Catch Up

When we last left off, dear reader, I had just put my dog down and was helping my kids work through their grief. Since then much has happened, which is what happens when autumn rolls around. The cycling is exquisite, everyone is back to school routines, and life starts to slow down for winter.

 

  • I took the week of Sept 2 ff work. Between Labor Day and the High Holidays and my in-laws coming to visit, it didn’t make sense to shoehorn work in as well. Add in our dog dying and it was a much needed week off of responsibility.
  • I rode my bike a lot that week. It’s really cathartic. Long rides with the bike club; short rides for lunch with my son; medium rides with my step-father-in-law. It was so nice to simply wake up, throw my leg over the top tube and pedal out of town without any worry.
  • I ran a five-miler back in August and promptly hurt my foot. My chiropractor has been adjusting it and I thought I was in a good place, but a 5k proved me otherwise. Back off running for another two weeks … then I can try again. Lots of rolling with a tennis ball to keep things loose and not “crunchy.” PS – having your foot adjusted feels WEIRD.
  • I completed the Scenic Schuylkill Century for the second consecutive year. 103 miles with over 6800′ of climbing. I felt like a mountain goat charging up those final hills. This ride deserves a recap post.
  • I took Electric Dream Machine to the shop for a tune-up (chunky shifting) and ended up getting her new bar tape and a new chain as well. 2500 miles and only 50% worn on of the original chain feels pretty awesome. I feel like a Spin Master.
  • I also found a saddle that doesn’t hurt my butt after 100 miles. It’s an old school Terry Butterfly Ti I found on eBay for $36. You have no idea how relieving this is.
  • I made a lot of cookies. Chocolate crinklesMolasses. They are all gone now.
  • I bought the last few items I need to make my first attempt at blueberry jam.
  • We selected a hand-made custom urn for Nixon, painted to match her exact coloring. We’re expecting it sometime next week. Until then her ashes are just hanging out in the kitchen and it feels kinda weird. Last night I missed her snuggling up to my feet when I went to bed. Not cry-my-eyes-out missed her … just missed the reassuring weight on her curled up at the bottom of the bed.

 

That week reminded me how much I love unrestricted time. Time to explore, time to play, time to simply be. Far too often I get wrapped up in my everyday life of work, the kids’ school stuff, and housework. Never mind the annual house maintenance that needs to happen like yard work, cleaning out the garage, fixing the downspout that disconnected last October during Hurricane Sandy (*cough cough*).

If I could find a way to still get a paycheck and ride my bike for fun all day, I’d be all over that.

Anyway – I’m still around. I haven’t been riding as much as I want these past two weeks. I haven’t even been bike commuting! And I kinda miss running (but that’s between you and me). I have my BikeMS: City to Shore ride coming up next weekend so I need to get out an ride at least a little bit to keep the legs fresh. Then I’m looking to October to squeeze in some fun weekend rides … maybe do the Central Bucks Covered Bridge Tour again.

 

See you on the road!

 

 

Elephant Rock Ride 2013 Recap

I’m absolutely beat from spending a day in airports and airplanes but I have to share with you, dear reader, what a wonderful time I had in Colorado this past week.

I flew on Frontier Airlines again because if you do the research, they have the most bike-friendly policies of any airline. I can’t recommend them enough. Be vigilant however – some of the smaller/newer airports may not be fully informed and try to charge you oversize AND overweight (Frontier only charges overweight for bikes). I tweeted @FrontierCare a gentle request to remind the staff of said airport about their policy and they tweeted back that they called the staff immediately. I can independently confirm this because I was at a very small (tiny) airport and the only one checking a bike … and the gate agent called me out on it when I was boarding.

You can bet they will remember the bike policy the next time someone checks a bike for a flight through their airport.

Upon landing in beautiful Denver, I drove out to my new favorite independent bike shop – Pedal of Littleton – to have my ride reassembled and a new crankset installed. Turns out the left crank was stripped last year when the mechanic assigned to reassemble my bike didn’t install my pedal correctly. (You may recall I had to fix it on the side of the road during last year’s Elephant Rock Ride) Many thanks for my current shop for pointing out the issue and guiding me in getting a new crankset delivered to Pedal.

Friends, I can’t tell you how well Pedal treated not only me but my family. My bike has not felt this fluid and effortless since she was brand new. They adjusted my fit, answered my questions about my cleats getting stuck last weekend (and loosening my pedals), and made sure I was happy. Then we talked about a rental for my sister, who is a runner and planned to join me for a day on the bike. They treated her with respect and honesty and she did not feel like she was being talked down to when she said she didn’t know the first thing about bikes and needed flat pedals. They tweaked the fit until she felt amazing on the bike. I highly recommend Pedal if you are in the Belleview/Santa Fe area – they are just off the trail and top-notch.

The morning of Elephant Rock my sister and I were shepherded to the start by my most excellent parents. This is no small feat because we had to get up at 4:30am to get to the start and on the road by 6am. I of course felt incredibly nervous and anxious – and this manifests as nausea. Fortunately I warned my sister a few days before to not take it personally if I didn’t talk to her much.

I also failed to check the weather report outside of high temp for the day. Our 6am start brought us 48*F, sunshine, and 20 mph winds. So our shorts, jersey, and light sleeves were significantly subpar.

my sister. we are so cold.
my sister demonstrating we are so cold.

and the WIND! Oh my goodness – we could barely push above 10-13mph and we were spinning like crazy. Crosswinds – headwinds – everything but a tailwind. We would spin up a hill and not even have the benefit of a descent because we’d have to pedal through the headwind going downhill. This gave a whole new meaning to “windswept plains.”

We stopped at the 15mi rest stop – me for real food (since I hadn’t eaten anything yet for fear of losing it), my sister for a way to close the hole in the front seam of her bike shorts (she got a safety-pin). A gentleman commented that “you don’t have views like this in Philadelphia”  referring to the amazing view of Pikes Peak in the background. I swear I said a inflection-neutral “nope” but my sister will tell you I growled at him and was generally hostile. All I remember is nibbling on a banana and sour green grapes and pacing around, trying not to puke. And the wind again.

this is one of my favorite pics from the day - if you look at it full size you can see the cyclists riding up the hill, dotting the horizon.
this is one of my favorite pics from the day – if you look at it full size you can see the cyclists riding up the hill, dotting the horizon.

The 25 mi mark is the route divergence for the full century and the metric century. Given the wind, I suggested to my sister that we pull over and rethink our desire to do the full century route. We were barely averaging 10mph at this point and the winds were showing no sign of letting up. By this point the banana has kicked in and I feel normal again – but my sister is sagging because the wind is literally sucking our energy (and she’s not a cyclist) and her butt was hurting.

Clearly we were not the only ones who decided to pull over and think – there was a quarter of a mile worth of cyclists debating the routes. We learned later that most people opted to curtail their miles because of the wind.

And really, when you are out to have fun – there’s no point in slogging through 20mph winds that are gusting to 30mph. It’s just not fun.

So we aborted our quest for the full century after much deliberation and headed west to the next rest stop at mile 33. Several big inclines lead to delicious descents that became tricky in the gusty wind. These are the times I curse my carbon fiber bike and it’s light weight – I hate spending more energy staying upright on the downhill than I did on the uphill.

We did however get to ride on an aptly named Roller Coaster Road – a swooping set of several rollers that ended up being a highlight of the route.

the half-way point
the half-way point

After a quick pee-and-refill-water-bottles break in Palmer Lake, we set out for the best part of the ride – ten pure miles of downhill protected by pine forest. So there was no wind. And we could pick up the pace. And by “pick up the pace” I mean I shouted “gidd’up,” threw my rig into the big ring, and watched my cyclometer ratchet up to over 40mph.

Yeah, that happened. And it was worth every moment.

Then came the payback – over 2 miles of 4% grade with less than 20 miles to go in the metric. My poor sister was experiencing what we all face in the early season, Sore Butt. She was also running out of gas so we rode side by side up Tomah Road. An older guy struck up a conversation with us part way up the hill and that took her mind off the grind (and her sore booty) for a bit.

my sister contemplating the monster hill we just finished.
my sister contemplating the monster hill we just finished. she’s not happy.

By now it’s also almost 80*F. It feels amazing to be in the sun with very little wind. We zoom to the finish, taking a few breaks here and there for my sister to get off her saddle and stretch a bit. We cheer as we roll into the finish line, grab our post-ride lunch and nosh in the shade celebrating our victory. My parents had watched us on my Garmin LiveTrack and were already on their way to pick us up.

Here’s our stats from the ride: http://app.strava.com/activities/57834471

(keep in mind my sister has ZERO cycling training prior to this ride – she is a runner and hiker – and she threw down a 60 mile ride in 4h 45m. She’s insane. And five years younger than me. LOL)

A couple of side notes:

  • I’m now confident last year’s “altitude sickness” was indeed a virus as I had no ill effects outside of my own usual event anxiety.
  • I loved riding with my sister, even if this ride has solidified for her that she hates cycling. Even though she had fun.
me and my sister enjoying  success ... and the post-ride lunch
me and my sister enjoying success … and the post-ride lunch

My next post will talk about the rest of my vacation, because the cycling didn’t end here.

See you on the road!

Pause

Last week was pretty busy so I was only able to bike commute once. Fortunately it was the evening of the Ride of Silence, honoring cyclists who have died on the roads in the past year. A very somber and sobering event. Then I spent the weekend camping in the rain with my Girl Scout troop. My girls are rock stars!

 

Unfortunately, I also noticed my pinky on my right hand was freaking out. It didn’t want to straighten. I thought back to the SCU Quad County and how my pinky felt zonked after that ride too. It’s also happened a few times this year, each time a little longer to get full functionality back into my finger (because I’m stupid and keep riding). As in, I can’t put all my fingers together and straighten out my right hand. It’s  frightening to think about permanent damage from something you love to do.

 

I did some Googling (check out this blog about someone else experiencing the same thing!) and discovered this is most likely due to excessive compression on my ulnar nerve even though I have padded gloves and padded bartape. The only cure is rest, stretching exercises, and making sure your bike fit is as good as possible (seat low, handlebars high). With this knowledge, I’m thinking all this bike commuting has been screwing me up (since Lady Rainicorn‘s frame is slightly too big for me). Or perhaps I messed up the geometry when I swapped out the saddle. Or maybe it’s my new bike gloves – they are a touch too big (I thought the Mediums felt a touch too small so I opted for Large).

 

Sadness – I know!

 

So I’m going to do a couple of things:

1. put the original saddle back on the bike and see if that helps (I didn’t notice problems before I started messing with the seat)

2. get a bike fit even though I don’t want to (it can be hard to justify spending almost half the cost of your bike on a fit – remember, she’s a Craiglist find under $300)

3. dial back my riding until full functionality returns to my finger (I dislike this the most)

 

* * * * *

Next week I am heading out to Colorado for a week of fun and happiness! I’m flying with my bike again on Frontier Airlines – they are THE BEST when it comes to traveling with your bike. I don’t have status with them this year so I’m going to do my best to get my bike box under 50 pounds (it was 51 pounds last summer). I already have an appointment to get my bike reassembled when I arrive and will work out the return trip when I get there. Super psyched to be cycling with my friends and family again!

* * * * *

 

See you on the road!

 

 

SCU Quad County Recap

Today I rode in the SCU Quad County Metric with my friends Ken and Coco. The Quad County promised quiet, scenic low-traffic roads; well-stocked rest stops; and a post-ride hot lunch. In addition to the usual 25, 45, and 65 mile options riders could add on what is affectionately referred to as the ICU – an additional 8 miles with 1,200′ of elevation gain.

Let’s start with last night – I bike commuted because the weather was Uh-Ma-Zing. I also posted a new PR on the mile+ road up from the river. I got home in enough time to get a shower and grab a string cheese before bolting for my daughter’s concert. After, we decided to go for fro-yo. Before I knew it, I was in bed without a solid meal to recover from the commute and prep for today’s 74mi ultra-hilly ride.

So yeah. When the alarm clock went off at 5:30am, I realized my mistake and knew I would be paying for it today. Starting with a tank dangerously close to “E” … AWESOME.

The weather forecast for today varied wildly all week leading up, so I was thrilled when it only called for clouds until afternoon, then thunderstorms. I forced myself to eat and have a little coffee before my friends arrived. We loaded up our bikes on my SUV and headed out with a heavy rain falling. No sooner did we turn north a few miles later than the skies dried up. Excellent!

Highlights from the day:

* Mile 2: Steep hill! A portent of Things To Come.

* Mile 3: Flat! Ken found the insidious piece of amber glass. We’re a good flat-repair team.

* Mile 8: deciding Yes, we are heading into the ICU. Despite virtually EVERY OTHER CYCLIST around us opting out.

looks are deceiving - the entry to the ICU
looks are deceiving – the entry to the ICU
this is moments before we embark on a journey that only goes up.
this is moments before we embark on a journey that only goes up (I’m in the middle)

Doing things in a group, as a team, makes everything painful go by faster – many of the big hills averaged 7-9% grade. As does singing whatever song is in your head at a given moment. My favorite was when we busted out “Baby Got Back.”

Interesting note – the event photographer was in the ICU. I can’t wait to see what that picture looks like.

* Mile 28: first rest stop.

* great conversation about interesting stories from our lives. I can’t even remember all of them – but they made the miles fly.

* We passed by many farms and saw several white horses, each one looking at us. We took them to be a good omen for the ride.

* Mile 50: second rest stop and possibly the best smelling, cleanest port-o-potties I’ve ever used. Not being facetious.

one of the many picturesque farms we passed
one of the many picturesque farms we passed

This is where the skies decide to open up. A few miles of light rain gave way to torrential downpour. A few more miles and we are now in a full-on thunderstorm. We’ve abandoned our glasses and are wincing through the driving rain. Let’s be clear: riding in the rain at 16mph feels like sand being thrown on your body.

We slog on, laughing and making the best of our lot. We decide to skip the “bonus” ICU segment in favor of getting back to my car and dry clothes.

short break to check the cue sheet because we had NO IDEA where we were
short break to check the cue sheet because we had NO IDEA where we were

Somehow we determine we are three miles from the finish. This is a complete lie, as we are closer to 10 miles from the finish. ONWARD!

Three actual miles from the end, the sun comes out. We are soaked. We are happy. We are tired. We made it back to the finish as the volunteers were starting to close up shop.

must. eat.
must. eat.

Overall, I can’t even tell you how beautiful this ride was, how much fun I had, and how very legit the ICU is. After we fueled up with a hot lunch, we changed into warm, dry clothes to drive home (+1000 points for this idea).

If you are in the Pennsylvania area and have the opportunity to ride this event, I highly recommend it.

Now it’s time to move into recovery mode and get some sleep. See you on the road!

Check out the stats here: http://app.strava.com/activities/53663135

Safety First

There’s a lot of information out on the internet on how to bike commute (or just ride) safely – things like Avoid the Door Zone, Be Visible and Predictable, and Get Used To Being Honked At. It’s all true and great information. But if I may, I’d like to share another piece of safety advice that is often overlooked: your emergency pack. Sure you probably toss a spare tube, some tire levers, and either CO2 or a hand pump in your saddle bag or rack pack … but I’m not talking about gear.

Every ride, you need to have the following on you so that Go-d forbid something were to happen you can get help quickly.

  • Government-issued photo ID or driver’s license
  • Medical insurance card
  • Cash. $20 will cover a number of situations.
  • Emergency contact info, be it on paper or tagged as ICE in your smartphone.
  • The code for your smartphone if you use password protect.

Also, if you are riding solo – tell someone you know and trust where you are going and when you plan to return. Bike safe, friends!

* * * * *

I’m on Week Two of bike commuting twice a week and it’s going amazing. I had one day where I failed to have an afternoon snack before I rode home from work and even though our time didn’t increase, I felt horribly sluggish and full of effort. Lady Rainicorn doesn’t have climbing gears so steep hills are a challenge – but worth it. I can feel my quads getting stronger. I’ve also noticed that technique counts – when I mash my pedals, I tire quickly but when I focus on round pedalstrokes, the hill doesn’t seem so hard.

I’ve also been exploring multi-modal commuting – commuting using a combination of cycling and public transportation. On the days I am not able to bike all the way to work, I’ve been riding to the train station and locking up there. It’s actually quite nice to zip down the street in the morning and then be home at the end of the day in under 5 minutes.

 

part of my bike commute. in the city.
part of my bike commute. in the city.

 

Yesterday I rode to work and back with my commuter friend. On the way home we detoured up through Forbidden Drive. It was a lovely jaunt through the Wissahickon Valley Park at a lower speed, admiring the old stone bridges and beautiful surroundings. The 1.2 mile uphill slog from the creek back up to Mount Airy was better than I expected. It’s great because you come out of the creek basin and suddenly you are almost home. Refreshing and relaxing!

Keep on truckin’ friends – see you on the road!

 

Oh hey there …

Oh hey. It’s been a while hasn’t it. Gosh. Sorry about that. Been busy with life and such, being elected to the board for Philly Bike Club. I’m really thrilled to be able to give back to the club that has been so instrumental in keeping me on the road, making new friends, and learning as much as I can about cycling.

 

sometimes I let my bikes stay inside
sometimes I let my bikes stay inside

The bikes are back home. This makes me incredibly happy.

The weather has been difficult to say the least. We didn’t get much snow since the Nor’easter pretty much stayed to the Nor’east. But it’s been colder than I care to venture lately (sub-32*F).

 

But venture I did this past weekend – I wanted to ride my new bike (Lady Rainicorn – you may recall her as the sexy ’88 Peugeot you see in the image above) and the weather outlets were predicting upper-thirties/low-forties and sun. My Always Up For A Bike Ride commuter buddy agreed to join me on an inaugural ride to meet up with some friends for brunch downtown. I warned him we were not going to be breaking any speed records.

Every ride is a learning opportunity:

1. Toe clips SUCK. There is a reason we attach our feet to pedals on the soles of our feet instead of shoving our shoes into a tiny metal cage that mocks you as you attempt to pedal from a stand-still.

there is no love in my heart for these pedals
there is no love in my heart for these pedals

2. Toe covers do not cut it below 40*F. Not even with sock liners and my thickest, warmest wool socks. Riding with fish sticks for toes is also the worst.

not good for spinning efficiency
not good for spinning efficiency

3. I needed one more layer in the morning, one fewer in the afternoon. It was 23*F when we left; 39*F when I got home.

it felt something like this
it felt something like this

4. Winter cycling gloves are BOMB DIGGITY.

something like that, yeah
something like that, yeah

5. The new bike will be excellent for the commute. I will get stronger because she’s not a compact – just a double – but she’s stable and nimble. Zippy.  My lowest gear is nowhere close to my lowest gear on my Felt. But the hills mostly flew under me – only the steep(-er/-est) of hills got painful.

 

So of course my Wish List of cycling crap got longer: insulated cycling jacket, winter cycling shoes, getting a second pair of thermal tights. And new pedals. Even if I just get some platforms for the time being – anything is better than the current weighted toe-clip pedals I have now.

 

When I picked up my bikes I also bought a new seat – a Specialized Ruby Expert. The local shop has a 90 day return-for-store-credit policy so I need to get out on my Felt a few times to give it a go. Hopefully the weather will co-operate – currently this weekend looks terrible for outdoor cycling (snow and sub-freezing temperatures).

 

So more to come, dear reader. Looking forward to warmer weather, longer sunshine, and commuting by bike again in the near future.

 

See you on the road!

 

The Road Less Traveled

… or, there are too many others out on the damn trail.

Today I attended my first mountain biking skills clinic, run by our excellent friends at Cadence Cycles in the Manayunk section of the city. I was pretty nervous – being from Colorado means everyone thinks I mountain bike/ski/snowboard/trail run/uber-outdoor-athlete stuff … but the reality is, I took all that open space and facilities for granted. I only started riding my bike for fun (not just transportation) in May of 2011. So yeah – I have never mountain biked before. And I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself and fall – either in general or off the side of the trail.

Falling is fine – just not in front of 30 other people.

So my commuter friend and I rode in the 10 miles to the bike shop. We arrived a little early because we needed our clipless pedals transferred to the demo bikes and seats adjusted. I was able to demo the Fuji Belle, a full suspension bike. Not sure why I had a full when others had hardtails, but it was nice!  Note to self: try not to wreck the $2000 bike. There were many others who signed up – some cyclocross racers, some road racers, some newbies like me, and everything in between. Fortunately my skills were in the middle of the newbie range.

We rode about a half-mile or so to get to the trails, using this time to get used to the thumb shifters. Didn’t take long to get the hang of it but once we were out on the trails, I kept to the lower end of the gearing. Made it so much easier to get up the hills.

The first hour was spent just going up and down a hill with lots of roots, rocks, and turns. It was sharper but really honed in on the skills you need to successfully get up the tiny steep portions of a climb, over small obstacles, and getting back downhill.

The second hour was a short trail ride – this is why people love mountain biking! Being in the woods, pedaling and feeling like you are floating over the debris, finding your line and the thrill of successful execution. The leafy single track was just fun. I am not even sure I can adequately describe how exhilarating it is to crank up a steep, rocky incline – unsure you will make it over the top – and then trust your bike as you rip down the other side, rocks and roots and debris be damned.

Skills taught to more experienced riders included log-overs, stairs, and getting enough momentum on a short, steep downhill to get up the next hill. Maybe another time when I feel more confident and ready to take my off-road riding to the next level. Today was about trying it out.

Instead of riding out for lunch with my commuter friend to discuss our new-found skills, my husband picked me up and whisked us to our daughter’s swim lessons. Tomorrow we will get a lunch ride in.

All in all – excellent experience. I don’t have plans to go buy a mountain bike right this minute or anything – but I would like to include it in my goals next year. To get off the road a little more and into the woods. To feel more confident on the trails. To have MORE FUN on my bike.

Singletrack in the Wissahickon Valley
That is *not* me on the awesome single track in the Wissahickon Valley

See you on the road!