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!

The Daily Bike: New Year

The first ride of the new year. 

I don’t go crazy over new years. I don’t see how the calendar turning over to a new month, a new year is the magic potion to make people a better version of themselves. I speak from experience- you’ll only make those changes if you’re ready and willing to make them.

I took a ride because it was my first day back after being home for holidays. And let me tell you about my new favorite website: MapMyRide.com. Most of you will probably be thinking, have you been living under a rock?? Yeah, yeah. I’ve been on it awhile, but just realized how it can help me.I’m not very good at just going out and riding- I need a plan or general route. And MapMyRide is perfect for helping me find rides in the area that other cyclists have done. All you have to do is type in an address or town and it will find all the routes people have logged. It’s great for inspiration and ideas. Today I went somewhere totally new, but other days, I’ve used it to help link up rides I often do with new areas and routes. This helps keep me excited about riding. I get bored if I’m riding the same routes all the time. So while it isn’t perfect (I haven’t figured out how to get those routes I bookmark to show up on my phone), it’s making me excited about riding again!

Dress for success

On Thanksgiving, I went on a ride around DC. It was suggested by someone who is part of one of my meet up cycling groups. I love riding around the city when there isn’t any traffic and Thanksgiving seemed like the perfect time for that. While it wasn’t as empty as I thought it was going to be, we were definitely able to ride on roads that are normally car choked! The weather was amazing- it started off pretty cold, but warmed up pretty quickly. Cyclists are obsessed with the “right” gear for the right weather. Summer is easy- you just wear as little as possible, while maintaining some decency! But all the other seasons require finding that delicate balance between being warm enough and not overheating. Winter is complicated, requiring, at a minimum, a base layer and a wind breaking layer on the top and some sort of fleece lined tights on the bottom. Various other layers can be added depending on the conditions and your susceptibility to cold. Then for your extremities you need covers for those well ventilated shoes and have sufficiently windproof gloves, so neither your toes or fingers fall off. For the top of your body, you need a gaiter or scarf for your neck and a hat or a headband for your ears. Even though it’s a lot, during the winter, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you go out, so the weather is not a surprise. Fall and spring, on the other hand, are much more of a guessing game. There are any number of garments which can be worn in these seasons- arm warmers, long sleeved jerseys, vests, light jackets, leg warmers, knee warmers, knickers, light gloves, heavy gloves, hats, headbands. It’s a game of mix-and-match to find exactly the right combination to suit your body temp and the outside weather.

We cyclists will not stop until we find that perfect combination of clothes for any weather. We will endless debate at exactly what temperature one should wear knee warmers versus legs warmers or arm warmers versus a jacket. We will spend a significant portion of our bike budget on finding the right clothes for the right weather. We will do all of this because we love to ride our bikes. Most of us cannot stomach the thought of putting away our bikes for the winter, not to ride again until the snow melts and temperature rises. Some will brave the nastiest and coldest of weather if only to avoid using the dreaded trainer. I love riding in the winter. I like bundling up, I like how the cold invigorates me, I love coming home and warming up with a hot shower and a hot drink. But best of all, I love having the trails to myself.

Another way to get the streets to yourself? Ride on Thanksgiving morning.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 9 | A Hill

Okay. I’m a little embarrassed that I’m this far behind on #30daysofbiking. My motivation to bike is waaaay down. I barely ride during the week anymore. Going on a ride after work just seems like sooo much work. I’m bored of all my usual routes and I hate riding in after work traffic. So most of my riding is on the weekends. But I enjoy taking pictures and writing about my rides, so I’m going to keep it up, even when it’s not longer fashionable to do so.

On the weekend of this ride, I went with Melissa (my 50 states buddy) out to MacArthur Blvd. My first trip on MacArthur was my ill fated trip with Shannon that resulted in 3 flats, 45 minutes of walking, and a bike fairy. My second trip on MacArthur was out to Great Falls. This time I was finally going to tackle the epic hill of MacArthur. I don’t know much about this hill, except that lots of people ride it because it is hard. Does it have a name? Probably. But I don’t know it. I was dreading it and looking forward to it, as it would be an interesting test of my fitness. The hill was hard…but not that hard. There was suffering, but it was not epic. Whenever I thought it might be too hard, I said to myself, “You did RAGBRAI and 30 miles on that [bleep] Skyline. This hill ain’t nothing but a mole hill compared to that.” So I made it to the top. And I could even hold a conversation with Melissa when I got to the top! Progress, what?!

We took a break about half way through and the second half was pretty brutal. We were riding on more heavily trafficked roads (which is not relaxing), there were a lot of stoplights, it was a lot hillier than I expected, and I was more wiped than I thought I was from the big hill. Melissa is significantly faster on the climbs than I am, so I would get dropped and only catch back up with her when she would stop and wait. It was exhausting. Plus, I was so unprepared food-wise, I had almost no food to eat and was starving. This mean that once I got home, I ate a big ass burger, a milkshake, and drank a beer. Well deserved.