Sunday, October 17, 2010

From 0 to 13.1 in 10 months (less 3)

Some people need to be challenged. Count me among them. Without some ridiculous goal to achieve, I am at loose ends. Last year my goal was to ride my bicycle 1200 kilometers in less than 90 hours. I did it, and came close to killing myself in the process. I learned a couple of things from that experience. One, my capacity for enduring self-inflicted pain is almost limitless. Two, I need to do something other than just ride my bike.

Don't get me wrong, I love riding my bike, and cycling will always be my number one sport. But endurance cycling demands an extraordinary time commitment, and I am at a point in my life where the demands on my time are ever-increasing. So when my best friend Judy began posting on Facebook about running half marathons and, at around the same time, my friend Susan told me about this great half marathon she had run in Vancouver, I thought "Hmm. A half marathon--I wonder if I could do that?'

There was only one slight problem. I've never been much of a runner. There was that one semester of track my sophomore year of high school (I'd moved to a new town and was looking for ways to fit in - silly me) and a 5K charity "run" I've done the last few years, for which I'd start training a couple of weeks ahead of time, and limp around like Captain Ahab for a couple of weeks after, but none of that really counted as running with a capital "R."

So I knew that if I were going to get serious about running, I could not just tie on a pair of trainers and pound down the sidewalk. I needed a plan. Fortunately, in this era of the Interwebs, running plans are a dime a dozen. The plan I chose to follow was recommended to me by pal Susan, who swore by it. It is a "walk/run" program that was developed by a Canadian Sports Council, and it is designed to ease a body into the destructive sport of running without being, well, too destructive.

First step: get a new pair of running shoes. I went to a local running store that offers a hands-on (well, actually feet-on) approach to fitting shoes. While I ran barefoot on a treadmill, a sales associate videotaped my gait and foot strike and, based on what she saw, determined what kind of support (or nonsupport) I needed. She then brought out several pairs of shoes from different makers, and I test ran each pair up and down the block outside the store, finally settling on a pair of trainers that felt pretty good.

I had my shoes. I had my book. I had almost a year in which to train. It was time to take my first steps toward 13.1 miles worth of such steps.

The run/walk program is the athletic version of the frog in the frying pan. Each session is made up of intervals of walking and running (duh), with early workouts being comprised more of walking than of running. For instance, for the first session, I ran one minute and walked two minutes, repeated 12 times. The idea of the plan is that after 13 weeks, you'll be ready to run a 10K. With that base, you can then train for longer runs, such as a half marathon. Although Susan thought that I would find the first few weeks "too easy" (I think she thinks I am more athletic than I really am), I found the plan to be just right and thoroughly enjoyable, despite the fact that it was November and most of my runs were in the cold, damp dark. I will confess that some days were just TOO cold and damp for me to strap on the shoes, which meant backing up and starting some of the early weeks over, but that was okay, because it just gave me more time to get used to the idea of running on a regular basis. As the weeks passed, my walking intervals got shorter, my running intervals got longer, and the overall session time got longer.

When registration opened in January for the Girlfriends' Half, I was far enough into the program that I was confident (okay, sort of confident) that by October I could go the distance, and so I signed up. I also convinced Judy to come up from San Diego for the run. Biking partner in crime Lynne also decided to go for it. She's been running forever, but mostly short-distance stuff (5Ks, 10Ks). A half would be a new experience for her, too. Susan also signed up, along with her friend Jill. So there I was, 10 months to go to my first half, with plenty of time to prepare. Cue foreshadowing, because we all know what the Ploughman Poet had to say about best-laid schemes.

January and February were pretty cold and wet, and I missed a few sessions, and so by March I was still at week 11 in the program, even though I had started back in November. At the end of the first week in March, I began to feel some pain in my left ankle as I ran. I self-diagnosed an overuse injury of some sort; perhaps peroneal tendonitis. To go along with my self-diagnosis, I self-prescribed rest, ice, compression, elevation and lots of ibuprofen. After a week, it felt better, and I decided to try a short run on it. It was a very short run. About 30 seconds in, my ankle exploded.

Yeah, it felt just like that. I could barely make it back to the house. Time to call in the professionals. One MRI later, and I was advised that I was the proud parent of a fibular stress fracture. The cause? The smart money is on catastrophic running shoe failure. An examination revealed that my left shoe had lost almost all its heel rigidity. I later learned that the brand I'd been wearing has a rep for breaking down more quickly than comparable brands, and shoe breakdown can lead to bone breakdown.

The stress fracture had me hobbled for a good 12 weeks. And by "good," I mean, of course, "horrendous." Although the doctor had put me in a walking boot, I was instructed not to walk more than absolutely necessary (i.e. from office to bathroom) for the first 4 weeks. After that, I was allowed to swim, but only with a pull buoy; kicking was a no go. After 8 weeks, I was allowed to kick while swimming, walk short distances in the boot, and ride my bike as long as it did not hurt. Still no running, however. Finally, the first week of June I was cleared to start the walk/run program again, but I had to confine myself for the first few weeks at least to the forgiving surface local high school's running track.

So, there I was with just about 16 weeks to go before the half marathon, and I was just getting restarted on a plan designed to have me running a 10K in 13 weeks. Hmm. Oh well, in for a penny of pain, in for a pound.

First step, procure better running shoes. Said shoes procured, I devoted myself to getting back up to speed. Well, not so much speed as distance. For the first 10 weeks, I stuck to the plan religiously. I ran on the track, I was careful not to overshoot time or distance, and I babied my ankle. After 10 weeks, I continued to follow the set intervals, but I began to add a few more to each session, so as to get used to running for longer periods and longer distances. In August, I tested myself with a 10-mile trail run in Tillamook, and was pleased to find that I was able to run the entire distance and not be the last one to finish (my only goals). By September I was running between 20 and 24 miles a week, with one run of 10 to 12 miles each week. I no longer worried about being able to finish the half, and was starting to think about how quickly I might finish. On short runs, I averaged between 9.5 to 10 minutes per mile, but I was not sure I could keep that up for 13.1 miles. I decided I'd be happy with a 2.5 hour finish.

Flash forward, and it is the week before the race. Time to taper, a concept with which I am completely unfamiliar. Fortunately, I did not have to worry about forcing myself to take it easy, because my body decided to take matters into its own hands. Yup, six days before the longest run of my life, and my right hip decided it no longer wanted to cooperate. I have a chronic piriformis issues related to an injury from a few years back, and at first I assumed that was the culprit. But the pain was slightly different, and there seemed to be some sort of impingement going on in the joint. Shazbat!

Rest, ice, ibuprofen. Rummage through medicine cabinet for ancient muscle relaxants. More rest, more ice, more ibuprofen. By Wednesday, I could jog (plod) on without too much pain, but stopping was problematic. If I stopped, my hip would freeze and getting it to move again was excruciatingly painful. More rest, more ice, more ibuprofen. By Friday, I could start and stop and start again without (too much) pain, and figured I'd be okay for the race. But I was back to just hoping to finish, and not thinking about how quickly I might finish.

Sunday, race day, dawned clear and COLD. 35 degrees an hour before the start, and Judy and I were freezing, but excited. I busted out the wool arm warmers and warm gloves, but I knew that once I started running I would warm up.

Best Girlfriends Ever

There were 2300 women registered for the race, and many of them were walking the course. The organizers did a poor job of staging the runners and walkers, however, so the first few miles were a mosh pit. I ended up running what was for me a ridiculously fast first mile, bobbing and weaving around the pack, just to get away from all those people. Once I was clear of the main crowd, I was able to settle down and find a groove. I am one of those runners who likes to have a soundtrack, so I had my iPod with me, set to shuffle. I did not have it turned up so loudly that I could not hear what was going on around me, however, and so was able to hear the woman who ran up next to me to offer unsolicited advice about my breathing. Apparently it was not deep enough for her taste. I thanked her politely and proceeded to ignore her. I've had enough breathing problems over the years to be full aware of my lung capacity and when I've maxed it out. But, hey, she was only trying to help.

For the first eight or so miles, I averaged well under 10 minutes per mile. But around Mile 9, the course got a little more difficult. There were some (in retrospect) teeny tiny hills which didn't seem all that teeny tiny at the time, and I was definitely starting to tire. At the end of the tenth mile, there was a slightly longer, slightly steeper hill, and my left knee suddenly decided to complain loudly about its mistreatment (my hip, on the other hand, remained silent throughout. Go figure). But once I reached the top and the course flattened back out, my knee calmed down. Starting at about mile 5, I'd decided to walk for one minute every thirty minutes, in order to choke down an energy gel and some water. I'd trained both with and without gels and had not really noticed a difference in how I felt or performed, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have them this time, because I was putting so much more effort into the run than I had into my training. I also walked through each water station (every 2 miles) in order to get a drink. Between Mile 12 and Mile 13, the temptation to add more walking intervals became stronger and stronger, but I resisted the urge. At this point, despite slowing down significantly after 8 miles, I was on track for a 2 hour 15 minute finish if only I could hold on to my pace. I was not hurting anywhere, but my energy stores were clearly depleted. I began to get cold again, even though the sun was warm, and so I put on my gloves and pulled up my arm warmers. I was not lifting my feet as high as usual, and stubbed my toe a couple of times. But I kept going. I even had enough left for a sprint finish, even though because the course took an uphill turn at the very end my sprint became more of a stumble.

Official result: 2 hours, 14 minutes, 59 seconds. It took me a good 4 seconds to get my Garmin to shut of, so it had me pegged at 02:15:03. Whatever.

Was I happy with my result? Damn straight.

My friends were happy, too.


4 Tired Girlfriends

And in case you were wondering, this is the playlist that got me through it (but not necessarily in this order and some things may be missing - I am working from memory here):

Take Me To The River (cover) - Annie Lennox
Tu Mens - April March
London Calling - The Clash
She's Like Heroin to Me - Gun Club
Do it Better - Imperial Teen
Baby and The Band - Imperial Teen
Sick Organism - John Wesley Harding
Still Photo - John Wesley Harding
The People's Drug - John Wesley Harding
What a Life - Juliana Hatfield
OK OK - Juliana Hatfield
Annie - Elastica
Little Sister - Dwight Yoakum
Up the Bracket - The Libertines
What a Waster - The Libertines
Heaven & Back -The Mekons
Holy War -Matthew Sweet
Cosmic Jive - The Minus 5
Lies of the Living Dead - The Minus 5
Talk of the Town -The Pretenders
Let's Go Crazy (cover) - The Riverboat Gamblers
Sugar Cane - Sonic Youth
Youth Against Fascism - Sonic Youth
Me & Mia - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Walking to Do - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
The One Who Got Us OUt - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Teenage Kicks - The Undertones
Love Parade - The Undertones
Lawyers, Guns & Money - Warren Zevon
Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon
Mr. Suit - Wire
Act of the Apostle - Belle and Sebastian
Blues Are Still Blue -Belle and Sebastian
One Way or Another - Blondie
Armalite Rifle - Gang of Four
Man in The Sand - Gordon Gano & The Ryans
Johnny Feelgood - Liz Phair
Persuasion -Patti Smith
Do The Strand -Roxy Music
Books Are Burning - XTC
Heaven in a Black Leather Jacket - The 6ths
Pillow Fight - The 6ths

What wasn't on the playlist, but should have been, was this song, because, dammit, it's true.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Momma's Got a Brand New Bag . . . and Trailer to Haul it With

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's annual "Alice B. Toeclips" awards dinner and auction. I have a reputation for being a sucker for charity auctions, especially when the bidding at said auctions is facilitated by a hosted bar as was this one.

The auction booklet contained a number of interesting items, but one in particular caught my eye. The "Ultimate Bike Commuter" package offered a 3-Speed "city" bike from Linus, a backpack pannier from North St. Bags, and, most enticing of all, Burley's new Travoy bike trailer.

For the last few years, I have been working on decreasing my dependence on my car for anything but really long trips or really big hauling projects. I know that it is unlikely that I will ever go car free, but I want to get as close to that ideal as possible. As it is, I usually ride my bike twice as many miles in a year as I drive my car, but I would like to see that ratio increase (or is it decrease? I can never keep my math terms straight. But you know what I mean).

Anyway, I'd looked at bakfiets and other cargo bikes, and I'd looked at Xtracycles, but none of them really suited my needs, and they were awfully damn expensive. Then I read a review of the Travoy, and it sure seemed like it would fill the bill. Thus, my excitement when I saw it in the Alice auction catalog.

I arrived at the auction with my American Express card in my hand and a number I was willing to go to in my head (and I was NOT going to go above the number, I swear). I really thought the bidding would be hot and heavy for the package, but was surprised when it came down to a battle between me and one other person, who gave up fairly easily (at one point I got confused and bid against myself, but the auctioneer kindly told me I did not have to do that). In short order, I was the proud owner of the Travoy. And yeah, yet another bike. More about the bike later.

A few days after the auction, I got to put the Travoy to its first test. I had an oral argument scheduled in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in downtown Portland, and the file for the case was HUGE. I never would have been able to fit it all in the panniers I usually use for my work commute. But they plopped down into the big black bag that comes standard on the Travoy, no problem. I then threw in my bike locks, my lunch, and my "court" clothes and shoes, and I was ready to go. I had not had a practice run and was hoping that the Travoy would be as agile and stable as advertised. The last thing I needed was to show up in court with road rash. To my amazement, I could not even tell that there was something attached to the back of the bike. I had thought that turns and hills would be a challenge, but Noooooooooooo - there was nothing but sheer awesomeness.

At the office, I simply unhooked the Travoy, folded down the attaching arm and rolled right into the building. I then unpacked and changed and headed for court. A more-than-successful "test" run!

Next up - Grocery Shopping! In the past, I have relied on my two panniers and a big rear basket for my Trader Joe's runs, but that setup was never very satisfactory. For one, the panniers really did not hold much, and when they and the basket were fully loaded, the bike was pretty unstable; I had to ride very, very slowly to make sure that I did not fall over. Another problem had to to with my own absent mindedness. The basket sides extend a couple of inches beyond the rear rack on either side and, more than once, when I dismounted from the bike I would swing my leg up and into the basket, tumbling it and its contents to the ground.

I prepared for my shopping trip by heading over to Bike 'N Hike to pick up a set of the "Market Bags" that Burley offers as accessories. The lower bag is about the size of two standard paper grocery bags sitting side by side, and the upper bag is about the size of a small messenger bag (or really big fanny pack). The lower bag is one large compartment, but the upper bag has a padded pouch for a cell phone or something (I guess), a zipper pouch for things that need to be contained by a zipper, and a rear pouch with a Velcro closure for other small stuff that maybe is not as important as the stuff that needs to be zipped in.

Bags installed, it was time to head for the market.

TJ's is uphill from my house, so I figure this would be a really good test of (1) the drag effect of towing a trailer uphill (even though it would be empty, it's still extra weight and size) and (2) the potential daredevil effect of going downhill with a trailer full of groceries. The uphill part turned out to be just fine. I was using the 3-speed, and was able to get up the hill without dropping into granny.

Once again, upon arrival at my destination, I simply unhitched and rolled the Travoy into the market, where it doubled as my shopping cart. I proceeded to go up and down the aisles using hurling products into the bags with abandon.

A watermelon? Sure. ooh, look at that cantaloupe; in it goes. Cereal? Check. Ginormous GLASS bottle of olive oil? Check. Canned beans and marinara sauce? Check. Cereal? Check. Cauliflower, avocados, cherries, bananas, a couple bags of edamame, peanut butter, cherry tomatoes, pasta, dog biscuits? Check, check and check.

At the counter, the cashier was duly impressed, especially after I demonstrated all the features and benefits (my former life as a retail seller of furniture and kitchen gadgets coming to the fore). Groceries purchased and re-loaded, it was time to make the return trip home. I rolled on out to the parking lot, rehitched the Travoy to the incredibly convenient seat-post pin, and headed off down the hill.

As previously noted, when shopping with panniers and basket, I always had to take this part of the trip very, very slowly for fear of crashing. Not so with the Travoy. I zipped down the hill with nary a problem. The all-terrain wheels took every pavement deficiency with aplomb. I arrived home intact, as did the groceries (I hadn't even bruised a banana!)

I have since used the Travoy to haul many more court files and groceries and could not be happier. Well, actually, I could be happier. I need the rain shield, because without it things can get awfully wet (so far I have just not gone out in the rain with it), and I could really use a spare seat tube hitch, so I don't have to move the hitch back and forth between bikes (for those hills that are just too steep for the 3-speed).

Ah, yes, the 3-speed.

There was much laughter at our auction table as we tried to figure out a way that I could rationalize coming home with yet another bicycle. And yes, I know that there are many people with more bikes in their garage than I have owned in my entire life who see no need to rationalize their collections, but I have a slightly more sensible husband who does not fall for the "different horses for different courses" excuse. The bike that came with the package was a basic road design, but the BTA representative told me that the bike shop had said that I could get any style of the Linus bike I wanted, including the mixte. Aaaah, a mixte. I did not have a mixte in my collection, and I sensed an opening. GREG could ride the mixte if he wanted, so it would be a bike for both of us, right? (I chose to ignore the fact that Greg has YET to ride the bicycle that I bought for him last year . . .). So, yes, I have yet another bike. One that Greg will probably never ride. But he COULD if he wanted to. And surprisingly enough, he seems to be okay with it.

And, yes, I've got a brand new bag. Sing it!, James . . .

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quick!, Someone Call a Doctor. Oops, Too Late.

This is my friend Susan.

Susan used to be a perfectly normal superhuman. She ran half-marathons, entered triathlons, all while running her own business. Then something terrible happened. Susan caught Rando Fever. It started innocuously enough (or at least seemingly so). In the last couple of years, Susan joined me and Lynne to ride various populaire courses, the 100-kilometer events that randonneurs use to suck the unsuspecting casual rider into their nefarious cult. The next thing she knew, she was riding a 200. And then a 300. And then last month she rode her first 600.

But the sign that she had truly caught the brain fever and made the leap into madness was when Lynne and I received this e-mail last week:

"Either of you want to ride a perm on [Saturday] 6/12? I've ridden brevets 3 months in a row now. I can't take a day off work to do the Wine Country on 6/15 (Tuesday), but I *could* do a perm on 6/12."

Yes, you read that right. She said she'd "ridden brevets 3 months in a row now," and wanted to do one in June. She's now on the hunt for an R-12, something only the truly Rando-sick attempt.

As fellow sufferers, Lynne and I were quick to enable Susan's slide into sickness. Susan had suggested a route that follows the covered bridges roads around Scio, but that's a fairly tough route and I am only just now getting back into shape after my forced "vacation." Also, we had no guarantees about the weather, and in bad weather the Scio route can be a bear. So we opted instead for the Three Prairies route, a regular winter perm because it is flat and low-elevation. Even in craptacular weather it is doable.

So we sent in our registration forms and started watching the weather reports to see how much rain gear we would need. On Tuesday, the forecasters started talking about sunshine and temperature in the 80s. I refused to think about it, not wanting to jinx it. But Susan kept sending e-mails with little smiley-faced sunshine graphics from the Weather Channel. It was hard not to get our hopes up. Through Thursday it was still pretty damp, though, and Friday was overcast all day. I was not optimistic. But late Friday evening the clouds began to clear and by the time I woke up Saturday morning the sky was clear and blue. My bag of gear suddenly became significantly lighter. TRFKAF ditched his Showers Pass jacket.

We met up at the public parking lot in Newberg at 6:45 AM. It was about 45 degrees and clear, and there was some discussion of whether we needed to at least start out with limb warmers. We all opted for arm warmers but left our leg warmers in the car. Then it was off to the Thriftway to collect our first time stamp of the day before heading southwest to Dallas by way of Dayton, Amity and Perrydale.

We had a pretty good tailwind and so we cruised along at about 19 mph on the flats (much slower on the hills of course) and after a brief stop in Amity to offload fluids, we reached Dallas in what was for us record time. We stopped at the Safeway to get another time stamp and some snacks. It's a good thing that we had arrived with time to spare, because only two cashiers were on duty and the check-out lines were so long that they snaked back into the food aisles. I am thinking that the two management types that were just hanging out chatting in the service center could have maybe, just freaking MAYBE. come over to help out, but noooooooo. But we finally got our food and receipts, slathered on more sunscreen (!!) and turned back north for the return to Newberg.

Because we had a wind assist on the way down, we were assuming that we'd be fighting wind on the way back. But it was a quartering headwind, so was not as bad as it could have been. But we did a little pace-line work anyway, and so were able to maintain fairly decent speeds. Not that any of us is really big enough to either block much wind or create much draft. But every little bit helps. We were back in Newberg before we knew it, ready for Loop #2, but not until we'd had some more snacks.

The second loop on the Three Prairies perm heads southeast to Mt. Angel. The winds were picking up, and we were surprised that the seemed to be coming from the east; they should have been coming from the west. But they weren't too bad, and we soon turned out of them. Sort of. We crossed the Willamette River on the HWY 219 bridge, a crossing that I absolutely despise. The pavement is bad, the shoulder is narrow and debris filled, and semi-trailers whip past at 65 mph. I much prefer the I-5 crossing of the river on the Boone Bridge, but that was way out of our way. Just across the river we turned off onto Champoeg Road and made our way toward the St. Paul Highway, which we would take down into the French Prairie (Prairie #2 of the Three) as we eventually wound our way to Mt. Angel.

By this time it was HOT. The thermometer on my cyclometer was reading in the upper-80s. That was partly reflected road heat but, as Lynne pointed out, the road heat was reflecting on us. But it was so beautiful out, and such a treat to finally not be wearing ten layers of sopping wet gear, that I really did not mind. I was just hoping my sunscreen would work. In Mt. Angel we all got cold drinks and stood in the shade. We were on target for a 10-hour 200, which would be a personal best time for Lynne (at least that s what she insisted; both Susan and I had thought she'd already had a sub-10 brevet, but she would know best). Anyway, I pushed them to get going because I wanted to ensure that Lynne got that PB, even if it killed her.
(yes, Randos are a sick and sometimes cruel tribe).

I had not factored in the winds. At this point we were encountering thermal convection, and so the wind was in our face no matter which way we turned. We were also beginning to fade (or at least I was) after riding 100 miles at an average speed of above 16mph. And it was HOT HOT HOT.

But is was also beautiful. Mt. Hood was in full glory, and at one point we could just see the peak of Mt. Jefferson in the distance. As we looped our way back from Mt. Angel to Newberg through Gervais and Butteville, much in-motion photography was being practiced.

Champoeg State Park is about seven miles from the end of the course. I had run low on water, and really needed a cold drink (and some strategically-applied baby powder) and so suggested a pit stop. Lynne and Susan were happy to oblige. At the visitor center shop we got cold pop and a bag of potato chips and sat in the shade for a while watching a mama barn swallow fly in and out of her nest in the eaves with food for her chick. We were no longer looking at a sub-10 hour time, but no one seemed too upset about it. Chips and soda consumed, and more sunscreen applied, we once again saddled up and rode out.

The last six miles to Newberg has some small rollers, and after the river crossing there's a short climb. We were all tiring and so began to slow down and split up a bit. But we nevertheless rolled into the Thriftway parking lot at 5:15, just a quarter hour over that ten-hour goal. Considering the heat and the fact that both Lynne and I are in still in "come back" mode and Susan had both a cold AND allergies, it was not a bad finishing time at all.

Lynne and Susan headed over to Burgerville for strawberry milkshakes, but I had a date with Greg for beer at the Apex Bar and enormous plates of vegan Mexican food from Los Gorditos. So I made my home, showered, struggled into a pair of compression tights and headed out for dinner and drinks with my man. A great ending to a great day.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

30% Chance of Rain = 100% Chance of Lunacy

("Geez, Cecil, could you be a little MORE heavy handed with the foreshadowing?"

"Hmm, I don't think so, no.")

Anyhoo, as I was saying, it seemed like a good idea. After my forced "rest" period, I needed to start upping my mileage on the bike and I needed to do so pronto. I had not ridden a full century since January, and my quads were starting to look and feel decidedly slack. Given that I had recently celebrated my birthday, and given that Team Bag Balm has an informal tradition of "birthday rides," I figured I'd organize one for the weekend of May 22-23. Weather dependent, of course. I chose the "Bridge of the Gods" route because it is a TBB favorite (and one of my personal favorites), and sent out the call to the herd. The Usual Suspect was, of course, the first to respond. Dave E. chimed in, but the rest of the herd were otherwise occupied. I e-mailed friend Steve, and he quickly signed up, and said he'd bring a friend or two.

I still had not decided whether to ride on Saturday or Sunday. The weather the preceding week was less than optimal for riding. Buckets of rain, and howling winds. But by Wednesday all the forecasts were in agreement that Sunday would not be bad. Only a 30% chance of light rain in the morning, cloudy and upper 50s in the afternoon. Heck, for Oregon in May, that's practically sunbathing weather. I made the call: On Sunday we ride.

Blast-off time was set for 9:30 Sunday morning from the front entrance of the McMenamin brothers' Edgefield complex in Troutdale. Lynne would ride from her house near Beaverton to my house in SE Portland, and together we would ride the 13 miles from my house to Troutdale. That way she would put in 200K for the day, and I would have my century.

Saturday evening brought with it multiple e-mail exchanges with Lynne: Which bike: the heavy, fully-fendered randonneuse, or the lighter, fender-free speedster? Bulky rain gear, or lightweight windbreaker? Long johns, knickers or shorts? Winter boats or sandals? Fleece socks or wool?

After reviewing multiple weather reports and radar images, I chose the light bike, and the light clothing. No fenders, no extra socks, no extra gloves, and the lightest rain jacket I own. The one concession I made to the elements was to pack a pair of Endura waterproof gloves, mainly because they helped fend off Raynaud's symptoms on cool mornings. I was feeling lucky.

Lynne arrived at my house just before 8:00. She, too, had chosen the non-rando bike and minimal gear. After some last-minute faffing, we rode off toward Troutdale. As if on cue, it immediately began to rain. But it was a very light mist; the kind that it more refreshing than troublesome, so we did not care. We wound our way east on side streets as long as we could, then hopped over to SE Division, 182nd and Halsey. About a mile from Edgefield we rolled over some glass, and I shortly perceived that squishy "yep, I'm going flat" feeling in my rear tire. Dang! Well, I'm pretty good at changing flats. and it was only 9:15, so I was not concerned. I neglected to realize, however, that I had not yet had a flat on this bike (it is less than a year old) and the tire was pretty much welded to the rim after almost 2000 miles of riding. THREE tire levers and a lot of swearing later, I finally popped the tire off the rim and changed out the tube. It was MUCH easier to get the tire back on the rim, and we were soon on our way.

We reached the designated meeting point shortly before 9:30, and Dave E., Steve, and Steve's friend Tim joined us shortly thereafter. Steve told us that another rider, Jeff, had said he would join us, but he did not know where Jeff was. He also did not know what Jeff looked like, or what kind of car he drove, because Jeff was actually only a friend of a friend. Steve did have Jeff's cell phone number, however, and so he started calling and leaving messages. Just as he was leaving an "Okay, we're starting out west toward the I-205 bike path if you want to try to catch up with us" message, I saw a rider coming toward us from the lower parking lot.

"Are you Jeff?"


"Great! You can ignore all your voice mail messages!"

And then we were six. Giddy-UP!

We headed east from Edgefield on Halsey, turned north on Graham toward the Troutdale airport, looped around the airport and headed west on Marine Drive toward the I-205 bridge over the Columbia River, occasionally dropping down to the levee bike path to better avoid heavy truck traffic. We had a wind assist, and clipped along fairly quickly. The I-205 bridge crossing is never fun; the path runs down the center of the freeway and it is loud and dirty. And it's long, over two miles. I am always relieved to drop back down into the woods on the other side. The bridge is a slight hill, so our group separated a bit, but we met up on the other side. Once were all together, it was time to turn back east.

The first section of the ride on the Washington side follows Old Highway 14, above the railroad grade and below the present highway. We are talking some truly bad pavement here. Cracked and pitted cement, potholes filled with grass, loose gravel - all sorts of fun. At Camas we turned off the old highway and wound our way through town around the super stinky pulp mill to the new highway, briefly stopping at the local Burgerville first. Okay, not so briefly. Snacking and rest room visits took more time than I thought it would, but we eventually got back on the road.

East of Camas we started the first "real" climb of the day: the long slog up to Cape Horn. The weather had so far been cooperating; just a little mist every now and then, nothing to be alarmed about. Our group pulled apart on the climbs as Steve and Jeff zoomed on ahead. Dave and I played leap frog for awhile until I pulled ahead of him, and Tim and Lynne brought up the rear. Because it was Sunday, traffic was light, but every once in while a car or truck would pass too closely and remind me of how narrow the shoulder really was. Somewhere around Washougal we passed a guy sitting out in the median under a tent with a sign "Book for Sale: 'America in Crisis.'" I did not stop. Given the location and sign graphics, I had a pretty good idea that the "crisis" in the title probably had something to do with the New World Order and/or the gold standard. I have to read enough of that junk in the habeas appeals I get at work; no need to go looking for it.

As I noted earlier, the weather had so far been cooperating. That ended just as we reached the summit above Cape Horn. One second it was dry, the next second it was raining so hard that I could not see 10 feet ahead. I struggled to pull my jacket out of my Barley bag and haul it on before I got too wet for it to make difference. Lynne and Tim were still climbing the last few hundred yards, but I quickly realized that if I did not start riding again soon, I would turn into a Cecilsicle. So I jumped back on my bike and roared off down the hill. We were a good 15 miles from Cascade Locks and the rain showed no sign of letting up. All we could do was ride.

And by "all," I mean "ALL." It was raining so hard that my brakes were non-functional. I could not stop. Fortunately, there are no intersections on the descent from Cape Horn, and no sharp turns. So I just held on tight and hoped for the best. At one point I sailed past Steve, who apparently had been able to slow his bike down. How, I do not know. I was really regretting my lack of fenders, as the water was shooting off my back tire and straight down my pants.

Back to the flats, we rode hard past Beacon Rock and North Bonneville toward the bridge and the promise of lunch in Cascade Locks. As we passed the dam, I could hear the "bang" of cracker shells being set off to drive away the sea lions dining at the all-you-can-eat salmon buffet at the base of the fish ladders. When I reached the Washington end of the B of the Gs, I waited for Dave, Lynne and Tim to catch up so that we could cross en masse. Safety in numbers. The metal grid bridge bed is bad on a DRY day, on a wet day it is nerve-wracking. I took some pictures of Dave while we waited for Lynne and Tim, to commemorate his first B of the Gs crossing.

Steve and Jeff were waiting for us at the base of the hill on the Oregon side. Steve told us that the deli we usually had lunch at was no longer in business, but they had seen a pizza place a little ways down the street. At this point we were so cold and wet, I did not care where we went. I just wanted shelter from the storm.

We lined our bikes along the side of the restaurant and ran for cover. None of us had brought a lock, but there was a large table right by the window, so we could watch out for any potential bike thieves. Unfortunately, the table was right by the door, so every time someone came in or out, a cold breeze wafted across our wet bodies. Lynne had developed an interesting case of the shivers, somewhat reminiscent of her one and only DNF to date. In another room there was a faux wood stove that gave off a wee bit of heat. We placed our gloves and hats around it in a vain attempt to dry them out, while we downed cups of cocoa and bowls of chowder. Well, the rest of the group downed cocoa and chowder. Ms. Vegan here had tea and a very strange onion and bell pepper sandwich (my guess is that the version with cheese was less odd). Everywhere we went in the restaurant, we left a trail of water, forcing the wait staff to follow behind with a rag. I don't know about the rest of our party, but I left an ENORMOUS tip.

After spending far too long sitting around, we reluctantly concluded that we really had to keep going or we'd still be out after dark. The rain had actually let up while we were in the restaurant, but just as we made ready to pull out, Steve pointed to what lay directly ahead of us.

"You know," he said, "we could ride to Hood River [20 miles east], and rent a car." Wuss. Jeff suggested going back to the restaurant and waiting the storm out. The rest of us noted that it was 3:00, we still had 35 miles to go, and we had no idea how quickly it would blow over. The majority voted to keep going, and we set out. The first leg of the westbound route is on the GORGEOUS Ruckle Creek Trail, which connects Cascade Locks to Eagle Creek. Very "Middle Earthy" for all you TLOR geeks. The pavement was wet and mossy, so we took it slowly, but that gave us more time to appreciate the trail's beauty (and to get some shelter from the tree canopy).

At Eagle Creek, we connected to the Tanner Creek trail. There were signs warning of trail closure, and lots of signs of construction, but we chose to ignore them, because the only other choice would be to ride on the shoulder of I-84. We'd have to do that shortly enough, but the longer we could stay on the trail, the better. Fortunately, whatever work they were doing did not completely close the path and we managed to go as far as we usually do (the path comes to an abrupt end at an old wooden bridge, so about 100 feet before the bridge we hopped over the guardrail onto the highway shoulder).

Because my jacket was the most visible, I rode sweep. Traffic was fairly light, but it was still raining and we got sprayed every time a car passed. After a mile we reached the exit for Warrendale, where we were able to drop back to the old Columbia River Highway. The rain had begun to let up, and most of us had stopped shaking. The group had split fairly far apart; I am pretty sure that Jeff was trying his best to get away from the rest of us. Lynne and I rode along together, tallying up far worse rides that we had done. Of course, on those rides we had the proper bikes and the proper clothing. When we reached Multnomah Falls, we stopped briefly for a group photo, at which time Steve expressed his appreciation of my weather prediction skills, and then continued on.

One benefit of the past month having been one of the wettest Mays in Oregon history is that all the waterfalls in the Gorge were turned on full blast. The beauty of our surroundings helped to ameliorate the misery of our physical beings. At Latourelle Falls, the road took a decided upward cast, and at Shepherd's Dell our second "big" climb of the day began in earnest. At this point I was riding with Tim, who was telling me about several epic rides he had been on. Our conversation was so interesting that before I knew it, we were at Vista House on Crown Point. Jeff and Steve were there waiting for us, as was an unexpected guest: SUNSHINE. Yes, the sun had come out! Glory be.

In a few minutes, Lynne appeared around the bend, with Dave following shortly thereafter (I could have sworn I saw Dave first, but Lynne tells me that she was ahead of him by a few minutes). We faffed a while, enjoying the sun and using the facilities. And then it was time for the very last climb of the day, a one-mile hop to the intersection of the highway and Larch Mountain Road. In good weather, this would have been the point in the ride when I would suggest a detour up Larch Mountain. This day I kept my mouth shut.

And now we were in the home stretch, a long glide down to Troutdale on the old highway (with a brief detour onto Bell Road, which cuts about 1/4 mile off the total distance but is far less trafficky. It is also far more steep. Not always a good thing when you (and the road) are wet. But my brakes had decided to start working again, so all was good. The rain had returned, and the closer we got to Troutdale, the heavier it began to come down. Just as I made the turn from the highway onto the bridge across the Sandy River, it began to hail. Ouch! That really was completely unnecessary, I thought.

The hail did not last long and the final few miles back to Edgefield were completely uneventful. Uneventful until I reached the parking lot, that is, at which point I stupidly decided to try to go around a speed bump rather than over it, and promptly slipped off the edge of the pavement. Rider down. I was able to unclip one foot, but still hit my knee pretty hard. Sheesh. The bike seemed okay, however, and I still assumed that I would be riding the remaining 13 miles to my house. But I was concerned about Lynne, At the restaurant she had never stopped shaking (when we got on our bikes to leave after lunch her whole bike was shaking) and she had another 8 or so miles to go on top of the 13 to my house. Steve and Tim had been offering us a ride home all afternoon, but we were being our usual "we don't give up" selves (an attitude that both pulls us through trouble and gets us into trouble in the first place). Lynne insisted that she was fine, but my knee felt just interesting enough to be problematic, and it was getting late. After some further arm-twisting all around, we agreed to accept the ride. Once in the car, with the heater on full blast, I decided that sometimes it is okay to be a wuss. Lynne also seemed to have accepted our situation with aplomb.

Finally home, I made directly for the tub. The bike needed a bath, too, but it could wait. TRFKAF was also in need of a bath. But at least HE had the proper rain gear.

I'm thinking of another ride Memorial Day. The weather looks promising. Only a 30% chance of rain.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

On The Road Again . . .

"It's just like riding a bike." Or so goes the cliché employed to encourage someone to try something that the person has not done in a while. But the thing about clichés is that they become clichés in the first place because they contain an element of truth. Thus, I found to my great relief today that, yes, indeed, I did still know how to ride my bike. Perhaps not as speedily or as far as I would like, but certainly more speedily and further than the average rider. Whew.

Today was the date set for the Salem Bicycle Club's annual "Monster Cookie" ride. A traditional "first ride" of the NW Oregon cycling season, the MC is a fairly flat 100K ramble through the Willamette Valley. For the past few years, I have gone down to the start in Salem and ridden it as a Double Cookie, riding the circuit twice for a full 200K. This year I knew that, after 6 weeks of enforced rest and with a partially healed fibular stress fracture, a Double Cookie was not in the cards. Plus, to be honest, organized "T-Shirt" rides have lost their charm for me. Too many people, too many potential accidents. So when friend Lynne mentioned that she and friend Beth planned to do the MC, I decided that I would ride from home to the MC's half-way point at Champoeg State Park and meet them for lunch. Lynne expected that they would be starting sometime around 8:30, and I figured they'd get to the park sometime between 11:30 and noon. If I left home by 9:00, I'd get there in time. As it was, I was out the door by 8:45. The weather promised to be warm, so I wore regular shorts, my "Why, Yes, I am a bad-ass cyclist" Gold Rush 1200 jersey and, of course, my always-stylish ankle brace.

There are a lot of ways to get from my house to Champoeg, some more scenic than others. Because I had a deadline, however, and because I wanted to avoid hills, I took the most direct--and least scenic--route, which for the most part paralleled Interstate 5 down the Willamette Valley. The first 10 miles was the route I take daily (when I am not broken) from my house to the Barbur Transit Center. But instead of stopping at the TC and locking my bike in a commuter box, I continued southwest on Barbur to Tigard, where I turned south on 72nd Avenue. 72nd Avenue eventually became Boone's Ferry Road, which I took all the to Wilsonville, where my growling stomach suggested that I stop at Starbucks for a soy cocoa and one of the PB&J sammiches I had packed. Everyone else in Wilsonville seemed to have had the same idea; the Starbucks was packed. I finally got my drink and sat outside in the sun with it and my sammich, while the large man at the table next to me talked very loudly to someone who was not there about "mindfulness." I eventually figured out that he was not actually psychotic but instead had one of those teeny-tiny cell phone pickups in his ear. He quickly became much less interesting.

Hunger sated, I set off for the most unpleasant segment of the ride: crossing the Willamette River on the Boone Bridge, which just happens to be Interstate 5. This was the fourth time I've crossed on this bridge, and I have decided that I much prefer it to crossing the river via the bridge on Highway 219 to Newberg. The interstate's shoulders are wider and cleaner, and the rail preventing me from falling into the river is much higher. And today I had a strong tailwind, which meant I was over the river and back on the frontage roads in no time.

Once I crossed the river, it was an easy jaunt to the park. The last two miles were on the park's bike path, which runs along the river and is quite lovely. There were the usual number of oblivious, helmetless 4-year-olds on tricycles, but for the most part the trail users were well behaved.

When I arrived at the picnic grove reserved for the MC lunch, the joint was packed! I once again congratulated myself for not taking the regular route. Within a few minutes of arriving, I met up with at least 20 regular riding buddies, all of whom told me that they had seen Lynne and Beth and that they were still out on the road somewhere. I gave Lynne a call on her mobile phone and she said they were about 7 miles out. I figured I'd see them in about half an hour, so I wandered around and talked to people, hydrated and, um, dehydrated.

Soon enough, Lynne and Beth rode in. They gathered up their box lunches and we lazed on the grass talking about the usual things: bikes, bike riding, bike clothes, people we know who ride bikes, etc. And Greg says our conversations are boring. Humph! After about 45 minutes, it was time for Beth and Lynne to press on, and for me to head for home. I briefly toyed with the idea of taking a different route back, but all the alternatives involved more hill climbing than I thought would be wise at this stage of my recovery. Cue sarcastic comments about me exercising common sense . . .

And so home I went, down the bike path, through Butteville, over the river on the interstate, up Boone's Ferry Road through Tualatin and


Scream, scream, scream. Slam on brakes. Execute perfectly timed emergency turn. Scream some more, and try not to puke. Look up to see SUV continuing on with no indication that the driver ever saw me.

What to do, what to do. Do I chase after said SUV, and risk being shot by some road-raged, roid-raged muscle baby, or do I take a few deep breaths and ride on, grumbling to myself all the way home about asshole SUV drivers? As I pondered my options, I noticed that the van had pulled into a parking lot about a block away. I decided I really needed to say something to the driver. So I rode over to the parking lot, and came up beside the SUV; the driver was a young woman of about 30, and when she rolled her window down at my signal, I could hear her stereo blaring. No wonder she did not hear me screaming.

"Did you see me?"

"Yes, I saw you."

"Really? Because you almost KILLED me!"

"What? Wait, do you mean did I see you just now in the parking lot?"

"No, back at that light, where you turned right and cut me off."

"Oh my God! No, oh my God, no I didn't see you, oh my God, I am so sorry, oh my God please believe me, on my life I didn't see you - oh I can't believe I did that, oh my God, I am so sorry."


The thing is, she really was sincere. But that did not absolve her from almost killing me. But we had a very nice conversation about right hooks that kill cyclists and how to not do that, and what started out as a confrontation turned into what all those annoying media-psychologists like to call "a teachable moment." I still wanted to puke from my adrenaline rush, but I no longer wanted to punch her. And I do think that she will be much more careful from now on. Or at least for the next week or so.

We went our separate ways, and soon enough I was back in my "I'm just happy to be riding" mood. Which lasted for all of about 10 minutes, at which point I hit the 12% climb leading up to the intersection of 72nd Avenue and Pacific Highway (99E). Funny, I don't remember the hill being that steep when I went down it. Fortunately, it is a short hill, and I made it to the top without too much pain. Oh, there was pain, alright, but it was bearable.

I then proceeded to bonk. 10 miles from home, and I could barely stay upright. It did not help that I had just started the longest climb of the day, or that there was a headwind. So I stopped and ate the not-very-good energy bar that I had packed for emergencies. You know the one--the one that you got free on some ride sometime in the last few years and don't like, but you pack in your bag "just in case"? Yeah, that one. Well, I had reached the "just in case" point. Bleh.

Bar ingested, I set off again, pedaling slowly up Barbur Boulevard to its crest at Capitol Highway. From there it was a long descent into town (not counting a couple of bumps in Hillsdale), across the river (again!) and home. On my way up Division toward the house, I noticed that the new "bike-friendly" pub at SE 12th and Division was open for business. Greg was home, and so after I showered he and I walked down the street for some beer and peanuts. Just what the doctor ordered.

All told, I rode just under 63 miles in 4.5 hours (not counting the 1.5 hour lunch break). Five hours later, I feel fine, but the ankle could use some ice. I need to work on my endurance, I guess. I never thought I'd have to say THAT.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Diminished Expectations and Deferred Gratification

I had me some plans this season, yes indeed I did. After last year's epic mileage (just under 10,000) and equally epic near-death experiences, I was set to mix it up a little and add running to the athletic stew that is my life.

Well, once again, my best-laid plans went and ganged aglay.

Yes, I know I am recycling the same photo from my last post, but what can I say - not much has happened since then. Actually, that's not quite true. At least now I have a diagnosis. "Distal fibular stress fracture" and tendonitis in the peroneal tendons that go around the fibula. Fun times.

What does this mean? Well, I can kiss off the triathlon I planned for May 8. And the 5K I planned to run on June 19 does not look so great, either. That half-marathon in October? Yeah, I'll probably be able to do that, but probably very slowly.

"But what about riding?," you ask. Good question. Maybe, just maybe, I'll still be able to do a full SR series, but the Or Rando summer series is notoriously tough, and I will have lost at least 3 months of serious training. But I continue to hold out hope.

Until I heal, I'll just keep singing my new theme song.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Poor, Poor, Poor Me

Welcome to my self pity wallow. It's wide, and it's deep. And yes, yes, I know that there are people worse off in the world. As my mother used to say, "At least you have all your arms and legs - some people don't."

Yeah, well, one of my legs is not working so well right now, and I am down right grumpy about it. A month into the "official" randonneuring season, and I can't ride more than 12 flat miles without pain. And I don't even want to talk about how it feels to try to run or even walk. So, yes, I am feeling sorry for myself. Time to sing along with Linda:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rumors of My Demise Have Been Exaggerated

Yes, yes, I know that we are almost two entire months into February and I have not updated this blog. And it will most likely be a while before I do add a substantive post. "Why?," you may ask. Well, mainly because I really do not have anything of interest to write about. I have not ridden my bike much beyond my daily commute, and when I have gotten out on the weekends it has only been for 40 or 50 mile excursions around the Greater Portland Metro Area. Big whoop.

As for the rest of my life, it can be summed up thus: work, work out, eat, sleep, go back to work. Again, not exactly worth blogging about.

Check back in a few months; rando season will have started and I might have something of interest to report. Then again, perhaps not.