Conquring the Wall: Philly Cycling Classic 2013

0602131320bIf Chattanooga was a last minute, impulsive decision, the decision to go to Philly to watch the newly rechristened Parx Casino Philly International was one I made a while ago. Philly is only two and a half hours from DC and I was really interested to see how the race course change would affect the race. In addition, I wanted to ride the Bicycling Open, which is basically just an opportunity to pre-ride the course the day of the race. I was terrified of the Wall (more on that later), but was excited about the challenge!

First, I need to explain the Wall. The Wall is the Manayunk Wall, named after the Philly suburb it runs through. It’s a climb that is only .5 miles long, but it has sections of 17% gradient and it is BRUTAL! This year, instead of a start/finish downtown in front of the Art Museum, and a mix of short circuits and long circuits (which include the Manayunk Wall), the Philly Classic started and ended at the top of the Wall. It also cut out the downtown short laps, opting instead for 10 laps straight up. While this meant the overall lap length was shorter, it also meant the racers had to ride up the Wall 10 times!! In addition, because the start/finish was now at the top of the Wall, the race wouldn’t end in a sprint but would most likely reward a solo move made within the last few laps, if not the last lap, and maybe even the last climb. So it was shaping up to be an awesome race!

I was staying with a friend of friend in Manayunk. When I told him I was driving up (I rented a car), he said “Well, parking can be a bit difficult around here, so call me when you’ve found a spot.” And, damn, he wasn’t joking. The lower half of Manayunk is a maze of narrow streets, made narrower by all the cars parked on one side. They should all be one ways, but only half of them were, so I just prayed no would come up as I was going down. I drove around for about a half hour before I found a spot that wouldn’t require me to parallel park- those skills are pretty rusty!

Camera 360

My original intention was to ride down to the art museum and spend time there before I met up with my Twitter friend, Heidi (@heidimo6). They have a great bike trail that follows the Schuylkill River on either side. But I got a late start and it was fucking HOT and HUMID. I got not even halfway there and it was clear I was not going to make it downtown! So I backtracked a bit, rode over to the other side of the river that had a trail next to a closed road (similar to Beach Drive in DC), rode for a bit, then laid down to take a nap. It was glorious! I did have someone shout at me to make sure I was still alive, and I appreciated that. Eventually I got up to meet Heidi at her hotel. The trip there was all uphill and it was still disgustingly hot. So that was fun.

After dinner with Heidi and a few drinks with my hosts, I crashed, ready for an early morning.

Camera 360

The ride started at 7:15 and I was glad we got our ride out of the way before the sun got too high. Our ride started a little bit before the Wall, instead of on top of the Wall, like the real race did. So, after biking through the town, we started up the Wall. I think the Wall can be divided into 3 sections. The first section is the longest, steep-ish, but pretty steady. I was feeling pretty strung out by the time i reached the end of that section. Even though as I think back on it. I don’t have an exact memory being  so wiped that it justified stopping for a rest, but I did. I don’t remember feeling like my legs were burning or I was hyperventilating, so I’m not sure why stopped for a breather. But I did, and then I started up the  2nd section.

1st section, with women climbing

1st section during the women’s race

That section was A LOT steeper, though not as long. I was able to ride most of the first section seated, but that was not an option for the 2nd section! As I was riding, I kept my gaze focused on the 200m to go sign- I was telling myself, just make it to the sign, then it flattens out! Because it definitely looked like it flattened out! However, once I got to the 200 meters to go sign, hyperventilating, wheezing, and burning, it was clear it did NOT flatten out! I was so demoralized, I had to stop again.

Once I caught my breath and helped a girl fix her chain, I started up the last section. It was medium steep and pretty short. I felt pretty good going up it, because of my nice break.

3rd section

3rd section

Once you make it to the top of the Wall, there is a LOVELY downhill! It just goes on and on. And because it was on a closed course, we could just buzz through all the stop signs and lights!

The rest of the course is pretty flat, except for a little bump we thought was Lemon Hill and the climb that was actually Lemon Hill! Lemon Hill is pretty steep, but not long. I was pretty wheezy at the top, but my legs didn’t feel too bad.

Heidi and I after the ride

Heidi and I after the ride

After the ride, I took a shower, and then watched most of the women’s race from a Mexican restaurant. Heidi was supposed to join me, but she got lost. So I made friends with the mom and her daughter next to me, drank lots of margarita’s and did jello shots with them.

Camera 360

Eventually I made my way to the finish line on top of the Wall where Heidi was. It was wicked watching the guys come over the top of the hill. With 7 laps left, they pulled about half of the guys out of the race (they often do that if they’ve been dropped so far, there’s no chance of catching up). The guys were just SHATTERED- total death ride faces on them. However, many of them still had enough energy to slap the hands of those of lining the barriers, hand off water bottles, or pull a wheelie. The crowd went crazy every time a rider came over the top. I suspect the enthusiasm had something to do with the fact that it was about 25 minutes between laps, and maybe we were a bit bored.

Like Chattanooga, I really had no idea what was going on with the race. I didn’t even realized who had won until they announced him on the podium. Turns out it was Kiel Reijnen, who had come in 3rd in Chattanooga! He had a disappointing race with a mechanical right at the end, so it was super exciting to see him win.

And Kiel wins!

And Kiel wins!

It was another fun weekend of race watching. I’ll definitely be back to ride the course again next year, and hopefully I can make it up the Wall without stopping! Plus, I really wish I had tried to ride the Wall a second time. Hopefully next year I can make that happen!

Bike Trains in Chattanooga: US Pro Championships ’13

A last minute decision found me in Chattanooga, TN for the US Professional Road Race Championships! On Sunday, I had every intention of spending Memorial Day weekend indulging in an Arrested Development marathon. By Tuesday I had bought tickets to fly to Chattanooga!

I didn’t get in until Saturday evening, so I missed the TT. But with no racing scheduled on Sunday, I got to spend the day exploring the city with my Twitter friends Becky (@cat_nurse) and Roxanne (@cyclingrox). Chattanooga has a great bike share system and it was such a wonderful way to be able to explore the city- I got to see a lot more than I would’ve on foot! However, we soon realized Sunday in the south meant either everything was closed or didn’t open until the afternoon- which was an unforeseen problem when we decided to find a place to eat while we were biking!

Then Sunday evening I joined the “Divas” for some chalking on Lookout Mountain! In Europe, it is common practice to paint riders’ names and encouragement on the road for support. As we’re not allowed to put paint on the roads here, we settle for covering it in sidewalk chalk. So, along with Roxanne, Julie (@julesmpg), and Jen, we chalked the upper half of the climb to death! It was such a fantastic time, even though I was sweating buckets! While we were chalking, a reporter from the local newspaper come up to see what we were doing. And that turned into this article.

But the best part was when Chris Butler’s dad drove up the road, saw us chalking, and pulled over to chalk his son’s name on the road with us.

Chris Butler's name chalked by his dad

Chris Butler’s name chalked by his dad

After chalking, we gathered at a the Moccasin Bend Brewery for some great local beer and a kitchen with an unusual kitchen set up…

Outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchen

On race day, Roxanne and I got up early and took out some bike share bikes to pre-ride the course before the race started! We didn’t do the WHOLE thing, but it was fun to see and explore the whole course.

It stayed blessedly cloudy for the women’s race.

US Pro

But by the time the men started to line up, the clouds had blown away and the sun was beating down. I got a spot right by the start line, which meant I was right by the guys during call ups. I’ve never been to a pro race before (unless you count CX Worlds!), so it was cool to see some guys in World Tour jerseys line up who are really racers, not just local Freds!

At about the half way point of the men’s race, I started to get grumpy. It was hot and humid, and I couldn’t find a comfortable place to watch the race. The laps were so long – it felt like an age between each lap! I couldn’t find a comfortable spot to watch the Jumbotrons that were broadcasting the race and just spent a lot of time wandering around so my feet were killing me by the end of the day. I was definitely ready for the racing to be over after spending 8 hours on my feet!

I was really happy for Jelly Belly that Freddie Rodriguez won (as this means they’ll get invited to lots of races with the US champ on their team), but I do wish it had been won by someone on a Pro team, so it would be seen in Europe.

Monday after the race, most people left right away, but Roxanne, Steph (a Twitter friend who also lives in DC, @StephBDC) and I had dinner at Urban Stack, where they have AMAZING burgers. (And speaking of amazing eateries, be sure to check out Fork and Pie, a great place downtown right off the race course that serves only sweet and savory pies! I swear their Chicken Pot Pie has crack in it, it’s so good. Not to mention their mac and cheese.)

My flight didn’t leave until later Tuesday, so I spent Tuesday morning wondering around Chattanooga. It seems to be a city that is recovering into something new. One block would have lots of boutiques, fun, local restaurants and the like, and the next block would be all deserted storefronts. I think Chattanooga has a lot of potential!

It was a great city to host the US Pro Championships and while I’m definitely going back next year, I will be doing a couple of things differently. First, I will find a little chair to bring along so I always have somewhere to sit. Second, I think I will spend the race up on Lookout Mountain. I contemplated spending the race up there this year, but there were too many unknowns up there (such as, would we be able to leave or would we be stuck all day? Where would we use the bathroom? etc) and I wanted to experience the thrill of the finish line. But Lookout Mountain is quite a climb, so it’ll be awesome to see it from that vantage point!

I’ve realized that there are different enjoyments to take from watching a race life and watching the race on TV/the computer. Watch a race live, you are part of the action- it’s so exciting to get caught up in the crowds cheering, the speed of the racers, the party atmosphere. You cheer like crazy for every rider that comes by, first and last. And it generally doesn’t matter who actually wins- you’ll ring that cowbell as loud as you can and shout yourself hoarse. But you generally have no idea what’s going on in the race outside of what you see when they pass by.When you watch on a TV/computer, you miss out on the great crowd atmosphere, but you get to watch the whole race develop- you get to see the tactics and strategies, as well as follow specific riders to see how they crack or hold on.

This was a new type of race experience for me- I’ve gone to crit races (fast circuits on a downtown course, often a mile long) and cross races (fast circuits on an “obstacle course”), but never been to a proper road style race, with short laps on a downtown circuit and long laps that generally include a climb. This meant there was a long lag time between when we saw the riders. In addition, the commentators didn’t narrate the whole race, so it was hard to know what was going on. I feel like I’m working my way up the race ladder and next up will be domestic stage races (Colorado, California, etc), then European classics, then Grand Tours! Europe, watch out- I’m comin’ for ya ;)

It was a fabulous weekend of great racing, GREAT friends, and fun times!

Enjoying Chattanooga by bike share!

Enjoying Chattanooga by bike share!

Fangirl mode, engage!

Recently I had the opportunity to fulfill a fangirl fantasy- I got to meet and have dinner with Ted King! Ted King is one of my favorite American cyclists for a variety of reasons- he’s funny, he has an awesome blog, he rides for one of my favorite teams (Liquigas-Cannondale), he’s cute, he’s tall… lots of very legitimate reasons make him my favorite, clearly. A Twitter friend alerted me to a dinner that was being put on by a LBS in Virginia. For a fee, you could have dinner with Ted King! Even though the dinner started later than I would’ve liked and was all the way in Virginia, I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t go! A couple of days before the event, I found out the Joe Dombrowski was also going to be there (he’s a young American rider who just got signed for a major pro cycling team, Team Sky).

I was actually really nervous- I don’t do well around strangers. It’s not that I’m awkward, it’s that introducing myself to strangers and making small talk with them is a bit stressful for me and wears me out. I prefer to avoid it! I was the first to get there and luckily my other Twitter friend Steph was the second one there. In the end, there were only about 13 people- it made for a really nice night! When I finally got to talk to him, I thought I was very charming ;) We talked about RAGBRAI and I think I convinced him to ride it once he retired! Hey Ted, if you ever need a RAGBRAI team to join, I’m sure I can find one for you to join!

When following these guys as professional cyclists, it’s easy to forget that they’re actually just ordinary people. Like any celebrity, they get built up in your mind and seem larger than life. If you ever get a chance to meet someone you look up to, it brings them back down to earth. Some people do get changed by fame, but many stay pretty much the same. Sometimes it wasn’t until he say something about Liquigas or a big race or a teammate that I’d be reminded that he was part of the world I only read about! After dinner, there was a question and answer session with Joe and Ted. People asked a lot of questions to Joe about his move to Sky and his time on Livestrong-Bontreger. It made me realize that being an armchair fan is a lot different than actually being in the races, doing all the work. He talked a lot about how awesome it was to get invited to Tour of California and Utah. And I thought, wow, all we thought about when we heard that news was how there must be something dodgy going on for that team to get invited over some of the domestic teams. But for Joe, he has no idea (nor does he probably care) about why they might get invited to races- he’s just excited at the chance. And who’s to say that Joe would’ve gotten picked up by Sky if he hadn’t been at those races, holding his own against the big boys. The best thing to come out of the evening was just a reminder that most of these guys we follow and maybe even look up to, are just regular guys- you’ve got jerks, shy guys, funny guys, and super nice guys. So just like real life, we shouldn’t expect them all to be someone we could be best friends with (or boyfriends. Just sayin’).

Bike Fit: No Silver Bullet

I finally did it. I finally went and paid for an honest-to-goodness bike fit. I’m not entirely sure what motivated me to do something I’ve been talking about for ages, but it probably had something to do with the fact that I just got tired of being uncomfortable on my bike. If you’ve followed my bike journey on this blog for any length of time, you know that I suffer from serious saddle issues. Pressure on my lady bits and pressure on my sits bones plague me, despite trying a variety of saddles. As I was riding this summer, all of a sudden I realized that it was ridiculous that I’m afraid to do any rides longer than 4o miles because I know my butt can’t handle it. The whole saddle issue, aside from being uncomfortable and painful, was setting limits on how/where I was willing to ride my bike and I didn’t like that. So I finally took the steps necessary to set up a bike fit!

The first step was working up the courage to call, and that took some time. Then it took some time to actually get a hold of someone to schedule my fit. Then the guy I was going to see had a booked schedule, so he couldn’t fit me in for about 2 weeks. So it took awhile to actually get to the actual fitting. But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter. I had already waited ages to do this, what was a few more weeks?

I got my fitting at a place in Virginia (Freshbikes) and had decided to ride from work. It was maybe 8 miles, so not that far, but I hadn’t been on my bike in about 3 weeks- a screw holding the saddle to the seatpost came undone and it took me that long to find a replacement. So while 8 miles isn’t that far, when you haven’t been on the bike for 3 weeks, it can do a lot of damage to your backside!

Having your position and body scrutinized that closely on the bike was a bit awkward. I’m not terribly comfortable with how I look in the Lycra of cycling clothing and honestly, this was the part I was least looking forward to when I thought about a bike fit. But I just kept telling myself, they’re not here to judge, they’re here to help. Just because I don’t look like a skinny racer doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be comfortable on my bike just as much as they are.

I actually felt pretty proud of myself for not crying while talking about the whole situation. Talking about my saddle situation with people who really know cycling is hard, because it has really affected my relationship with the bike. I really do love cycling so much, but when something as simple as my saddle causes me so much pain and makes me not want to ride, I get sad. And when I feel like I’ve tried everything but nothing seems to work, it’s emotional, as I’ve poured a lot of energy into my bike and this problem. But I held it together.

I really, really wanted him to have the silver bullet for this werewolf problem. I wanted him to find some magic adjustment that hadn’t been tried before that would suddenly make me comfortable on my saddle. As you can probably guess, this didn’t happen. He was very thoughtful and thorough during the fit. But while there are so many things you can adjust on a bike, sometimes there isn’t a magic fix. In the end, he confirmed my suspicions: saddles are a very personal thing and there’s no magic formula to find the one that works for you. However, the fit did provide some comfort. I was afraid the issue was the geometry of my bike- that’s not something you can fix. Bad geometry usually means having to buy a new bike. But he assured me that not only was the geometry of the bike fine, the little adjustments made by previous bike shops had actually helped overall. So the issue really is just my anatomy and the saddle.

So for all you ladies out there suffering through saddle issues, I’m sorry to say that even a bike fit won’t solve all your problems. But a bike fit can help isolate the problems. The bike fit didn’t make my butt feel better, but it helped reassure me that the way I was sitting on the bike wasn’t aggravating the issue. I feel it was money well spent just on those grounds. Now I just need to sit my ass on as many saddles as possible to try and find “the one.” My plan is to call up all the local bike shops, see what brands they carry, and inquire if they have  saddle testing program. Some shops have loaner saddles you can try out. Others will let you try before you buy. And some let you buy a saddle, but then return it if it doesn’t fit. If I don’t have any luck with the local shops, I’ll start looking online at lender programs or at websites that have forgiving return policies! It won’t be fast, but hopefully eventually I find “the one” that will let me ride as long as I like.

As a side note: You may (or may not!) have been wondering where I’ve been and why I’m not writing much. There are a couple of reasons. First, I’ve started up a cycling podcast, and that takes a lot of my time and energy. I have been writing, but most of it has been pro cycling related, which I have been posting on my podcast blog. If you have any interest in pro cycling, you should check out the Pelotonitis Podcast blog! Second, I’m entering my 2nd year of bike ownership. This means I’m doing fewer and fewer things which are brand new to me. I see this blog as a way to chronicle my journey and share my experiences as a newbie. As I’m being coming less of a “nOOb” and more of an experienced cyclist, I’m trying to figure out how to keep sharing my thoughts, but without being repetitive. I’m committed to sharing my experiences, and helping newcomers to the sport (especially women!) become comfortable on the bike!

Walls, Weddings, and Riders: Philly Race 2012

I guess it’s about time for me to write up my trip to Philadelphia to see the TD International Cycling Classic. Two weekends ago, I caught a rdie up to Philly with a Twitter friend, Steph (@StephBDC), who lives in the area. This was my only my second pro race (3rd, if you count Cross Championships, like I surely do) and it was definitely the biggest one I’ve been to. The only other races I’ve been to are the Air Force Cycling Classic races in Virgina. While those are exciting, they are of a bit smaller scale. ANYWAY, this time, not only was I going to watch the race, but I was also going to volunteer. I was “roped into” volunteering by a Twitter friend, so I was going to help with one of the VIP tents. I was a bit nervous about that, but it sounded like fun!

We got to Philly on Saturday afternoon and had some time to walk around Philly before the volunteer meeting. During this sightseeing trip, we saw advertisements to visit the local penitentiary, people standing in an orderly line to take pictures with the Rocky statue, dueling wedding party pictures (okay, not dueling, but would’ve added spice if they were),  and an Army transport vehicle rolling up in front of the museum steps to have their picture taken.

Orderly line for the Rocky statue

Race day was beautiful- sunny but not too hot. The main part of my volunteering job was arranging rides around the course for VIPs. They had a bunch of vans, cars and motos for the VIPs to ride in around the course, at the end of the caravan. A big perk of this job was that I got to ride in those vehicles as well! So I got to pre-ride the course before the race, ride around the course twice while the race was going on AND ride the course on a moto!! It was amazing. It really helped me get a feel for the whole race that I wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.

Riding up Manayunk Wall

The first time we drove of Manayunk Wall, I just about died. it just keeps going and going and going and parts of it are wicked steep. I couldn’t imagine riding up it more than once! The crowds on the wall and on Lemon Hill were fantastic. They were a little weaker downtown, but I think it was because it was easier to drink and picnic at the other places.

To be honest, I didn’t pay super close attention to the races, mainly because the majority of our work took place right after the peloton went by- that’s when the cars came in and they switched passengers. I didn’t get any photos of the women’s race because it started about 10 minutes after the men and we were too busy with cars when they came around! However, by the last few laps of the men’s race, our job was done and we got the watch the end of the race inside the VIP tent. Perks!

Alexander Serebryakov takes the win

Those guys are so fucking fast and I love it. I love the pain and suffering and the way the pour all of themselves into their racing. I could just watch those guys ride all day. Although I’m sure they would prefer to not ride all day. It was a really great trip and a great race and a great experience. I was excited to meet Steph and Heidi (@heidimo6)! I’ll definitely be back next year!

Check out more photos here! Also follow me on Twitter.

Bike DC 2012

Today I participated in another edition of Bike DC! Unlike many others, I had a great time again this year (even if Kiah wasn’t with me). I’ve seen some grumbling on Twitter and read a couple of blog posts about people who had a bad experience, so I feel it is only fair to the ride to share my good experience!

I rode my bike down, but of course I left late, so while I was planning on riding with the Sassy Sisters, I got there too late to leave with them. So I headed out by myself. Well. Not really by myself. Because how alone can you be when you’re surrounded by 100s of other cyclists?

This year saw an added loop out on Rock Creek Drive. I really enjoyed this bit. I loved all the trees and the awesome bridges. I even saw 2 unicyclists! That seems like an added challenge…

There were so many cyclists out! It was awesome seeing the bunch in front of you and the bunch coming back towards you.

After the loop on Rock Creek Drive, we had a pit stop before heading out on the GW Parkway. At the rest stop, I remembered what I really don’t like about big organized rides- too many bananas! The smell of bananas makes me feel a bit sick and as they are the go to “power food” for rides, that means there are always huge piles of the bananas and their nasty peels.

As always, the route was packed with all sorts of riders- lycra clad riders, families, t-shirts and flip flops, tandems, recumbents, and trailers! This ride felt a lot more like RAGBRAI than Sea Otter ;) The best family set up I saw had the dad pulling two kids AND two dogs in a trailer! And honestly, the boy was not doing nearly enough work- Dad was pulling the whole weight!

The only real snafu came near Iwo Jima- half of the road down to the memorial was torn up, so both up and down riders were sharing one lane. Most people had to get off their bikes and walk down, as the hill was steep and the pace was very slow.

But after that section, it opened up again! We rode around the Memorial, took a couple of pictures, then headed off to the Air Force memorial.

 It was cake from then! Rolled over to the Air Force memorial, hung out a bit, then headed back!

While I had a great time, this ride is not perfect. Apparently I was really lucky to have a relatively uneventful ride, except for the Iwo Jima bottleneck. I heard lots of reports of riders being turned around right before the Iwo Jima memorial and the  leg to the Air Force memorial and being forced to go back to the finish without any directions or guidance- a scary thing for those who rarely venture out on city roads. I heard of others who were on the Roosevelt bridge when it got opened back up to traffic. Besides these huge mishaps with communication, I’m always a bit amazed that they seem to run out of food, and sometimes even water. I don’t know if it’s because people jump onto the ride that didn’t sign up, or because people take way more than there share, or because they underestimate the number of people that are going to show up, but often unless you get to the rest stop early, you don’t get much. This is a bit frustrating- especially when they run out of water, because it can get HOT out there.

However! Despite some the miscommunication and unintentional rerouting that happened this year, which I’m sure scared off a lot of riders, this ride is a great ride. I’m sure it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare for the organizations putting this on to get all those roads closed. But with a few improvements, it could be good every year. I heard many people who got caught in the chaos suggest that staggering the starts of the full ride and the family ride would help with any overlap that might happen between the experienced riders and the true families out there- even though this might not be very possible, what with the time constraints on the closed roads. In addition, there needs to be better communication between ride marshals. It seems to me it would be useful to have radios in at least a few of the ride marshals’ hands, that way everyone can be kept abreast of situations that develop.

To those who had a less than ideal time, don’t write off Bike DC yet!! It is great fun. If you’re nervous about doing it alone, try and find a more experienced cyclist to go with you. I’m always available ;)

Check out the rest of my photos on Flickr and follow me on Twitter!

Beach, Bikes, and Tears: Sea Otter 2012

A confession: I didn’t actually spend any time at Sea Otter. But it’s not my fault! I had good intentions, but it just didn’t work out. Let me explain.

I flew into San Francisco late Thursday, so my first view of California was an amazing sunrise.

My friend Jeff picked me up around lunchtime and after an obligatory California lunch at In-N-Out, we started down Highway 1 to Monterey! I requested the slower, but much more scenic route to Monterey because I’d never been to California before. It was amazing! Jeff said it was like taking someone to Disneyland who had never been before. And he was right! I just couldn’t get enough of the mountains, cliffs, ocean, waves, beaches…! After I could resist the siren song of the beach no longer, I requested a stop to admire the ocean.

We also stopped at the Santa Cruz boardwalk so I could ride the Big Dipper roller coaster! I’m told this is a requirement of visiting Santa Cruz. I’d never been on a boardwalk before- we don’t have a lot of them in DC or in Iowa. Shocking, I know.

I was definitely wearing too many clothes

So you can imagine with all the side trips and ogling I was doing, it took us awhile to get down to Monterey. Which meant right when we got there, we had to go pick up the bike I was borrowing for the Fondo from Jan (@jvalen)! Bike aquired, we went to an AMAZING Italian seafood place in Marina. Seriously. If you live in the Monterey area, you must go to this resturant. Called Frutti De Mar, it looks like a little hole in the wall in a strip mall, but everything I had there was AMAZING. I don’t know if it was because I was starving or what, but the house salad was amazing, the bruschetta was amazing, the snapper was amazing..! I left stuffed and happy. For a perfect end to a perfect day, I got to see an ocean sunset.

So you can see why I didn’t get to Sea Otter on Friday! Too much discovering going on. Saturday was Gran Fondo day. We got there around 8 and OMG there were a lot of people and OMG it was HOT. This made me nervous, as we know how well I don’t do in the heat…

The coolest thing about Sea Otter was how all the different bike disciplines came together! BMX, mountain, road… they all seem to stick with their own kind in real life. But here, all the different “genres” were mixing it up together! The amount of bikes and the variety of bikes really gave me a RAGBRAI feel. However, once we got started on the ride, it was a distinctly non-RAGBRAI feel. There were not enough recumbents, tandems, people riding in sneakers, or portable boom boxes to make it like RAGBRAI- and too much spandex, fancy bikes, and clipless pedals. But the vibe was still great.

It was an out and back, so my enjoyment of all the awesome descending that started the course was tempered a bit that- all I could thing was “we gotta ride back up this fucker!” The only other thing that lessened my enjoyment was a slow leak in the front tire. Because OF COURSE I would get a flat. As the flat queen, it’s practically required. Luckily my riding partner, Jeff, had a spare tube. Later he mentioned that the tube had a patch on it, so it’s probably not my fault.

After the first major downhill and roller of the first 10 miles, it was pretty flat for the rest of the ride. Not totally flat, but definitely not terribly challenging. But OHMIGOD the views were stunning! I just couldn’t get over how beautiful it was. Normally, I don’t get off my bike too much when I’m riding, but I made an exception for this ride.

So I ride and I take lots of pictures and everything is beautiful. But really all I can think about is the monster hill waiting for us upon our return. We finally make the turn to the last uphill road. The wind dies down and the sun starts beating on us. And when we get to the base of the climb, I say “oh SHIT.” Because it is really long. And steep. I wish I had taken a picture, because it was impressive. It wasn’t all one big hill, but 3 hills broken up by a little downhill. As I start up the hill, I know there is no way I’m going to make it to the top without stopping. So I say to myself, “just make it to that little bit of shade, then you can rest.” And I do. I rest with two others, a couple of cars go by and ask if we need help. No, I’m just out of shape, I tell them. When I start again, I somehow pull one of my water bottles so hard that it rips the cage right off the frame. So when I make it to my next shade goal, on the next hill, I use that as an excuse to stop- I have to stop, I’m reattaching my water cage!  On the third hill, I shared my shade with another woman taking a break and a fast looking guy in spandex. That made me feel a little better ;) Anyway, the whole thing was very reminiscent of RAGBRAI- no shade, blazing sun, no wind. The hills were a bit more intense- I think the last hill hit 7% for a bit. I’m glad no one was there to see me riding- it was ugly. I had the opposite of nice form and was definitely pedaling squares. As I jerked my bike up past someone who was walking up the last hill, I gasped out “I’m pretty sure this is a circle of hell, where the hills never stop.” She assured me this was the last hill and I cried. Literally. As I saw the massive parking lot come into sight, I cried. I was so happy the hill torture was over.

I did have a coupon for a free beer and food and a massage for after the ride, but I was so damn hot and so tired that I couldn’t bear the thought of being out in the blazing sun trying to track these things down. I just wanted to have a shower and a nap. So that’s why I didn’t go to Sea Otter on Saturday.

Caution: bike will make you appear faster than you are

My ride and riding partner, Jeff (@jaowen)

That evening, we went to Jan’s house to return the bike and have dinner. Heather Nielson (@rideempowered) was staying with them, so I got to meet and chat with her as well. I wish I had taken a photo of all the Twitter folks, but I wasn’t that on top of things.

Sunday I had planned to go out and actually spend time at Sea Otter, but my ride, Jeff, had to leave around noon and I still had to figure out how to meet up with my brother. So no Sea Otter on Sunday. After I meet up with my brother, we drove down to Carmel Beach to see the ocean. Then we did a wine tasting and bought cheese for fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. All so very California.

Monday the only interesting thing I did was go the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Which is practically a requirement for visiting Monterey. Luckily, Adam’s roommate had a membership to the aquarium, so I didn’t even have to pay to get it! It was a pretty amazing place. Aquariums aren’t really my thing, but it was crazy well done. The deep sea tank was fascinating, but I think I liked the kelp tank a bit more- watching the swaying kelp and fish was mesmerizing.

Jellyfish fascinate me and creep me out

So my trip to California was a giant success and I can’t wait to go back. And next time I’ll wear more sunscreen so I don’t fry…

Check out more photos on Flickr!

The Vasa Ride of Pain

I feel like it’s time for a ride update- what do you think?? You know you love it! The last big ride I did was the Vasa ride through WABA (Washington Area Bicycle Association) – and that ride was a bitch, let me assure you. This ride is done in conjunction with the Embassy of Sweden, as a tribute to the Vasaloppet, a cross country skiing race across Sweden. It is a 90km race that happens on the first Sunday of March and it commemorates “the trail of renegade Swede King Gustav Eriksson Vasa, who led the rebellion to free Sweden after a long and dangerous pursuit on skis.” (from the WABA website). This ride also took place on the first Sunday of March. Consequently it was cold. Damn cold. It is also 90km- just over 90km actually at 94km (59mi). That’s pretty damn long for the first organized ride of the year. And, I feel WABA has gone out of its way to make an exceptionally hilly ride for the area. (I bet you can guess where this is all going…)

I'm the one in the non hi-vis green. Kate is the one with the blue bag. (image: WABA Flickr)

Here’s something you may not know- the beginning of March is not exactly the ideal time to try and ride 59 very, very hilly miles. Especially if you have been close to sedentary for most of the winter. I thought for sure I’d have some bike fitness – I’m not one of those people who puts their bike away for the winter and doesn’t look at it again until spring. I tried to commute home at least twice a week (even though that rarely happened) and if the weather was nice on the weekends, I’d go out and ride. But I had no idea how much bike fitness I’d lost until I tried this ride. I was impressed with how awful this ride was. The first bit was okay- fast and flat. But the minute we got up the first hill, the road started going up and down, up and down, and it didn’t stop. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced this type of fatigue in my legs before. It was almost a numb pain – but I could still feel every single muscle in my leg working to push and pull that pedal. When we stopped and I had to click out, clicking back in again was almost more than my muscles could take – like I didn’t want to waste a single iota of energy. I’ve experienced piercing pain and concentrated pain (mainly when I rode on Skyline Drive), but this numb sort of pain was new. I thought RAGBRAI had anesthetized me to hills, but I was wrong. I wanted to cry when we’d crest one hill only to see another one. I actually did cry at the top of one hill. It was just too much- the breathing, the legs, the despair! Luckily, a nice out of town lady who had been riding with me, Suze, stopped and made sure I was okay.

There I am again! (image: WABA Flickr)

I stayed most of the ride with my new friend Suze and would often ride with Kate (aka @girlonabikedc). We had done about 45 miles when we realized we had taken a wrong turn. Eventually, we just decided to take this shortcut back to the Embassy- I could not bear the thought of the two giant hills that awaited us in the other direction. My legs were DEAD, my ass/lady bits were starting to hurt and all I could think about was making a big ass hamburger once I got home. Not to mention that my feet were totally numb. Because it was waaaay colder than I anticipated it would be. I have shoe covers, but I’ve never used them and since the weather had been pretty nice so far, I thought it would be too warm for them. I was wrong. As wrong as one can be. I literally could not feel my feet. The combination of the cold and new clipless pedals meant I had to stop periodically, take off my shoes and get some blood flowing to them again.

You'd be forgiven for thinking he was a Rabobank rider- he even had the team issued bike

So, between the cold, numb feet, distance and hills, it wasn’t an awesome ride. I’d have to think long and hard about doing this ride again next year – at least the 59 mile route. There is no way I’ll be in any better shape next year and the ride is close to impossible to do in an enjoyable way at the level I was at this year. They do have a 31 and 15 mile ride- I’d do one of those! But… I did meet some fun people (my helper Suze and fellow DC rider Kate) and it was a good challenge ;)

It sure was gorgeous out, even if it was cold...

Anniversary

I feel a bit guilty, as this post has been sitting in my queue for awhile now, but I got distracted by podcasting (cycling AND movies!). Now that those have been established, I can get back to writing.

As this post was languishing in drafts, an important anniversary came and went- namely the anniversary of my bike marriage. It was a year ago February that I finally took the plunge and asked a bike to go home with me. Luckily she said yes and we’ve been life partners since. Like any relationship, there have been ups and downs. There are the awesome highs of finishing an amazing ride, of feeling deliciously drained after a hard ride, of finding yourself up to a challenge. Then there are the horrible lows of riding a saddle made of nails, of lady bits screaming in pain, of having legs that feel like wood, of changing endless flat tires, of the never ending pain of climbing. In fact, the lows got so bad during RAGBRAI, and our relationship deteriorated so badly, that there was a period of separation after it ended. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy being with her again. But after a week of a self imposed bike fast, getting back on the bike felt right. It constantly amazes me how even when I’m dying on the bike and am totally miserable, I keep going and I’ve yet to find anything that can keep me off my bike permanently.

I remember the first time I rode my bike home. It was probably only a half mile, but I could barely climb the stairs to the house when I got home, my legs were so shaky. Even the little hills of my neighborhood were daunting. My first rides were just half hour rides around the neighborhood. Once I discovered the trails near my house, I rode on those. They were easier, because they weren’t as hilly as the streets and I felt safer without the traffic. I started riding for an hour after work. Once, I went on a ride with Shannon around Greenbelt part which was quite hilly and I felt like death. After that ride, I realized it was time to start riding hills. So I mapped out a route in my neighborhood that took me up every large hill. It sucked, but definitely helped improve my fitness and I was able to ride hills without standing the whole time.

When I look back on my first year with my bike, the two things that strike me the most are how much my fitness has improved and how climbing doesn’t seem so scary anymore. My fitness certainly has room for improvement and I’m not looking to train like a pro, but when I think back on those first few rides, it’s crazy how far I’ve come. And I LOVE it! I still get frustrated when I can’t keep up with others, mainly because it’s a dispiriting reminder that I have a long way to go. Learning to not dread hills is also a huge hurdle I’ve gotten over. I can’t say I like hills, but I don’t despair quite as much when I see them as I used to. I’m pretty sure I have RAGBRAI to think- the rollers of the Midwest will do that to you.

So, what lies ahead for me and my bike? More riding, of course! I want to do more organized rides and more group rides. No RAGBRAI for me this year, unfortunately. I’m not able to get a ride back to Iowa and the thought of arranging and paying to get me and my bike home is more than I can handle. But I’d like to find another long ride to do- multi day or not. Maybe a century. Fitness-wise, I’d love to get better on the hills. I can usually hold my own on the flats, but the minute the road turns up, I’m out the back. Not dying on the hills would be nice.

In an advocacy vein, I want do more to help women get on bikes and feel comfortable. Recently, I helped put on a buying a bike workshop with one an LBS downtown. I’m part of an all female Meetup cycling group and I’m going to plan beginner rides to introduce women to group riding, trail riding, street riding. I really just want to be able to share my experiences getting back on the bike with other women to help make them feel more comfortable.

Off the bike, I’m going to go to more bike races! I’ve already bought tickets to go out to California for Sea Otter. I’m going to go to the Philly International Cycling Championship in June and I’m gonna try my hardest to work around my brother’s HS graduation so I can go the US Championships in Greenville this year as well! I want to go to more racing around the DC area and support the local racing scene.

But, mostly, I just want to continue to ride my bike.

Mud, Beer, and Cross

I came home with muddy boots, muddy pants, and an achy body. But above all, I came home with great memories, new friends, and a happy heart. I spent the first weekend of the new year in Madison, Wisconsin, soaking up all that the Cyclocross National Championships had to offer.

I really had no idea what to expect, as this was definitely the biggest cross race I’d ever been to. I figured there would be big crowds, beer, and lots of cute cyclists. I was right on all accounts!

Beer

To be honest, I can’t say I was overwhelmed or in awe of anything- except maybe seeing in the flesh the cross stars I’d been posting on Tumblr all season. I’m not a good fan girl- I get shy, reserved and bit awkward around those I consider celebrities. I feel super awkward asking for autographs or pictures, as much as I want them. So, when I went to breakfast the morning I got in, and realized halfway through that Ryan Trebon was sitting at a table across the way and then saw Jeremy Powers walk in, I first went crazy inside with giddy excitement, then ignored them and pretended they’re ordinary people. Which is my normal MO. I actually really dislike this part of my personality, but I’m not sure how to change it. Because, let’s be honest, I don’t see a lot of famous people on a day to day basis. ANYWAY. Regardless of my awkward fan girl nature, it was amazing to see all the people I’d only seen on the Internet. Friday there was a roundtable discussion with some of the female racers to talk about women in the sport, so I got to meet Sue Butler, Mo Bruno Roy, and Meredith Miller. Then, there was a meet and greet with some of the big names- Jeremy Powers, Ryan Trebon, Tim Johnson, Zach McDonald, Cody Kaiser, Jonathon Page…

I did work up the nerve, with the help of my twitter friend Roxanne, to get Jeremy Powers to sign the hat she had gotten from Zach McDonald. 

 

#CXNats takeaways:

  • Ryan seems more uncomfortable with his “star” status. Between that and his maybe more introverted nature, he’s a bit more awkward around fans. Jeremy’s more extroverted nature, his hyperness, and his comfort with the spotlight have made him a bit more comfortable with fan interaction.
  • It was tempting to run around the course to try and watch it develop, but I found it was more enjoyable to find a spot and stay there for the whole race. Running around so you can see your favorite riders again is good fun, but I found it to be less stressful to hang out in one spot and watch the laps go by- you could stake a prime spot and not have to worry about missing them as they came around. It was almost more fun to cheer on the rider in last place than the guys in the front- they may be last, but they’re still way more awesome than I am just for being there.

Tim & the cupcake

  • The course was BEAUTIFUL. I’m a midwest girl and I appreciate prairie and rolling hills and open sky, so this course was perfect for me.

  • Next year, I’ll just come out for the weekend. While it was great to be there for 3 days, it wasn’t really necessary. I didn’t know anyone racing on the first day, and only 1 or 2 on the second day. It’s not quite as much fun to watch when you don’t know anyone racing and the crowds aren’t really big yet. So basically it was two days of checking out the course, doing recon, taking pictures, and taking in the atmosphere. While that’s awesome, it doesn’t need two days! AND next year I’ll leave on Monday. Leaving Sunday evening meant I had to miss the big after party after the races! Arguably the most important event of the weekend. Seriously bad planning on my part.

Best part of the weekend? I’m pretty sure I made my family into cross converts. My sister, brother, and dad all drove up from Iowa to watch the race with me and I think they were suitably impressed. I know I impressed them with my heckling- I’m a tame heckler by most standards, but yelling insulting encouragement at the riders was not something they expected. But they yelled as loud as I did at the riders going by at the stairs, barriers, and finish line. They knew no one, but it’s so easy to get sucked into the amazing atmosphere, with all the great fans that come out. And to top off a great weekend, we got our picture in VeloNews.

Photo credit: Wil Matthews/VeloNews

Molly did a good job matching my enthusiasm. John was a little more restrained. It’s not a golf game, John!

I also have to give a shout out to my twitter pals Roxanne and Melissa who drove me around and let me hang out with them. Thanks, girls!

It was a fabulous weekend and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Check out the rest of my photos here!

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