     Again I watched the radar closely and decided a shortened trip would be best.  This time it was over Wolf Pen, down to Vogel Park, and back.  Twenty miles, 2460 feet of climbing, and a thrilling descent, albeit only a little over a mile.
     A few more days off and it was time for me to tackle Hog Pen Gap.  This is a beast of a climb.  The most prudent way for this ride is to drive over to the top of Jack's Gap.  The route is forty-five miles and the climbs are Unicoi, Hog Pen, and Wolf Pen.  Marilane drove me over to the start.  Jack's Gap headed east has new asphalt and was a good five-mile descent to get me warmed-up.  It is also boring.  No sweeping curves, just a gradual downhill, to the extent that after two miles I had to pedal to maintain my speed.  No complaints, I made the turn and started up Unicoi.  This is relatively short at two and a half miles, with mostly 8% grades.  I cruised up, anticipating the really great five-mile descent.  Like Neel's, with wide sweeping curves, but better asphalt. That was fun.  All too soon I arrived at Helen and turned right to traverse over to the Russell Scenic Highway and Hog Pen Gap.
      This is about seven miles total with about a mile of relief before the tough climbs.  I saw a lot of double digit numbers on the gradients.  I eased my way up a 12%er then stopped to let the heart rate drop back to a decent number.  As I pulled off another rider did the same.  He was slim, well muscled, tanned.  But he too was breathing hard.  I gave him a minute head start before resuming.  There were still some hard climbs ahead, including a relatively short 20%.  Ugh!  Finally at the top I stopped to refuel and saw the other guy still there.  We both started the downhill at the same time, but I waved him to go ahead, figuring he would be the faster.  Within a hundred yards I realized that was a

mistake, so stopped to take a picture.  That gave him a two minute head start.
     Going down Hog Pen is exhilarating!  But after the first quarter mile the smooth asphalt runs out and the road is rough.  Steep, straight, and rough.  I wasn't looking forward to it.  Surprise!! New asphalt the whole way.  Oh joy.  Oh no.  There were a few slight curves, but in just a few seconds I was in the upper 40's.  Then I noticed a motorcycle behind me and moved right a bit to let them pass.  Nope, they hung back, so I took the whole lane and let it run.  Two miles with a top speed of 48.3.  Talk about adrenaline rush.  As the steeper part became more manageable, the motorcycle came around and gave me a thumbs up and some encouraging words.  They enjoyed my downhill too.
     I still had a few more miles before making the turn, and a few more mid-teen climbs.  Unbelievably, just after the big downhill I saw the other cyclist.  Shortly after, I passed him and exchanged pleasantries.  Apparently he over-extended himself and now had to noodle back to wherever his car was.  I, on the other hand, was still awash with adrenaline and happy with the smooth asphalt and cruised to the stop sign, made a left and began the four miles or so to begin Wolf Pen.
     My legs were feeling Hog Pen as I started my ascent.  Three miles.  I knew that half way there I'd be stopping.  Lots of 8-10% ramps.  It only took five minutes more than normal, so that was good.  And the downhill, sweeping, banked curves always make me smile.  Soon enough, with a few more short, steep climbs, I was back at the cabins.
     I use the Hog Pen ride as a barometer of my fitness.  If I survive that, I put Brasstown Bald on my agenda.  I took a day off, then it was time.  Brasstown Bald is a spur at the top of Jack's Gap, so once again Marilane drove me over.  This time, we drove down Jack's three miles so I could cycle back and get warmed up. The plan was for Marilane to check out some cabins, then meet me at the top of Brasstown, passing me on the way to see if I were in distress or not.  Perfect weather.  I arrived at the start and stopped to get all systems in the go position.
     Brasstown starts you off with a 16%er (may 14% depending on your computer).  Then drops to 8% to let you recover.  You don't see anything less than 6% until you are at the top.  After a mile and a half of several 16% and 12% ramps, you turn a corner and see the wall.  22-24% (again, depending on the computer).  Only once, twelve years ago, have I made it up this section without walking.  Even though the heart rate was ten beats below max, I had to stop.  I walked about thirty yards and mounted up.  I couldn't do it!  With such a low gear, I couldn't get enough speed with one pedal stroke to get my left foot on the pedal.  I tried going sideways across the road, unsuccessfully.  I gave up and walked maybe another thirty yards until the gradient dropped a little.  Then I was able to clip in and resume the ride.  I still had double digit ramps to get up.  Finally, forty minutes and twenty-seven seconds after I started, I got to the top.
     Half way up, before the wall, Marilane passed me, and further up pulled over.  I assumed she would check me out then meet me at the top before following me back down and picking me up at the bottom.  Somehow she missed me when I passed her going up and was beginning to get worried when I whizzed past on the way down.
     Whiz.  That's the word for the down hill.  I only did a few pedal strokes, after tight curves.  I did a lot of hard braking.  Unlike Hog Pen, there are lots of curves and a rough road surface.  I did manage to max out at 43.5 mph.  At four minutes, twenty-seven seconds to descend, I guess I could have gone faster in spots.  Maybe with disc brakes.  I can tell you the wheels were HOT when I got to the bottom.  Once again I had a feeling of accomplishment.
     One last ride, over Woody to the stone pile and back.  Total for this vacation: 208 miles, 21,100 feet climbed.  The one ride I didn't do was the fifty-four mile loop to the north.  This is a great ride and I sorry to have missed it.  However, given the rain/storms always being in the forecast (and always correct), I don't regret skipping it.  Next year.

Friday, June 23, 2017

ARKANSAS STATISTICS

     I can't say that I'm fascinated by statistics, but perhaps a little curious.  After a ride I'll fill out my spread sheet and look to see if the stats agree with perception.  Occasionally I can see something my body missed.
     Let's start with my HR.  I haven't seen anything higher than 160 for the last couple of years, but I did get it up to 159 earlier, so I'm saying my max is 160.  On the first ride, Thursday, with the heat and humidity and 18% grade, I hit 156.  My graph shows five peaks of 155 in the twenty minute stretch of climbing.  In that twenty minute stretch 13:40 was in Zone 5.  Average HR for the 17.2 mile ride was 129.  I classify that as a hard workout.  We climbed 1168 feet (my computer, yours might say something else).  Average speed was 10.5 with a max of 35.5.  I saw a lot of 3-4 mph going up.
     The next day was much better, with an average HR of 115 with a max of 146.  Only thirteen seconds in Zone 5 and forty-five minutes in Zone 4.  So, basically cruising.  Max speed was 30.9 and the average of 9.8 is skewed due to long stopping.  We had a handful of rollers in the 5% range, and I kept within myself.  Total ascent was 1780 feet so it wasn't like we were flat.  Remember, I skipped the tough climbs.
     Saturday I remembered to divide the two rides, the first segment riding out to the gravel and the second on the gravel loop.  The first twenty-seven miles took us two hours, forty-two minutes and my average HR was 114 with a max of 148, but only nineteen minutes in Zone 4 and 1 minute in Zone 5.  Considering there were six climbs over 10%, with the biggie at 16%, keeping my HR to just 148 was excellent.  Of course, then I sagged for a few miles before the gravel.  1602 feet of ascent.
     The gravel segment was only 10.2 miles, with a total time of one hour twenty-five minutes.  Again only nineteen minutes in Zone 4 and zero time in Zone 5.  Lots of time in Zones 2 and 3.  Average speed of 7.2 as I navigated some really nasty gravel, but I got it up to 26.2 on that downhill.  This part had an ascent of 808 feet, so I had 2410 feet of climbing total.
     Now for the last day, an "easy" day to Bentonville on the bike way.  Of course, the rain/wet played a part.  Two hours, twenty minutes (not counting lunch) for twenty-eight miles, with an average speed of 10.2 and a max of 23.8.  Two and a half minutes in Zone 4, zero in Zone 5.  Average HR was 102 with a max of 137.  We really noodled along.  The wet concrete played a part, but consider we climbed 1225 feet.  That's more than we did on Thursday.  Of course, Thursday was mostly over three miles.
     Here's my take-away on this: How about we take the Bentonville ride on Friday to give us an easy day after the tough intro Thursday ride?  Of course, those who don't do the Thursday ride might not see the logic.  I'm not advocating changing the Thursday ride, even though I had difficulty.  I really liked the gravel portion.
         

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

MIXED MEDIA TOUR IN ARKANSAS

     First, a little background.  I have ridden all over the United States and some in Great Britain and France.  I have a National Geographic map on the wall with pins indicating where I've been.  Last year, I noticed I hadn't ridden in any of the states bordering Texas.  I jumped at a Velo View Bike Tours offering in New Mexico (see previous post).  Dan and Dani of the Austin edition of Velo View hinted that a gravel ride out of Fayetteville, Arkansas might be in the offing.  Velo View is a fantastic tour group and I was the first person signed up when it was officially announced.
     This is billed as a gravel grinder (ride), but as we all know, in order to get to a gravel road, you have to ride (or drive) on asphalt.  I have a very nice, old (2004) mountain bike that I've used on many rail trails, and earlier this year, on the ride to Bastrop (see that posting).  It is comfortable on or off road, but I've never tried it on a single track (except for a quarter mile when the rail trail narrowed).  I had no worries.  An added bonus, Dan and Dani were driving from Austin and allowed the Austin contingent to tag along, so that I didn't have to take my car.
     Dan had several routes planned for our arrival afternoon Thursday, depending on when we got there.  We had to go to plan B, a shorter circuit, in order to clean up and make our 6:00 pm dinner reservation.  As it turned out, I think it was plan C, but that's immaterial.
     Your brain will play tricks on you if you aren't vigilant.  For instance, I'm quite experienced riding rail trails, having almost a dozen under my belt.  I've only done a couple gravel rides, and one was quite smooth, the other mostly so.  Therefore, my brain interpreted this gravel grinder to be similar to a rail trail.  Friends, let me tell you!!  I won't say it was a complete surprise, but it certainly was a shock.  I'm sure those country folk appreciated the fresh, loose, large gravel (small rocks, there must be a real name for it) on the slopes of the road but I did not.  Ok, let's get to the day-by-day.
     Thursday afternoon turned out to be an out-and-back.  Drive to the start, ride a couple of miles on asphalt, then hit the gravel.  I felt good, even with the heat and humidity.  Everyone else rode a 'cross bike.  I looked like I was astride a Clydesdale.  But I had big, wide, studded tired and lots of gears.
Poor Joe suffered the first of four (total, not all today) flats.  We got that fixed and continued on.  This gravel riding isn't bad!  Then we ran out of gravel, took a left turn and started up.  My graph shows 9%, 11%, 12%, a couple of 16% ramps.  18% finished me off.  But then we turned around and had a great downhill.  Of course,  I had nothing left.  My heart-rate stayed ten beats high and I noodled all the way back to the van.  I can do Courtyard and Jester so this climb shouldn't have gotten to me.  I blame it on the humidity and having only water in my bottle (Nuun added the other days).  Total mileage was a measly seventeen, average speed 10.5 mph but I got that Clydesdale up to 35.5 mph on the downhill.
     Our main lodging was the Dickson Street Inn in Fayetteville.  Our rooms were very nice and we had a killer upstairs patio area where we sat and drank beverages and relaxed.  We met the couple from Florida, John and Ruth, and walked to dinner at Bordino's.  Now Shannon has been known to walk us a quarter mile, half mile, or more to eat.  Dani led us across the street and down a short block.  Very upscale restaurant, but lacked an amber beer on their menu.  A great start to this inaugural gravel adventure.
     Friday morning, awake at 2am, heart rate still about ten beats high.  Along about 3am it finally slowed and I dozed off.  The Dickson Inn offers Continental Breakfast, but our plan for today was to sleep in, stroll to Arsaga's at the Depot for fabulous breakfast, then head out on the Savoy Gravel Loop for thirty-nine fun miles.  A slight change of plans had us ride our bikes to Arsaga's and after breakfast jump on the excellent bike trail to get out to the Savoy.
     Another distinction between rail trails and gravel grinders is most of the time you drive to the trail head and spend all of your riding on the trail.  Today, we spent a lot of time on concrete or asphalt.  Also, for the most part, rail trails only have 1-3% grades.  Today were lots of 5%+.  I hung in for a goodly chunk of asphalt miles then sagged for about six before remounting.  Glutton for punishment.  I finished with almost thirty-four.  I blamed it on the humidity.  I wasn't the only one suffering.  John should have sagged with me, but soldiered on.  He seriously bonked and finally was convinced to get in the van.
     Tonight's fancy feast was at The Farmers Table, a short van ride of only a mile.  Another fine dining experience but without an amber on the menu.  So tonight I had wine.  After being told we missed happy hour (with their bottles of wine for $15), I had a glass of house Cabernet.  A few sips into it and the waiter advised they extended happy hour (I suspect just for me and to sell some wine), so after receiving some assurances from my companions that they would help in the consumption, I had him bring me a nice cab.  Dan and Ellie were my helpers.
     An Asside:  I am an experienced cyclist.  But I'm also old and sometimes forgetful, especially of things that have happened in the distant past.  Velo View always includes a small Chamois Butt'r in their packet.  I usually put them away in case some poor unfortunate rider has a problem.  Well, I had a clue on Thursday, with the humidity soaking my kit.  But I didn't recognize it.  After Friday's humid ride, with a similar soaking, my brain finally caught on what my butt had been screaming about.  Saturday and Sunday had me liberally applying the cream.  
     With the heat and especially the humidity affecting their riders, Dan and Dani switched Saturday's ride, from having brunch at Ella's then riding, to an early breakfast at the inn and riding followed by lunch at Ella's.  Well, that was the intention and we all were up early and ready to ride.  Mother Nature entered the picture.  Looking at the radar with the reds and yellows descending upon Fayetteville, and listening to the dire weather report that threatened thunderstorms, we delayed our departure.  This was to be a quick moving line of storms and once through, we would have good weather.  As it turned out, it wasn't as quick as expected.  
     We ended up going back to having brunch at Ella's, sitting in our kits in their upscale dining room, then cycling from there.  Most of this ride was on the bike way or road.  I was hanging in just fine, even though my Garmin showed four climbs over 10%, the big one being 14%, and a couple of smaller ones.  But I wasn't all that perky.  My average speed for this segment was 10.5 mph, but I did get the Clydesdale up to 39.4 mph.  When Dani said she would sag for a few miles, I decided to join her.  As it turned out, only Dan and Joe left our stop on their bikes.  It wasn't long before we saw a wall of a hill.  Given my gears, I probably could have suffered up it without walking.  But I would have paid a dear physical price.  At the top Amy opted (perhaps with a false sense of no more hills) to get back on the bike.  The rest of us stayed put.  A few miles further on, we all stopped at the beginning of the gravel loop.  Joe was in need of a gel, liquid, rest.  Dan was dapper and chipper.
     A slight digression: Dan was forever extolling the scenery on these rides.  He was correct.  But please remember, in order to see this great scenery, you have to CLIMB!
     This was really gravel, not the rail trail smooth stuff.  I had a difficult time holding a straight line.  Fortunately the group had strung out.  You'd try to find a smooth line then hit deep gravel and slide out to the left or right.  Fun!  The road had rolling climbs, my graph has 5 climbs over 10%, with a short 16% being the biggest, but not the hardest.  It traveled along the ridgeline.  About six miles into this riding came a precipitous downhill.  I am a sucker for downhills, just let the wheels roll.  Well I got it up to 26 mph, holding on for dear life and bouncing around.  Then I noticed a slight dogleg right.  Pook, ding-fu!  I took as much of the apex as I could, still not touching the brakes, but praying my studs would dig in and keep me upright.  Once around the corner I could see Dan and Joe at the bottom and cruised on in.  I admit it, that was fun!  I'm still glad I sagged when I did.
We had a good rest and several of us left to get a head start on the last four miles.  It turned out a bit more than that as we immediately took a left instead of a right.  Bonus mile, plus a couple of great pictures of rocks and bridge.  We caught up to the others, and I took the opportunity to sweep behind Ellie.  After several miles I saw the van and some folks off their bikes and others continuing on.  I assumed (duh) the others were just taking a break and would follow and at my speed catch up.  That last mile was a doosy.  Four ramps of 7%, 8%, 12%, and 11% that had deep, big gravel.  Once again thankful for the mountain bike gearing, thick studded tires, and suspension (unlocked for this segment), I slowly reeled myself up each one.  The van came up just as I finished the last one.  John and Ruth were ahead of me, and everyone else was in the van.  A couple hundred yards later we all got in the van and headed back to Fayetteville.  A post-ride recap found unanimous agreement that clockwise was much better than the planned counter-clockwise gravel portion.
     Back in Fayetteville, we cleaned up for our ride to the Apple Blossom Brewing Company.  Would you believe it, a brewing company without an amber.  I picked something else that the waiter suggested.  Another fine dining experience.  But Dani whispered sweet nothings in Dan's ear and he disappeared.  It seems the van had a flat tire.  Eventually it had to be replaced in that a screw was deeply embedded in it.
     Our Sunday ride was a cruise on the Razorback Greenway all the way to Bentonville.  No big climbs, no traffic.  Well, once again the morning radar showed reds and yellows bearing down on Fayetteville.  Once again we delayed departure.  No worries, we had zero time commitments.  With an intermittent drizzle and a clearing radar, we left.  I had my rain jacket on.  The road was still wet, with numerous puddles, and we soon had a brown streak up our backs.  We stopped for lunch in Springdale.  As we left our lunch stop, a rain cloud appeared and dropped a deluge on us.  But before getting really soaked, we happened upon a tunnel in which we took refuge until the rain stopped.  The rest of the journey was uneventful, if you don't count the new section of the bike way that had Dan using dead reckoning until hitting a familiar portion.
    Our accommodations tonight was the posh 21c Museum Hotel.  We might look bedraggled, but we had really fine lodgings.  We even had bike lockers.  This Caddy is covered with pennies, nickels, and dimes.  The group decided we had time to clean up and go to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, so we did.  Marilane sees to it that I have my fair share of culture whenever we go touring.  I've been to great museums in New York, Washington, Paris, London, Rome.  I wasn't expecting this to be on par with them.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The presentation was very good.  They had the Norman Rockwell Rosie the Riveter painting, an Andy Warhol, a Picasso.  I was really impressed with a Michael Waugh triptych of three animals in a charred landscape.  But the whole thing was handwritten script from the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.  It seems the artist took issue with the premise of the book and this was his response.  I wandered and wondered through the Modern Art section.  I detest Modern Art.  However, the one that used embroidery thread was intriguing, as was the shoe laces.  Enough culture for one evening.
     Tonight we dined at Oven & Tap.  They had four ambers on the menu.  I'm quite familiar with Abita Amber and picked that one.  Then I switched to Pecan (which was Ruth's pick).  Both quite satisfying.  Poor pick of dinner.  I chose the ham chop.  Can't win them all.
     After dinner we wandered the square, going past the Walton Museum and the original Walton store.  Then strolled back to the hotel to sit outside for awhile.  Dani (or Dan) had purchased a six pack of amber beer that morning, so that I wouldn't have the whole trip without one.  But I couldn't hang out past one beer, the trip had really tired me out.
     Let me sum up: Go to the Velo View website and take a tour.  It might not be what you expect, but it will be a great experience.  I've taken four and have yet to be disappointed.

PS - I left some stuff out, some on purpose others because I didn't remember.  And as for the title, this was gravel, asphalt, concrete, and HILLS.  Don't come expecting rail trail gradients.
   
   
   
   

Friday, June 9, 2017

SENIOR GAMES NATIONALS IN BIRMINGHAM

     First of all, it wasn't actually in Birmingham.  The time trials were at the Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama.  Secondly, I'm starting out with my pre-race paranoia.
     Two of my buddies, Dean and Tom, independently went to Pelham to eyeball the course.  They both came back with dire warnings.  To put it succinctly, too many hills and a sketchy turn-around for the 10k and the 5k was an out-and-back with the turn-around on a downhill section.  Such a hue and cry were made that the course was moved so as to be a slight uphill for the turn.  Why they wouldn't make it a straight course is beyond me.
   
Anyhow, given this information, I slapped my aerobars on the road bike and shifted my cogset from the road bike to the time trial Zipps.  The Zipp had an 11-25 and the Rolf a 12-32.  My plan was to race with the Zipps no matter which bike I used and stay in the big ring for the climbs.
     We stayed overnight in Vicksburg, Mississippi and arrived in Birmingham, picked up my packet and drove to Pelham Sunday afternoon.  I went out to survey the course myself.  Plan A was to race on the road bike to power up the hills, so for my preview I pulled out the Roark (an extremely nice custom made titanium purchased in 2001).  The 10k starts on a slight grade which quickly moved to 2% then 8%, then a downhill, then a 7% climb, for the first half mile.  Then some downhill and flats before hitting a 7% and 10% climb around the two mile mark.  The last mile before the turnaround was mostly downhill, with a little 4% climb before hitting about a hundred yards of rough road and loose gravel at the narrow turnaround.  Then back.  My graph shows seven climbs 4% or more.  Definitely not a Senior Games time trial sort of course.  However, I spent a lot of time in the aerobars and decided I'd race on my time trial bike.  Many riders opted for their road bikes.
     The next morning was overcast with a threat of rain later in the morning.  We arrived at 7:30 for my 9:17 start, found a parking spot and set up the trainer.  I had good luck in Hempstead with warming up on the trainer and decided to go with that routine here.  Without a time constraint, and Marilane keeping me informed on the time, the warm up was stress-free.  At the appropriate time, about 9:05 I headed toward the start line, about a half mile away (another irritation, not being able to park close to the start).  It was humid and I was pleased that they had PowerAde at the start.  They have upgraded to chip timing, for which I was grateful.
     I started well, moved up to 87 rpm then gradually slowed to a low of 67 as the grade became steeper.  My heart rate, on the other hand, jumped to 154 (max of 159), definitely in the red.  I kept reminding myself this was a long (relatively) race and take it easy to bring the heart rate down.  Well, 150 is down.  That is where it stayed for the rest of the race.  I hit 34 mph on the first downhill, and had a bit of concern in that there was a slight turn in the road.  I stopped pedaling for a few strokes but stayed aero.  I understand several folks behind me ran off the road there.  I felt good and powered through the rough road, taking my lumps.  I really believe I made up some time here.  I gingerly did the turn-around and sprinted up to speed.  Around the 4-mile mark I topped out at 38 mph, followed by 10 mph on the last hill.  I still had some oomph for the last half mile of downhill reaching 35 mph.
     I felt this was an excellent performance, and was confident of top-10, maybe as high as 5th.  It took about an hour for the results to be posted, in that I started close to the beginning of our age group.  I was astonished to see my name in the second spot.  Wow!  This hilly course worked to my advantage.
     The guys who raced later in the day had to contend with rain, and the 5k on Tuesday was postponed to Wednesday.  This might have been my undoing.  I over-thought the race.  The start line was moved all the way up the first hill, so we had about a tenth of a mile to get up to speed before hitting the 8%.  I didn't pre-ride the course, relying on my memory.  Common wisdom says that with this being a downhill-uphill ride, it would be won on the uphill.  That seemed to dictate being on the road bike.  I decided to go with the road bike, with the Zipp 404 on the front, but my Rolf rear wheel, which now had the 11 cog to give me more speed on the downhill portion.  Ah, plans.  As I prepared the bike on Wednesday evening, I cleaned the mud off the Rolf.  What was that?  Was that a hole and could I see a bit of tube?  Pook, Ding-fu!  Decision time: put the Zipp 808 with the 12-32 on.
     During warm-up I could tell the legs didn't have the same zip.  I left for the start line too soon, so arrived about ten minutes before my time.  Oh well, it is what it is.  The start went well, and I got it up to speed before the climb, just a tenth of a mile from the start.  I felt ok.  Reality set in on the downhill.  My 10k speed of 34 mph was only 31 mph today.  The other downhill sections were similarly low.  The turn-around was narrow, but at least clean asphalt.  On the last uphill, at 2.7 miles, I hit a low of 7 mph.  I don't feel too bad at that, because several of the guys I talked to, who are younger and faster, said they saw 8 mph at that spot.  From there to the finish I could only bring it up to 28 mph.  I wasn't too thrilled about this.
     As it turned out, I managed 8th place, less than two-tenths out of 7th(to the same person who beat me in Dallas), and six seconds out of 5th. I wasn't close to the podium.  Lesson learned: stay with the time trial bike, stay with a skin suit (I wore my Texas A&M kit, which garnered kudos but was too loose), preview the course every time.  And, check your tires before packing up for a trip.
     My goal for these nationals was to finish in the top ten, so I was ok with my eighth place and thrilled with second.  Now my goal is to get serious about getting faster.  Stay tuned to see how I go about this and if it works out as planned.

Monday, May 22, 2017

ADVERTISEMENT FOR JEMISON CYCLING

     There are several cycling forays which stand out in my cycling history, although I've had many outstanding adventures.  Cycling coast to coast in fifty-two days was endurance; Land's End to John O'Groats likewise; The Blue Ridge Parkway easily the most difficult.  But the two tours with Marty and Jill Jemison are the most memorable.
     In conjunction with Le Tour de France, my first adventure was a week in 2006 riding in the Pyrenees.  You can read about it in Bicycling Journeys with Jerry.  Among other highlights on this trip was about a half an hour talking with Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett. Marty specializes in good food and wine and getting us in with the riders before or after the race, along with cycling the cols.  In 2008 we did the Alps, details of which are in Gotta Go!  Cycling Vacations in Fantastic Locations.
     But what is special about the Jemison's is that they actually form friendships with all of their clients and you are treated as special guests on and after their tours.  I'm sure Marty doesn't remember the advice he gave me about time trials in 2008.  But I do, took it to heart, and have been following his formula ever since.  And that brings me to what prompted me to write this post nine years after the last time we saw each other.
   
First the background.  Our ride that day was to ascend Col d'Agnel, the highest border crossing in Europe.  Once at the top, we would dismount and watch Le Tour riders go by, joining the vast crowd of screaming cyclophiles.  We were running late, I had only my wind jacket and no time to go back to get anything warmer.  Half way up the climb it began to get chilly.  Then wet.  Then downright cold.  Then, the gendarmes made us dismount, about a mile from the top.  We circumvented that, and made it to the tavern at the top.  I was shivering uncontrollably.  Jill gave me her jacket, Marty rounded up hot chocolate for the group.  The tavern had a big screen tv, and I opted not to go out to cheer on the suffering riders as they passed.  Once gone, everybody started to descend the mountain.  We waited for a break in the rain/sleet, then made a break for it.  The plan was for me and Marty to go first, Jill and some others to follow.  Seconds after we started, we hit more rain/sleet.  I gave up my lead to Marty.  He kept looking back to make sure I was with him, and each time I was he let it out a little more.  We were really moving, passing cars, getting soaked.  Halfway down the rain stopped, the sun came out, and it was noticibly warmer.  On with the prompt.
     The socks I was wearing (Jemison socks) were filthy.  It took at least five years of washing before the grime came out.  This year I emailed Marty to recount the adventure, and that the socks finally had worn out.   On Saturday, the day I won my time trial, these arrived in the mail.
     If you have ever thought about cycling in Europe, go with the best, Jemison Cycling.