Tuesday, October 18, 2011

True Test...

The true test of any relationship is time spent together. So imagine spending an entire day tethered together on a bike doing one of the best known tour rides in the country. For some couples this may sound all together frightening or quite frankly, stupid. We decided to not label it until it was over.

The Hilly Hundred is known all over the country as one of the most challenging tour rides. The name says it all and no further creative marketing needs to be done. The ride swerves through scenic central Indiana country side with challenging hills and crazy descents. All of those details set aside, it is just another ride around town. Right? (Maybe not). Our ride would be on a tadem...a two rider bicycle. As the rear rider (also known as the stoker), I would not have any sight to see forward, no brakes and no gearing. It is not just another ride. The captain has to do a majority of the work and I have to trust the captain.

The tandem itself has been nothing but pure agony for me most of this year. Originally conceived and designed as a gift for someone other than myself, I never IMAGINED myself riding it. The thought never crossed my mind, not once. The bike was NEVER designed or built for me. When the gift was not wanted anymore and returned, I still refused to ride the bike believing that the bike was not for me and I should not ride it. At heart though, it is a bike and bikes are meant to be ridden, otherwise they collect dust. Quality bikes are meant to be ridden without drama. This tandem is designed and built for a specific size person. I said once..."I wanna try it all in cycling" and I decided the tandem had been collecting enough dust. It was time to ride and our first foray into tandem riding would be Hilly Hundred.

Tandem Timeline:

Friday Morning 7AM: We are up with the car packed and we are driving north to Bloomington, Indiana. The sunrise is just starting to peak over the tree ridge. I am still sipping a huge cup of coffee as my system is suffering from a lack of sleep. Perhaps it was my nerves or the many chores that needed to be done before we left  but I could not sleep much the night before.

8:45AM: We arrive to the Hilly Hundred vendors tent where we will work between riding. Don made us a deal to cover our registration if we work the tent. It sounded quite fair. At this time, I have still not seen, nor sat on the tandem.

9:15AM: Don Walker arrives with his trailer in tow. We unload the trailer, set up for the show where the tandem is now sitting, waiting for us to ride it.

JC and Don at the vendors tent
9:45AM: JC works on the tandem so it will "fit" me better. This required quite a few adjustments, tweaks and cranks of a wrench. We decide to do two loops around a parking lot totaling .25 miles. We did not incur any damages and we consider this a good sign of things to come. We dismount and work the tent the REST of the afternoon and evening. We escape to Upland Brewery for a delicious lunch and...BACON ICE CREAM. (I seriously forgot all about the approaching ride while consuming this ice cream).

Bacon ice cream...dissolves any nerves

4AM: I awake in an odd panic, not sure where I am, surrounded by darkness. A few moments elapse and I finally realize I am in Bloomington, Indiana, in a trailer, sleeping on plywood in a sleeping bag with a cold breeze blowing through the door. Somewhat panicked and otherwise calm, I attempt to go back to sleep.

6:30AM: We awake to wind hitting the trailer, rattling the roof overhead. It is really cold outside. I ask about the descents before either of us is unraveled from our sleeping bags. I am assured we will "take it easy." Hmmm. I have doubts about this but press on.

7:30AM: I am now in full ride preparation mode. I am up, working to assemble the vendors tent and making mental notes of all the little things I will need on the ride. Other riders start to arrive. A stream of headlights comes over the hill looking like little white ants.
Sunrise on Saturday morning...
8:45AM: I am preparing to ride. I have applied sunscreen to the face, pulled back the hair and laid out my kit in the order I will put it on. Each piece goes on as I dress in a dark wooden trailer. It is cold outside. Even with a base layer, sports bra, bibs, jersey, AND jacket, I am cold. By cold, I mean my teeth are chattering. My fingers are numb. The temperature outside is 45 degrees. I am told it will warm up. I believe this.

9:30AM: JC is now finishing getting ready. Water bottles are filled. I adjust my jersey with needed items and extras like a camera. I speak to Don and remind him to remind JC that I have NEVER been on this bike before. I do not KNOW what I am doing. I do not want to crash.

10:00 AM: We are on the bike. Don snaps a quick photo before we take off. We push off in unison. We pedal in unison (you do not have a choice on the tandem). My view is JC's butt in front of me. This view does not change for the next 57-miles. It is freezing outside. My teeth are chattering and my fingers are already cold.

The before picture...
11:00AM: We are IN the ride now, and have completed a few small hills. I am on alert for any moment that could cause a fall or wreck but I am NOT in control. No matter what I do, I am not steering this bike. I cannot brake. I cannot shift gears. My ONLY job is to be a little motor in the back. I have carefully reminded JC that if he has a temper even once, any mild flare up, I will dismount the bike, flag down a SAG vehicle and ride back. My pride will not know the difference. He tells me he will not be dangerous and I have to trust him. I am clipped into this bike. IF I decide to bail, it will still cause harm because I will have to roll OFF the bike. There are hundreds of people around us, some of them riding quite dangerously ignorning any cycling rules. We see two serious wrecks and hear a helepad landing for someone injured. It scatters our nerves a bit and we are still freezing from the cold winds. Brrrr.

JC's butt...my view for most of the ride
Shortly before NOON: We arrive at lunch. Over a thousand people are crowded on a lawn. We feel good and find some space to take some sun in. We're still freezing! We have been standing for the hills at this point which literally causes people to gasp but it helps us motor up the hills with ease. We come over hills with little or no effort including a larger one that many people walk. I help myself to a tiny lunch of carrots, celery and a cookie. The lunch was scheduled to be fried chicken which I do not eat. JC eats a piece and it looks horrible as the soggy grease coats his fingers. We get back on the bike with our legs starting to tire bit. The scenery though really opens up and it is a pretty but cold day to ride.

Scenery along the way
1PM: Our legs are really tiring, the hills are getting harder. Now, JC is having leg cramps while I am starting to have arm cramps in my left bicep and tricep to the point that standing is nearly impossible because I may collapse. Hmmm. We summit a steep hill and JC gets off the bike to stretch his legs. Other tandems pass us BUT they have much better gearing. We do not have a "granny" gear and it is showing. We make the decision to limp along to the last SAG after a small discussion of quitting.

2PM: We are literally limping along. At any ascent we slow to a crawl nursing our sore muscles at every summit. I am thinking of muscle tearing, tendon issues, etc. JC cramps so bad at point, he jumps off the bike with me still clipped in. WHOOPPPS! I grab his shoulder and unclip as quickly as possible to hold the bike up. No wrecks today!

2:30PM: We roll into the last SAG, collapsing on the grass. We're still cold. We have both discussed but made the decision to NOT get a ride back to the end of the course. We are now only a short distance away from the end. We run into a friend who shares some cookies with us. They taste like the best cookies ever and JC scarfs them down. I text ahead to the end and tell Don "WE NEED MEAT." The lactic acid build up in our legs is to the point where you can nearly see it. Our legs are tight. Spinning feels good. Our friend Scott, an accomplished strong rider, agrees to stay with us until the end. We start to feel a little more energy.

The last crowded SAG

The best cookies EVER!
3:15PM: We depart the last SAG and immediately start into one of the last hardest hills. Uh oh. We ascend it seated. We sit, spin and rhythmically pull ourselves up. We realize that in a seated position we can climb but at a snails pace. We stopped caring about our time a long time ago. It is still freezing as gusting winds hit us from all sides. BRRRRR.

3:30PM: We are rolling to the end and I can hear people talking about the last few miles ahead. I get more excited but I realize that my sits bones are bruised. Every crack, bump, or pothole in the road make it feel like broken glass. I avoid any bouncing. My legs refresh a bit. My arm still cramps with any applied pressure but I do not need it anymore. JC and I can now see the water tower which is a part of the view from the school where we started. We are ALMOST done. Our friend scoots us up the hill pulling us in his draft and we turn to finish out the last few miles.

4:00PM: The end of the ride is officially near. We roll through a neighborhood of small quaint houses and cars. I stop caring about the landscape, the views or anything else and we turn onto the last road into the school. Other riders have collapsed on the road sitting on the grass to our sides. We do not even pause, we head on straight to the bathrooms. It is my first time off the bike in a while. We get on the bike one last time and roll into the vendors tent where we first pushed off. JC's legs are cooked. My legs are seared. We are done. We are STILL cold. I immediately prepare to layer up.

4:20PM: We collapse for a brief moment onto our sleeping bags giggling because we just finished over 57-miles on a bike we had not ridden more than a few feet. Now, it's funny. We laugh at our own stupidity.

Afterwards everyone asks us about the ride and how we got along. We never fought. We made decisions together. We laughed a lot on the ride mostly at other riders in costume or doing things really odd. If I were in pain, I told him. If he was in pain, he told me. We spoke in grunts at times. There was nothing we could do to directly comfort each other but we made it known when something wasn't working. We made the decision to walk some hills. We stopped and drank water when we needed. We finished over the time we thought we would but we did not regret the ride. We regretted our miscalculated gearing and not packing our own lunches. To make up for a lackluster lunch, we ate a whole pizza in minutes and several ice cream treats. Honestly, there were not enough calories in sight. After a hot shower and a few moments of resting, the best reward....11-hours of perfect uninterrupted sleep.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

When in doubt, bake.

As soon as Labor Day settles, I would normally be preparing for cross racing season. I would normally be choosing my dates for races, registering myself, and preparing meals around recovery and preparation. This is not been a normal year though. Since losing my job on June 26, I have been thrust into a new type of living...called, "getting by" and moving to the next chapter. I would have it no other way.

Not for a minute do I miss my non-profit, corporate feeling job. Not for a second do I miss the long hours, countless parties, formal wear, handshaking, faux snobbery, that was my job. I do not miss the frantic people that were my coworkers who literally ran around the office as if it may not continue standing unless they completed their mindless tasks. In fact, the only thing I do miss is the mild flexibility of knowing I would have weekends off or knowing IF I needed I could rearrange my schedule to fit my needs. Those are honestly, the only aspects I miss.

While my schedule fluctuates in a retail environment and quite often I work well over 40 hours a week, I enjoy the calmness of not having a chaotic environment around me frought with people trying harder than ever to get to the next rung on the ladder. As I see it, I am happy on the step ladder and refuse to climb any other ladders upward. In my mid-twenties, my goal was to lead a non-profit in my hometown but that goal has shifted, since most leaders I know are burned out, ran down, and focused on making a board of directors happy versus making a real difference in the community. The only real reward I ever see them enjoy are the rare moments when someone praises their job well done. Many of them do not vacation, take care of their family lives, or have friends night out. They are reaching for an imaginary goal.

With my relaxed, less chaotic time, what do I do? I bake. The kitchen is my second home. I move about from ingredient to ingredient often ignoring any written recipe and crafting my own concoction. As soon as Labor Day faded, I could feel the twinges of fall settling in and I began to bake....cookies, cakes, pies, and the staples of any fall, loaves of bread. My house is often filled with the scents of cinnamon, vanilla, caramel, or coffee. My small oven produces four homemade loaves of bread an hour or 48 cupcakes depending on the pans used. Once upon a time not so long ago, I was racing home to fix a quick dinner which generally involved something handed through a window because I did not have the time to cook a full meal. Now, dinners are thought about early in the day and we can enjoy pulled pork empanada night, taco fiesta night, or even fish sticks when we feel childlike. There is no rush to anything.

My goals may shift again, but I am certain that I will not do a job unless there is some personal reward from it. If I cannot go into work and feel I can accomplish my job, then I will not do it. Bike riding is still my passion but I can even enjoy it more now. Rides are not scheduled to a science but done in windows of free time. Rides are fun now...I am not always thinking about work.

Yes, there is a sacrifice in pay but overall, my quality of life has improve 150%. I am accutely aware of the things I need versus the things I want. This lesson is priceless. My boyfriend is enjoying the rewards with each loaf of bread or cupcake cranked out.