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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
Because I just did. The weather was beautiful, I had a funny podcast to listen to, there wasn’t too much traffic, but I just wanted to OFF MY BIKE. Instead of looking forward to my ride home after work in lovely weather, I was trying to get out of it. The way people talk sometimes, you’d think a ride cures all. IT DOESN’T. I rode on Sunday and had a wonderful time. I rode today and couldn’t wait to be home. Part of the problem might be the routine- I’m bored of my usual commute home. So I don’t look forward to it. So I’m gonna have to fix that, because that whole thing was unpleasant. BAH.
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…)
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.
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.
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 😉
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.