Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Masters Cyclocross: What’s Your Chore Score?

I have trouble figuring out whether a $2.57 12oz jar of pickles is a better deal than a $3.27 16oz jar let alone figuring out which time I race on the page without my blue tortoise shell Ray Ban reading glasses.  Don’t ask me what category you should race.  However, if pressed to give you an educated answer based on your performance, this Masters 45+ racer who writes juvenile comedy pieces for top-40 radio morning shows will pull out his 1983 Texas Instruments scientific calculator and show you that on the screen, if you type in 5318008, it spells BOOBIES when held upside down. 

Obviously, if you do the math, the $3.27 jar is the better buy.  But, all cucumbers are not equal.  Other factors come into play.  So, when a fellow Masters racer asked me, during a dark and serious beard scratching conversation in my paid-in-full Toyota 4-Runner, whether he should enter the OVCX Masters 2/3 category or the traditional elite category, I asked him how he likes his pickles. 

Are you okay with store brand or can your distinguished Masters taste buds discern the superior crunch of the famous Milwaukee Polski Wyrob pickle?  Do you like sweet or sour?  Are you that guy in polyester suspender pants arguing with the clerk fishing pickles out of a barrel at a Jewish deli in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, or you more of a metro-sexual mini-pickle man?  For Sven Nys’ sake, you’ve got a mortgage but are acting like a kid scrutinizing tater tots in a school lunch line when it comes to clicking a box on  

What kind of man are you?

Let me tell you.  We discuss the types of Masters Men below.  Each is accompanied by a Masters Chore Score or the amount of household chores a Masters rider can reasonably accomplish between training rides, work, calling his mother Sunday morning on the way to races, cleaning both your bikes, comparing hill repeat times on Training Peaks, ice baths in your en-suite Jacuzzi tub, being a head case to your coach via smartphone email and running up to the bike shop to have wheels reglued because you have the money but not the time. 

Who's the Fridge Cleaning Champ?  This guy!
A Masters Chore Score of “0” means you’ll be training so much you’ll end up with a filthy black ring around the toilet and be eating off paper plates as you watch passers by slip on your unsalted icy sidewalk in January.  “10” means you’ll remember your wife’s December birthday, figure out a way to get the deck stained before winter, and kill enough dust bunnies to change the bag on the vacuum once or twice. 

The “I Just Want To Have Fun Man” Man
If you’re the hippie dippie type of Master that wants to have fun and feel the competition, by all means enter the 2/3 Masters.  If you crack the top 3 before your left hip, you’ll win some great prizes.  If not, you’ll be trading wheels with fellow grey beards for 40 minutes straight. 

Masters Chore Score: 8 (Yes Honey, I’ll clean the fridge this weekend)

The “Bowling with the Champs” Man
95% of my readers under 35 and from outside Wisconsin just tuned out.  Growing up in Milwaukee in the late 70’s, when real men, not hipsters, with chunks of meat and blood on their work boots drank Pabst Blue Ribbon, there was a local live TV show called Bowling with the Champs.  Yeah, think Dancing with the Stars, only with bowling.  Equate Milwaukee to Belgium, South Side to Brussels and Bowling to Cyclocross and you get the picture.  The premise was, if you practiced hard enough, you, a cigarette smoking pitcher of beer drinking meat cutter from Wisconsin like my Dad, could share the South Side lanes at the Red Carpet Bolero with your bowling heroes. 

If this is you and your orthopedic insoles are putting a spring in your step over the barriers, race the 2/3 category but consider the occasional elite level Masters event where you can race with your cycling heroes like Katie Compton’s husband, but it’ll be, as my father used to say in his 40’s, for shits and grins.

Masters Chore Score: 6 (Oh crap, it’s garbage day!)

Elite Masters in Natural Habitat
The “Skunk Rubbin’ Man
At the top of the USA Cycling Ranks page the paragraph states, “Our revamped rankings program aims to provide increasingly accurate rankings using an innovative new algorithm emphasizing quality over quantity.”  Ganarf.  I don’t know what kind of NASA rocket scientists they have working on this project but its accuracy is worthy of a Nobel Prize, especially for me.

In college I took a course nicknamed “Math for Creatives.”  Consequently, I develop a turrets syndrome type tick when I read the word “algorithm.”  Ganarf.  While I can’t explain the buttons on a scientific calculator, my real world experience is that if you race against faster guys, such as in the combined Elite/Masters Elite field of OVCX, your USA cycling rank number will improve.  More or less, if you rub a skunk, the stink’s going to wear off on you. 

The hitch is that this number is basically useless, aside from one important fact.  Call-ups on the grid at Nationals are based on this number.  The lower the number goes, the higher your place on the grid, in January, in Madison, with 100 guys on the line.  Consequently, your chore score decreases dramatically the more you use the word “tabatas” to describe your training rides.  If you aspire to be competitive at Nationals and Worlds, consider springing for a coach, like Chris Mayhew at JBV, and rubbing skunks with Elite riders on Sunday.

Masters Chore Score: 2 (Honey Do Blues)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

USADA Report: Now That You Know, Which Knee Warmers Will You Wear?

It was called “Clarity.”  As they adjusted the plastic mask over my face, I recall it having a hint of lemon lime.  It was what I ordered from the bar at the “O2 Lounge,” 9600 feet above sea level on Main Street in Breckenridge.  For lack of a better term, the barista at the oxygen bar turned on the flow and my wife and I sat back in hopes of relieving our pounding headaches on day two of our cycling vacation.  It worked.  If only for a few hours the headache subsided and my labored breathing eased climbing the trail.

While widely accepted, and being no hard and fast rules or sanctions against it, mountaineers are divided on the subject of using supplemental oxygen in their summit bids.  It’s also widely accepted that I’m no mountaineer.  Still I wonder, had I cheated in a way?  Absolutely not.  I was not trying to set a speed record on the local 14’er Quandary Peak, but simply trying to ease a day on the bike path to Frisco and a hike up to the Colorado Trail.  There are no rules in recreational cycling and hiking.  In more or less terms, nobody gives a hoot.  However in pro cycling we do, give hoots that is. 

Now with temps in the low 50’s and falling, I pulled on my knee warmers.  Blue, warm and sag-free, I love them.  Days earlier, I read Hincapie’s admission on his website, as well those of the others who cheated.  Like watching the slow helmet motion footage of a Red Bull Rampage rider casing an 80-footer, I followed the live blog of the USADA release at the WSJ website.  Even though we could all see this coming like semi-truck headlights in the fog, my stomach sank.  I began to feel played for a fool.  While there are a dozen companies that make blue, non-saggy, toasty knee warmers, I chose to buy Hincapie.  A few days ago, like many personal decisions we’ll make down the road based on our scruples, I chose to take them off.

Errmahgerd George!
The Hincapie I knew made those knee warmers as cool as the consummate right hand man I cheered for on TV and sought out for a photo when I vacationed at the Tour of California, the perfect teammate, always up there toughing it out in mud, in rain, and on the steeps.  I identified with that.  While I can count my personal solo wins of my 14 years of amateur racing on the fingers of one hand, I’ve always tried to encourage my teammates, give them the perfect lead-out, help with a draft, and lend equipment or advice.  I’m not going to say Hincapie knee warmers were like putting on Superman’s cape, but they did make me feel more like the bike racer I wanted to be.  Now instead of being a symbol of cycling’s team and hard-men nature, the knee warmers are a reminder to keep role models at a distance while trying my hardest to hold the sport dear. 

“Don’t be naïve Joe,” I can hear you say.  Everyone was doping.  Get over it.  “People suck and they cheat,” a reader posted on our Facebook page.  I know.  I know.  I know.  With taxes, the stock market and their spouses it happens everyday.  We all get screwed sometime or another.  However, I do feel cheated and I’m entitled to feel that way.  For (insert name of hero you can believe in here)’s sake, the accomplishments of the greatest American cycling team, the results of every race I saw them compete, the fame gained by the coaches and management, every dollar earned directly or indirectly because of that success is all ill-gotten. 

You motherfuckers have a LOT of work to do to pay your debt back to all of us.

The root of my feeling lies in the fact that doping is not a one race thing.  To me, it’s preposterous to think, and as far as I can tell, physically impossible for a rider to stop doping and continue to masquerade as a clean athlete.  Doping is a tattoo, permanent.  Even if for a short period of time, the muscles built, the cardiovascular system developed, the knowledge gained at the top of the sport will always be with these riders till the day they die.  The phrase “former doper” is a joke.  Once a doper, always a doper. 

Nooo!  Him too?
By using EPO they were able to train harder and recover faster, win, get their name in the headlines, generate fans, and be in touch with industry people.  Now, years later these riders, team managers, coaches and doctors are going to ask me to participate in their Grand Fondo, read their book, go see their new team race, watch the movie, believe in the new crop of athletes under their wing, sign up for that triathlon, purchase their training program, to toe the line with me at a non-sanctioned mountain bike race, buy their brand of bikes or feel comfortable in their knee warmers.  I’m sorry.  They may be able to race a UCI event in 6 months, but I think I’m done with them and their knee warmers.    

However, I do somewhat sympathize with the riders…somewhat.  I’m sure you noticed a hint of victimization in the USADA report.  Many riders allege management more or less said it was dope or go home.  It reeks of coercion.  Yet a Barry, Hincapie and the others made the decision.  They were 10-12 years younger than now, hungry to go big time, pressured and perhaps a bit narrow minded to realize that there were more options than doping or going home. 

In mountaineering you’re judged by your peers, be it bottled oxygen or team support, on what type of assistance you used to get to the top and back down.  Maybe that’s what divides us from the those that doped.  From the USADA document, most riders seem to hint that they felt there was no other way to the top of the mountain.  We the fans feel otherwise, until now having to assume we were witnessing a monumental accomplishment.

I Booked a Plane Ticket and Got Up Early for This?
The real victims in all of this are the people that didn’t make the cut, the riders who lost to the dopers, talented prospective staff members that didn’t buy into the program and ended up trying to make the most of other avenues and/or cycling’s minor leagues.  I also feel sorry for the fans that booked a plane ticket, drove up the mountain in a rent a car at 5am to be a tiny part of something they thought was great.  It turns my stomach to think of all the people in the last decade that bought into the Trek marketing machine.  I feel bad that I once poked fun of Floyd Landis showing up for the Mohican 100 NUE Mountain Bike Race and thought LeMond was a loud mouth buffoon.  Looking back, at least they had the courage to speak out against a momentous opponent. 

Doping is against the rules in cycling.  Cycling is not anything goes like fighting cancer.  It’s not kill or be killed.  You practice, you eat right, you persevere, you find a mentor, you play by the rules, you lose, until one day…you win, and it’s glorious.  As a fan, I cheer for the guy dangling off the back in danger of getting dropped as much as the one goosing the pace at the front.

Floyd Landis and I (I'm the Fat One)
People jump up and down.  They scream.  Some have followed you since you were an amateur.  Some heard about you and came out to see if you could pull it off.  Now, they surround you cheering.  You get a trophy, sponsorships, book deals, and cameo roles in movies.  They want the same brand bike you have.  They want the same clothes, now with your name on them.  They want to get the advice of your coach.  They want to ride alongside you on a Grand Fondo.  Your success creates a worldwide movement.

However, doping makes all of that lying, stealing and cheating.  So don’t tell me that it’s okay for any of these cyclists, managers, coaches, doctors to continue in the sport, to continue their endorsements, to put on rides, to start or consult other teams, to show up at local mountain bike races and triathlons, endorse products, and create foundations based on the very color of the ill gotten glory.  It’s not.  All their perceived success in cycling is tainted by doping.  They gave up that chance the moment they went down the wrong path.

I’m not a strong enough voice to sway cycling one way or the other.  I’m not qualified to come up with a fool proof way to insure pro cycling is clean nor have the authority to change its direction.  I am however qualified to not attend events tainted by the presence of a doper.  I can impress on our local racers about what it really means to cheat and that there are other options.  Like Adam Myerson, I am qualified to question those at the highest level of the sport, raise an eyebrow when things don’t look right and be vocal about it.  For now, I can choose to remain a fan of the sport, but not the individual.  I can choose which bike to buy and which knee warmers I wear.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Cyclists Need To Know About Squirrels

Pancaked on the road, stiff as a brick on the sidewalk, this fall’s squirrels are more crazy and quirky than Zooey Deschanel.  In the 12 years I’ve been riding in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, I’ve never seen such risk taking.  I’m guessing they’re drunk.  Since mating season isn’t until late winter, they’re definitely not horny.  Sadly, (according to what else but most urban grey squirrels don’t make it to their first birthday, usually falling prey to their natural predator, the Toyota.  If they do survive to blow out the birthday candle on the walnut, they live 5-6 years, unless they fall victim to their other mortal enemy, electricity.  Case in point, the biology class specimen tent-pole-stiff and tipped over like a jackknifed semi on the sidewalk appeared as if he’d keeled over of a heart attack.  Looking up overhead at the fraying power lines, he likely did. 

On the bike path, through town squares, past low rent apartments and palatial estates, last night I lost count of the close encounters of the twitchy tail kind.  Like a lunatic two days off his meds and riding a bike through Cincinnati’s upper crust Indian Hill neighborhood, I began shouting out loud at the squirrels, almost as if they could understand my obscenities.  “What the #$%@ Dude!”  C’mon man!”  Maybe I should’ve shook my tail at them.

“Gotta get the nuts,” my wife joked as a sassy little guy heckled us with chirping that sounded like small dog up a tree.  There’s something about this year, this fall, that is different.  In full arm and knee warmers on a crispy evening I rode about 21 miles yesterday.  In not much more than an hour, no less than 10 squirrels chanced the Cuisinart-like bladed spokes of my front wheel.  They dissed me from trees with tiny barking noises.  They twisted circles up tree trees like pythons on EPO.  They were Indian Hill monkeys.

Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry will cause snow to gather in a hurry, according to this post at  Like I said, it was a cool crisp evening.  The temperature would dive into the mid 30’s overnight.  Being an outside person, I believe the naturalisms of the Farmer’s Almanac’s “Snow Lore.”  I also believe in Sasquatch.  Temperatures near freezing mean leaves will fall sooner, covering up nuts, discarded pizza crust in alleys and other food squirrels need for the winter.  Contrary to popular belief, squirrels don’t hibernate in the winter, but they do hang out in their nests conserving body heat while eating nuts and watching Football on the I Phone that fell out of your jersey pocket earlier in the year.  Essentially, it’s exactly the same as Cincinnatians going to the Kroger grocery store at the first sign of a snowstorm.  Gotta get the nuts.

What Every Cyclist Should Know About Squirrels (According to what else…

SPEED: You can outride them.  The average speed of a squirrel at a full run (on four legs), is only between 8 and 10 mph.  The challenge is guessing which direction you should take those evasive maneuvers.  There is an old story of an Illinois state police officer that once clocked a gray squirrel with his radar gun at 20 mph as it ran across a highway.  (The post did not say if it was on two legs, how big the squirrel was or if the officer mistook the squirrel for a grey Prius.)

SAY WHAT?:  Squirrels communicate by making shrill sounds (tchrring).  The pitch and the duration of these sounds have meaning to other squirrels.  “Give me my @)%*(# nuts back!”  Tail gestures are also a form of communication.  Two twitches apparently means, “Betcha five bucks I can jump through your main triangle.”  The most common tail gesture is the "flicking" which means "get away!"

THEY’RE NOT MATING (YET): Squirrels mate in the late winter or very early spring.   This time may vary with location, the weather conditions (and whether or not the king size squirrel love nest is up to par.)   However, the best time to see a squirrel's acrobatic skill is during the "mating chase".

And now you know the rest of the story.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"One Ride of a Lifetime" by Marty Sanders

The alarm rang at five in the morning.  I sipped my coffee.  It sank in.  I have to ride to West Virginia today.  I said goodbye to my cat, locked up, and looked at my watch.  6:49am.  Already 49 minutes behind schedule, with the turn of the key in the front door, Marty Sanders left Cincinnati on a bike trip to Northern Virginia to help his sister move.  4 days.  527 miles.  This is his story.

Story By Marty Sanders (edited by Joe Bellante)

Through high school and early adulthood, I called Northern Virginia home for 12 years.  My sister and I stayed behind as the rest of our family moved back to Cincinnati.  At one point or another, my Father made me an offer to make the move and join him in the Queen City.  He helped me out and BAM.  Here I am in the land of 3-way cheese coneys. 

As for my sister, my Father extended a similar offer, but pursuing a career working for the government, she wasn’t ready.  I missed her and for many years tried to persuade her to return.  17 years later, I got the call. 

With a job offer from a good firm in Cincinnati, she was ready and asked me if I’d be willing to drive a U-Haul for her.  No problem.  She set a date for the move, September 21st.   I immediately thought, “I’m going to ride my bicycle to Virginia.”

As most of my friends know, I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury, not racing, training for fun, and trying to get back to riding long distances pain free.  Despite the shoulder, when Prudence asked me to drive the truck, I was all in.  I started training a bit more: climbing stairs, running, and feeling pretty good.  The day after she called, I started making plans and put together a list.

1-Build racks.
2-Assemble gear.
3-Figure out route. 

A Welcome Stop
My Salsa El Mariachi was the bike of choice, super comfortable and very trustworthy.  It took me a few weeks to dial in the racks.  I increased my spinning, riding distances and acclimated to the extra heft of a big load.  

I’d cross the Appalachian Mountains.  To simulate the effort, I did hill repeats on Cincinnati’s Sycamore Street and one of my other local favorites, I refer to as “storm peats”.  I figured I’d be good.  I love to climb.

I’ve never toured or bike packed before so I attempted to pack for every unseen scenario: rain, low temperatures, camping, etc.  This was an entirely new experience.  

In the end my plan was simple.  Follow Route 50 East from Cincinnati to Fairfax Virginia, hang a right on Ox Road and finish by raising a pint glass of beer in Occoquan.  Specifically, I’d ride from Cincinnati to Parkersburg West Virginia (227+ miles) the first day and from Parkersburg to Augusta via the Northbend Rail Trail (200 miles) the second day.  On the third and toughest day, I’d pedal from Augusta to Occoquan/Lakeridge (100miles).  3 days.  527 miles.

I figured 15 hours a day with a comfortable average of 13mph would be sufficient.  In case of weather or mechanicals, I cooked up a contingency plan allowing 2 extra days if need be.  As a fail safe, my brother and sister’s boyfriend were going to make the drive from Cincinnati a few days later, which would allow me to be picked up in case of disaster or worse, giving up. 

Two weeks prior to the ride, my sister called telling me a local paper (Old Bridge Observer) was interested in doing a piece.  I agreed to an interview and had a 20 minute conversation about my thoughts before the trip.  They also chatted with my sister and used it for the article, a front page story.  Now, before even clipping in, it’s public.  People are watching.  There was no turning back. 

I was nervous.  As I honed my training, ate like a horse and mentally prepared, the days leading up to the departure flew by.  Still, I felt like a child standing in line to ride a rollercoaster for the first time, only this child was the front page story of the Old Bridge Observer. 

I gained six pounds preparing for the trip, although I really couldn’t see it.  I assumed it was in my legs as I’ve been riding up Sycamore and Mt. Storm for a month with a 75lb bicycle.  The last few days, I took it easy.  On the eve of the trip, I had a big Indian dinner with a few friends and family.  Maybe I had a beer too many, as I got to bed late. 

The alarm rang at five in the morning.  I sipped my coffee.  It sank in.  I have to ride to West Virginia today.  I wrestled with anxiety and nervously quadruple checked everything.  I said goodbye to my cat, locked up, and looked at my watch, 6:49am, already 49 minutes behind schedule. 

Another Beautiful Vista
Cincinnati to Athens
As I meandered my way through Mariemont and out the suburbs of Cincinnati using my old commuting route, every turn of the pedals quelled my anxiety.  I picked up the Little Miami Scenic Trail at Bass Island in Newtown.  It was quiet, relaxing.  I thought to myself, it’s another bike ride.  No pressure.  Keep pedaling.  All will be good.   

I left the trail at Milford for the road.  The town was setting up for an event, everyone was full of smiles.   I was greeted by some “good mornings”.   To keep the good vibe going as I turned toward rural Ohio, I popped in one ear bud and hit shuffle.  I pedaled, jammed and enjoyed my moving picture soundtrack all the way to Hillsboro.

Along the way, I stopped at rest areas scattered along Route 50 in Ohio. They aren’t much, a shelter and porta-poddy, but perfectly spaced every 30 miles.  I found great appreciation for them. 

A group of motorcycles rumbled past.  When I hit the next small town, I’d catch them.  We leap-frogged each other.  They revved their engines.  Brrrrappabababapp.  Those bad boys were LOUD!   Assuming it was a sign of respect, they gave me plenty of room as the passed. 

Following the signs for Route 50, all went well until Chillicothe at the intersection of Route 50 and Highway 23.  Beyond that, cars came less frequently.  Hills started coming quicker.  Worried, I turned on the Garmin.

“Acquiring Satellites.”

I ditched technology for good old local knowledge.  I spun down a long gravel driveway and asked a couple drinking Busch Light if this was Route 50.  Nope.  I had inadvertently misread the signs and traveled 10 miles out of my way on Highway 23.  Thankfully, they offered a short cut back over to 50.  As good as the beer looked, I held back the urge to ask for one, turned and waved a thank you. 

As the sunlight started to fade, I picked up the pace. Approaching Athens, the traffic increased exponentially.  For safety, I moved to the shoulder.  Despite the trash, tires, debris and very deep rumble strips, it was the lesser of two dangers. 

A blood red sunset greeted me in Athens for a dinner stop.  Buffalo or BW3, I’m not sure what it was.  I had a seat in the window and ate a burger with an eye on my bike.  Energetic Ashley took my order.  She inquired about my ride and told me a wonderful horror story of hitting a deer and tires on Route 50.  Thanks for the positive vibe! 

Now dark, I pushed through the last 40 miles to Parkersburg.  Trucks flew by.  I cringed as I heard tires gargle on the rumble strips behind me.  Despite 3 tail lights and 2 visible reflectors, I nervously rode back to the edge of Athens and booked a room at the Super 8. 

A first floor disabled equipped room allowed space to spread out with all my gear.  I showered, downed a protein shake, pop- tarts, two ibuprofen, and I was out. 

170 miles.

Athens to Bridgeport
Waffles, I love waffles!  I woke up on Sunday morning feeling remarkably good at breakfast.  Still, checking out of the hotel, a drape of anxiety fell over me.  It disappeared quickly as the first song hit my ear from my mp3 player.  Very much like the road leading into Athens, the tightness in my shoulder opened up a bit too.  At ease with a wide shoulder on the road, I made such good time into Parkersburg, WV I missed a planned stop in Belpre. 

I crossed into West Virginia over a big bridge and was abruptly greeted with a huge climb.  I huffed over looking forward toward the relative ease Northbend Rail Trail, a 70 mile smooth and flat railroad path featuring eleven tunnels and numerous bridges.  I only had to find the trail head.

In the area where I thought it was, I asked a few locals at a gas station if they’d heard of it.  No one knew.  So I popped in the police station.  A young lady working pointed out, like all things in West Virginia, it was right around the corner. 

Huge homes, ponds, stables, and pretty gardens lined the road leading to the trailhead.  Amazingly beautiful, but oddly out of place for the rural area I was in.  Then, there it was, in the middle of all rich scenery, the Northbend Rail Trail. 

My Salsa ate up the wide double track goodness.  12 miles clicked off in no time.  Off the road and out of traffic, I was rolling pretty quickly.  I guess I was a bit excited because I didn’t see the long black snake stretched across the trail till I was right on top of him.  Sorry Mr. Snake.  I thought about stopping, but not knowing if it was poisonous or not made the decision easy.  Then came the tunnels.

Dark Tunnel on the Northbend Trail
I’m glad I had lights or I’d have been in trouble.   A few tunnels were so long the darkness hid the exit.  Others were short enough to be lit end to end.  At times in the tunnels, I had to ride close to the wall to get the reflection to cast on the floor.  I experienced a bit of vertigo in one, as if the floor was coming out from under me.  I hit something.  My arms shook. My bike rattled.  I kept it upright.  I couldn’t see, but I’m guessing I ran over a large stone which had fallen from the ceiling.  I suspect that’s where I lost my rain jacket and a shoe cover. 

Northbend’s bridges took me high above creeks and the path wound past remnants of towns, sometimes directly through backyards.  At one point, I rode around a parked car on the trail.  40 miles in, it got a bit rougher. 

Double track turned to single, then thick grass.  Obviously, this deep in West Virginia, the trail sees few riders.  30 miles later, I suspected I had hit the terminus in Clarksburg.  A guy walking near the trail asked where I was headed.  “Clarksburg,” I replied.  “You’ve got about 15-20 miles to go,” he answered.  I swear the maps showed the rail trail ending here, but obviously it appeared to continue on.  What a mess it turned out to be. 

Soon enough, the path deteriorated into a four wheeler trail.  While the first 70 miles were dusty and dry, this was pocked with mud holes.  After 2 miles splashing through mud holes on a 75 pound bike, I bailed for the lesser of two evils, a steep road with 3 nasty switchbacks.  Eventually, it intersected Route 50. 

Smooth pavement was a relief.  I rolled straight through Clarksburg past Grafton, then the town of Bridgeport.  With an hour of daylight left, I coasted down a big hill through and out of town.  Right back up I went.  Thirsty, I reached the top of the climb and pulled over.  I grabbed my bottles from my rear rack to switch them for the spent bottles on the bike frame.  All empty.  I forgot water.

Back to Bridgeport I pedaled, back up that hill, back to the start of town.  Rather than filling up, with a warm cozy Travel Lodge in sight, I pulled the plug for the day, an easy decision after more than 130 miles.  I settled in with an entire large pizza, some crazy good feta spinach bread, and drank 2 beers.  The next day would be the toughest. 

300 Miles.

Double Track of Northbend Trail
Bridgeport to Romney
The 300 mile weekend aside, I felt pretty good for a Monday.  I slathered thick cream cheese on my bagel.  Bruegger’s doesn’t lay on the cream cheese like I did.  I drank all the coffee in the pot packing up. It was going to be tough.  A few minutes past 8 a.m., I was ready to roll! 
Sunny with lingering clouds, it was great weather for climbing.  I switched on the music.  Up and down small hills, the soundtrack lasted three hours before the batteries went dry.  Then the grade kicked up, 3 miles at nine percent. 

Have you ever climbed for 3 miles?  Most of my friends would answer “Yup, piece of cake.”  On a 75 pound bike?  For those that have toured on a bike, I give mad respect and props to you. 

On a rig like this, you can’t simply power up climbs.  With panniers, stuffed bags, a mini-bike shop of tools, four full bottles, it’s about spinning easy gears.  Otherwise your knees and Achilles tendon suffer, 300 miles from home.   The long steep climbs continued all day.  The weight and the distance took their toll. 

I remember at one point seeing the sign for the turn to Elkins.  I thought I could call Uncle Andy and roll on down to visit.  I resisted the urge.  75 miles in, I was getting tired.  My knees and Achilles ached.  I gave in.

I found a section of gravel trail which led back off the road.  I rolled back, sat in the dirt and stretched.  I stoked the engine with a big apple I had stashed in my bag from the hotel buffet.  It was just what I needed and I got back to it. 

Now at the base of a seemingly endless climb that offered little shoulder, I rode the white line, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 miles at nine percent.  45 minutes later I crested and was rewarded with the sight of the downhill warning sign for trucks.  “Steep Grade Next 5 Miles.” 

While my legs got a break, my hands and upper body went to work.  Riding down a mountain with gear is tiring as well.  Braking becomes hard work.   Becoming all over body fatigued, the wind was leaving my sail. 

Thankfully, I was welcomed with flatter roads in the valley.  However, with ten miles to Romney, now on the other side of the mountain, the weather changed.  It began to rain, not a down pour, but steady enough to get me good and soaked.  Despite being a warm rain, when I hit Romney I pulled the plug.

After 10 hours, 107 miles, 9,355 feet of elevation gain with 75lbs of gear, I can’t muster the brain strength to break out my Martmatic skills and impress you with algebraic equations of caloric expenditures and watts generated.  Basically, Marty=CRUSHED! 
At the base of the mountain, I checked into a hotel, ordered another large pizza, and lethargy turned to deep sleep. 

407 Miles.                                                                                                                                                               

Coming To A Bike Shop Near You
Romney WV to Winchester VA
I awoke before sunrise to the sound of wet tires rolling on asphalt.  I lay in bed simply listening to the light taps of rain on the window and the occasional wet whoosh of a truck.  I turned on The Weather Channel to see what was up.  Wow.  Crap weather. That’s what was up.  While only light rain fell outside my hotel window, the area was expecting off and on down pours all day.  In the home stretch and determined to finish the ride today, I decided to suit up and try and beat the nasty stuff.  It was 4 a.m.

Two days ago, with the bump in the tunnel I had lost my rain jacket and a shoe cover.  I had to get creative and improvise.  In my pack I had zip lock bags, 2 small garbage bags, and a limited length of duct tape.  I sealed my helmet with the zip lock.  Garbage bags became socks/shoe covers.  With the remaining zip lock parts, I tried fashioning under-jersey shoulder covers, but it was useless.  Head and feet covered, I pulled out of Romney on a mission. 

In the dark, in the rain, the last day started with a three mile climb.  The sun rose.  Not that I actually saw it, but it was up none the less.  I remember looking down to discover my pannier was open.  I pulled over to zip it closed and realized my kick stand had been down since I left town.  Silly me.  I got a good laugh and continued. 

The first 10 miles of the ride was all climbs, long, slow, granny gear, 75 pound bike, feet covered in garbage bags slow climbs.  My plan of leaving early and beating the heavy stuff failed.  Now it came down hard, real hard!  There was nowhere to hide. 

I figured the smart thing was to keep my head and core warm.  I rode hunched over breathing through my nose to limit moisture intake.  Knowing that digestion of food will elevate body temperature (thanks to Survivorman Les Shroud), I ate a granola bar.  After an hour in the pounding rain, my shoulder started aching, a deep ache in the area I injured. 

Not really having a place to stop and not wanting to get sick from standing around getting cold, I pressed on…for two more hours.  It was like the storm was above me the entire ride teasing me with brief periods of light rain which goaded me to continue forward.  Standing water collected on the road blurring my view. 

I saw the “Welcome to Winchester, Virginia” sign and felt relieved I was rolling into a town that could offer shelter from this madness.  I passed on the photo op. 

Whoa!  A few miles from town I hit a set of railroad tracks that almost took me out.  I’ve ridden tracks 100’s of times and never had this happen.  The weight in the front wheel was the difference.  I wrestled to keep the bike up without wrecking!  I was a lucky man.    

Pounded by rain for three solid hours, the last few miles into Winchester dragged on.  I was soaked, pruning, and my shoulder…ugh.  When I saw the IHOP sign, it wasn’t a hard decision.  All-You-Can-Eat pancakes and whip cream, “That should make me feel better!” 

Outside under the awning, I shook off the rain and checked the radar on my phone.  There would be no respite.  “Grrrr.  I’m 1.5 hours drive from my goal.”  I sat down on the bench and thought about what I had just done.  

This decision wasn’t easy for me to make.  I always try to finish what I start.  I’m very goal oriented.  Not making this one bothered me.  This entire ride was full of decisions.  Now I made another.  This is no race.  I’ve ridden 500 miles.  I’m in Virginia.  I’m tired, aching, and frankly my ass hurts!  I called my sister and asked, or more like told her to come get me.  “I’m at the Winchester IHOP on Route 50.  You can’t miss me.”

Who would have guessed there were 2 IHOPS in Winchester on Route 50!  Sorry Sis. 

In comfort, I warmed up and stuffed my face.  They didn’t have the All-You-Can-Eat option, but I won’t hold it against them.  I took a few Ibuprofens and drank coffee.  My shoulder began to feel better.  All in all, life was good today. 

I’m very thankful for my life in general.  Experience is what life’s about and I added a major one.  Even without riding the last 60 miles, I retained my sense of accomplishment.  I had a great trip, by no means easy.  Looking back, the lack of shoulder and speeding traffic jostled my nerves.  Slow down people!  What are you in such a hurry for? 

Ultimately, we live and then we die.  It’s the cycle of life.  Our job is to experience as much of life as we can before we reach the end.  That is the goal I’ve set.  I believe it’s in my genes.  It’s what drives me to do what I do. 

So…what’s next? 

Monday, October 1, 2012

It’s NOT Dirty: Lapped While Lapping Another

The King of Justifying the Mediocre...Courtesy Karen WH
Like old latex sealant fermented and stewing in a year old tubular, getting lapped stinks.  There is, however, a shiny new bike bright side.  Ding!  For those sha-lacka-lacka-lacking their non-elite races and wondering about how’d they’d possibly be able to stomach struggling to stay on the lead lap in the next higher category, read on.  I am the king of justifying the mediocre!  Let me show you how to rationalize and make the most of the -1 next to your name.  

The Zero Principal:
For example, getting lapped by the leader but simultaneously lapping someone else cancels each other out.  -1 + 1 = zero.  Shazam!  You’re even, mathematically, on the lead lap (of your competition).  Think of it like being graded on a bell curve, drop the first and last rider and you passed!  Getting lapped while lapping someone else also sounds sort of dirty.

This year’s OVCX Elite field is way harder than it’s ever been.  As the PR guy for OVCX, I partly blame myself for this.  My freelance job for OVCX is to entice more people to dip their knobbies in the goodness of cross.  Consequently, my writing and riding talents counter each other.  The harder I race, the better I do.  The better I write, the worse I do. 

St. Mary’s Child Care Cross (OVCX #2) was a great example.  Looking at the results, friggin’ Chris Uberti raced cross yesterday.  Friggin’ Chris Uberti finished 19th.  Pretty sure Friggin’ Chris Uberti is getting free pants because word on the street is he signed with Team Mountain Khakis last week.  Friggin’ Chris Uberti reads this blog.  Friggin’ coincidence?  I THINK NOT! 

What have I done and where are MY free pants? 

I finished 45th yesterday, sadly my “grey beard” racing age.  I also was lapped by the leader Josh Johnson.  Yet somehow I was able to text my wife after the race with the good news: 

“45th out of like 70ish not too shabby, better than last week’s 53rd…only 1 guy (neo-pro) lapped me.  LOL.  Rode well.  Felt Good.  So good day in all.  Be home 8pish.  XOXO.”

The bright side of my race is that I finished 7 places higher than last week and I actually lapped someone else.  Sadly it was my own teammate, but whatever.  I’ll take it Brian.  You’re the ying to my yang. 

Aside from The Zero Principal there are other ways to rationalize getting lapped.

Mechanicals Count.  Courtesy Karen WH
The DNS Natty Natty Boo Boo Bonus:
Beating those that did not start (DNS) is a bonus.  According to USA Cycling I finished 45th out of 60 starters.  In my book, counting the ten or so no shows it was more like 45th out of 70.  I’m counting them because I had the nards to lie to my wife and say I'd be home at 8pm when it was more like 9pm, suck up my case of the cough & sniffles, ignore my laundry, postpone my obligations and got my butt to the startline.  If someone is a no-show, you automatically beat them.  Sadly, one of my teammates didn’t show.  There was some confusion as to our carpool plans and BioWheels Steven Gers ended up staying home.  While I missed his wry wit on the drive to Indy, in my head I was one rider ahead before I even left Cincinnati.  Ba bam!

The Joey’s Okay DNFinition:
Anyone who drops out of a race (DNF) due to a mechanical, illness or injury still counts as being behind you.  Cringe.  Offer a sympathetic “you okay dude,” then carve another notch in your carbon bars.  Joey’s okay…and you beat him.  You didn’t case the barriers, you didn’t take a stake to the knuckles, your bike was set up and working beautifully.  You’re soo awesome. 

A Touch of Grey Beards courtesy Karen WH
The Grey Beard Rule:
Sure you got lapped, but if the dudes that lapped you were in a different category, it doesn’t really count.  For example, if you’re racing Masters in a combined field with Elite racers, you’re not lapped until a Grey Beard passes you.  Technically I got lapped the first week of OVCX when Masters leader Fred Rose passed me.  Yesterday with only Neo-Pro Josh Johnson getting past me, I did not.  Same goes for categories.  If you’re a cat 3 and get lapped by Cat 1 and 2 riders, you’re still golden in my book. 

The Look Like A Leader Rule:
So you got lapped fair and square, say the top 7 guys in the field gave you the “leader back” shout.  Remember to the unsuspecting spectator, you look like you finished 8th.  Look the part.  Zip up your jersey, put your hands in the drops and roar across the finish line and own it with confidence champ!  Next week you may only get lapped by one guy and look like you finished 2nd!