Cycling

Switching Gears

Full disclosure: My husband advised me against writing this post. He did this because he is embarrassed for me by what I am about to disclose. He suggested I might not want to share this particular story. Second full disclosure: Listening well has never been in my wheelhouse. So I am going to tell my story anyway. 

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6:30 on Saturday morning

Steve and I started road cycling in 2009. When we brought my new bike home, a shiny, blue-and-silver $1300 aluminum frame contraption with mid-level components, Steve had to explain to me how the dang thing worked. I could ride a bike, but this was the most high-tech cycle I had ever owned. Steve began by telling me about the brakes and reminded me squeezing the front brake too hard too quickly would cause me to somersault head-over-heels off the bike. That seemed like an important point, so I memorized that. He showed me how to take the wheels off in case of a flat. I sort of paid attention to that detail. Then he continued explaining how to make the bike work for me. About two seconds after he mentioned mechanical advantage, I checked out. Mechanical advantage sounded a lot like physics. Yawn.

I am a bottom line person. Where some people like the fine details and want to understand the minutiae of a topic, I want to know only what I need to know. Call it impatience. Call it short sighted. Call it crazy. I call it being married to a man who tosses me a 300-page camera manual and tells me to read it when all I want to know is which button on the auto-focus monster snaps the photos.

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Ready for a beautiful ride

So as he was describing how the gears up front work in conjunction with the gears in the back to help you increase your speed or climb hills or whatever (like I said, physics), I interrupted him to posit when we might get to that ever important bottom line.

“Which gear do I want to be in to make it easier?” I asked.

He started in again about mechanical advantage, yadda yadda yadda, and I went on another mental vacation. I vaguely heard something about “big gear,” “small gear,” “front,” and “back.” I would figure it out. How hard could it be? It was a bicycle. All I needed to know was how to get going and how to stop. I could do that already.

Steve and I participated in the Tour of the Moon ride into Colorado National Monument on Saturday. We first discussed this ride as we were coming off the high of completing the Bike MS ride in June. I registered us and then I forgot about it. Two months went by during which we got on our bikes only twice for short, easy rides. A couple days ago, we started considering our options for the weekend and chose to go ahead with the ride without training. We figured we might be sore afterward, but we could handle it. At the hotel the night before, I glanced for the first time at the ride’s elevation profile. Big mistake. In roughly 16 miles we would climb about 3500 feet. Did not sleep well with that knowledge.

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13 miles of flat, 16 miles of climbing, 12 miles screaming descent

The next morning as we approached the monument and the dreaded climb was looming, Steve asked me what gear I was in.

“I’m on the middle ring,” I told him, referring to my front gears.

The middle is where I most often stay when riding because, well, I don’t understand my gears because, well, I didn’t pay attention during my lesson. In the past, I have tried to switch gears on a hill, lost momentum, stalled out, and simply flopped over sideways still clipped into my bike pedals. I haven’t enjoyed that, so the middle gear has remained my crutch and faithful companion. It gets me where I am going, and I don’t fall over while switching gears. Win-win.

We pulled off into a church parking lot so Steve could investigate. He told me to switch into the easiest gear. I did.

“What gear is your chain on?”

“The big one,” I replied.

“The big one up front?” he asked.

“Yes. Granny gear.”

“Umm…that is not granny gear,” came the reply.

“Yes it is. You told me the big gear up front was granny gear.”

“You want the small gear up front and the big gear in the back,” he told me.

“This is how I have always done it,” I told him.

“Always? Not always,” he asked doubtfully.

“As long as I can remember,” I said.

“Then you have been climbing in the wrong gear,” he replied.

Well, shit. No wonder I’ve hated hills.

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About to head into the first tunnel through the rock

With my bike finally figured out (nine years later), we began our ascent. The new gear knowledge worked like a charm. The ride wasn’t exactly easy (rain, hail, and cold weather temps ensured that), but I had no problem riding. My legs weren’t tired. I pedaled up the hills slower than molasses in January, but I never felt like quitting. And you know why? Because for the past nine years I have been training for this one ride by cruising along in middle gear. And that is an oddly perfect metaphor for my life to this point. From the beginning, I’ve made things more difficult for myself than they needed to be. I checked out too soon or checked in too late or somehow managed to do both. There isn’t much to gain from an easy path, so I’ve grown through my hard (and occasionally not necessary) work.

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Wet, cold, and looking at the road out

Perhaps you now understand why Steve was reluctant about my relaying this story. It’s embarrassing. This blonde moment lasted nine years. It’s practically a blonde decade. And, at a point in my not too distant past, I would have been too mortified to share this information. But I am older now and working to accept my flaws and appreciate my gifts. I am learning to look on the bright side. I could take this whole bike-gear lunacy and go to a dark place about what a dolt I am and how naive I was not to figure out my bike properly in the first place. Instead, I’ve chosen to be positive. For something between the 3000-5000 miles I have ridden over the years, I have worked at my cycling. Every ride I undertook, I rode with more effort than I needed to give. All the times I felt weak because the hill climbs seemed much harder for me than for others, it was because they were most likely harder. And the times I passed other riders cruising up a hill in a harder gear than necessary, it was because I was strong, stronger than I had any idea I was. That is not embarrassing. It is an awesome discovery of my power and resiliency.

I’m not saying I will eschew the easiest gear going forward. That would be silly. Sometimes the path of least resistance is a good idea. I might, however, keep riding in middle gear a bit longer and see what else I can do.

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Dried off, warming up, waiting for espresso, dreaming of wine

 

 

A Perfect 97/100

A few weeks ago I watched an internet video made by a young man who spent 10 years traveling around the world on a shoestring budget. In the video, Benny Lewis discusses 10 lessons he’s learned while circumnavigating the globe. While all of the lessons he discussed were relevant to my life, one especially called out to me. In lesson #2, Benny invited me to “be an imperfectionist” because the possibility of failure too often keeps us from trying new things. But, dang it, life is too short to forgo new experiences. The older I get the more I realize how many precious opportunities I’ve squandered by playing it safe and the more I recognize that I’m too old to play it safe any longer.

At 5:55 a.m. Fresh and ready to go

Fresh and ready to go at 6 a.m.

So in keeping Benny’s words in my head this weekend, my hubby and I set out to do something I openly admit I was not entirely sure I could do. Last month I registered us (in a moment of supreme overconfidence) for the COCO Century ride.  (For you non-cyclists, that term implies exactly what it suggests: you complete a 100-mile bicycle ride in one day.) I’d been optimistic originally about our chances to complete this particular ride because it was touted as a “flat” century without the climbs you might expect from a ride in a state with over 50 mountain peaks towering above 14k feet. At least there wouldn’t be any mountain passes on the course. This should be easy peasy. Or at least not brutal, right? After I registered, someone reminded me that no hills means constant pedaling and no opportunities for coasting. Funny how that little detail had slipped my mind.

On the drive down to the hotel we were staying at the night before the ride, hubby and I discussed our lack of preparedness and our intentions for the event. We opened ourselves up to imperfection. We were going to do whatever we could. If we couldn’t finish it, no big deal. At least we would get in a nice ride somewhere new. We were going to embrace the day for whatever it would bring. And we determined to forgive ourselves if we could not complete the full 100 miles. Our best was going to be good enough because our best was all we could offer.

When the starting gun went off at 6, we were off. We were in small-town country filled with friendly, helpful people and a relaxed attitude. We weren’t four miles into the ride before I first suspected we’d missed a sign and made a wrong turn. We were following a few local riders, though, and they seemed to know where they were going so we pedaled on. Sure enough, we eventually crossed paths with the rest of the riders who’d taken the correct route. Oops. We shook it off, fell in line, and joined the herd. Around mile 22, we realized we’d missed the first of eight rest stops with our little detour. At mile 45, we were feeling good and completely skipped the fourth rest stop in favor of keeping up our good pace. Around mile 50, I pointed out to Steve that we hadn’t seen any other riders recently, and at about mile 55 I at last decided to consult the ride map on my iPhone. Lo and behold, we were on the right course. We were, however, going in the wrong direction. We’d missed another turn and where the others had headed east, we’d continued south and consequently missed the fifth rest stop. Oops yet again. We discussed it briefly and decided that backtracking 10 miles was not a reasonable option. We’d just ride the course in reverse. A ride official found us a few minutes later, verified our error, gave us her cell phone number, and supplied us with water for our continued against-the-grain trek.

Our two person century ride

Our two person century ride

We made the best of our two person century ride, cruising another 20 miles through Rocky Ford and Swink before finally landing in La Junta where we decided we would turn around and head down the course the right way back to Ordway with the other riders. At mile 86, though, we noticed we’d missed the final rest stop of the ride. We were 4 for 8 on the sponsor-provided rest stops. Still doggedly determined we stopped at a local farmers market, bought some fresh fruit and some bottled water, and continued on. At about 10 miles before the finish line, we calculated we had 13 miles to go. Oops times three. Our course snafu had wreaked havoc. It was nearing 3 p.m. and the last section of the course was a long and steady, albeit not Colorado difficult, uphill climb. It was about 95 degrees. We’d pedaled for over 7 hours. Although I’d been eating every 10-15 miles, I hadn’t consumed nearly enough calories to cover the 4000-plus calories I had burned, and I was fading fast. At mile 96, I resigned and told Steve I simply could not finish the full 100, as ridiculous as it sounded. I was weak, nauseous, and about to hit full on heat exhaustion. I was disappointed, but I am smart enough to know when to stop pushing myself. And so I rolled across the century finish line with my bike computer at just over 97 miles, 15,840 feet short of the goal.

Rolling in a wee bit short

Rolling in a wee bit short

As a recovering perfectionist, it’s taken me a couple days to process this shortfall. Three miles short is not technically a full century, and there are plenty of people (including an earlier version of myself) who would tell me it doesn’t count. But we did what we set out to do, which was our best. We overcame obstacles and kept on rolling despite setbacks. If we had stayed on course and been able to take advantage of more of the ride-sponsored rest stops for nutrition, we would have completed the last three miles without struggle. It simply did not work out that way. With some time behind me now, I understand that this is exactly the lesson in imperfection that I needed. Do you know how difficult it is to have spent most of your life as a perfectionist and then come within 3% of completion of a goal only to walk away? But I did it and, miraculously, I feel great about my accomplishment. We enjoyed our ride and would do it again, but I don’t even feel the need to repeat it simply to prove I’ve finished. If I do this century again, it will be for fun and not accomplishment. And trust me. That’s progress toward a future filled with more rewarding episodes of imperfection.

I Was So Hungry I Ate My Words

A mile from the top of Vail Pass

Finishing the most difficult part of the climb

Colorado is filled with extreme sports enthusiasts — marathoners, triathletes, cyclocross racers, river kayakers, rock climbers, mogul skiers, and myriad other endorphin junkies. Intrepid Coloradans trek up our 14,000 feet peaks each and every summer weekend because, well, they’re there. And everyday, run-of-the-mill, “normal” people take on day-long rides like the Triple Bypass where they cycle over 3 mountain passes, 120 miles with over 10,000 feet of elevation gain just to say they did it. What’s crazier than that? How about that people choose to do that same ride in reverse the following day to complete the Double Triple Bypass? With these things in mind, please understand that what I am about to relay regarding my adventure yesterday is not extraordinary at all. Oodles of people can tell the same story, so I am not being modest when I say that this is not a big deal at all. Except that it is…to me.

Ten years ago, we were driving back from a trip to Aspen and along the highway heading east over Vail Pass we spied some road cyclists struggling their way up the pass adjacent to the speeding cars on the highway. I remember hauling up the pass in our Jetta and remarking that those riders were insane. There is no way I would ever do that, I told my husband. Then, just five years ago, the darling man bought me a road bike. I went into the bike store dragging my heels because I was certain I was not a cyclist. Still I went along with it because I was 40 and I needed a decent form of exercise, one that hopefully would not tear up my knees or hips like running might. That year when we passed cyclists huffing and puffing their way up and over Vail Pass I said I could never do that. Simply putting in 15-20 miles was difficult enough. I didn’t think I’d survive a trek up a mountain pass. It seemed an insurmountable task. I had no intention of ever being that certifiable about exercise. Period.

Yesterday the unthinkable became reality. With three friends from our MS150 bike team, Steve and I rode from our hotel room in west Vail up to and then over Vail Pass and down into Copper Mountain before turning around and riding back up over the pass and eventually back to our hotel room. It was a 47 mile trek where we climbed over 4,000 feet in elevation in less than 4.5 hours. At times during our ride, the grade of the path hit a wicked 18%. That’s steep enough that even in my easiest bike gear I needed to stand up like a Tour de France racer to power my bike up the hill. I’ve never had to do that before. It was both annoying and awesome. We started our ride at 8,000 feet in elevation and climbed to over 10,600 feet so the air we were sucking was thin too. It was my longest ride of the season so far and the most challenging ride I have ever done.

At the top and geared up for the cold ride down to Copper

At the top and geared up for the cold ride down to Copper Mountain

As we flew down the last big descent of the day and my bike hit 34 miles an hour despite the headwind, I had a cheerful refrain echoing in my head. (It sounded exactly like this.) When we finally returned to our starting point at the Vail Cascade Resort I was Queen of the Freaking World. It is true. I had to chew up and swallow whole those things I’d uttered in the past about would never or could never. And while I normally don’t enjoy eating my words, yesterday I had no problem with it. Maybe it was simply because I was so hungry? I had burned over 2500 calories in 4 hours, right? Truth is, though, I have rarely felt as strong as I did when I clipped out of my pedals at the end of that ride. Not only had I done something I previously believed I physically and mentally could not do but I did it less than a week after turning 45. I never had to get off and walk my bike. The altitude never got to me. I fought the urge to give up when my quadriceps were screaming at me and I stuck it out. I rode my bicycle like a cheap, show pony. And while I may not be better, faster, stronger, or in any way more impressive than any other Coloradan who completes that identical ride, I do not care. I did it. I earned the right to eat my words and I still had enough room left over for a post-ride celebratory dinner at Terra Bistro. Suck it, 45!

Zen And The Art Of Arm Flaps

The point when I stopped to ponder my arm flapping.

So, after six solid weeks of not doing any sort of regular physical exercise, the kids went back to school and my workout time miraculously returned. Woohoo, right? Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. Yesterday as I was climbing stairs at Red Rocks (very slowly while sucking a lot of thin air and talking way too animatedly with my friend Heather), I noticed a little something disturbing happening with my arms. The back sides of them, where my triceps used to be and presumably still reside, were flapping. Flapping. They were swaying in harmony with the motion of my arms. Ew. Ew. Ew. I knew this would happen someday. I mean, this sort of thing happens to all women of a certain age, right? I chose to ignore it and not mention it to my friend because she is younger than I am and she doesn’t need to be burdened with this type of miserable yet inevitable discovery. When she is my age and starts to notice this same troublesome phenomenon, I will nod my head knowingly. I kept climbing the stairs and pushed the odd sensation at the back of my arms into a quiet spot deep in the recesses of my busy brain. I forgot all about it. Until today.

For today’s workout, I decided to hop on my mountain bike and do the 6-mile singletrack loop on the open space behind our house. It all started out fine. As I climbed steadily toward the top of the ride, my attention was fixed on my legs, still sore from the stupid stairs at Red Rocks yesterday. I started my descent. That’s when I noticed It was back. Careening down the hill, bouncing over rocks, the back of my arms flapped wildly like the wings of a chicken that is trying to escape from a mouthy red fox. Holy crap. Luckily, I have small arms so the arm flapping was not large enough in scale to knock me unconscious. Still, the depressing fact remained. What I felt yesterday was not an anomaly. My body is betraying me. Dammit! I thought about rushing home and pulling out my free weights to torture my triceps into submission. But, that would require so much work.

So, rather than trying to ameliorate the situation, I did the next best thing. I looked for the silver lining in my cloud. There must be one, right? One that would allow me to skip hours of free weights and kettle bell exercises. I scanned my brain for signs of my zen. Then it came to me….a way to make peace with my fluttering arm flaps. You see, this isn’t a sign of a breakdown of strength. It’s an indication of a loosening of spirit. I’m becoming less uptight. Yeah. That’s it. That’s the ticket. It’s not that I’m becoming soft, per se. I’m simply a bit more relaxed. I’m not falling apart. I’m yielding. I can live with that. My slackening skin, while a bit disconcerting and unattractive, is merely an outward manifestation of inward move toward zen. I’m grateful that I’m healthy enough, sagging flesh be damned, to climb stairs and ride a mountain bike. Those are the things on which I should focus. After all, what’s a little flapping skin among friends? I’m at peace with my wiggling and jiggling but otherwise healthy body. End of story.

By the way, I may or may not also have a bridge to sell you…if you’re interested.

Underdog Would Have Wanted Me To Have This Sports Watch

The Bia Sports Watch I must have.  (Photo courtesy of Bia…www.bia-sport.com)

Yesterday, a triathlete friend of mine posted a link to a Kickstarter project she had decided to back. I was curious. I had only a vague knowledge about the Kickstarter program, so I decided to check it out. For the uninitiated, Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Entrepreneurs and artists use Kickstarter to launch their business or career, to get the word out about the thing that is their passion. The way it works is simple. The kickstarter posts information about their goal and then people can pledge money to help them reach their goal. If the project reaches its funding goal, your Amazon.com account is charged for your pledge. If not, there is no charge. I instantly loved that Kickstarter empowers people to make their dreams a reality. How awesome is that?

Anyway, Leslie posted about this incredibly awesome new multi-sport, GPS sports watch with a safety alert feature. The watch was designed by two women athletes (a triathlete and an open-water swimmer) who were not pleased with the clunky GPS sports watches currently on the market. They thought they could create something better for women. So, they did. Bia (named for the Greek Goddess of force and power) is a thin, waterproof, infinitely-sizable sports watch with time, stopwatch, intervals, heart rate, and calories burned information. If you want even more versatility, you pair it with the GPS-enabled Bia Go Stick (about the size of an old-school pack of gum). Clip the Go Stick somewhere on your clothing and instantly you add distance, speed, and pace for swim, bike, and run workouts. But, the best feature by far is the audible safety alarm, which will send your location to loved ones and emergency services when you most need help. I like to hike and bike, and I often do it alone. A watch like Bia would give me greater peace of mine about my personal safety, and you can’t put a price on that.

In trying to get their product to market Bia founders, Cheryl Kellond and Sylvia Marino, were told repeatedly by investors that the product would not sell because females do not care about their performance and would rather go to the spa. I can’t tell you how much that inane comment aggravates me. While I enjoy a nice massage and pedicure as much as the next gal, I spend most of my summer wondering how many toenails I will lose due to my athletic endeavors. I do care if I improve in my sports performance. It absolutely matters to me if I can increase my speed over the course of a summer as I climb hills on my road bike. I may only be a part-time, amateur athlete, but I am serious about it. I am proud that I am 44 years old and stronger, more flexible, and more fit than I was when I was 24.

I pledged to the Bia Kickstarter campaign. If they reach their fundraising goal by tomorrow morning, next April I will be the proud owner of a Bia Multi-Sports Sports Watch with SOS Safety Alert in turquoise with two, super cute, interchangeable wrist bands and the GPS Go Stick. As of right now, they are approximately $56,000 shy of their fundraising goal. The campaign ends in 12 hours. I am posting this in the hope that some other athletes will see the benefit of a watch like this and sponsor Cheryl and Sylvia’s Kickstarter campaign to bring this product to market at last. At the very least, wouldn’t it be worth it to see a couple female, American entrepreneurs take on Garmin and Nike and those who said it couldn’t and shouldn’t be done and win? I’m all about the underdog. I didn’t get the Polly Purebred nickname I earned in college for nothing.

Confession…Sometimes I Too Hate Cyclists Even Though I Am One

Whenever I tell someone I am a “cyclist” (I have to put that word in quotes because I’m less of a die-hard cyclist and more of a person who rides a bike occasionally for exercise), I get the same reaction. There is a pause followed by this statement: “You know what I hate about cyclists?” As soon as this statement is uttered, I know the rest of the information that will follow. They don’t need to say a word. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The things you hate about cyclists are the same things other cyclists despise about cyclists. True story.

While out riding today, the first day of the Colorado MS 150, I am absolutely certain I witnessed first hand the myriad things you despise about cyclists. There are the cyclists who think it’s perfectly acceptable to ride 4 abreast, encroaching upon one entire car lane in the process. There are the cyclists who don’t obey traffic laws, perhaps refusing to stop for traffic lights or stop signs. There are the cyclists who while passing another cyclist or a pedestrian fail to announce their presence with a simple, courteous “passing on your left.” Certainly, there are other complaints, but those are the top three I hear.

I can assure you I saw every one of those cycling infractions played out during our ride today. Multiple times, even. Every time it happened, I shook my head and muttered a choice expletive. Cyclists who ride without obeying the rules of the road and using proper cycling etiquette are more a threat to my safety than passing cars. Negligent cyclists on the road frighten me more than semi trucks doing 60.

I would love it if I could change these cyclists’ behavior. It would make my biking experiences far more enjoyable. Truth is, though, I can’t rein them in anymore than you can convince the mouthy guy at the football game not to drop the F-bomb repeatedly in front of your kids. I don’t know why some cyclists behave like a**hats. I wish I did. Is it that American attitude of entitlement that makes them feel they are above the law? Are they simply ignorant? Maybe it all boils down to a personality defect? I’m not sure, but please know that if I could fix it to increase my safety I would do it.

Not all cyclists ride with their heads stuck up their butt. Most cyclists are cautious and decent. But, it’s the misguided antics of a small percentage that stand out. Come on. You know that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, right? So before you unload your grievances on the next cyclist you meet, remind yourself that not every cyclist is a bad one. Try to cut us some slack. We know some other riders are idiots. We are just trying really hard to forget it.

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The Quickest Way To Forget Your Troubles Is To Help Someone Else With Theirs

Bright and early on the second day of the MS150 last year. Cool enough for arm warmers. Wearing our team jersey. Go Goons!

This week I am focused on only one thing. Five mornings from now, hubby and I will be waking up at 4 and driving up to the starting location for this year’s Colorado MS150 ride. I’m trying to get excited about it. I am. It’s just not working. It’s not the riding I mind. I’ve trained. At least, I’ve trained as much as I have the previous two years when I’ve also done the ride. So, I think I’m ready to go on that front. I might be a bit sore next Monday, but I think that endurance, muscle, and seat-time wise, I’m ready to go. What’s freaking me out is the heat. While the current forecast for this weekend does not show us at 100 either Saturday or Sunday, it does show us in the high 90s. I’m not happy.

Truth is, I am what I call a “fair weather” rider. That means, I won’t ride when it’s below 50 because I don’t own the gear to stay warm enough and I really don’t want to buy it. Why would I? I have winter sports. I ski and snowshoe. I don’t need a nose frostbitten from cycling in freezing temps to make me feel I can get out in the winter. If there’s a good chance of any sort of precipitation, you can count me out of riding. Call me a wimp, but I shower plenty. I don’t need to go ride in the rain for that. And I choose not to ride when the temperature exceeds 85. So, training in this high and dry heat has been unpleasant. As I look toward a predicted high of 99 for Sunday’s ride, I feel myself shriveling up.

I’m going to do it, though. Well…barring heat stroke, hospitalization, and heavy smoke from the fires I’m going to do it. Why? Because I can suffer through two days in extreme heat on my bike to help raise awareness about MS in our state. I know too many people and families affected by this disease not to. Years ago, when I started doing these long-distance, fundraising events, I realized something about myself. I whine too much for too little reason. I’m healthy. My family is healthy. We have all our needs met and then some. It feels good to take the focus off myself for a few minutes. It’s humbling. It reminds me that I’m part of something bigger than the microcosm that is our family. I’m connected to others. So, I’m going to put on my big girl panties, deal with the heat, and ride for Michelle, Gretchen, Amy, Suzanne, Brad, Stacey, and the other 9,000 people living with MS in Colorado.

If you find yourself compelled to push yourself with athletic events, look for ones that support a worthy cause. There are oodles of charities that run wonderful events that would love your help. Yes. You have to raise money or pay a higher entry fee. You can do it. It is possible. I’ve done it six times now. I’ve never missed my minimum fundraising goal. And, in the end, the payout you get from helping someone else while achieving a goal for yourself is nothing but a win-win.