Sunday, January 23, 2011

Beat the Retreat, or Hoo-Boy!, am I out of shape!

I should NOT be tired. I should NOT be winded. I should NOT be thinking of taking a nap. But I am nevertheless all three of those things. And all because I rode a lousy 37 miles, with just a little bit of a hill climb.

Today was the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's "Board Retreat." My friend Susan was hosting it at her company headquarters in Hillsboro, and I figured I'd ride out there from home, just to get a little exercise in before and after what promised to be many hours of intense discussion (we are formulating a 20-Year Strategic Plan). Susan offered to ride from her home out in Hillsboro to meet me in SE Portland, and then ride all the way back. Friend Lynne, who isn't on the Board, but who is a known ride harlot (i.e., she'll join a bike ride at the drop of a hat), said she come with us. So we agreed to meet at Kettleman's Bagels, my Eastside ride start point of choice, at 6 AM, which would give us about half an hour to scarf down some bagels before we had to leave for Hillsboro at 6:30.

Earlier in the week, the weather forecast was for a slight chance of rain. I had ordered some new rain pants from Team Estrogen last weekend and figured I'd have them in plenty of time for the ride. That was, of course, before the USPS decided to ship them from Hillsboro to Portland via Santa Clarita, California. Thus I was glad that by the time Saturday rolled around, the chance of rain had evaporated. (The rain pants are still somewhere between California and Oregon).

I had already gotten to Kettleman's and ordered my breakfast (an "everything" bagel with hummus, tomato and cucumber) when Lynne arrived. She'd had a small breakfast at home, but after a 10-mile ride over the hill to town, she was ready for second breakfast. She settled on a bagel with some sort of pinkish cream cheese (I could not tell if it was strawberry or fish; she said it was fish). We munched away and chatted, and wondered aloud where Susan was. I decided that she'd probably delayed her journey so she would not have to watch us eat solid food (she's on an "elimination" diet of some sort), and figured she'd show up right at 6:30. And, lo, at 6:25, she rolled up, ready to turn around and go back.

After winding our way through downtown Portland, we tackled the first climb of the day: up to Skyline Blvd by way of NW Lovejoy, Cornell and Thompson. It's about a 4-mile climb, with an average grade of about 4%. I knew I was in trouble when I had to bail into my granny gear before I even got to the point where Lovejoy turns into Cornell. I spent the next 4 miles huffing like a freight train as I tried to keep my speed over 5 mph. Usually I take that climb at between 7 and 8 mph at the steepest parts. When we finally reached the "summit" on Thompson, I really needed to rest, and we'd only ridden 7 miles. Pathetic.

From Thompson we rode northwest on Skyline for a few miles. I love riding on Skyline, with its gentle rollers and lovely views. Or what used to be lovely views. Now it's mostly ugly houses blocking the lovely views. I especially love riding on Skyline in the early morning, when there is no traffic, because it is a narrow road with no shoulders and terrible sight lines. Mid-day on a sunny weekend, it can be downright scary with all the sports car drivers pretending to be Steve McQueen at Le Mans.

We dropped down to the west side by way of Springville Road. The pavement was wet, and there was a lot of gravel, which made the drop less fun that it might otherwise have been. We detoured over to Susan's house to pick up her change of clothes (I had mine in a pannier; I tried to use that extra weight as an excuse for my suck-tastic performance on the climb). Susan and I then headed for the Board meeting while Lynne rode off to Longbottom's coffee house for a third breakfast, after which she would lead a 40-mile Portland Velo club ride that started at 10 and gloat with smug superiority over the people who got at 9:30 and drove their cars to the start (by the end of the day, Lynne would have put in 80 miles).

I did not feel all that tired by the time we got to the meeting, but as the day progressed I could feel my muscles starting to check out. When we were finally done, and I was suiting up to head back over the hills to home, I wondered whether I would even be able to get my legs to move, let alone move fast enough to stay vertical on the bike. I had no choice but to try, however. Once I got going, it did not seem so bad, but I was definitely making use of a gear range that I do not normally need.

Up, up up. Huff, puff, puff. Rest, rest, rest. Across, across, across. Down, down down. Home, Sweet Home. Clearly, an hour on the trainer everyday and the occasional morning commute is NOT getting me ready for brevet season.

Anyway, this shows the second half of the ride (I sort of messed up the GPS tracking for the first half, but the first half was almost exactly the same except for a detour through downtown Portland). I love the fact that the heart rate and speed charts look like photo-negatives of each other.

Times Two

Monday, January 03, 2011

#1 on 1-1-11

"Did I just see you standing?"

"Um, no. Well, not now . . . ."

We had just turned off of Gieger onto Fern Hill Rd. for the first climb of the day, and Lynne had caught me defying doctor's orders. Suitably chastised, I dropped my butt back on my saddle, shifted into the most venerable of my granny gears and spun frustratingly slowly up the hill. It was going to be a very long day.

But I get ahead of myself. I can sense you thinking, "Whoa, Nellie! What's this about doctor's orders?"

Cast your mind back, Gentle Reader, to mid-October 2010. I had just run my first half-marathon and was insufferably proud of myself. About a week before the race, I had felt some pain in my hip and a bit of a hitch in my gait, but nothing alarming. During and immediately after the race I felt fine; no more sore than I would have expected for running full out for 13.1 miles. And even when I continued to be sore and, let's face it, limp like Chester for a few days after the race, I chalked it up to muscle strain and treated accordingly. But when I was still sore six weeks later, I decided that it was time to see a professional. So I got my GP to refer me to the sports clinic, and the Monday after Thanksgiving I hied myself off to Kaiser, trying not to think about the fact that the funny explosive pain I felt in my hip with every footfall was an awful lot like the funny explosive pain I had felt in my ankle when I had stress fractured my fibula eight months earlier. 30 minutes and two dispositive physical tests later, the physiatrist confirmed my suppressed suspicion/fear: "You have a stress fracture in your femur."


"So, Doc, what do I do now?"

"Try not to walk on it for a few weeks."

Try. Not. To. Walk. Processing . . . processing . . . Nope, that's not registering.

"Say again, Doc?"

"Don't put any weight on it until the end of December."

"Um, so I can walk if I don't put any weight on it?"

"Well, you can very short distances - slowly."

"Around the office?"


"But not to the office?"


"Can I ride my bike?"

"You can if you spin and stay on the flats."

"No hills?"

"Not for a few weeks."

I felt like I was negotiating. I was negotiating. And I am a lousy negotiator (one more reason I gave up trial work). By the end of the appointment I had my marching orders. Or non-marching orders, to be more precise. Until the end of December, I was to put no weight on the leg. If I wanted to walk, I could do so with little tiny baby steps or use crutches. I could swim, I could spin on a trainer, I could aqua jog (and yes, that feels as silly as it looks), and I could ride my bike from my house to the DOJ office in Portland (hauling my crutches behind me on a trailer). Beginning in January, I could ride my bike longer distances as long as I took it easy, and I could begin to walk for exercise, "but not more than two or three times a week." I could forget about running until mid-February at the earliest.

Needless to say, my December pretty much sucked. I had already been hobbled by pain for the second half of October and all of November, so we're really talking about 10 weeks of relative sloth by the time the New Year rolled around. And not the cute kind of sloth.

Thus, when I learned that my friend Marcello had organized a 200K brevet for New Year's Day, I was tempted to sign up. I was a little concerned about my ability to go the distance, however, because other than a flat, slow, cafe-centric ride in mid-December I had not ridden my bike more than 30 miles since, oh, sometime in September. But friend Lynne said she'd ride with me, and the weather report promised a dry (if somewhat chilly) day. There really was nothing to keep me from riding. Except common sense of course, but that never stopped me before.

So, then, where were we? Oh yes, Fern Hill Road. Lynne and I were about 14 miles into the ride, which began at Marcello's house in Hillsboro. Check-in time for the ride was 7 AM, with a ride start at 7:30. I'd arrived a bit late, and then had a fight with one of my shoes, so by the time I got over to the start zone, most of the riders had already formed their start mass and had no time to acknowledge my existence, let alone socialize. That was okay, because when I'd looked at the list of preregistered riders, I had recognized very few of the names. There's a lot of turnover in the Oregon rando world; miss a few events and you may as well have dropped off the edge of the planet. I did see friend Susan, looking like a superhero in her form-fitting, matching cold-weather gear. I was, in contrast, downright frumpy in my various layers of whatever of my cycling clothing still fit.

Marcello gave the okay to start, and we were on our way. The temperature gauge on my cyclometer read 35° at first, but within minutes had dropped down to 31°. Lynne and I quickly established our position as Les Lanternes Rouges and cemented it (at least for the time being) by making a few early stops for clothing and equipment adjustments.

The course of the ride took us southwest from Hillsboro down to Dallas, and then back they way we had come. Although there were lots of rolling hills along the way, there were no *real* hills. Which is good, because if there had been any real hills, I would have been screwed. As it was, I was spending waaaaay more time in my granny gears than ever before, and I have never been shy about bailing and spinning. Lynne beat me to the top of every hill, and I gave her permission to revel in it. When I left home, I had told Greg, "The shape I'm in, and the way I'm feeling, I'm guessing this will take me 12 hours." Well, 12 hours after we left Marcello's house, we were back; cold, hungry and exhausted. The cold and hungry part were quickly allayed with piping hot cups of tea and large bowls of vegan chili. The exhausted part? Well, that stayed with me through Sunday.

I would like to say that it was an "epic" ride, because that would make me feel better about how much it took out of me. But it really was not epic. It was cold, but I've ridden in cold before. There were some headwinds, but I've ridden in wind before. So, no, it was not epic. But it was a challenge, and I have to admit that I loves me a challenge. It was a good day to ride, and it won't be long until I am allowed to dance on my pedals again. Then it will be a very good day to ride.