Description

An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!


Thursday, June 25, 2015

On being an ex bike racer

It's been a lot of years since I lined up for a bike race. Sure, I've done some fast group rides that turned competitive, and ridden some fondos and a triathlon or two since then, but it's not the same at all.

I love to push the pace on the bike, and I'll even give a spirited sprint now and then. I've still got some decent cruising speed, and can find my way around a moving peleton and stay in it long enough to see the final line-up, but frankly I've lost that pointy end. The mind still knows how to get in there, but the legs just aren't gonna cash that check. I can still be the big fish in a small pond on most shop group rides. Most of the folks who show up have never done a true bike race. But when any regular racers show up, they can hand me my hiney on a platter pretty much at will.

And I'm okay with that.
 
There is a certain respect among racers that never goes away, even long after the race wheels have been sold off. And a mystique from non-racers.

I realized in spades just how okay I am with not racing after I had lined up for my last race, the local Tuesday Night World Championships at Pacific Raceways back in... 2006?

Some people joke that PR (Pacific Raceways) actually stands for Pretend Racing, and likely many people hold back on those nights. I never did -- when it came to racing, I was always drilling it, no matter what the event. It was racing, after all, and as a racer, if there are accolades at the finish, by thunder I was gonna race.

Okay, so mainly my team role was first lead-out man. Meaning that unless there were a lot of hills, especially with a hilltop finish, or this was a stage race that included a time trial, it wasn't my turn for personal glory. But I was good at my job, and did it with joy, ushering my second lead-out and sprinter to the fore more often than I can count, and watching the pack stream by as I gasped my way across the line, long-since spent.

ANYway... So back to that night in 2006 (I think). My last racing year prior to that was probably 1996, the culmination of years of racing an average of 4 days a week from May through August (with it starting around 2 days a week as early as February). Track racing on Wednesdays, full calendar of weekend events, Tuesday nights every week, Thursday crits... I took about 5 years off everything but weight training, and bulked up to... a lot. Got back into triathlon for a couple years, and stupidly thought it'd be cool to drop by the Tuesday Worlds for a taste of the peleton again.

Since my racing license had long-since lapsed, I decided to race the 4/5's instead of the Masters (which included many local cat 1's and 2's, and a few National champions). Lining up, I noticed all the deep section carbon wheels, high-end rides... I just wanted to make it through the end on my semi-aero rims and old Softride. I got more than a bit of ribbing over that. Plain red jersey, as I wasn't on any team. With a blow of the whistle from my good friends who run the event, we headed out.

At a dead sprint.

Hey, this isn't a crit!

I charged ahead as the pack as it slinkied up the first mile, reforming into the less-strung-out version it had been before the whistle. I hung around the back of the pack, just getting the feel of the large group again. Down the chute to the chicane turns, a long shallow uphill to the top straights... I was there, but suffering. Another lap, and I was mentally just throwing in the towel. I hung out for one more time up the hill, and then just let the pack drift off. Kept pedaling, and when the masters pack came by I jumped in the back to finish my workout.

That is when the real assault started.

You see, the 4/5 pack is used to seeing new blood. The masters, not so much. I got derided handily for jumping in a pack that I didn't belong in. Maybe the rules for this event had changed over the ensuing years, but back when I was doing this regularly, it wasn't a problem to jump in but not contest the sprints or affect the breaks. But I think the real issue is that no one knew who I was, that I had done this a LOT (though several years prior), and that I wasn't going to pose a danger to anyone.

Maybe I should have worn my old kit anyway.

But I essentially got flicked off the back by one of the designated generals of the pack. Sure, well-meaning, but the kind of move that enforces the elitist reputation of the upper categories.

I called it a night. And I realized that, really, I was fine with not racing in the peleton any more. I'd made the transition from triathlete to good bike racer once, and it was quite painful, thankyouverymuch. It was a good run. But I wasn't interested in putting myself through that again, in my mid-40's.

I like the events I do -- gravel rides and fondos are keeping me focused enough on riding. And it's fun, even putting on a few low-key events.

And my wife said she'll disown me if I shaved my legs.

Though lately I've been hanging around some active racers. And when the group winds it up, I get that itch...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride -- bigger and better in 2015

The humor wasn't lost on me -- last year's Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride was done on the first weekend of May, and we got rained on for almost the entire ride. So I decided to move the date out two weeks this time around, figuring it would at least increase the chances of good weather.

Two weeks ago I did a recon ride of the course, to make sure everything was okay with the route. And the day was beautiful, sunny and warm.

I kept watching the forecast as ride day approached,the day's rain chance bouncing between 80% and 20%. By Thursday, though, it was settling into the lower range, with occasional forays to 10%.

Fortunately, the day proved to be rainless, though cloudy, and with some wet and muddy roads.

The whole point of this being a "multi-strada" ride is that it's on mixed surfaces -- both paved and unpaved roads. For this ride, though the gravel sections represent less than half of the distance (18.9 of the 47 total miles), they truly BECOME the ride. Pavement is only the means to link up the sections of gravel road.

This year's edition lengthened the off-pavement by a couple miles, and extended the overall distance by some seven miles, with a nice run back into Elbe on the Mountain Highway.

Joe loving the view.
The course was marked, as well as having the Garmin and RidewithGPS files available to everyone, and cue sheets were handed out to the dozen riders who braved the morning. At 9:00, a few final cautions were imparted, and we headed out.

Nine plus miles in, we turned off the highway and into Pack Forest, a large parcel owned by the University of Washington and used by the Forestry department. It's laced with trails and gravel roads, making it a great initial foray off the tarmac. One long climb, followed by another shorter ascent, and the views are astounding. Assuming you have the oxygen and mental wherewithal to enjoy them.
Russ attacking in Pack Forest.

The descent in Pack Forest is one long downhill, which this year claimed several inner tubes.The surface starts as dirt/mulch, but later becomes a nice gravel surface. But there are many exposed larger rocks, so pinch-flats are possible. And as witnessed this past Sunday, likely. There were at least five flats in the group on the way out of Pack Forest. More were to follow.

Back out onto the road we made the short hop into Eatonville and our food stop for the day at 21 miles.

Mark's Santa Cruz,
before 3 flats.
The road out of Eatonville begins climbing almost immediately, and for our chosen route, doesn't stop until the 33 mile marker. The Alder Cutoff Road is a fairly high-trafficked byway linking Eatonville to the eastern route through Elbe and to Mount Rainier. Our route followed this road for a mercifully short distance before taking a shallow left onto Scott Turner Road, a quiet "dead end" road that meanders slowly up the foothills. But the dead end is in pavement only, as the road continues on, and on, and up, and up, all on a fairly nicely maintained gravel surface.

Some custom stickers to the KOM
winner -- bragging rights. Only
KOM winners will ever get these.
This year's ride featured a KOM (King of the Mountain) prize over an unknown segment (I had just created the segment the evening before the ride). And this included a leg-breaking half mile stretch of incline that tests one's ability to turn over even an almost 1:1 gear. My own 34/32 set-up was barely low enough, and I was fortunate to be able to keep going after (for the following mile to the summit). It took me a long time before I could shift out of that lowest gear.

The descent back to the highway was wet and a little sticky at times, but the washboard sections had mostly been smoothed (though included some fairly-freshly-laid gravel). The riders had strung out over quite a distance by then, so I made the descent mostly alone. And it behooved us to keep our speed in check. Brakes in good working order is a must. There are some nicely level-ish sections for relief, though. A final right-hander, and the pavement arrives once more, with the highway just ahead. It was so fun to just open it up on that last downhill, speeds back above 30.

Within a mile of reaching the highway and the final seven mile slightly downhill stretch back into Elbe, I came across a cadre of our group gathered around one of the riders. He was just finishing up changing a flat which had occurred some three miles before. Having run out of spare tubes, and no one else around him at the time, he decided to run, in his mountain biking shoes, pushing his bike. After changing that flat and joining the group again, he helped us along nicely for the 25+ mph paceline back to Elbe. The Hard Man award definitely goes to Chris Wood for that feat.

After some clean up and clothes changing we headed over to the Elbe Bar and Grill for some fantastic burgers, fries and brews. Just what we needed to refuel from the day's efforts.

After riding the whole course
twice in 2 weeks, plus 2 trips
around Pack Forest for marking,
my own flat on the next morning.
The final tally -- 12 riders, 12 flats, and 100% good times.

The day's KOM award went to Russ Clark, for a free burger and some custom frame/helmet stickers by That Sticker Store in Puyallup.

Every one agreed that it was a great ride, and they're looking forward to doing it again next year.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A question of history

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
-- WInston Churchill*

I'll add something to the above quotes in just a bit.

There's something that's really been bugging me. Okay, that's not quite right. "Bugging me" makes it seem far more trivial than reality, as I see an accelerating erosion. It's nothing new. Each generation has sought its share of social change, claiming that those who went before cannot possibly relate to the current times. But just in the last 30 years, it's seemed to become more pervasive, more urgent.

I believe our country is on the verge of something cataclysmic, socially. Social change? More like social collapse.

My addition: Those who don't see the parallels of historically destructive events in our current time are doomed to bring them about once more.

Let me take a look back at a couple of societies, and see what comes up.

Rome was the greatest empire of its time, and likely one of the greatest of all time. Yes, they, as all empires, sought to conquer the world, to ever expand their influence, to impose their world view upon those uncultured and opposing realms beyond the borders of their rule.

Roman Formation
from Wikimedia Commons
They had the most feared army.

They had the greatest prosperity.

They enjoyed more leisure time.

Their senate was the most well-balanced of governments.

Their culture was, by their admission, the most enlightened.

They were what other empires wanted to be, the culmination of human social evolution to that point.

And Rome burned from within while, as urban legend has it, its emperor (Nero) played fiddle.

One of the subjects on the fringe of the Roman empire was Britania. Merry Olde England.

King George III -- Alan Ramsay
from Wikipedia
England became arguably the second great empire. Its reach was far, touching all corners of the globe (yes, I know the "globe doesn't have "corners").

Its army was feared throughout the known world.

Its prosperity was among the top of any culture.

But it was ruled by a tyrannical monarchy.

A group of people packed up and left, risking everything to stand on their principles and start over in a new land.

A group of businessmen risked their very lives by signing a document that told the Mother Land of England to take their rule and shove it. Most of them died for these actions. But it spurred a revolution that resulted in what many call the greatest nation in history.

That new land is the good old U. S. of A. America, land of the free, home of the brave.

It is where the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free come by the boatload.

It is the country that sends its benevolence to every war-torn and disaster-ridden crevice of the world.

It is the country that sends its might to bear in the defense of democracy and opposition of terrorism.

It enjoys the highest levels of prosperity and leisure.

It is also a country that is tearing itself apart at the seams, while its leadership looks on with a mix of disinterest and pot-stirring.

It is a country whose CEOs live in a different world, where profit takes precedence over principle.

It is a country whose government members are more interested in self-preservation than preservation of its citizens.

It is a country that is becoming increasingly divided, following these noted leaders in caring not for their fellow man, as long as they get theirs.

So, look back at the above lists. See any parallels? Rome fell, burned. The principles of England left for a new land.

Oh, how far the mighty have fallen.

There are no new lands to which we can flee.

Will we become another chapter in the histories of fallen empires? Or will we come together to stand on principles again?
Winston Churchill
from museumsyndicate.com

“When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”
—Winston Churchill, House of Commons, May 2, 1935
* The top quote, often attributed to Churchill, apparently never happened. It's the bottom quote that is most likely the source of the first. But the message is the same, regardless.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tacoma Bike Swap

The Tacoma Bike Swap is quite possibly the largest bicycle and bicycle-related garage sale in the Pacific Northwest, and attracts people from all over the region in search of bargains from complete bikes to parts and accessories, and information on commuting and land access.

I had attended the event two years ago as a vendor with a smattering of parts from my bin, as well as some left-over parts and frames from the shop where I worked at the time. Entry is a low $20 per 10ft x 10ft space, and some shops take up several spaces with tables of wares at fair discounts.

So this year I decided to join in the fun as a public debut for Mjolnir Cycles, my bike frame building hobby-turned-business, and also an opportunity to turn over some of my parts bin into available cash. It would serve as a good dry-run for the Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival in October, where I also plan to exhibit (along with another builder friend -- the current plan is that we'll share a space there).

I'd spent a good part of the previous week constructing a backdrop, purchasing some vinyl signs, and planning out the space, selecting which bikes and frames I'd display, ferreting through all the various boxes and stashes of pieces old and older... I had everything together (at least in my mind) and checked off the list by Thursday, with only one headset to install and loading up the car as the remaining tasks.

The day dawned after a fitful night's sleep. Well, actually it dawned while I was spinning away on a stationary bike in the basement. Yeah, I slept that well. Anyway, I wiled away some time, then finally hit the road to the University of Puget Sound campus, where the event was being held.

I arrived with a customary amount of time to spare, got myself signed in, and did what I was told -- wait. Meanwhile several of the vendors pulled down the tape that was blocking half the parking lot, pulled their trucks in and started unloading.

An omen of the day.

The early going was like that "Unfortunately/Fortunately" children's book:
* Unfortunately the area "opened" early.
* Fortunately I was able to get my car into the area anyway.
* Unfortunately access to my space was mostly blocked by large trucks and trailers.
* Fortunately I was able to lug things only a short distance.
* Unfortunately the easy-up tent I'd brought started breaking bolts when I tried to set it up and wouldn't unfold properly.
* Fortunately it was a fairly clear day and rain wouldn't be an issue.
* Unfortunately it also meant I had no shade.
* Unfortunately it also meant I had no wall between me and the used-bike-salesman next to me.
* Fortunately it was a short day.

I got set up with plenty of time to spare, which was a blessing -- I had time to relax before the public was released upon us... In theory. I think I made the bulk of my sales before the 10:00am official start time. But by the time the 2:00 closing bell rang (no, there was no real bell, we just all starting to close up shop), I was ready to be done.

Most of the angst was in regards to the person to my left (as you looked at the booth from the aisle). He had many used bikes of varying quality for sale, and stacked right up to the edge of the space. Which meant that several people were looking at the bike I'd made for my wife and thinking it was part of his inventory (a few people asked him how much he wanted for it). Not having a hard barrier or wall also meant that people would traipse through where there wasn't an aisle, and often trip over my displays in doing so, many times holding one of the used bikes overhead. It got ridiculous.

I realized something later that day -- the mental state of most of the people there reminded me of a Walmart. Just let that sink in for a bit. Yeah, I don't really see a need to go back.

There were definitely some good points to the day, though. I made enough in sales to make up for the booth space fee several times over. That also eliminated some things that were taking up space at home. I generated some interest in the bike frames -- who knows if that turns into orders, but that wasn't really the point. I got a decent layout for the booth space which I think will work well for both of us in October.

And the audience will be of a completely different mindset.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Four Days, Three Rides

My wife was joking when she said that when she and the little one go out of town, I get a vacation.

Last Wednesday they boarded an airplane and headed east to visit her family. I had already scheduled Friday as a vacation day from the day job to make sure I wasn't too harried in getting ready for the Tacoma Bike Swap, which was to be my public debut for Mjolnir Cycles (my bike frame building business), but Wednesday was still fairly young when I decided to take Thursday off as well. The weather forecast was for sunny and warm through the weekend. I quickly mapped out ride routes.

Thursday was a mix of familiar and new, with plenty of climbing, and some gravel and dirt roads. I started at about 10am, just late enough for the day's warmth to start creeping in. Diving down the hill from my house, I discovered that the bead on my front tire hadn't quite seated properly, and it was oscillating fiercely. I stopped and got it situated and re-inflated, then continued on my way.


Fiske Road is a very steep climb, and even though it's fairly short, it's long enough to be a good test. Some gravel across the top, and then a descent back to the main road. A few miles later hits the second climb up Camp One Road, which dead-ends at the little hovel of Ohop. I avoided the community by jumping onto a gravel road which meandered back to the other dead-end spur at the Electron Reservoir. Having the Garmin pre-programmed made trail-blazing easy -- just follow the purple line.

A little hike-a-bike got me back on the road and back towards home. A few more short hills and I was back at the start with 3.5 hours in the saddle.

Friday's ride was a mostly-gravel day on "silently legal" terrain. Joint Base Lewis McChord has hundreds of acres of land they use for training exercises, and it's laced with gravel roads, and not more than 50 feet of elevation change in any direction. Great for a recovery-type gravel ride of about any length you want. However, it is technically closed to the public. I've talked with many people connected to the base, and they've all said that there really isn't a problem  riding there, but in the case that exercises are being run, an escort off the property could result.
I started the day off from a nearby Walmart, parking in the far reaches of their lot. I cruised south and caught my loop west. I could tell every time I got close to where my route crossed a paved road -- mounds of dumped garbage would dot the trailside. Sometimes people just suck. But the riding was great, the views serene and beautiful, and even Officer Friendly who informed me that I was on closed land (fortunately I was within 50 yards of being done with the gravel riding) didn't dampen the day. It probably helped that I showed him a picture of the apparently-abandoned car I'd seen out on the trail. I got back to Wally World with a little over 2.5 hours of ride time.

Saturday was the Tacoma Bike Swap, which I will document in another post. I did get an hour on the trainer early in the morning to check that off the day's list.

Sunday was set as a dry run (and it was dry, thankfully) for the Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride in two weeks. This ride last year was on this weekend, and we ended up in rain most of the ride. I moved the date out two weeks hoping it would increase the chance of dry weather. So the day was beautiful for the dry run. And I sincerely hope it's something close to that in two weeks.

Anyway, I started out at the time of the event, 9am, and headed north on the Mountain Highway. Nine miles later I turned into Pack Forest and the first gravel sector. Pack Forest is private land owned by the University of Washington, and used by the Forestry Department for various educational purposes. It's also laced with trails and well-maintained gravel roads, and open to public use. Up the initial climb to Kirkland Pass (where we then descended last year), I turned right and continued up. While this makes for more climbing, it rewards with great views. A descent down dirt paths gets back to the Mountain Highway.


I added a small loop here, with another gravel sector under power lines, and then a short run into Eatonville, where our rest stop will be for the event.

Leaving Eatonville, the up and up starts, all the way from town, then up Scott Turner Road. Six miles up S-T, the pavement ends, and the real climbing starts. There's a half-mile stretch near the top that is a killer, and it was the final climb last year. This year, we continue up, but it makes the descent easier. Anyway, I made it up this stretch without walking this time around, and paid the price by hanging over my handlebars on the side of the road, unable to do more than heave my lungs for 5 minutes. I then gingerly restarted, and got the rest of the way up and then down the other side, picking my way through the washboard switchbacks. Back to the Mountain Highway, and a seven mile slightly downhill run back to Elbe, I finished the day with just under 4 hours "behind bars".

Today is back to work, and I pick my wife and young daughter up from the airport early this afternoon. 

Four days, three great, long rides. And I think I'm well tired now. I need a break from my vacation...