Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's a Wrap


I can tell you that I was NOT looking forward to the New Year last year. I wrapped up the year unhappy and uncertain. I can tell you this year is different. I am not the type of person who makes NewYears resolutions. If there are changes I need to make in life, I do not need a lunar calendar to mark them or list them out for the fridge. 2009 was full of plenty of accomplishments and failures that could not have been put on a simple check list. But here is a brief recap:

January-ish

  • I have four words for you that I need you to repeat to yourself if you ever see me…NO MORE SHORT HAIR. Early in the year, I went and chopped off my hair and I mean CHOPPED IT OFF (about 7 inches). Now, most girls cut their hair off because of a boy or some horrible break-up….I was more curious to see what it would be like really short. Well, now I know and one year later, it is still not quite as long as I would like. Special notes to my close friends, if I EVER mention cutting my hair short again, you are to tackle me to the ground and beat me over the head until I change my mind. If that is too drastic just remind me how FAT my face looks and that should snap me back to reality real quick.
  • The year not only started off with bad hair days but also HORRIBLE weather. First we got snow, and I mean a lot of snow (the kind that people from Chicago talk about) but then the beautiful crisp white snow was covered in a layer of thick, cold ice. It added an extra full week off from work and that made fun times for sledding but most of the city was without power. I spent one morning cooking pancakes for 10 people in my small condo including a dog and two extra cats.

February-ish
  • I dropped some serious money on a bike. I sat down and wrote a large check for a bike almost as a Valentines Day present to myself (nothing says love like a bike). I have not owned a road bike since I was 15 and without seeing the bike, riding it, or touching it, I bought a frame that I have absolutely NO regrets about. The entire process of choosing, buying, building, and caring for this bike have given me more education than a set of cycling encyclopedias (is there such a thing?). I cannot imagine all the time I have clocked in researching bikes but I promise you it is a daily fix now.

  • Speaking of Valentines Day. Few of my friends are into stuffed plush hearts and chocolate coated bobbles of love. Such discussion usually induces mock vomit sounds. So the ladies loaded up in the car to hit the gun range which actually was a farm in Waddy, Kentucky (yes, there is a place called Waddy). The afternoon was spent with a bottle of bourbon offered as payment to shoot some $60 worth of shells at a target that we nicknamed whatever "issue" was bothering us for the day. It is hard not to think of Charlie's Angels, although none of those ladies shot a shotgun with their feathered hair (wussies!).

March-April-ish

  • With the onset of the bike came two new ideas. One….in the kitchen of a friends house over dinner while the frost was still on the trees outside, my friend and I decided that we were going to do a century ride even though my rode bike was not built and she had only put 100 miles total on her bike in two years. Looking back at that time, neither of us had ANY idea what we were getting ourselves into but we made the commitment to complete the Old Kentucky Home Tour (OKHT) over a peanut butter dessert "thingy" and never looked back. The second idea was the mere fact that I needed to get serious about my fitness and taking care of myself. I stopped drinking any soft drinks and cleaned the diet up quickly. The recent diagnosis of hypertenstion was definitely a motivator and a wake-up call to get serious about my body. The pay off has been a leaner and more energetic girl (is that even possible?). I still binge on McDonald’s French fries but I still rarely have a Coke. Progress is slow people!

Late May-through September-ish

  • With the decision to complete a century and only having three months to train, I poured myself into the bike for one of the BEST summers to date! The rides, the adventures, the pain was all worth it. Every ride, some new obstacle was overcome and although ALL of my spare time was spent spinning, it paid off in September. I met some amazing riders this summer and acquired a ride partner that really challenged me on all levels. It was a fun experience to be with your friends on a new level of suffering.


August 4th

  • While I thought the OKHT would be the one of the hardest challenges of year, instead I found another challenge as I watched my office flood one early Tuesday morning engulfing my car in five feet of sewage water. I learned a lesson in materialism. You cannot control the environment around you and when faced with raw sewage, rain, and being stranded in your own hometown, my car seemed a pretty insignificant loss. It was a minor setback but the first thing replaced was my bike helmet (lost in the trunk of the car). Afterall, with or without a car, training went on.

September 12th

  • The morning of the OKHT, I woke up like I would for a foot race, early and nervous and hoping that coffee would jolt the system to do all activities (you know..."activities") before I was out on the course in the middle of nowhere. I was more worried I would forget something or neglect some vital part, that I nearly caused myself a full blown anxiety attack. Lee and I rode our own slow pace with only the goal to finish, but something happened along the way. WE HAD FUN! We laughed the whole ride and took turns poking fun at one another’s snot rockets. The last twenty miles were a struggle but not deterring. We finished and I have never enjoyed a bed so much as I did that night. I was more impressed that I was NOT that sore…no blisters, no wrecks, no injuries. When I rolled in Sunday, the best thing I could have seen were my mom and dad standing there…and yes, I cried, only because I was so tired.

October-ish

  • Following the OKHT and now fully addicted to cycling, a few of us signed up for the Harvest Homecoming which is normally a rambling stroll through the foothills of Southern Indiana. It happened to be one of the coldest days of the year that morning. Again, my co-riders strapped warm weather gear and we still did the ride complete with an afternoon of pumpkin picking, sangria drinking, and the smells of fall allergies in the air. In a sense, it was the close of the cycling season....officially anyway (we still tried to sneak rides in until the time change).

November 30th

  • I turned 33 this fall…I am not sure where the years went, but they are gone. I feel 23 on most days but I know that this upcoming year is 34 and I admit, it freaks me out. There are so many things left to do on my life list ….somehow, 33-years have shot by and I am not sure how. I am not done yet. I am just getting warmed up people--stand back!


December-ish

  • The year is done. It flew by so quickly. There have been so many changes, so many moments to try and recall. I like to think of the New Year as a clean slate or the "play" button on the reel of life. When done, we simply start all over. I wish I could make the best guess as to what will happen next but I do not know. I can make a few predictions. I do know that without my friends and family, I would not be where I am now...wherever that is. Bring on 2010....let's roll.



Thursday, December 24, 2009

Say it with bike parts…

The holiday commercials showing this season might as well be draped in sugary maple syrup, candy coated dots, and whip cream. There is NOTHING more un-original than a couple sitting under a tree with some poor guy presenting a diamond crusted bobble to delight his lady. She always acts surprised when in fact, we all know she probably tore the page out of a catalogue and placed it inside his suit pocket. These commercials are the bane of my holiday television enjoyment, interrupting the merriment of The Grinch. I think it sets a standard that women are only impressed by expensive, diamond-studded gifts. (Note you rarely see a woman giving a guy anything…because that might be showcasing a partnership….and commercials would rather bore us with traditional gender roles). I digress.

Certainly, jewelry is something that has value both monetary and sentimental. Many women are HUGE fans of little black and blue boxes. Beyond jewelry and perhaps with MORE meaning are the many other gift ideas out there not causing mountains of debt and possible bankruptcy. There is something to be said when a friend or loved one takes the time to give a gift that has meaning and significance to the receiver. It would be ridiculous to give me Celine Dion tickets considering when I hear her music, I am sent into an unbelievable rage. This would only be entertaining if you would like to see me go into a childish tantrum with the theme music from the Titanic spewing in the background. It would be just as useless to give me candied walnuts considering they can cause death unless they have an eppy pen attached to the bow.

For women, like me, friends, family, acquaintances may be at a loss as to what to give. For the girl who is not impressed with clothing, furs, and jewels, what does that leave? I think it is OBVIOUS….BIKE PARTS….BIKE CLOTHES….BIKES. In terms of giving, they are the gifts that keep on giving…miles and miles down the road. For those that are cash strapped, considering the purchase of a $5000 bike frame may be overwhelming similar to selecting a piece of jewelry that you may have to finance for 64-months in order to take home. Thankfully, the best gifts are those little gifts that make the bike and the rider happy. Special note: Even if you think it is a stupid gift…the receiver does not, promise.

If, in fact, there were a commercial for such a gift…it might be a little something like this.

Cue the perfectly lit Christmas Tree, crackling fire roaring in the background

Enter 2 people

Soft music (Phish or Pink Floyd) (It’s a modern take, remember?)

Person One: I hope this doesn’t suck
(handing person two a bag)

Person Two: How could it?

Person One: Because you may think it is weird
(meanwhile person two begins taking out the tissue paper, looking down into the bag)

Person Two: OH….a Chris King bottom bracket and red Hudz…you shouldn’t have—they are PERFECT!

Person One: Wipes brow with sweat rag

Going Pro



Being a beginner on the bike can at times be multiple lessons in humility as you are often reminded of your place in the pack. If you show up to a group ride in a set of flat pedals, worn out cotton North Face shirt, and a Huffy bike…do not expect anyone to acknowledge you or even take your seriously. From the time you start on the bike, you work to become a better rider and understand a very complex sport. This requires lessons in things you already thought you knew, again and again.

Most new riders start in the spring and summer. These early months establish your skills but it is the winter months that define your dedication. Real cyclists ride no matter what the weather (usually). The most obvious obtrusion to winter riding is the dipping mercury. It slows the muscles down. Ten minute warm-ups turn into an hour, if at all. I believed, as most novice likely do, that this was another one of those aspects that I was suppose to “suck up” and “deal with.”

Rewind to mid-September and on the second morning of the inaugural century ride, I came across a rider sporting the most polished and shiniest legs known to man. They did not look “human” but more “ken-doll.” Most male cyclist shave their legs and honestly, you do get used to seeing it. You fight off jealousy if their legs are smoother than yours. However, this set of cycling sticks were not only hairless, they were darn near glossy. My sarcasm has been known to get the best me and I recently learned that not only did I inquire about the “shine” through the internal dialogue in my head but some of my thoughts spilled out of my filter-less mouth (sarcastic tone intact). I believe I asked, “what’s up with the shiny legs?”

Fast forward to the early throws of winter and while acknowledging that my small legs do not like the cold, I was asked about what kind of emboracation I was using. I like to pride myself on a vast and growing vocabulary but I still had to ask, “what’s embrocation” and I received the logical response, “embrocation is pro.” Lacking the full explanation, I had to inquire further.

The best way to describe embrocation is a lotion, lubricant, emollient that stimulates your muscles and skin….creating a warm sensation…the same as when you swirl a bunch of red hots in your mouth. However, this is worked into your legs, causing a near perfect reflective sheen (the explanation of the glossy, shiny ken doll “like” legs). I admit my skepticism…even after the creator of the jar I was purchasing took 30-minutes of his life to explain the advantages and the appropriate application process (also indicating that my jar was 93% vegan…not sure what the other 7% is). So, I sauntered home with a jar of brightly colored gunk to slather my legs up, carefully trying to remember all the specific details I had been given: (I should have taken notes)

Important details to remember:

1. Apply more than one coat

2. Let it completely dry

3. Apply an oil over it

4. Do not shower with a loofa after

5. Do not use the embrocation as lubricant for anything else (really? Did I HAVE to be told that?)

6. Avoid touching any other mucus membranes on your body

7. Enjoy it!

With both legs covered, dried, oiled and repeated, I went out for a brisk thirty-degree-ish ride. I was sold less than 10-miles in. Winter rides usually extend my warm-ups to 30 or 45 minutes…but thanks to my evergreen scented legs (yes, evergreen), I was warm quickly and consistently. The ride was smooth and I was able to concentrate on the things that matter versus fighting frostbite.

The after ride shower, which is always a welcome ritual, was disrupted by the fact that water “activates” the embrocation a little more. Like match sticks, I found my legs literally catching fire even without the use of the loofa (I can only imagine how bad it would be had I infused my body wash, loofa, and scrubbing action together). I could have roasted marshmallows with my knee caps or seared steaks with my thighs (of which the guy at the bike shop did not warn me about).

While I appreciate such an appropriate invention, more importantly, this is one of those little details that puts me further up the experience chain. It is similar to the day you cycle off your flat pedals or actually learn what a hub is. Honestly, I am pretty far from ever reaching pro but I like the chase. That’s what it is about anyway.*

*What’s next? Booties? Probaby not.

Monday, November 16, 2009

You can call it hell, I will think of it as heaven....


You know you have reached true bike “nerdom” when you start watching cycling movies (yes, they make them!). I actually had the belief that Race Across the Sky might sell out for it’s ONE NIGHT ONLY showing late last month. So, I found myself paying an online processing fee to secure my seat, which the many people who know my frugality would find surprising (It was a $1.50 and I am not sure what it was REALLY for, but I paid it!). The movie was 2-hours long…and I hung onto the edge of my seat for every second of it even though I already knew who won the race and how. Had I had a cowbell, I would have rung it.

Now, other movies are creeping into my DVD player, such as A Sunday in Hell which follows the 1976 Paris-Roubaix bicycle race. This race is a 166 mile course with a terrain in Northern France covering centuries old cobble stones. It does not take a genius to figure out that cobble stones and bicycles do not go well together but it DOES make for an interesting race—even 33-years later. So why would anyone watch a race from 1976 in 2009? Boredom might be one answer but not as likely for myself….instead it is about the excitement of the race.

Cycling in 1976 is an obviously far departure from cycling today. Nevermind, not a single cyclist is wearing a helmet in the race. Nevermind, their bikes are heavy heaps with what we would likely consider substandard set-ups today. Even the cyclists themselves look different, slightly more “husky” than the lean string bean types you see today. Of course, you cannot mention this movie without mentioning the fabulous wardrobe of all the riders including the wool team sweaters. Today they are considered “vintage” and likely to go for thousands of dollars on Ebay. In 1976, I think they were just considered hot and itchy.

Shot in a documentary style, the movie follows several riders including the infamous Eddy Merckx through their ride across castle dotted landscapes. As a rider, it really does captivate you to stare off into the scenery and imagine yourself there (trust me, I would price tickets now if I thought I could afford it). Meanwhile, the harsh portion of the race is like watching a train wreck of cyclists drop like dominos covered in muck, blood and bike grease. There is not a lot you can do with someone who is missing a piece of their forehead. They are not getting back on the bike.

The movie concludes in a gigantic shower room with all the cyclists washing off the ride while talking to reporters. As I have learned, nudity becomes something pretty normal in cycling as you are used to changing around your friends and random strangers in parks all over the country. However, I think I would have a problem completing an interview while trying to exfoliate half of the French countryside off of my legs. My only real complaint of the whole movie is if you are going to conclude your film in the shower room—at least give a girl something to blush about.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fall could defeat Superman....Promise.

Everyone gets all excited about Fall….the colors, the pumpkins, cute kids in even cuter costumes, festivals and newly crafted seasonal brews (Pyramid Pumpkin Ale-DELICIOUS!). What everyone FAILS to realize is….this is the perfect disguise of Fall….FALL IS A THIEF. While we are busy consuming our pumpkin ale in a gourd patch and watching little ones beg for tooth rotting confections…Fall is stripping our valuable ride time hour by hour….RIGHT UNDER OUR PUMPKIN BUZZED NOSES! WAKE UP PEOPLE! FALL IS A CRUEL HEARTLESS BEAST DISGUISED WITH COLORS AND COOL BREEZES!

Fall is the sneakiest of all seasons….coming in slow and unassuming. First the temperature starts to slowly regress. This lures any biker outside because we hate to ride in 98% humidity with the sun beaming on our backs and forearms. As the temperature falls, then here come the beautiful leaves. Leaves of all colors, shapes and sizes cover the roads, the potholes, the cracks and trick us into climbing oversized hills to see amazing views of the Crayola colors unfolding before our eyes. All the while, the mercury is at a reasonable level where you still sweat but you do not feel the need to vomit when you finish a ride. Basically motorists need to give double the room to any biker they pass because in the Fall, we are entranced with the light breeze and perfect colors falling around us. This sly season causes a great distraction from the road and trails we are SUPPOSED to be watching. It only takes a few falling red leaves to distract us from a creek crossing and then….BAM….we are in the creek and because it is Fall…THAT CREEK IS COLD!

Fall also is a thief of daylight. I like to walk out of my office around 5 O’Clock like most red blooded humans. In the spring and summer months, I can go home, load up the bike, take my time changing clothes and choosing my favorite hydration drinks. Then Fall arrives and the end of my day looks like someone pressed the big RED panic button on my desk (I really do not have a panic button but it would be fun if I did). First, I have to take my bike to work along with a bag of clothes, accessories and food. At approximately 4:45, I race to the bathroom, change clothes, then race back to my office (while getting laughs from coworkers looking at my spandex!), load up everything so precisely at 5:00….I am out the door and hopefully with little traffic, I can be riding by 5:15. Then I realize at first around 7:45 that it is too dark to ride…then 7:30….then 7:15…and soon the sun will set at 4:45!!!! Okay, not that early but for a couple of weeks…the sun will set shortly after 5:00…meaning my only option is to drive home, hop on the trainer and look out my front window into the dark, abysmal, night. (ugh).

All of this absence of warmth and light means that each weekend is more important than the last. I crave a warm, sunny Saturday and as soon as I can thaw out my legs, I am out on a ride. You are probably asking, “What does Fall steal on the weekends?”…..MY PRECIOUS TIME! Fall likes to tease in the later weekends….with rain, drizzle, light snow, sudden temperature changes, windy days. It has an arsenal of teasing plights to force me to leave my bike hanging on the wall! My favorite ride preventer….THE HOLIDAYS. You cannot leave a turkey unattended or a house of family members alone for too long. You cannot serve your family some grilled hot dogs for Thanksgiving….NO, they want a full spread, and you have to spend the time and give the effort to crafting the perfect golden brown turkey…the creamiest mashed potatoes and of course at least two desserts to choose from because NO ONE can agree on one. Riding is NOT an option during THESE weekends….NO WAY!

If one of the above things make you see how sneaky fall is....then I need to explain to you that Fall is not only a thief of time and daylight but Fall is also a chemical warfare abuser. What am I possibly talking about? ALLERGIES. That's right....if the lapse in daylight and obsession to cook a perfect dead fowl do not stop you from riding...then the over abundance of pollen is sure to apply the brakes. My own doctor showed my chart to me noting that in the past 5 years I had been in every October between the 10th and 20th with a severe sinus infection. It's no wonder I have green mucus. Riding the trails with dusty, moldy leaves is bound to make anyone sick. You are not supposed to inhale that stuff. What starts out as a sinus infection, soon opens the petri dishes for all the other seasonal ailments like flu, upper respiratory infections, and any other illness that can stop a cyclist from leaving the couch. Fall knows where to get you...everytime!

I salute you Fall…you are a crafty thief worthy of legendary tales. Every super hero has an arch nemesis and while I do not have a cape…I can assure that if I could leap buildings in a single bound….YOU WOULD BE MY KRYPTONITE!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Harvest Homecoming-Where's the Hot Chocolate?

I was initially excited about the Harvest Homecoming ride in Indiana when I read about it in July. First, a scenic ride rolling through the hills of Floyds Knobs, Indiana followed by a fun afternoon of pumpkin picking—could the day be any better? Did I also mention a winery? However, the start of the morning was marred with one problem…it was 38 degrees at my house when the sun was coming up (7:20AM). Loading up the car, my teeth were chattering and I was hoping not to damage any of the preteen dental work my parents worked so hard to pay for. I had anticipated a “nip” in the air, so my bag was packed with an assortment of warm wear gear but after securing the bike to the car, I noticed my fingers turning blue so I raced back in the house and like a mad woman emptied out my warm weather drawer compiling every piece of cold weather cycling gear I had into one bag .

Once at the starting line, it was evident that there was not going to be a tropical warm front rip through the area anytime soon. I started to wish my bottles were filled with hot chocolate or coffee. Even the start of the ride was downhill which instantly created headwind and set the overall "feel" for the rest of the course. So basic math here….38 degree surface temperature+ head wind+ 10-15mph wind gusts= FREAKING COLD. Some cyclists were dire hardcore riders and stood there in their shorts and tee-shirts waiting for the start. I, however, double checked my thermal fleece gloves, my head buff that was covering my ears, and my thermal tights to ensure that there was minimal skin exposure. From there…it was what you would expect: FREAKING COLD!

5 miles in: Little or no feeling in toes or fingers, teeth still chattering. Large downhills caused groans among the 1000 or so riders. We huddled en masse to attempt to collect warmth. Our noses ran like faucets. My ride partners and I sought out taller riders to draft behind with little success bringing our core body temperature up.

10 miles in: You would think we would be a little warmer by now. NOPE! Part of course was in the shade and that shade really does reduce the temperature by a few more degrees (GREAT!). Spinning was the best option to keep your organs warm and we actually began to look forward to climbs because they warmed us up. Normally on rides, we discuss food...now we were wishing the SAG stops had hot chocolate (with or without marshmallows).

15 miles in: Okay, so we were FINALLY warmed up—kinda-- but we were afraid to stop for anything…bathroom, pictures, etc. We could not resist the lemonade stand overlooking the city though. Kids know just how to get ya! We took it upon ourselves to suggest some marketing advice as a girl bounced around in her hat and gloves...."can the lemonade and make some hot chocolate!" (We were on a mission).

20 miles in: Even with layers, cold mucus, and long hills we were still cold but not only cold….we could now feel our body ails. My fellow rider informed me her knee was on fire. I looked over enthusiastically thinking I could huddle around it if indeed flames were spewing from her joints…but she OBVIOUSLY only meant it metaphorically. Damn her for getting my hopes up but then we realized that pressing on for a longer ride would not be wise. We pulled in sometime after mile 25. It was still cold. Even after loading up the car again, we found our bodies working against us as we each took turns coughing and wheezing.

Being the troopers that we are, of course, we did not let this minor meteorological mishap detour us from the rest of the day, including pumpkin picking. The Harvest Homecoming is an excuse for ALL city dwellers (including ourselves) to drive themselves 20-miles outside the metropolitan and harvest our own ugly pumpkin (see above). Strolling through the fields, we were forced to take pumpkins with less than perfect complexions. However, we were finally warm. We could finally take off our gloves, head buffs and arm warmers. It did make for an interesting site pumpkin picking though (see below).

Monday, October 5, 2009

I am telling my couch off…but gently…


My warm, comfy couch is great for afternoon naps, reading, and nestling friends. We have been together for a couple of years now and it is usually the first thing I see when I walk into my home, welcoming me with soft down pillows. It has been there for breakups (it’s a good crying couch), for Golden Girl marathons, and drunken stupors which require me to lay down immediately. But fall is here and my couch has a NASTY habit…..the colder it gets, the lonelier the couch gets and it tries to kidnap me whenever I try to leave the house.

I noticed it when I started doing morning runs again. I would suit up in my appropriate layers and then just as I sat on the edge of the couch to tie my shoes, my couch would engulf my butt….sinking me slowly into warm comfort. Without even trying, the couch sucked me in and lulled me back to sleep before my first steps out the door. Even when I protest, the couch will try harder by dumping my favorite blanket in my lap. Oh, yeah…that subtle! STOP IT! GET AWAY FROM ME! I HAVE TO RUN!

Let’s face it….if you had to choose (1) a cold morning run that may result in cold mucus gathering on your upper lip and crusting over or (2) snuggling on a warm, comfy couch with my favorite blanket….THERE REALLY ISN’T A CHOICE HERE! Of course I want to stay with the couch but my body demands I exercise regardless of the weather, even in the cold. My couch is a persistent manipulator. It knows just how to make me feel in order to have me actually consider abandoning a cold trail run, or a windy bike ride. I warn you couch…I am a very independent girl…I do not need you…OH YES I DO!

Oh couch…when I come home from my frozen trudging or freezing leg spins, you are always number one. I collapse on you and rely on you to warm my frigid bones. Who do I call upon while waiting for the shower to get all hot and steamy? YOU….you couch! I know that spending hours alone in a cold house makes you just another decorative object but I promise you are more to me than “just a piece of furniture!”…promise. We have plenty of nights to look forward to…where we can spend quality time together. There are ample horror movies and bowls of coconut almond fudge ice cream to be shared. I need my space….I need to miss you. It’s just one season…soon it will be warm again, and you will enjoy breezy afternoons surrounding my sore, tired, over-trained body.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Up a creek without a paddle….


With the car all geared up, food packed tight, flashlights powered up, we had to accept the fact early Saturday morning that we WERE NOT canoeing—even with all of our prepared gear. Torrential downpours, monsoon and flash floods are not ideal conditions for canoeing and the ranger explained this to us from under his larger than life umbrella. From what we can best estimate, we would have spent MORE time bailing the canoe with our little multiple use bucket than paddling it.

The worst part of planning ANY outdoor adventure is the weather. Unless you live in a very even tempered environment, anything can happen. It is best to curtail your excitement, at least until you are nearly finished, so as not to let yourself down. Yes, we checked the weather channel to acquire copious amounts of information but here is the thing about the weather channel…..THEY ARE NOT PERFECT. Their last reading before we all loaded up to leave Louisville said, “chance of showers”—well, the chance was 100%! As outdoor lovers, we all were prepared to be wet….damp….or moist but had we ventured out into the deluge we were standing in, I am not sure I would be here typing this email.

However, the weekend was not a complete wash (not sure if I intended on that pun or not), I spent time at several tourist spots in my home state, albeit wet spots. I had several slices of my favorite pizza franchise which has NOT expanded into Louisville yet. I saw wild turkeys, families arguing about rock candy, and an assortment of “bad ass” Americana vehicles all graciously adorned with the American flag (one should complete the bad ass look). Perhaps the prize of the weekend was a brownie offered to me at the Big South Fork Motor Lodge. The owner gave each guest a complimentary brownie which far outdid the d├ęcor of the relaxed motel (everything was painted Pepto-Bismol pink….EVERYTHING). I also learned at the nearby eatery that ANYTHING can be fried and cobbler comes in an assortment of flavors, all delicious.

In other words, I will be back (sans rain)…

Thursday, September 24, 2009

There are other things besides cycling….


What? A weekend without cycling? HOLD ON! Is that possible? How? When? Some of my friends have staged an intervention. They have sat me down, carefully prying the handlebars from my calloused grasp and replaced them with a paddle. How the hell am I supposed to peddle with a paddle? What kind of cruel trick is this? I don’t need this! You people get away from me!!!

It is obviously not a cruel trick but some of my friends have said since the century ride is over, it is time for me to return to some of the OTHER outdoor activities I so love. To begin this process of “outdoor re-entry” they have planned a canoe trip as a required course of treatment. I like canoes…this could work.

Quick note: It has rained in Kentucky all week. In fact, jokes about Biblical proportions circle the office on a daily basis. Rest assured, the ranger says the river is manageable and not hazardous. I am hoping that he and I share the same definitions. If he is thinking class 5 rapids are not hazardous, then we ARE NOT on the same page and I will curse his name as I am swirling under a rock, drowning.

I was excited about a canoe trip, excited to get back out into nature (sans bicycle). Boat, paddle, cooler of food and beer all lead to a fun filled day….it sounds very relaxing. Yet, my friend interrupted my relaxed face to tell me that REALLY the trip is two days. We leave out early Saturday morning and canoe for 6-7 hours, then we dock wherever we can find space, set up camp for the night, and finish out Sunday morning where my car will be parked. I said, “great…what kind of campsite is it?” and to my surprise, my friend says, “whatever kind we make it…it is not really a campsite.” So…I need to pack some toilet paper and a shovel for latrine digging! Wow, when my friends decide to immerse me outdoors, they know just how to do it. Nothing says….NATURE….like digging a latrine at 5AM. NICE! However because of the primitiveness and length of trip, it means we have to pack everything we need in a canoe, a little boat prone to tipping.

Another quick note: A cold front is approaching this weekend slicing through the humid wet conditions we have had and creating cold dewy mornings. I should explain that I am ALWAYS cold unless it is 80 degrees outside. Most camping trips require me to carry at least 1-2 sweatshirts for layering at night, as well as other warm gear to cover any and all exposed parts of my bloodless body.

So the canoe trip is a “real” canoe trip where we will be out in the middle of nowhere minus cell phones, warmth, and bikes. We have to pack light but also carry everything we need in ONE canoe (I hope this sucker is the yacht of canoes). Apparently a foot heater is NOT a necessity and has been voted off the canoe. Also not allowed, my subzero sleeping bag and heated socks (yes, I have heated socks….I have small frozen feet for God’s sake!). Gear that is permitted…compass, small pack, food (minimal), beer (ample), dry clothes, fire starter, toilet paper, and my ipod. I have packed my running shoes because even on a “canoe trip”…I need to train for the trail marathon. I suspect I will have some woodland path all to myself.

This form of emersion therapy my friends have chosen is certainly anything but cycling. These particular friends do not cycle …so not only will I NOT be riding but even talking about bikes would be wasted breath as neither of them even OWN one. Wait! Maybe I could sell them on bike riding. Hmmm. I had better rethink that idea. They could tump me out of the canoe at any point and then I would be left to find my way home in soaking wet cold clothes. Abandonment will only cause me to latch onto cycling more and from there it will be a traverse downhill nightmare of “binge cycling” escalating my use to deadly proportions. How about I just concentrate on keeping the canoe upright, my belly full of food, and taking a lot of pictures? My bike will be waiting for me when I get home and our reunion will be sweet. (I swear I could quit at anytime!)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Not about IF…but about WHEN


While there were several parts of the century ride that I deemed “scary”…nothing was as frightening as hearing the tales of several riders who had crashed on the course breaking bones, needing an ambulance, and being unconscious. The hairs on my sore, sunburned forearms stood straight up when I heard phrases like: “broken collar bone,” “road rash,” or “cracked helmet.” As probability dictates, one day this conversation will be about yourself (you may or may not be there to hear about it).

There is no denying that at some point in your cycling career whatever bike you ride, you will wreck. I have found in the woods, I am more likely to crash into trees as they tend to jump right out in front of you (oak trees are sneaky!). From a distance other riders may think you are a tree hugging, spandex wearing hippie but you will likely be feeling a broken face, busted nose, cracked teeth which lacks the zen of the first image. Besides trees, other worries on the trails include jagged rocks, tire grabbing tree roots (they grab your tire and WILL NOT let go), mud, water, creeks, log crossings, joggers (with or without pets), bee’s (bee stings distract you from navigating your bike), furry daredevil critters, other cyclists (we sometimes run into each other literally….a variation of a tribal group hug sometimes involving stitches). If you can make it through a mountain bike ride without bleeding, consider yourself lucky. Then there is road cycling.

Now, take ½” (if that wide) tires and place a cyclist on top navigating traffic (cars and bicycles do not play well together), other cyclists, pot holes, road kill (not to self: do not ride through a bloated dead raccoon, it smells), stop lights, stop signs, more insects, railroad tracks, steep uphills and even steeper downhills, rain slicked roads--then you will understand why at some point YOU WILL WRECK, CRASH, or DNF a ride. Even on the best day of riding, one or more of the above obstacles that you have navigated a million times before will fail you causing “something” to happen.

Countless videos adorn You Tube displaying flailing cyclists sliding across a road, slamming into a tree, or attempting dangerous stunts resulting in a top tube smashing into a male riders crotch (ouch!). It is hard to NOT close your eyes and watch these videos and yet, who wants their brief fifteen seconds of fame to be shredding epidermis or crotch racking or helmet splitting? Not myself.

What can a cyclist do? NOTHING and this is perhaps the most helpless part of the sport. This is the worst part of owning and using bikes on a regular basis….you are powerless to prevent some accidents. It is not about IF but more about WHEN. Every ride I leave out on, even if it is just around the park (2.0 miles from my house), I take my picture I.D. (in case my face is shredded on asphalt), my insurance card, my cell phone and a credit card (ambulances do not take checks). There are days I have made jokes about wrapping myself in bubble wrap but of course…that would look ridiculous perhaps more than the spandex (is that possible, really?). It is a risk you accept but do not take lightly. The best you can hope for is a good story that YOU can tell and raise the arm hairs of others.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The First Century Ride—A Two-Day Recipe

Ingredients:

1 -2 nicely built road bikes

1-2 inexperienced riders

3-4 Months Training

3-4 Additional Supportive Riders (Husbands and Friends are suitable)

2 Cycling outfits

1 Tube of butt paste

1 Camera

1 Live turtle

1 Dead turtle

5-7 Baby possums

Sunscreen-SPF 1000 (20-100 ounces)

Heaping spoons of adventure

Instructions:

Take the inexperienced novice riders and place them on their shiny new bikes nearly every afternoon for three to four months, regardless of weather conditions (sun, rain, wind). Riders should be seasoned to large hills (lots of hills), rollers, cracks in the road, shifting their buttocks, sitting for long periods, standing, avoiding cars, saving marsupials, and learning to converse while their heart rate is spiking. Add additional training partners for deep flavor to each ride including those that insult, coach, and encourage. Amish farms may be added for additional richness and culture (cinnamon rolls optional).

After 3.5 months of “seasoning”, place riders on a course for their virgin century ride. Choose a course that is recognized all across the country and completed by hundreds. Pack snacks in their jerseys, insurance cards, a camera, and lots of chamois butter. Set a slow pace by singing Flashdance and parading yourself around the state for seven hours in the direct sun. Curse a lot to make the hills disappear and when riders start to get bored (mile 85), save an animal, preferably a turtle with a head that is still alive (although stopping to remove the dead turtle is a nice gesture as well). Laugh at yourself and other riders as your grunt up a hill with a 14% grade. Utilize walking riders when you lose the momentum to clip yourself out.


Once riders are cooked (around 112 miles), place riders in folding chairs surrounded by delicious carb loaded foods and an ice cream cake that will make your toes curl. Ice packs, candy corn, beer and chamois butter may be necessary to keep the riders comfortable. Next, place riders in bed before 10PM or until they slump over in their chairs from exhaustion.

The following morning, remove riders from bed, slowly and nurse their sunburned lips and noses. Apply liberal amounts of emollients, hot tea, and coffee to their bodies. Insert monkey bread, fresh fruit, and more ice cream cake. Place riders back on bike noting the multiple sore spots. Riders will be much slower on day two, so please allow time for additional “cooking.” Riders will need additional rest, possible rides from SAG vans, liquids, and encouragement. Riders are fully “cooked” when they cry at the last mile due to over-excitement of recognizing where they are. THEN….and ONLY THEN, remove bikers from their devices, place in a car, and take home to place them in the shower.

This two day recipe yields, (2) fully cooked first-time century riders, loads of laughter, sunburn, tan lines, tons of memories, and multiple slices of accomplishment. Best served fresh for days and days of stories.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What am I Forgetting?



I am a list maker. I love to make a list for any approaching large task, so the upcoming century ride is NO different. The challenge of this ride is there is ONLY so much you can carry in your jersey or under your saddle. On Tuesday, I sent a bag on with a change of clothes, Advil, a change of socks, fresh shorts, and facewash to our final destination, BUT I still have to figure out WHAT I need to cram into my jersey or under my saddle and WHAT, if anything, will I forget…

Things Not to Forget…(my list as it sits on my desk now)

Extra Tubes: I have 2 extra tubes and while you would think you do not have to worry about a flat with hundreds of other cyclists out there…the truth is, you need tubes and surely someone will stop to help a girl who has only fixed her tire ONCE this season.

CO2 Cartridges: These things ARE wonderful. I love my tiny hand pump but if I really had to inflate a tire with that contraption, I would build the biceps of a grizzly bear in the hour or so it would take to get the tire up to 120psi.

Food: Sure, there are SAG stops all over the place but I need my electrolyte stuffed foods and snacks that I love and that I am used to. I am thinking black cherry blocks….apple pie hammer gels….and maybe some jelly belly’s for a treat. I am assuming like a marathon near the end of the ride, I will be so disgusted with gelatinous masses; I will have to physically wrestle with myself to consume one last vanilla bean Gu.

Advil: My knee has been feeling “okay” on most rides….it is when I try to do too much, too soon, that the familiar burning pain creeps in. I HAVE TO PACK MY ADVIL and take it as directed to ward off inflammation and tenderness.

Multi-tool: These things are not just for the bike but they are also for digging dirt out of your shoes or sometimes opening a beer bottle. I doubt I will be doing EITHER of these things on the bike on Saturday but just in case, that tool will be packed.

Camera: You can tell people you did a century ride….OR….you can SHOW them. With so many friends riding, I want pictures and while I have NOT perfected the “take-a-picture-while-riding” technique, I am certain I will be taking a lot of pictures at the SAG stops.

I.D.: Once again….if I should end up unconscious and unable to give my insurance providers name, I hope that someone will have the sense to look in my jersey for my insurance card, picture I.D. and the pittance of cash I carry on a ride. I hope that I will NOT NEED these items for ANY reason….ANY reason….but just in case….

Cell Phone: I need my cell phone, if anything, so I can call in updates on the course. My mother and father demanded I call regularly so they do not have to worry about me in the country side. I have not mastered the “talk-while-riding” technique and I will assume that it directly correlates to the “take-a-picture-while-riding” technique of which I will make a note to learn for next year. I will be chatting at some SAG stops…I am sure.

Hand Sanitizer: Let’s face it…the further along you get on a ride, the fewer faculties you possess and if I have to pee on the side of the road (and I know I will) I could probably end up pee-ing on my shoes or my hand (ewww). Bath and Body works makes a wonderful white citrus hand sanitizer that is tiny and can go anywhere. It smells good while destroying millions of polluting microbes. Who wants swine flu on a century ride?

Sunscreen: This is a sneaky time of the year. It is cooler out but the sun is STILL out all day and I could add about 15,000 freckles to my face by the end of the day…but instead, I am carrying some sunscreen with me because not only do I not want swine flu, I do not want the early stages of skin cancer either.

Band Aids: These great adhesive inventions are great for blisters, bee stings, or light abrasions that occur here and there. A few of them can really go a LONG way.

Positive Attitude: Am I nervous? Sure but that does not mean that I not going to carry a positive attitude. For over 3-months, I have worked to do this ride and through the pain, the exhaustion, and the steep hills from hell, I have been positive and assured myself many times over that this will be fun. My training partners have been supportive and made even the slowest rides memorable.

Today and tomorrow are rest days from the bike. I have scheduled laundry and leg rest in the evenings. I will lay everything out Friday night JUST to make sure I do not forget anything. It is likely I will forget something…

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I am 32 and I have diaper rash…


When you start biking whether it be road, cross, mountain bike or what have you….everyone has to tell you about the products, brands and items they endorse even though few, if any of these opinionated riders, receive compensation or sponsorships for their brand placement. Shimano Durrace shifters are discussed so often, they are mentioned in a You Tube video. Have you discussed hubs with someone? Did they tell you “Chris King is the THING to have…?” but did you discuss your chamois cream with anyone yet?

First, until cycling, I was unaware that there was a market for “crotch emollients”. As a former runner, I am a huge fan of Body Glide which looks like deodorant without the pleasant smell. Body glide prevents chaffing on long runs where even the best sewn seam in a shirt can become a horrible discouraging deterrent to finishing your marathon (Ever heard of red nipples? Yeah…). So, it does seem only natural that there are products designed for your buttocks on long rides.

Sure enough….one, two, three long rides into this training, I noticed my “bits” were quite uncomfortable, to the point, I began taking on the cowboy stride after a ride. It was time to realize that at the age of 32, I had diaper rash or in this case, chamois rash. Even the best padded shorts out there CANNOT prevent diaper rash. However, now the concern was choosing the right cream for a very delicate part of the body.

I asked a lot of people…”Hey! What do you smear on your ass before a ride?”…with a variety of answers including some homemade concoctions that need not be mentioned in public (you want me to put Crisco where?). However, time and time again, people recommended butt paste. Huh? What? What the heck is butt paste? It is what it is…..paste for your butt or in my case, my sits bones. Originally designed for delicate baby skin strapped in a sweaty, stinky diaper all day….this stuff is the cure for those who cannot vocalize that their rear is on fire. I can vocalize it and I made a “rash dash” for the baby section of my nearest Target store to stock up and put the fire out.

Sure enough, there in the baby aisle, next to calming lavender bath wash, baby oil assortment, and aloe drenched diaper wipes was a bright yellow tube, Bourdeaux Butt Paste. I was afraid of what others might think if I purchased it and ran to the bathroom in the store, so I waited until I got home for a moment of instant relief….and I do mean INSTANT.

The consistency of “butt paste” is that of old school paste in a jar. It does not smell bad like Ben Gay but it does not smell like a pot of fresh cut roses either. The package says it is for chaffing skin….which trust me….that’s what I have. The instructions say to “apply a liberal amount to the affected area.” There is no dignified way of doing this and liberal is subjective but I have found that propping a foot up on the edge of the commode offers the best advantage point. Now, in my list of necessities which includes an extra tube, co2 cartridge, and snack…I also must apply butt paste before going on a ride.

So, this is MY PRODUCT ENDORSEMENT of which I receive NO compensation for. If you cycle…and you find your crotch a bit uncomfortable after a ride…GET SOME BOURDEAUX BUTT PASTE. Do not worry about mothers staring at you in the baby aisle while wearing spandex (I went RIGHT after a ride which if I had waited, I might not have gotten so many stares)…this is about the comfort of your butt….get some paste, apply it liberally and let your butt thank you with the reward of a smooth ride with little or no discomfort.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Keeping my mouth shut…the first lesson I should learn


How long have I lived in Louisville? Off and on for 32-years… this fact means I am accustom to our seasonal shifts. Normally, by Labor Day, the sun begins receding in the sky much earlier than any biker would like. The days of July nights with a near 9PM sunset fade all too quickly and soon I find myself looking at my watch at 8:25 wondering where the sun has disappeared to. It is a sad time for all bikers in the city. We come to accept that because of the constraints of our 9-5 jobs, our rides become shorter….or we are forced to become faster to finish some of our favorite routes. KNOWING ALL OF THIS….five women still could not resist the urge to ride a 35 mile loop Monday night insisting that we would finish before the sunset. Right? Wrong. From this wrong decision, some obvious mistakes were noted to be improved upon for our future rides.

Mistake One: Timing. Five women are NEVER on time to anything. So five women gather but some are running late…thus shaving off a few minutes of valuable daylight.

Mistake Two: Chatting. Five women cannot gather together and NOT feel the urge to chat and catch up with each other. From this chat session about love lives, vacations, new bike parts, clothing, hair and make-up discussions, we shaved off even MORE daylight.

Mistake Three: Ignoring mistakes #1 and #2. Ignoring that we had completely blown out 30-minutes of valuable solar energy, we proceeded on our decided route.

The End Result: Five women had to make “the call.” For those not familiar with cycling….let me explain “the call.” At any given point in a ride, you may need a rescue, some assistance, someone to come and retrieve you. There are many reasons for “the call”.

1. You could be lost—so lost that the only REAL option is to call and have someone find you on four wheels who also has access to Google maps or a Garmin. You can tell them you are by a corn field, a barn, and two brown cows.

2. You could be hurt—hopefully not hurt too bad but you may incur some road rash that with whipping wind causes a stingy pain worse than the ache you felt when you dropped all that money on your bike

3. Your bike could bonk—your bike is a machine and sometimes machines fail. You can only carry so many tools on a ride, so if your derailleur gives out….brake pads fly off….seat post snaps ….you are left to hike home in clips or make….”the call”

4. You could bonk—sometimes your body says, “enough is enough” and it gives out on you….in which case you hopefully can call someone to shovel your pathetic worn out self into their car and find carbohydrates as quickly as possible (or beer)

5. Then….there is the OTHER reason to make the call…you have made a mistake….a mistake that will cost you your pride and test the marriages of two of your friends (uh oh). You did not calculate the setting sun. Instead, you chatted, you waited and the next thing you know…it is too dark to ride safely.

Our End Result…

There on the side of a two lane road, some 8-10 miles from home, five women huddled together in the gathering darkness awaiting the arrival of two spouses. Spandex is not a heat conductor in an empty parking of a restaurant who boasts amazing fried chicken. We would not know about the chicken because they are also one of those family owned places that closes on Mondays. This left us outside in the elements under a orange street light, slowing feeling the temperature drop. Thirty minutes passed and we stood there, shivering, swaying our bodies for warmth while looking at each other as the night got darker realizing that we made the right choice to not navigate a narrow two-lane road. A mullet styled motorist insisted on directing himself through the parking lot engulfing us in diesel fumes from his 1986 Ford F-150. His bleary eyes and five o’clock shadow did not make him look like a friendly neighbor we would want to converse with. We were herded together like Giselle’s hoping he would not return. Thankfully, the spouses arrived with their trucks, heated seats, and well meaning words (as one spouse pointed to each of us saying, “dumb ass”).Thankful, we accepted the well deserved criticism and piled into our respectful vehicles, helmets still on our lowered heads, embarrassed that we had to make “the call.”

It was bound to happen in my cycling career. Of course, I am without a spouse, so generally, my rescue options are my parents and a few close friends. I was MORE than thankful for the well meaning husbands of my two friends. Ironically at the beginning of the ride, my friend asked, “any more adventures on rides?”…I made the mistake and said, “Actually the rides have been pretty tame lately.” What was I thinking?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are You Ready?

I would compare my training at this juncture to the late, final stages of a long pregnancy minus the hemorrhoids and food cravings (okay, so I crave ice cream on a daily basis right now but no other systemic issues are present). People are not reaching out to touch my taught, stretched belly (which I am thankful for), but more so, they are asking the questions you may ask a woman who is facing 12-20 hours of sweaty, loud, painful labor…

Are you ready?”….”Do you think it will hurt?”….”Who is going to be there with you?”…”How long do you think it will take?”

Like most “first time mothers” or “first time century riders”….I do not know the answers to ANY of these questions. While I have picked the brains of ALL of my friends, exhausted may late night Google searches, surfed every blog in multiple languages, I am still uneducated on the exact process. There are no prescribed instruction manuals….it is something very individual with so many variables that a mathematician would get a headache trying to generalize the experience. I could tell you I am ready….rearing to go… ready for THE BIG HILL but I may not be telling you the truth. I would like to think that my training has prepared me much like expectant mothers hope Lamaze class is useful although I cannot ride with a comfy pillow (oh but if I could—I would be so happy!). I have a nice spinning stride on accents complete with rhythmic breathing and inner cranial chanting “up Melinda….up Melinda…up Melinda.” Sometimes, I chant out loud….but HEY I am a woman about to cycle 150+ miles in two days, so I can talk to whomever I want….even if no one is near me (okay, so maybe I have mood swings and cravings)! There is no soothing music…I have to listen for cars although at times some of the radio music makes me sing along.

I could tell you that my body is a finely oiled machine and that I expect the pain to pass with little or no effort. Truthfully, I do not realistically know what my body will do. My thighs and calves are like rocks right now…solid masses of muscle fibers and skin applied to a small 5’2” frame. I could get out there and have my thighs catch fire scorching the spandex off of my odd tanned legs. While training has brought on constant, dull pain, I fully understand and accept that the century will bring on a new pain and that it will likely tip the pain scale (1-10 with 10 being …”DEAR GOD WHY DID I DO THIS?”). Unlike childbirth, there are no epidurals, saddleblocks, IV drips, or other drugs to put me in a drunken stoned stupor (I have considered putting gin in my water bottle….but this would not help). This ride is done au natural without a “labor coach”! I know to expect blisters, saddle sores, and bruising on my groin and butt (there are many graphic pictures on the internet to completely petrify me). Hopefully, as I recall the ride to my friends months from now, I will neglect those graphic details of me bending over in a mirror trying to draw constellations from blister to blister (you do weird things when oxygen deprived).

I have always joked that should I ever give birth to an actual child, I would NOT want my father present in the labor room. There is no modesty in having your knees pushed apart to reveal a grotesque and beautiful life process while your father looks on (NO THANK YOU! PUT THE CAMERA AWAY). But with the century ride, I want my daddy there. He has been at every major finish line and although my training partners are amazing, dedicated, supportive and appreciated, there is NOTHING like crossing the line and having my dad there with his smile to make the pain go away and to remind me that even at 32, I am a daddy’s girl. I suspect he will be standing there with some sort of food…comfort food…with ice cold Gatorade.

I have heard mothers say that all the pain, all the worry, and all the work is worth it when you set eyes on your squirming newborn. I am not obviously bringing a child into the world but I feel when this is all over, I will have brought about a new sense of accomplishment, a feeling of relief in knowing it is over AND, stories to share. Right now, I am nesting, constantly cleaning the bike, trying to not ignore any vital details and packing my cycling bag to leave on the morning of September 12th. I guess some comfort I can enjoy is that I will not be having Braxton Hicks contractions or early birth. It is not very likely that they will change the date of the ride.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cinderella’s Slipper Was Really A New Balance 850


Because cycling just isn’t enough torture and because I fear that over the winter months, I will be tempted to eat every carb loaded holiday cookie, cake, pie, and mashed potato, gravy plate in site, I have signed up (meaning I paid MONEY) to do the Tecumseh Trail marathon in December (in Indiana). What a way to close out the year and ring in the holidays with my legs burning, lungs heaving, and the possibility of throwing up in front of 100+ strangers (okay, so far I know 2 other runners).

I have wanted to do a trail marathon for some time and I figured with all the cycling training, my legs will morph into a running machine. Okay, maybe not…my feet are small, with high arches….when I run, it is like watching a toddler chase after a ball…sloppy. You would think being so compact, I could move like the wind….but my inseam is only about 26”…so my stride is shoooorrrrt. So, like most physically challenging competitions, I strive to finish….alive…and well.

Trail running is that challenge of “how-to-not-break-your-ankle-on-tree-roots” each and every training day. My first run to see where my “base” is quickly assured me of ONE thing….I needed new shoes. Now, any girl on the planet would LOVE a pair of new shoes. Usually I get very excited about high heels and by high I really mean three or more inches. The more uncomfortable, the better—I usually prefer something that blisters quickly. It means they are sexy (usually). I do not get excited about running shoes, however. My old pair…the ones I love…are well worn… mold to my foot….they are losing traction…they are SO COMFORTABLE (they smell)…until I run in them and then I can feel small pangs of pain in my thighs, hips and shins.

The task of buying a new pair of running shoes involves repeat appearances in a running store located near an area of town where you are more likely to see a tricked out Camaro than an athlete. This store prides itself on feet. They fit you to the perfect shoe for YOUR running style based on your foot size, shape and how it hits the ground. For 20-30 minutes you are Cinderella looking for the perfect shoe and people fitting them onto your feet. They teach you how to walk and even if you have been doing it since you were 14-months old….trust me, you have things to learn. My preferred shoe is a New Balance…which works well for my small size 6.0 feet. Nike DOES NOT work with my feet or as the gentleman told me while holding my foot dangerously close to his nostrils, “You can’t wear Nike young lady…you are not their demographic.” Well…OKAY.

So now, in my closet among sexy heels, bike shoes, Dansko’s, and Birkenstocks is a new pair of New Balance 850. It is hard getting to know a new running shoe. It feels stiff and I know that a set of odd blisters await my first run with them. More importantly, this means my old shoes…the ones that fit me PERFECTLY are ready for the dumpster. Breaking up with a pair of old running shoes is like shoving your best friend out of your life. I know that three runs with the new shoes, we will be well acquainted and used to each other….but it is more about the apprehension of starting over and getting used to each other. Cinderella does not like to change her shoes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Lack Super Powers


Ahh, training, the true definition of insanity. On a sultry summer Saturday morning while most of the city is sleeping in, or trying to erase the memories of their wild Friday night, I am frantically running around the house trying to remember where I put my SPECIAL pH balanced chamois cream so I can meet another rider for an 8AM ride. I can barely get a half a cup of coffee down, let alone, required CALORIES. My body wakes up in sections and the mid-section is slow. I have to FORCE down a Gu, oatmeal, or a chunky, dry, tasteless Cliff bar. Then while a majority of the city enjoys cartoons, crosswords, trendy coffee shops, and fun farmers markets, I am dodging headless turtles, road divots, and a Miata that passes so close, I could see the inscriptions on the drivers wedding band. THIS IS TRAINING! YEEE-HAW!

I have been until now very pleased with training. Longer rides are becoming the preference and I am getting used to most of my Saturdays and Sundays being spent in spandex, sweating, grunting, and drinking “piss” flavored sports drinks (not my term….another rider). I have dropped weight…built muscle and overall, altered my lifestyle to include healthier food and less beer (there is always sacrifice). The only real disappointment is my right knee. A recent long ride resulted in me desiring a chain saw to remove my leg just above the knee for some relief. It started out as a dull pain around mile 48….then around mile 50….it was FULL ON pain…a stabbing, wrenching pain. Then, mile 54, it subsided enough that I could make it home. At this point I was convinced that I had done something wrong….I was not making full circles…pedaling too hard…using that leg more….but after a rather panicked email to experienced riders, I learned….I have IT BAND issues…I am NOT invincible or impervious to this common, ordinary pain issue.

I have ran for years….and always prided myself that I never endured any IT Band issues. What is the IT Band? A stretch of muscles up to the hip area and when inflamed, overused, or tightened too much….IT FEELS LIKE SOMEONE IS RUNNING BESIDE YOU STABBING YOUR KNEE WITH A SHARP KNIFE. I have seen runners crumple to the ground clenching their knee or hip in dire pain from this ailment. The cure? Well….this depends on WHO you ask. EVERYONE becomes an expert when you mention this problem (not meant sarcastically, literally very experienced cyclists have offered good varied advice). I have heard ice, compression, heat, massage, stretching, adjusting my bike, or getting a new leg (probably not in my price range and I could not get just ONE leg). The goal is NOT to push it too far….and this is the REAL challenge.

Everything hurts when you first start riding a bike. Your joints, fingers, toes, hips, legs and butt all ache and sometimes ALL at the same time (it would make a good Aleve commercial). The prescription to cure these common newbie issues is to “push” through it. A strained IT band is different; Everything I have read, says, rest, and a combination of the above recommendations will cure it or at best make it manageable. However, REST is done in doses when you are training. I have a pretty strict schedule I follow….and I am going to be disappointed if I cannot finish the century ride because of my ONE DEFECTIVE knee. Until now, all I worried about was finishing, not bonkinig, not crashing, not causing a crash, not throwing up (yes, I have worried about this)….I never worried about my LEMON KNEE. I am also that kind of person….like many people on bikes…that ignore what their body is saying sometimes. I like to pretend that I do not feel the pain….or that it does not exist. YOU CANNOT IGNORE THIS PAIN…your body SCREAMS at you.

So for now, I am following a regimen of icing, elevation, and stretching. I am not wearing heels to work. The bike is in the shop being dialed…just right, and I am going to have to find some comfort in knowing that I am pretty ordinary…and not Super Woman. Damn…I really like her spandex.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I never thought I would say this….I am a cheater…


About three years ago, I invested in a quality mountain bike. I spent several months researching exactly what I wanted but I finally committed…after courting several different mountain bikes, full suspension, hard tail, and I settled very happily with a Trek 8000 hardtail. I actually purchased the bike in the dead of winter which was a cruel thing to do to myself. It sat there in my bedroom, new and shiny until an unusual warm day in January. The first ride was love at first crank.

That spring and summer, any and every chance I could find, I rode that bike. It was a weird reaction but I was thankful for a long and dusty drought that took over the city. It made the trails accessible virtually anytime of day. We were inseparable that summer. It was our blissful honeymoon phase. It took me a while to tune the bike (named: Willie Nelson) just as I liked but once configured just right, we spent hours riding off into the sunset, sharing scabs, creating stories and falling in love.

But I am sorry to say, that I am a HORRIBLE bike partner. This year….my eyes have wandered…I could not help myself. The shiny new road bike is everything the mountain bike is not. It is sleek, fast, and stiff. I did not think I would be attracted to something like the road bike. Sure….like most cyclists, I considered crossing over here and there…”trying it out” but….a lesson I have learned in cycling is that you are most often defined by ONE or the OTHER….you ride knobby or slick…but NOT both (oh the horror). I have heard some say, it’s like cheating. Roadies do not like trails and trails do not like roadies (as the story has been told to me). But this year, I could not resist…I gave in and this morning on my way out the door and I felt the rear tire on my mountain bike and I would say, it is lucky if it is holding twenty pounds of air. (Sigh). I have cheated on Willie Nelson.

It has to be hard for my poor mountain bike to sit there on its rack while I clean, rub, and scrub the road bike after every long ride. I prance the road bike in front of the Trek as a cherished house guest while its tires go flat and it hangs there lifeless, ignored. I AM A HORRIBLE BIKE OWNER. On the two prong rack, the road bike goes on top…an unintentional sign of its place in my heart right now. They are TWO very different bikes—how could one really compare? The road bike responds with the slightest touch of my fingers and rolls smooth. The other bike requires constant “man handling”, grunting, groaning and rough housing. Is it possible I am in love with both forms? Oh dear goodness…what a pickle. Thankfully cycling polygamy is allowed, which is good because my wandering eye will not quit…I am looking a cross bike…and who knows, I may end up with a tandem.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back That Thing Up...


A few months back as the road bike was becoming a reality I found a T-Mobile jersey on E-bay decorated in hot pink flames. I was immediately drawn to this jersey for two main reasons. One…it is bright and I like to fool myself in believing that a motorist will notice BRIGHT colors before decorating their hood with my spandex covered carcass. The second reason….quite frankly, it was bad ass. I sent the link around to a few friends….and one responded, “you gotta be able to back that up!”. I knew what he meant.

Anyone can go out and purchase a bike and just the same, they can purchase a jersey (and all the OTHER crap that goes along with cycling) but this does NOT mean you know HOW to ride a bike. I know what you are thinking…you are thinking back to when you were three, four, or five and the moment your training wheels came off….you are thinking, “I know how to ride a bike Melinda.” Trust me, I thought the same thing….but also trust me when I say this…when you get a road bike in your thirties…you have to learn ALL OVER what you thought you already knew.

When you finally invest in a serious road bike, you have to learn NEW rules. Clip in…clip out…lean with your hips, stand up, sit down and avoid the things that you aimed for as a child like, puddles, mud, and curbs. There are rules for passing, drafting, pulling and hand signals for stopping, slowing, turning, and flatulence (okay, there is no known gesture for this but if you watch the signals for slowing, it would be easy to convince the riders behind you that Mexican night is still lingering). So the rule goes…when you start out on the bike, you have to pay your dues, learn as much as you can and practice as often as you can find time. You cannot come out of the gate and act “badass” , suited up in a badass jersey unless you are truly badass and let’s face the facts…I am not badass….I am still waiting for the training wheels to come off (metaphorically speaking).

A true definition of “Badass” are the guys (and gals) I rode with Saturday. They make a 50-mile ride look like a quick ride to get milk and eggs at the store. While they are making overt sexual jokes laughing out loud-- I am hoping I packed enough food, drank enough fluids and find my not-so-Christian self praying that I can keep up with their pace. While they are pulling on each other’s jersey’s and popping wheelies like teenagers, I am negotiating my cadence and clipping in and out at every red light. Another seasoned rider whose sarcastic sharp wit holds him upright on the bike rode beside and begin coaching me NOT to clip out at every stop light but telling me to pull up slowly and wait for green, the early formations of a track stand and a way to conserve some energy. IT TOOK EVERY BONE IN MY BODY TO RESIST A HABIT I HAVE BEEN DOING ALL SEASON…I could feel my ankle turning at the first sight of a light and then I would hear him bark, “DON’T DO IT!”….immediately like a greenhorn jarhead staring back at his larger than life commanding officer, I would respond, “yes sir” and quickly survey the street that I may be scraping with my elbows soon. But there were no falls….a seasoned rider knows what they are talking about. A jarhead is required to listen and respond accordingly.

I spent most of the ride responding to his yapping orders…”close that gap!”…”get up here”…”lay off those brakes”…and when you are thirty-miles from home and still somewhat worried about bonking, you find you will listen to someone who has been there, someone who knows because your goal at that point is to get home, in one piece, alive and well.

Once home, I peeled off my one and only jersey, a brightly colored Cannondale Volvo jersey that also was found on ebay sometime back. It makes Rainbow Bright look tame. It lacks the “badass-ness” of the T-Mobile jersey with flames but you can’t half ass…badass…

Friday, August 7, 2009

Priorities…Obsession…or Something Else?


I made the joke on Monday night that I was not too worried as I watched an elderly gentleman obviously with a burrito craving slowly almost back his large Lincoln Towncar into my ol’ Volvo in the Q-Doba parking lot. I believe the exact comment was:

“Well, it is paid for and fully insured, so honestly the best thing that could happen to that car-- is that it be wrecked…otherwise I plan to drive this thing until it is bolts…”
I am reminded once again of the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

THE VERY NEXT MORNING my car became a pile of bolts, actually rusted, stripped bolts, mud and sewage. I always figured the Volvo would die like most German engineered
machines,slowly and gracefully, maybe on the side of a wildflower bed on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon. I figured the odometer would read 400,000+ miles and that there were a couple more years of stories, camping trips, and bike rides left. Instead….my Volvo drowned in my own work parking lot, surrounded by many other coworkers cars. I stood there unable to move or mobilize an auto rescue AS one of the WORST flash floods in history filled the streets around me with over six feet of brown water. The back seat contained my bike helmet, (2) pairs of cycling gloves, and my bike shoes. My friends were not that surprised that when they called to ask if I needed anything, a ride home, to borrow a car or food--I responded, “Can you give me a ride to the bike shop?”

My first thought when I realized that my car was truly ruined was….”how am I going to transport my bike? How am I going to train for the Old Kentucky Home Tour? I cannot do loops in the park” By the end of the day, I had borrowed my dads car, which can hold ONE bike in the trunk, replaced my sewage soaked helmet and ordered (1) new pair of cycling shoes. As far as I am concerned, all the basic necessities are covered. OH WAIT! I have to junk my car….well that was officially done by Wednesday morning.

So all the priorities are taken care of…except for the new car. I am trying to be patient and not rush out too quickly and purchase something I will not be able to drive forever. Of course, if my bike were flooded, I would be on the phone today, purchasing a new one. Maybe I have a problem…

Monday, August 3, 2009

Choose Your Training Partners Well...


I have trained for races alone and with others. It is different to train for a race alone than with a partner or two. I prefer multiples. Training in groups prevents long drawn out conversations with myself. If I am lost, I have someone to be lost with and if I hit my wall, someone else can tell me what my "F-U face" really looks like (I hear it is NOT pretty!). The most valuable lesson you can learn is to choose your training partners well. It is no different than placing a personal ad (of which I have not done....yet)....

Over zealous cyclist seeks supportive female (or male) partners to share pain, torture, scrapes, bruises, and road side urination with. No competition, no stagnation, and no frowning allowed. Be prepared to share your feelings, your laughter and snorting with others. Must love Amish farms selling sweets and be prepared to save all wildlife. Self-centered attitudes are NOT allowed or tolerated.

For the Old Kentucky Home Tour, I chose and ex-EMT and a very experienced athlete to complete my first century with. This was a WISE choice. First, the EMT is ready at any moment to spring back into her days of asking basic questions in a loud tone while waving her finger back and forth to check you for subdural hematoma. Should I find myself careening into a rock filled ditch, falling over at a stop sign, or hitting a speed bump and lunging myself forward, I know I am in good hands. Meanwhile the SUPER experienced athlete makes even the largest, steepest and angriest of hills look easy and effortless. I gasp, huff, and engage in rhythmic breathing much like Lamaze all the while hearing her say, "you got it sister," "you can rock this,". Other additional people on the rides have included friends who cycle for fun and not for the masochists century ride but now find themselves pushing their limits and completing their longest rides ever on Saturday mornings/ afternoons.

Our longest ride of 54.5 miles was completed on Saturday. The ride included a menagerie of adventures including:

ADVENTURE 1
An elderly gentleman crashing his cruiser bike and incurring a painful, bloody abrasion. All of us ladies being social workers attempted to escort the gentleman home but we were no match for the farmers market which distracted him from his bleeding. (I was thankful that a friend Pat was not on the ride...as he has had to witness other mammal rescues).

ADVENTURE 2
An outburst of childlike behavior as we had to "turn right on Penile Road"...(what did you say? Yes, you heard correct). Three women had to stop for photo opps, continual laughter and jokes no greater than a sixth grade level. That lasted for MILES.

ADVENTURE 3
The continual search for "just the right spot" to empty a bladder or two filled with at minimum (2) water bottles each. A well placed ditch doubled as an appropriate loo...and shyness was overcome for one rider as the EMT explained to my friend, "Grow a pair and pee..." She overcame her "ditch urination procrastination" with minimal effort.

ADVENTURE 4
A closed bridge did NOT stop three ladies who crossed a creek in cycling shoes, spandex, and helmets handing each bike over to another rider. A recumbent cyclist seemed most impressed that we paid NO attention to the DETOUR sign. We made our OWN detour.

ADVENTURE 5
A run in with "Sugar Baby", and "Sophia", two pooches at a quaint home occupied by a generous woman who shared her tap water and her lack of direction with us. (The road we sought was less than a mile from her home)

ADVENTURE 6
Lactic acid burn which caused us to discuss our own self-image issues, our future lives, the good, the bad, the ugly, our possible limitations on a 50+ mile ride, and food choices post ride.

ADVENTURE 7
A nearly flat back tire was QUICKLY assessed and filled with a CO2 cartridge of which we had NO idea how to use. We mated the two pieces together until a frosted cold came over our hands shooting a small white cloud into the air. The tire went from a wet noodle to rock hard in seconds, preventing any rescue calls 30-miles from home.

The last five miles of the ride were a mental game. I had to keep the legs moving, spinning, and stop lights did not help. I groaned, I grunted, I considered napping on my handlebars. Then, I was home, on the couch, freshly showered, filled with waffle fries, memories, and exhaustion. I am thankful for my training partners. They are the types of ladies you would want in the delivery room with you. Somehow, they would make it better and full of adventure and I would not have to pee in a ditch.