Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Out of Commission

A few weeks ago, my friend shared some online deal for these devices ballet dancers can put in their pointe shoes so that their toes don’t hurt so much. I was going to make some snarky comment about gross sore toes, and then I remembered that my sport of choice, this year alone, has given me a broken wrist, a smashed up face, abscesses the size of half-dollars on my ass and a concussion. Not all at the same time.

So, yeah, I got a pretty nasty concussion last month going down on a patch of night ice about a hundred miles north of home, was laid out on the couch for a week and got out of the habit of blogging. I’ll see if I can get back into the swing of it, because I do kind of enjoy screaming into the void. 

In the meantime, I've done a few rides and a few races that weren't complete disasters, and have big plans for 2015. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Northern recon reconsiderations.

Hm, conditions looking snowy and icy Up North. May have to consider studded tires. 

Setting goals: don't puke, don't freeze.

So it’s Thursday and I’m starting to prep my stuff together for a >200 mile double rondo this weekend. I’m kind of nervous about it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done several long-distance rides this year and am not concerned about the mileage. I’m also not concerned about my trusty Surly Cross-Check, run 1x9 with Velocity A23 rims and super-knobby Surly Knard tires. Gertrude is a tank of a bike and I have full faith that she’ll take me where I need to go without issue… but there are  few things that I’m having a hard time controlling for.

Take the weather: we got our first snows of the year this week, and it’s expected to be snowing and in the high 20s-low 30s all weekend. Snow is the best and I sincerely believe that if you don’t like snow, you probably shouldn’t live in Michigan… but that being said, at the beginning of the cold season it’s a lot harder for me to gauge proper attire and I’m especially thinking of the tootsies. Also, Michiganders are used to quickly having to adapt to notoriously fickle weather, so for all I know I'll be sweltering by evening. I’m hoping that the following items will keep me warm and dry for a double century:

  • ·         UnderArmour ColdGear base layers (long-sleeve top, leggings.)
  • ·         Chrome Industries knickers
  • ·         Swiftwick wool armwarmers
  • ·         Cannondale wool cycling cap with ear covers
  • ·         Lululemon cold-gear headband for when the cap gets too hot
  • ·         SmartWool wool ski socks (heavy)
  • ·         Swiftwick/45NRTH wool socks (light)
  • ·         Plastic bags to layer between the socks (hobo-hack)
  • ·         Ahnu hiking boots (yeah, yeah, I know… I’m still too lazy and cheap to buy “real” winter cycling boots right now.)
  • ·         Toewarmer packets (4, 2 for each way.)
  • ·         Waterproof lobster claw ski gloves
  • ·         Gore rain pants
  • ·         Marmot or RaceFace rain jacket (haven’t decided which one yet.)
  • ·         …and Bar Mitts on my handlebars.

I should be able to easily layer/unlayer depending on weather conditions and my own body heat; and if I can’t, I’ve got bigger physiological problems to be concerned about. We’ll see.

 Another concern is diet. When I did this same ride last year, I pretty much fueled up on Canadian Hunter whiskey, Cheetos, and Snickers bars the whole way and on Sunday morning almost puked before I even got back on the trail. The doughnuts and orange juice for breakfast sure as hell didn’t help anything either. I’ve found that I don’t process carbohydrates terribly well and I get nauseated when my blood sugar spikes too high. I also unfortunately have yet to find a sports drink I can tolerate well. This phenomenon has gotten even worse since I started competitively weight lifting and carb cutting to make weight class, so I’m trying to think of foods to bring along with that will keep me going without a.) spiking the blood sugar too high, while b.) still allowing for alcoholic drinks (maybe lots and lots of alcoholic drinks.) So far I’ve got:

(going hunting.)

  • Diluted coconut water
  • Bragg’s baked tofu
  • 72% dark chocolate bark with coconut oil and peanuts
  • Jerky (various)
  • Cheese
  • Avocados
  • Peanut butter
  • Low-carb protein bars
  • Wine bladder (less sugary than beer)

(making chocolate bark, pre-gaming with an aged Founder's Curmudgeon Ale.)

Again, we’ll see. While I set up all my clothes, make sure the bike is in working order, rustle up some emergency contacts in case something goes wrong, and prepare foods; my mother-in-law is coming over to pick up both my anklebiter and The Best Pug in the World for the weekend. One more logistical hassle. As in most bicycle-related things, the planning and the preparation is usually vastly outmatched by FUN (!!!), so I just need to get through the next two days! This ride not 'racey' or anything like that, I just need to make sure I don't vomit or get frostbite, and I hope those are reasonable goals. 

Oh, actually, snap, it's Friday. I just need to get through the rest of today, but that means I have a lot more stuff to do with a lot less time to do it… ;)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I know it seems kind of weird and stupid, this being primarily a biking blog, but I’m so burned out on bikes, and have been for months now, that sometimes even looking at all my bikes on their wall rack makes me want to scream. I’m not sure why. There’s nothing more liberating than the feel of the wind on my face and through my short hair (through helmet vents, of course,) or of riding over an obstacle or barrier I couldn’t before. Bikes have enabled me to meet awesome new people from all over the country as well as in my adopted hometown; and to experience wilderness areas I never thought I’d be able to see, much less under my own leg and lung power. I take a lot of pride and strength in the fact that I was able to overcome a lot of physical, mental and social problems I had been suffering from, just by riding bikes. I enjoy pushing myself at the occasional race. I try not to take myself too seriously.

So I don’t know why bikes have not been making me happy lately.

Maybe it’s because I feel that bike people are always trying to sell me something. Maybe it’s because bikes are such a social activity and I’m really not a very social (or nice, for that matter) person. Maybe it’s the idea I get in my head that nothing (me, my skill level, my bikes and my choices of equipment) are ever good enough.

Enter the kettlebell. I was telling my friend Jeremy (who incidentally was the guy who got me both into cyclocross and into single-speeding) about my epic bike burnout and how I needed to try something else to start meeting my physical and psychic goals. He’s an Olympic lifter and girevik (kettlebell lifter) and recommended I try it… I was immediately hooked. Kettlebell seemed to be the total opposite of bike riding. While medals and awards in competitions are given based on my performance in relation to other gireviks, the ranking system is based on how many lifts I can manage to do in the allotted time, so it’s a lot easier for me not to notice the other people. Everybody is given a regulation-issue bell, there are no technological advantages (or conversely, technology to fail.) All external variables on the platform are mostly controlled for. The longer lift cycles are so painful and shitty (and while short, seem like they drag on FOREVER) that it’s nice to quiet the mind and not let the negative thoughts take over. I don’t need to find a babysitter or jockey for ride time with my husband.  It’s just lifting heavy shit and the simplicity of that makes my brain feel good.  

 (Quads for days.) 

(Weapons of choice.) 

So I’ve been training really hard for kettlebell competition and have already moved up to Rank 1 for my weight class and lifts. I’m currently training on the double-bell jerk because women were only allowed that lift in competition since last year, and I think that’s pretty tough. I’m trying to not to set really tangible goals because I’ll feel like a failure if I don’t make them, so I’m just trying to work hard, improve at my own pace, and have fun. Looking forward to hitting up the International Holiday Invitational in New Jersey next month, wish me luck!

So yeah, for the time being I’m dialing back on my biking, trying not to register for so many damn races (that part is hard,) focusing on having fun, and spending more time with my awesome menfolk. the Childrens’ Museum

 (Trying to keep up with this little dude for three hours is a workout in and of itself...)

...and bottling beer

(Pumpkin brown ale bottled and hopefully ready by Thanksgiving!)

...and doing yoga

(Sun Salutation I.)

 I'm taking a few days off and crossing my fingers that absence makes the heart grow fonder. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

May Your Misfortunes Serve as a Warning to Others; or, Iceman Tips

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t the teensiest bummed out that I’m not en route to Iceman. The Iceman Cometh Challenge is the largest point-to-point mountain bike race (so does that mean it’s the largest mountain bike race? Not sure) in America, and is a really big deal in this neck of the Northern bikewoods. Thousands of people. I’d say a majority of my friends are going to be there. It’s always a party and it’s always a spectacle. Then I remember that I don’t spectacles, I don’t like crowds, and I especially don’t like Strava (this year wave seed was partially determined by one’s Strava Points, of which I have none.) I remember that I’ve already raced Iceman before and it was probably the worst day of my life, competition-wise.

I always take Iceman 2012 as one of those formative learning experiences that taught me how to race (or more appropriately, how not to race.) I had been mountain biking for all of four months, still carried most of my postpartum tire, and was smoking about a half-pack of American Spirits a day (*cough*cough*cough*.) My friend (and later sometimes duo race partner) Joe came up from Kalamazoo, and getting up at 4 am on Saturday to drive up to Kalkaska after 10 hours on Friday of drinking whiskey and Founders Dirty Bastards seems, in retrospect, like a terrible idea. Like many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was about 34 degrees and there was some sort of precipitation that could have been rain or it could have been snow, I’m not sure. Between the bottlenecks, the gung-ho lady who lost control of her line and smashed my derailleur trying to get to the trailhead (rendering shifting nigh impossible,) my Herculean hangover, my overabundance of clothing, my poor nutrition/hydration choices, and my general lack of skill, I’m actually still pretty surprised I finished. I somehow did manage to finish in spite of having done absolutely everything wrong, though, so I feel pretty OK about that.

Anyway, lots of people from the home turf and beyond are blogging their Iceman tips, and they’re probably all a lot more useful than mine, but here are my big three takeaways from My Worst Race Ever:

  • ·         A first race in any cycling discipline should probably be a smaller one. I think I was as irritated by me as the other racers were, many of whom had spent the last several months avoiding their families in balls-to-the-wall training sessions and soul-crushing spin classes.  
  • ·         Clif Bars are a bad choice of on-the-bike nutrition. When it gets cold, not only is the item difficult to open from the package, to separate and to chew, but it forms a frozen bolus in the mouth that’s very difficult to swallow.
  • ·         Ladies: don’t wear bib shorts if you’re going to be on the bike for awhile. There were so many people (racers in front and back, spectators) that I couldn’t find somewhere to get off the trail to pee, and even if I had I don’t know how I would have navigated the bib straps, so I just pissed my chamois. To add insult to injury, I had forgotten a change of pants in the car and had to sit in my soggy knickers all the way back to Grand Rapids (about a three hour drive.)

(so pro.)

I did come back a few months later to ride the course on my Pugs, and I do love those trails. The Vasa Pathways in the Grand Traverse sport some of the most beautiful scenery in the Lower Peninsula, and I feel really lucky that it’s a hop/skip/jump away should I ever feel like riding it, summer or winter. I’m very glad that every year we get to host such an economic boon for the bicycle and hospitality industries here in Michigan, a land commonly known to be facing a few macroeconomic hardships. And in some perverse way I am kind of delighted with how abjectly awful I found my first big mountain bike race experience to be… every subsequent loss, missed goal, or forgone opportunity in (or out) of the saddle have all paled in comparison and I think I’m a better rider for it. I’ve learned to seek out challenges and, if everything goes horribly wrong (which it usually does,) at least it’ll be something to laugh and/or brag about, after I’ve stopped crying.  

I am hoping to ride a few laps at Yankee tomorrow morning with a few of my teammates; seizing the rainy frigid day and whatnot, but I’ll be thinking of all my friends Up North and sending some posi+ asskicking singletrack juju. Good luck, everyone! You all inspire me on the daily.