#30DaysofBiking: Day 6 | Shake

Tanline and bike grease

Today I was too lazy to spend time kitting up for a long ride but I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather, so I just rode to Silver Spring so I could sit outside while I enjoyed a shake and read my book.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 5 | Back in the saddle

After almost a week and half of not being on my bike, I figured it was time to get back on. I blame most of that time off on the hurricanes- first there was Irene, then Lee, which meant we spent all of last week wading through water. Then once the weather cleared up, I had a friend visiting. Then when she left, I honestly wasn’t interested in riding- I was out of the habit and unmotivated. Often, if I go too long between rides, I start feeling anxious and antsy. But the past week, I’ve had no desire to get on my bike and even the good weather didn’t make me miss it much. I would say that I wished I could be on my bike, but I didn’t mean it. It felt a little weird- I’ve never had that happen before. It also made me a little nervous- was my love affair with my bike starting to fizzle out? Even though the day I took this ride I was super stressed out at from work and life, I had no desire to take a ride- which is often the first thing that comes to mind when I need some recovery time. I was tempted to veg out at home, once again instead of going through the hassle of getting ready for a ride. But a bike friend convinced me it would make me feel better and made me feel guilty about avoiding my bike. So I kitted up and headed out. And, of course, I was glad I did. Even though I left later than I should have, so I had to deal with tons of traffic, it was still lovely out and I got to spend a bit of time away from traffic on a little used trail. I could tell it had been awhile since I’d been on the bike- my legs felt the burn on the smallest of hills and my breathing was extra labored. But it was a good workout, I didn’t get hit by any cars and I’ve broken the couch potato habit.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 4 | Too Late

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had intended to go on a group ride this morning. On Sundays, one of the bike shops downtown does a group ride that I enjoying doing. However, because I couldn’t get my lazy butt out of bed fast enough this morning, I missed the early train and they had already left by the time I got there! So I didn’t completely waste the effort I had put into getting ready, I biked home. So instead of getting 25 miles in toady, I got in 6. Better than zero.

 

#30DaysofBiking: Day 3 | Great Falls

Along the C&O Canal

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Today Kiah and I rode out to Great Falls. It was quite amazing. Great Falls is an area where the Potomac river has carved through the bedrock and created a stunning section of rapids. I had no idea what the Great Falls were or what it might look like, so when we got to the overlook, my breath was just taken away. The amazing thing was how you look to the horizon and it’s just jagged rock and the raging river just seems to appear out of nowhere. Nature! (More picts here)

The ride was decidedly unstrenuous. Rode out on MacArthur Blvd to the C&O Canal, all of which is quite flat. Weather was perfect, albeit a little humid, but no sun. Lovely day on the bike!

#30DaysofBiking: Day 2|New Bike

Sophie, out of the saddle, testing a bike


Not for me. No, I love Louise and don’t need a new bike. At least not yet. Today I helped my friend Sophie pick out a bike. We grew up together and ended up living two doors down from each other in the same apartment building. She’s been talking about getting a bike for ages and asked if I would help her pick one out. And yesterday we made it happen! It felt so good to be able to offer my knowledge to make her feel more comfortable. She was like me, doing research, research, research before she went to the shop, but, just like me, realized it’s about the bikes in front of you, not about the hypothetical “best” bike for you. The “best” bike is the one you ride that feels the best! Buying your first bike is super intimidating and I never would have bought mine if Shannon hadn’t come with me- just her presence was comforting! I was happy to pass along that comforting presence to Sophie and offer what little advice and prodding she needed.

When Sophie and I go on our first bike ride together, I’ll post a picture!

#30DaysofBiking: Day 1|Take 2

 

Well. It’s happened again. This month has been declared a #30DayofBiking month. I participated last time a #30DaysofBiking was declared, back in April. I enjoyed the challenge of coming up with new pictures to share and new stories to tell last time and decided I wanted to do it again. I got a bit lazy towards the end- taking pictures but not blogging them- so I only actually go up to day 23, even though I swear I biked 30 days. I’m going to try it again and this time make it to the end. I’ve recently moved and am looking forward to photographing and writing about my new haunts.

So. Today. You know how they say in cycling circles, “Go on a ride, it will make all your troubles go away”? And the generally accepted belief that cycling makes everything better? While in theory, I support and love this idea, in practice, I’ve found it not to be true.  Sometimes, when I go out on my bike in a bad mood or a negative attitude, I just stew in the bad ju-ju and my bad mood just festers. It affects how I feel on my bike and how I see others around me. I even start to hate on my fellow cyclists- “Why you gotta ride like that?! Why don’t you ride the right way, like ME?!” And that was today. A lost wallet was the cause of such a bad mood and even riding around Hain’s Point with lovely weather was not enough to distract from my irritation at myself. So, while generally a bike ride can cure many ills, there’s no guarantee.

Check out all of my #30DaysofBiking posts here.

The Bike Path

For those who have daily contact with me, or for those I’m friends with on Twitter, the way my life revolves around cycling doesn’t seem unusual- or at least it isn’t a surprise. For those who knew me during other phases of my life and have less than daily contact with me, this obsession might seem a bit strange and out of left field- I certainly wasn’t obsessed with cycling in college or high school and I didn’t even own a bike. So I thought I’d take a post to explain where it all came from. I’ve touched on my entrance into cycling in a few past posts and why it means so much to me, but here’s the official version.

Let’s set the scene: It’s 2010. July. I’ve finally finished grad school and my last paper is submitted. I’m only working part time, trying to find a job. So I spend a lot of time at home, watching TV. But it’s the middle of the day and it’s the middle of summer- double whammy against any good TV. So as I’m flipping through channels, I notice the Tour de France is on. I like France, and I liked to pretend that I knew anything about the Tour, and there’s nothing else on, so I decide to watch.

I recognized Lance, of course, and I recognized Andy Schleck from the brief viewings of the Tour the year before, when I was in France. That’s pretty much it. I immediately took a fancy to Andy, and his duel with Contador kept me tuning in day after day. And even though the Tour ended, my obsession with Andy did not. I started watching the Eneco Tour and even though I was quite confused as to why Andy was not riding with his team, I kept watching. I start understanding how cycling works. I continued to devour any and everything related to cycling- news sites, blogs, videos, YouTube, books, etc. Then the Vuelta a Espana arrived (another Grand Tour like the Tour de France, which takes place in Spain). By this time I was actually starting to understand how cycling and cycling tactics worked. This made watching the race even more exciting. When the Vuelta ended, I had a new cycling crush (Vincenzo Nibali) and firmly cemented love of cycling in my heart.

While all of this race watching was going on, I was becoming more entrenched in the cycling community on Twitter. Many of the people I followed were serious cyclists themselves. And I would read their tweets about their rides and their bikes and be a bit jealous. They were all so passionate about the bike- how it made them feel, how they felt on it, how they longed to be on it. I wanted that- I wanted to be part of that world and feel what they felt. I wanted to feel a love for an activity, a sport- something I’d never experienced before. And there was a bit of me that felt like a poser- writing and obsessing over cycling, but not actually owning a bike. I realize now this is silly, but at the time, I didn’t even like to admit I didn’t have a bike. These feelings, and Shannon’s encouragement, lead me to purchase my bike.

I know it’s clichéd to say, but cycling really has made a huge change in my life. I’m much more active than I’ve ever been. It makes me feel better about myself and my body. I (often) make better eating choices, as I hate the thought of “ruining” all the hard work I’ve done on the bike! While riding is exercise for me, I mainly ride because I love how it makes me feel and because it’s fun- and that really makes all the difference. I enjoy the kinship I feel with other cyclists, pro and otherwise- I can understand their pain and suffering on the bike and the love they have for their bikes. I now know what it means to have good leg days and bad leg days. I now know what it feels like to wish your time on the bike would never end and when it can’t end fast enough. I now understand how climbing, while painful, can provide its own set of enjoyments.

I’m starting to understand things about myself as well. I don’t like to suffer, but I can push myself even when I’m outside my comfort zone- mainly because I’m stubborn! I’m starting to realize where my limits are- while I like going fast up the climbs, mostly it just makes me want to die, so I’m better off going at my own pace, even if it means being off the back. I don’t dread climbing as much as I did (thanks RAGBRAI!), mainly because  I’ve realized that climbing will never get easier if I refuse to do it. I have a hard time pushing myself when I’m alone, so group rides and training partners are best for me if I want to improve.

I’ve met some wonderful people through Twitter and my cycling adventures and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Cycling is the one area of my life right now that truly makes me feel happy, even when it’s making me feel unhappy. I can’t explain why this is or what about exactly about cycling is so important to me, but all I know is that I want to keep doing it…

In the mind of a pro: Taylor Phinney’s blog

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside the peloton and inside the head of a pro cyclist, look no further than Taylor Phinney’s blog. He’s been doing a fabulous job blogging every day of his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a Espana. Phinney has just started his first year as a pro (which makes him a neo pro!) and expectations are sky high to become the next big American cycling thing. Although he had a rough start to his year (sore knee, crashes, poor race results), he seems to finally be on the right track. He writes a lot about riding in the peloton, which seems exotic to recreational cyclists like myself. But he also writes about familiar things- pushing through pain, questioning his career choice, wanting to die, but then ultimately remembering that he loves the bike and everything it puts him through. Even as a recreational cyclist, these are things I can relate to. And it makes me happy to know that even the pros suffer like I do, even if it is at a much higher pace and for a longer time!

Click the picture to go through to his blog!

Click to visit his blog

The tale of RAGBRAI 2011

Here are some things I don’t really like: Lines. Crowds. Extreme heat. Unrelenting sun. Porta Potties. Suffering. Anyone who knows anything about RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) knows all of these things are an integral part of the event. When I signed up for RAGBRAI, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Hey! Let’s ride our bikes across Iowa! In 7 days! 450 miles, that couldn’t be so bad, could it? That sounds like a good idea and not hard at all! Let me just say that it is, in fact, hard. Very, very hard. At least if you’re me. Now, most people are not me, so maybe they will have a different opinion on the difficulty of this ride. But right now we care about my opinion (and to give you some idea of the crowds I experienced- about 10,000 people signed up to ride the whole week. I heard reports it swelled up to 22,000 during the week from one/two day riders. That’s a lot of freaking people).

Had I known beforehand the amount of suffering doing RAGBRAI would cause me, I’m not sure I would have done it. It truly was a miserable experience for me. The three things which most adversely affected me were the sun, the heat, and my saddle. Iowa, being part of the plains states, does not have many trees to offer blessed shade while you are riding. So riding in the full blazing sun all day is par for the course. I have no idea what the actual temperature was most of the time (I was too afraid to find out!), but I know it hovered around 100 most of the week. Add the extreme heat to the unrelenting sun and the humidity and you have the perfect combination to knock me out. I really don’t think I can adequately express how much the sun and heat makes me want to die. I can literally feel the heat beating on me- it feels like a physical pressure on my body. And this pressure is burning me up- like someone had laid a super hot, heavy electric blanket over my body. It presses me towards the ground and all I want to do is cry. Even though most days would be pretty overcast until about noon, when the sun did come out, it was brutal. My favorite days were either totally overcast days or the ones with plenty of clouds to offer relief from the sun.

THEN, there was the saddle. It transformed my bike into a two wheeled torture device. Because it pretty much felt like I was sitting on nails. Specifically two nails, one on each of my sits bones. And then when I went over bumps, it was like two gnomes were taking hammers and pounding them into my butt. And let’s not even talk about how bad some of the roads were in Iowa. When I was on the bike, all I wanted to do was get off the bike, but when I was off the bike, the heat was so much that all I wanted was to get back on the bike- a vicious cycle. Then the sores started from all the sweating and rubbing from an ill-fitting saddle. So then pedaling was a chore. It got to the point where I was dreading getting on the bike in the morning. But for some reason, every morning I would put my ass back on the saddle. And this is how it went. (check out more photos here)

Ready for the first day. Blissful ignorance.

Day 1: Glenwood to Atlantic: 60 miles; 4,298 feet of climbing

About half way through the first day, I thought, “If every day is like this, I don’t think I can finish.” The sun was out in full force and it was ridiculously hot out. It was the 2nd hilliest day, as well. It only took about two hours for me to become totally demoralized. The sweat was just dripping off of my face and the hills were causing me to feel like I was going to hyperventilate. I was off the back (of our group- there’s no back in RAGBRAI) by myself and wondering how I was going to make it. Luckily, at some point I ran into Shannon and she was kind enough to stay with me through the rest of the day. She would go on ahead, but wait for me at the next town or at the top of a particularly brutal hill. Her presence really helped get me through that first day.

Today was the day I had my first flat. Luckily, it happened within a short distance of a nice shady tree, so changing it wasn’t too much work. Except for the part where I forgot to put the tire back on before I inflated it- duh! So to avoid having to deflate the whole tire, I just took off one of the brake pads to get it back on.

Atlantic was a cruel end town. The sign welcoming you to Atlantic was about a mile outside the town and there was a steep little kicker right outside of town. We were staying at a family friend’s house and the route to their house was suuuper hilly. It had some nasty climbs and I was thisclose to getting off my bike, but decided I had ridden the rest of the day, so dammit, I wasn’t going to let this last hill break me! Shannon and I were the last ones in, at about 5:30. It was a long, hard first day, and I was glad to be able to take a real shower and sleep in a bed!

So. Many. People.

Day 2: Atlantic to Carroll: 65.5 miles; 4,719 feet of climbing

The day started off overcast and humid. That was perfectly fine by me- I don’t care how humid it is, as long as there is no sun! For whatever reason, today was not as horrible as the first day- maybe because it was not as sunny? The day went really fast, although I have no idea why. The shock of climbing also seemed to have worn off as well, as I don’t have much recollection of suffering much on that front.

Day 3: Carroll to Boone: 71 miles; 1,787 feet of climbing

It is safe to say that this day was the lowest point of the ride for me. The sun was out in full again today, I’m sure it was over 100 most of the day, and the saddle pain was reaching its heights, not to subside until the ride was over. The meetup town (the town, usually about halfway through the day, designated as the lunch stop) for this day was horrid. There was no shade anywhere, there was no nice place to eat your lunch, there was no chance of catching a good breeze. In fact, many of the towns we stopped in were not nice towns- just depressing little towns with no character. Today, when the meetup town failed to offer any relief or break from the oppressive heat, I just couldn’t take it any more. There were tears. There was drama. And there was Liza. She saw how upset I was and sent the others along and she shepherded me through the day. She put up with my crying and whining to help me get to Boone.

Day 4: Boone to Altoona: 56 miles; 1,147 feet of climbing

In keeping with the tradition so far that a bad day was followed by a good(ish) day, today’s ride was not so bad. It was totally and utterly flat- how those not from Iowa imagine Iowa is like. The one thing that really kept me going was the thought that I would be meeting some friends once we got to Altoona- although I felt bad because Shannon and I were so tired, we weren’t great company!

Unnecessary bike surgery

Day 5: Altoona to Grinnell: 57 miles; 3,202 feet of climbing

About 5 miles outside of town, I had my second flat (another slow leak). I was with my dad and as we pulled off and turned the bike upside down, this guy joined us and was like, “I can help!” then proceeded to start surgery on my tire. I just wanted to change the tube and get on with it, but he insisted we try and find the leak and patch it. This involved a lot of steps that seemed unnecessary to get me back on the road. While I appreciated his willingness and desire to help, I really didn’t need it and just wanted to stop wasting precious overcast minutes.

Once that flat was out of the way, it was a pretty normal day. The riding groups had been established by this point- Liza with her dad, uncle and family friend in the front; Shannon and John in the middle; and Dad and I off the back. The road into Grinnell was pretty brutal, with some nasty climbs the last 5 miles or so into town.

Tonight I got to sleep in a real bed, do laundry, use a proper shower and sit in the AC for a bit, as Grinnell is where my parents live. My brother who lives in California was also home this week, and I desperately wanted to hang out with him, but I was just so fecking tired, I barely made it past 9:00.

Day 6: Grinnell to Coralville: 75 miles; 2,681 feet of climbing

It felt weird to ride on roads that I’ve driven on countless times. It was a day full of rollers and by this time I had stopped caring about the climbing. It used to demoralize me when I would get to the top of one hill, only to see another on the horizon. Not anymore. Up, down, then up again. It started to have its rhythm. I just expected the hills to go on endlessly and they did. I can’t say I loved the hills or that they were easy, but the sight of them didn’t depress me anymore.

Day 7: Coralville to Davenport: 65.5 miles; 2,363 feet of climbing

The mileage today was average, but it felt like it went on forever. I got my 3rd slow lead today. I thought about changing it, but we were so close to the end, I thought, “If Johan Van Summeren can win Paris-Roubaix on a slow leak, I can finish this damn ride on one!” So I filled it with air and soldiered on. I was very ready to be off my bike and done with this ride. But…there was a part of me that was a bit sad the experience was ending. Not so much the bike part of it, but the rest of RAGBRAI that went along with it- the atmosphere, the traditions, the people. Even if the riding hadn’t been fun, just the experience of RAGBRAI was a little bit.  And thus ended RAGBRAI.

Total mileage: 454 miles

Total feet of climbing: 21,206 feet

Time dulls all pain so women will give birth to more than one child and so people will continue to do RAGBARI year after year. During the week of RAGBRAI, if you asked me if I would do it again, I would’ve said “HELL NO.” But a few weeks later it’s possible to remember the fun bits of the ride. I loved the sheer number of cyclists. I loved being around so many bikes, all the time. Bikes literally covered every inch of ground in the pass through towns. It was fabulous to see whole towns closed off to cars and to see bikes be given preference everywhere. I love the neat RAGBRAI traditions: bike parking made of cables strung between tractors; cornfield potty breaks; Beekman’s Homemade Ice Cream; the people who set up sprinklers or hoses for cyclists to ride through; the unique free water stations set up by the towns; afternoon naps in the shade; cyclists of all shapes and sizes; the musical bikes; advertisements for “free shade;” rest stations set up by anyone and everyone (especially rest stations set up at the top of hills!); High School pep band entertainment; pie; beer gardens everywhere; fair food everywhere. It was really fecking tough and most days I wondered how I was going to make it to the overnight town. I think only the fact that I never envisioned a scenario where I didn’t finish the ride kept me on the bike. Will I do it again? I’d consider it ONLY if I had a saddle I  knew I could sit on for 6+ hours a day without wanting to die. The heat and humidity- that I could get used to, as much as I hate it. And weather’s constantly changing. But your saddle- once that’s bad, it doesn’t go back! This year, I suffered every minute on the bike, and dreaded the thought of ever coming back. But…now…ask me again in January!

Things I learned while on RAGBRAI

  • when a Prius tells you it needs gas, it needs gas RIGHT NOW
    Outta gas at a toll station
  • Cornfields make suitable bathrooms (although I never had need of their services)
  • Although you may not be a big breakfast person when you start RAGBRAI, you will by the time you finish
  • Climbing is just climbing- turn the pedals over and get to the top, coast, repeat
  • Tree shade is vastly superior to tent shade
  • There is no right or wrong way to be a cyclist
  • Having big eyebrows would come in handy when trying to keep sweat out of your eyes
  • If you have forgotten to sunscreen one millimeter of your body, the Iowa sun will find it and fry it
  • It is possible to sleep through concerts, busing coming and going, noisy generators, and any other odd assortment of night noises
  • Iowa roads have lots of seams in them which, when ridden over, cause much bouncing and pain on the saddle
  • I really hate porta potties and will do almost anything to avoid using them
  • I love riding through the sprinklers by the side of the road
  • I don’t like to suffer and I’m whiny when I am
  • Sometimes 2 miles can seem like 15 and sometimes 15 can seem like 2
  • It’s okay to be slow. It’s okay to be off the back. (I’ve yet to fully convince myself of this, but I’m working on it)
  • Sometimes you can train a lot and not notice any difference
  • When someone is looking out for you, it’s easier to finish a rough day

    Liza and Shannon, my saviors

How Cycling Works: Living on the Bike

Lunch time! Photo: MissingMaine.wordpress.com

Now that we’ve covered all the basics of racing a grand tour, what about how the riders “live” on the bikes? There is food that needs to be eaten, nature that needs answering, water that needs to refilled, plus clothes layered on and off. All of these things have to happen while riding a bike at speeds many sane people would consider insane. But, for pro cyclists, it’s just part of the game.

Food

Cyclists eat a lot. A lot, a lot. Especially cyclists that are riding in a three week race. They are constantly shoving food in their face to replace all the calories lost through racing. While 3,000 calories a day is recommended for an average man, a pro cyclist can burn up to 5,000 calories a day. To consume enough calories to replenish those lost calories and supplement of the next day’s racing, a racer has to be eating all the time. This means eating on the bike as well as off of it. To replenish a rider in the middle of a long stage, riders pass through a feed zone. In the feed zones, team soigneurs (French for “care giver”) stand by the side of the road with musettes full of food and water bottles. The bag is called a musette because it resembles the type of small bag with a shoulder strap often carried by soldiers or travelers. The soigneur stands at the side of the road with a musette in his/her outstretched arm and as the peloton comes barreling down the road at top speeds, a rider from his/her team will snatch the musette out of the soigneur’s hand. They’ll quickly hold up another bag, and the process is repeated. When the rider gets the bag, he’ll loop it around his neck and carry across his chest and proceed to empty the bag into his jersey pockets. He might not take everything, depending on what he likes to eat when he’s riding. Whatever is specifically in the bag, it will be something that contains lots of carbohydrates, the most magical of all the organic compounds when it comes to refueling the body.

Here’s a good video that Garmin-Transitions (now Garmin-Cervelo) did about how they feed their riders:

They’re allowed to take food outside of feed zones, from team cars.

An assisted pee break. Photo: IG Markets Cycling Facebook

When nature calls…

Now that we know how they feed themselves on the bike, what about bathroom breaks? They’re on their bikes for 4 or 5 hours a day, drinking tons of water- nature is going to call eventually. There are two options- on the bike or off the bike. Often, after the break has been established and the pace in the peloton has settled down, the leader or another higher placed GC rider will go to the front and indicate that it’s pee break time! Then, anyone with a need pulls over to the side and takes care of business. Those that don’t, continue riding, but at a sedate pace which allows those stopped to catch back up easily. A rider can just stop at the side for a pee break any time, if the pace is sedate enough that it will be easy to catch back up. However, often it is not possible to take the time to stop. So this means peeing on the fly. This usually involves moving to the back of the group and off to the side, usually with a teammate. The teammate will help stabilize the rider in need of a pee break and the rider will do his business. It ain’t easy, and requires some serious bike handling skills, but these guys are pros for a reason. In general, pee breaks (or “nature breaks” or “comfort breaks” if you’re a Eurosport commentator) are respected as a time when no one attacks or pushes the pace, and if it’s perceived that this is not respected, people can get angry. While it is considered very bad form for the TV crews and photographers to take pictures of these events, it is sometimes caught inadvertently by the TV cameras. This is more likely on Eurosport than Versus, as Eurosport spends more time on the race and less time on commercials. The strange twist to these pee breaks is that it’s technically against the rules to pee in public. There is at least one or two riders a day that get fined for “public urination.” I’m sure this is very subjective, as urinating in public is really the only option during races. However, I suspect it has something to do with how close to spectators the rider chooses to have his comfort break.

Water

While food is mostly delivered to the peloton during specific points, water is something that needs to be consumed throughout the race, especially on hot days. The riders are surely drinking more than the two bottles that fit on their bikes- this means they need someone to get water for them. During a race, if a rider wants water, he’ll usually go back to the team car and collect some bottles. A team leader will rarely go back for his own bottles- usually a domestique will collect as many bottles as he can carry to distribute to his team leader and teammates. Mostly this involves stuffing as many bottles as possible down his jersey!

So, now you’ve had a three part introduction to how cycling works. Let me know in the comments if there’s something about cycling that still baffles you…

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