Archive | July, 2009

easy rider

29 Jul

Today’s commute went by in a blur—literally, as a gauzy blend of sunscreen and sweat made my glasses mostly ornamental—but I kind of enjoyed it, triple digits and all. Not in the way I usually enjoy biking—because burning flesh isn’t the most pleaseant sensation—and certainly not the part where I had to wear a tank top—since my farmer’s tan is so bad even the farmers are making fun of me—but something kind of curious happens to me when the H is O, and there’s that particular combination of wind and warmth and open-roadiness. I get even more…relaxed. Mellow, even. I’ll just come right out and say it—I turn into a hippie. It’s like how the moon turns people into werewolves, except instead of growing (even more) hair and going on a rampage I just sort of chill, and, you know, maintain. My mental jukebox starts playing twangy goodness from the longhairs, and it all starts to make sense. Cosmically, man. This never lasts long—I’ll hit a cool, shady patch and all my beloved neuroses come flooding back. But it’s kind of nice while it lasts. Can you dig it?

103 degrees of sweat-eration.

29 Jul

Today was hot. Deep South or East Coast or Arizona hot. But not that dry hot that makes the Arizona hot semi-aridly okay. More like a muggy midwest hot. Great, now I’ve got not only the Beach Boy’s song California Girl in my head, with its tour-of-the-country-goldilocks-can’t-choose-which-is-hotter theme, but I’m mentally seeing a suspendered David Lee Roth singing it.

The commute home was, unsurprisingly, hot. In spite of lathering on the sunscreen (SPF 153, only available from NASA) I got a nice little burn going tonight. As such I’m lounging around the house in silk boxers and a wifebeater and scaring the neighbors. Hey, at least I stopped smoking with one of those cigarette holders and drinking gin from an old Mason jar! (the neighbors on that side were okay with it as they’re Shriners).

As I was saying, the commute home was hot. As in, the moment you walk outside it’s hard to breathe hot. 103 degrees is a record here in Seattle. For Seattle folk, simple, gentle, mild mannered, slightly provincially naive Seattle folk, that’s dang hot. Literally nobody in town is getting any sleep. We’re all cranky and hot and cranky and goddammit we’re hot.

The commute home, as I was saying, was hot. Hot enough to sunburn my legs, proudly unshaven as they are. Hot enough that some of the thicker hairs on my proudly unshaven legs actually caused shadow burn patterns. Now my proudly unshaven legs look like a henna-tattoo’d tiger tail.

The sequence went like this: walking out the building, yeah I’ll be sure to drink enough you smug Lexus driving bastard co-worker in your cool Bermuda shorts headed for your A/C single occupancy commute home, hey to the other bikers, be sure to drink enough, sure thing mister smartass Surlylad (that’s what I go by at work as well; makes for some interesting meeting invites); unlock the freelock’d Sarthe, pointlessly got the blinky going, rolled outside, gasped, missed the pedal, felt pain in the eyeballs, felt that first drop of sweat fall between the otherwise still cool buttcheeks, then there’s the Surlylady pulling up, let’s go, through that light, oh… my… god… this is hot… like swimming through hotness, like entering a fiery furnace (speaking of Fiery Furnaces, I’m in need of a Restorative Beer), the tires seem to be sticking to the pavement, okay now it’s the Fred Hutch hill, oh this isn’t so bad… back to the flats, oh my god this is bad, okay kill it up that Eastlake hill now sprint down Eastlake and on on on on to the Burke Gilman with its precious shade, precious life-giving, life-sheltering shade and, yes, idiots on fixies; there it is, the U of W, that wonderful old school (said in Jimmy Stewart voice, cracked a little due to dehydration), and a few hints of that blessed shade, that luxuriant cypress intimation promise and on through the college cauldron, keep acting like you do at work to survive, keep your mouth shut, nose forward and ignore all the hot air around you and yet, oh, the hot wind actually hurts the eyeballs, sheltered you would think behind these glasses and right, thank you very much for the &$^^@**^!# headwind, that’s just great, okay stick to the guy on the Gary Fisher, have no idea how fast he’s going, oh yeah do I want to get a speedometer for the Sarthe someday, eh, no hurry, stick to that guy, oh he’s on a fixie, weird, fixie Gary Fisher, that’s new, stick to him through the south Sandpoint area, on past the Metro market, and there it is– blessed shade, and even better, was that a very slight, very tenuous cool breeze as in could it be from the lake, a little marine air from Lake Washington and if so god bless the marines, semper fi baby, awright let’s get it on, the knee is warmed up (should be) and now it’s time to crank it and oh crap now we’re at Mountlake Terrace and five-ish uphill miles in the full, direct, merciless sun and so of course we stop halfway up at the Lake Forest Market to get Vitamin Water and a popsicle and that’s our first mistake: don’t ever stop riding in 100+ weather, because while you’ve been cruising along at a modestly moderate 16 mph your sweat glands are stymied but stopping at that store holy porous floodgates batman!… a sheen of sweat appears and slicks over everything, including your shorts and suddenly you’re thinking I’m kinda glad I’m not riding on the leather Brooks saddle I’d probably ruin that thing right now and then it’s on up the rest of the mountains but you go faster and then faster again as you’re trying to outrace that sun, that burning, hurting, penetrating, suppurating sun.

Oh – and in other news, the ‘Lady and I are going to do RAPsody in one day! I have another goal! Ever since STP I’ve been floating around, moping and morose, responding with an empty-sounding “nothing” when asked if okay. I’m so energized to have another goal to work for! A new goal! I will love him, and hug him, and squeeze him, and I will call him George. George is my new goal. 170 miles in one day, aka George, meet the one reader of this blog, he’s KonaLad.

South SeaTac Trail and Thoughts on the Tour

25 Jul

The Brother R and the Nephew V and I went to South SeaTac Park (Des Moines Creek Park) this morning for a little mountain bike action.

Sorry for the crummy camera phone imagery... forgot the Canon.

Sorry for the crummy camera phone imagery... forgot the Canon.

IbisLad (or Mr. Dan as those in the bidness call him) had talked this place up as a possible cross-country racing spot. Strangely enough, Brother R called and said he’d been sussing it on the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance site (go donate!) and so I jumped at the chance. It’s a very odd place. Like a post-apocalyptic movie set odd. I think it used to be a housing development (nascent paved roads here and there) but now it’s gone back to Nature. Plus you’ve got the huge airliner jets flying just a few hundred feet above you (wonder why the housing development left!).

We got there and, with the exception of an odd downhiller or two, were the only mountain bikers. There were three cyclocross guys all in matching jersey/bibs from a local team doing some off-road training. I mention this because this park is definitely ‘soft’ enough for some fast forest cyclocross fun if you’re in the mood for such. Lots of sandy singletrack, widened and churned in most places due to what I think must be weekly races. It was a lovely morning too, a little cooler under the trees. We had a good time hanging out. Nephew V’d didn’t bring his geared bike, due to needing brake pads. Instead he brought along his singlespeed Redline BMX bike. Not the best ride for hilly singletracking, and the hardly-knobby tires were probably terrible in the deep sand, but it was fun watching him stick his legs out each side like a kayaker introducing drag to correct direction.

Before I left to meet the gang at SeaTac, I caught the last bit of the Ventoux stage of the Tour. Pretty much what I anticipated, in that no huge shakeups. From what I’ve read it’s just one big long horrible grind; as such, aside from a bonk or a mechanical I expected the main GC-ers to stick together. Maybe the organizers should have switched the order of this stage with that stage 17 from the other day, the one that allowed so many devastating opportunities for attacking? I loved watching that one, the way the Schleck brothers just brutalized the race. I loved even more when Lance Armstrong dropped Wiggins and started that violent, if too late, bridging; holy crap, it gave me goosebumps seeing him power up and then power down the descent.

That sets me up for a little opinion making. Yes, I prefer the Schlecks to most of the rest. I just really like attackers, and they’re on a team that, while strong, isn’t dominating. (Didn’t Astana have four guys in the Top 10 at one point? Sheesh.) This allows the perfect scenario, in that their team helps set them up early to mid, and then they take it from there and judge when and where to attack. It’s also sentimental, watching two brothers in such obvious harmony working together, almost reading each other’s thoughts… that reminds me, I need to finish my review of the Bobet book!

Anyway, partiality established, I have to say I don’t really really dig on Contador that much. There’s just something sort of unclassy about him. The way he mooched off the Schlecks all the way down that descent, and then nosed in for second (I suppose he could have sprinted for first, but somehow the half-ass choice of second place was even worse: it didn’t satisfy any of the reasoning that would have explained sprinting for first (courage, arrogance, pride) or third (generosity, recognition of the esprit of the brothers)). Even worse was his inexplicable surge toward the final summit that dropped neither of the Schlecks but did drop his hapless teammate Kloden. Part of me thinks it’s ridiculous to complain about a guy attacking and going fast, in a race, after all, especially after I just praised the attacking Schlecks, but I have a feeling that in the same situation Lance would not have hung out his teammate that way. And really, what was there to gain? Andy was still several minutes behind and had already established that he couldn’t outright sprint away from Contador at will. All Contador gained was kicking his own guy out of Top 5 or 4 contention. I guess he did slow down once he saw that Kloden couldn’t keep up, so maybe I’m picking nits. Still, I feel that Lance has a better handle on the spirit of the race, on some of the unspoken rules, and I think also he has a much better tactical head on his shoulders than Contador. Contador, admittedly, doesn’t seem to need a good head if he has legs that can make him the strongest climber AND the fastest time trialer.

As for that… I don’t like individual TT, so I didn’t watch the Annecy stage the other day. I wasn’t surprised to see on the webnews at work that Cancellara had had another go at taking the stage. What did surprise me, however, was that he was only beaten by Contador. The, uh, invincible climber of the Tour so far. The one who seems to sway from side to side up the worst mountains they can throw at him and yawns because he’s so bored (admittedly he did seem a little peaked, pardon the pun, on Stage 17 and on Ventoux today). And admittedly, maybe big Cancellara was just super tired by this point in the race–but wouldn’t Contador be as tired, if not more? Anyway, I didn’t think much of it the other day. I figured that he must be some unstoppable mutant who’s good at all the cycling disciplines, if maybe being a little undisciplined now and then. Then I was surfing around today and found some noise online (warning, it’s LeMond) about his VO2 max and talk about physical impossibilities, on Verbier in particular. I don’t know much about all that stuff or the science behind it. I want to believe that if the French were ever going to go overboard with doping controls it would be in the Tour that Lance returned to. Having said that, the guy won the TT, while at the same time looking like he could dance away from anyone on any mountain. He’s either a phenomenally gifted cyclist, a one-in-a-generaton type or… who knows. I do know it would be supremely ironic if something fishy did come up while at the same time Lance Armstrong was shown to be racing clean. Anyway, I hope he’s clean and just freakishly good… he may wind up beating Lance’s string of 7… he sure seems strong enough, based on his performance this year. As for the other guy, Lance, my memory of all those years of his win streak was that he seemed to ruthlessly plan everything to the last meter, assembling a squad of loyal domestiques, picking his moments, and amassing an insurmountable lead, in effect psyching everyone into thinking he was invincible (I’m thinking of The Look) so that he won the mental game almost before the first stage. One way to contrast Contador and LA is this: next year, when they’re racing for different teams, Contador will have to rely on a bunch of either Spaniards or mercenaries or mercenary Spaniards who may not pull for him as much in the crucial moments. I think that it’s likely Lance will be surrounded by loyal lieutenants who will go beyond their abilities, to that puke-their-guts out boundary, to help him. I’m thinking someone like Hincapie. I think Contador will win a lot more Grand Tours, but I don’t see him winning as many loyalists.

In retrospect, as much as I rooted for him this go-round, I have a confession: I was always a little ambivalent about Armstrong. I wasn’t into biking that much during his seven-year streak, but I did follow the Tour a little each year. I sort of rooted for him, but it also seemed like he just owned the thing, and had it dialed inexorably in. I tend to root for the underdog. So, didn’t hate him, but didn’t worship him. I respected him, if maybe a pinch grudgingly. This year, however, I’ve been rooting for him like crazy. I’m very pleased that it looks like he’ll wind up on the podium. It’s simply jaw dropping. Just as recently as the Giro people were writing him off. When I saw him bridging on those two mountain stages, the determination, the drive, but also the mortality, the grimace, the sweat, the obvious pain, and together with some of the post-race comments I heard from him, the difference is this year he’s human, he’s easier to identify with (go old guys!)… and he’s got to be one of the most focused and willpower-driven athletes I’ve ever seen. Beyond the athletics, he’s truly one of the most marketing-savvy celebrities. Ever. Can anyone make the case that footage of him, beamed around the world (Versus’ coverage is generic, i.e. the same is used by global channels), bridging gaps and putting the hammer down on 25-year-olds in the premier cycling event of the year didn’t sway some minds in the Radio Shack board room? Or that he’s bleeding under that sun for his foundation, and giving it a boost that no amount of money or marketing could provide?

The Tour. Ultimately, I was bored during the Nocentini stages, with all the wait-and-see stuff; the sprinter’s combativeness was kind of childish (who couldn’t win with that Columbia train ramming home? I mean, I like mass sprints, not one team sprints); but those mountain stages, especially 17 — oh yeah, those were goose-bumping awesome. Yeah it was a pretty good year!

physical therapy

24 Jul

Dear Burke-Gilman,

Bless your bumpy, rooty, wrist-numbing surface. After a crappy last day to a sucktastic week, nothing could have been nicer than the pain you inflicted on my weary body this afternoon. Strangely, the skull-jarring jags across cracked concrete cleared up my ibuprofin-immune headache, and that one section that always smells like the grossest dog fart ever made me exhale for what seemed like the first time all day.

You’re the best, Burke. Don’t ever change.

Back to the ‘Muting

20 Jul

After what seems like an antediluvian amount of time, in biking terms that’s about three weeks or so, we finally commu-cycled to work today. Oh, it was so nice… crisp, cool morning requiring arm warmers, then requiring pushed-down arm warmers halfway through the ride as the sun came up. It just adds so much to the work day. I’ve been having some stressful days at work lately, long hours, burden of leadership etc, and the ride in this morning just put me on an endorphin high that kept me in a good mood all the way until the first difficult email of the day at 9 or so.

Along those lines I had to work late, and only left the building well after 6:00. Got down Eastlake, was feeling good, there was a weird, hazy cloud cover so it wasn’t a perfect blue sky, and it was certainly muggy enough, and arrived at the University bridge just as the alarms started going off and the red-and-white poles, such as you might expect at a remote Polish border crossing in a scene from Le Carré, came robotically down. I was stuck at the red light behind a commuter lady and watched as at least a dozen other bikers ran the red light and proceeded on to the bridge. I itched to follow; if nothing else the view would have been better from there. But there was a sort of imperious ethical vibe from the commuter lady, like she had memorized all the bylaws from the Cascade Cycling Club, etc, so I stayed in snow white mode and demurely waited. Bridge back down, spin up the bridge to overtake some of the yahoos, onto the Burke. Where I quickly got involved in a paceline. With strangers.

That post-6pm commuter crowd has got some hardcore dudes. I typically don’t like to go so fast through the campus sections but in today’s case it would have been more dangerous to not go fast. Sheesh. As we started to shade into the Sandpoint zone, just past Counterbalance bikes, the paceline took on definite shape: four guys in front of me and one in my draft.

As KonaLad said, bibs are apparently totally gay. I had mine on today (nice, BTW). Maybe it’s all suggestive inference, but suddenly, I noticed that everywhere I looked there were bulging, hairy calves. The acrid sweat of mutual toil. Someone was playing the Cialis commercial music. The clicking of hyperactive shifting, especially the dude with the bar ends (seriously, just learn to spin to go faster, he was shifting gears like it was a video game controller). I started feeling a little weak. A squeeky voice, mine as it turned out, said, “Fellas, I’m not so sure about this.”

“It’s a paceline, c’mon, you’ll like it!”

Der derr… (Cialis music).

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is my first time. With strangers at least.”

“There’s a first time for everything! C’mon, it’s your turn to pull.”

Der derr…

“Gee fellas, I don’t think I like this.”

“Too late, you’ve got paceline fever!”

Der derr…

I saw a couple of sexy biker ladies up ahead. As we passed I tried to say Hey, and give ’em my Contador ‘El Pistola’ shot, but that dang paceline beckoned, all flashing limbs, bulging, hairy calves, incessant pumping. Sorry lady bikers! Whoosh…

If you must know, they were very sweet and gentle about the whole thing. I felt so warm and loved inside.

Truth is, the chap behind me pulled up at one point and said, “Just want you to know I appreciate you pulling!” Very decent of the fellow, really. Further up Sandpoint I pulled away from the group and he tagged along, and then later called out, “I hope it’s okay, but I’ll pull for awhile.” Darn tooting polite!

Yup. I’m glad to be commuting again. I don’t think I’ll ‘taper’ as much before big rides again. Commuting is so good for peace of mind and well-being at work, it’s worth trying to squeeze it in wherever possible. Plus, this summer weather just can’t be put off. Soon enough I’ll have to break out the helmet light. Ugh.

Lake Forest Park Farmer’s Market = Farmer’s Tan

19 Jul

Today’s biking adventure took the shape of a pleasant grocery-getter:

Organic, Local, Yummy

Folks supporting the local and the organic...

We rode our Surlys down to Lake Forest Park. In this case revenge was mine… mwahahahahahaha… as the ‘Lady was hauling two panniers and I only had a backpack. Need to set a reminder that backpacks on hot days ain’t fun with the sweatski and all.

I had just taken off the old Planet Bike fenders from the Trucker (didn’t quite last the year, the mud flap in front disintegrated recently, but I’m hoping to resurrect this fender set on the Poprad with some different mudflaps); shorn of pack, rack and fender-go, the Trucker is surprisingly… heavy.

Optical illusion, Surly intrusion!

Optical illusion, Surly intrusion!

Yup. Still heavy. A little more agile feeling maybe. And wow, so much fun on the descents. I can catch up on my Sudoku puzzles that thing is so steady, stable and comfy on the downhills. And on the up? That mountain cluster and easy ring in front are crazy. You can tell I’ve been riding the other bikes a lot. The LHT is very stiff. Laterally and literally. I’ve gotten used to the OX Platinum frames on the Poprad and Sarthe. The Sarthe in particular has a lot of flex, or ‘planing’ as Bicycle Quarterly would probably put it, where the frame almost seems to be working with you in rhythm. The LHT frame? Nothing like that. Maybe I’ve gotten lighter now and can’t sense the difference, but it seems like I used to feel a tiny bit of flex when out-of-saddle climbing at least. However it was almost like riding a new bike today, so maybe that unfamiliarity explains everything.

Anyhow, the reason for this ride? We were on a mission to get some fresh, local produce, especially berries. We hit paydirt, in the form of a low-seed count blackberry that is amazingly tart and sweet:

Like the Surlylady, tart and sweet... and sarcastic.

Like the Surlylady, tart and sweet... and sarcastic.

And really, how can you not go on a ride on a day with a sky this blue:

With polarized glasses the sky looks red, which is bad for sailors...

With polarized glasses the sky looks red, which is bad for sailors...

Easy Spin-Thrift Ride, Followed By Some Hot Pilchuck Action

18 Jul

I had toyed with the idea of staying off a bike for at least two weeks after STP, in the same way that a kitten sometimes plays with a ball of yarn: with a cute little pink paw! No. I mean, half-heartedly. Just check with General Bonkers on that one. Or on Fakebook.

But all that went out the window with the baby’s bathwater, or dog’s bathwater, as we loaded up the Subyoo and headed for Snohomish again, which has become the de facto hub for our biking hub bub lately.

Such a lovely day...

Such a lovely day...

We rode up the Centennial Trail for a bit, cut over through Perfect Valley, around Lake Roesiger (where I got in a nice little race with some triathletes; caught and beat one, got butt kicked by the other), down to Storm Lake, Three Lakes Road, and back to Snohomish. 37 miles. But lots of hill work. And horsies:

Why don't you take a picture, it'll last long... oh.

Why don't you take a picture, it'll last long... oh.

Form and legs were great today, as was riding on the Sarthe even on rough chipseal. However, on the drive back to Seattle I started getting really… really…… slee…py……

I worry something’s wrong with me. I had a sort of reprise of the cold symptoms the other night. Plus I haven’t been getting anywhere near enough sleep, with with attending rock shows and waking up at 4AM to volunteer to answer phones for my company’s big sale, in the catalog/online area. Still, a little worried. At least, when I was on the bike, I felt okay. And in fact, even when I was pushing it in a faux-race my knee was feeling great.

Aside from all the neurotic worrying and self-obsessing, however, it was exactly what we wanted: 75 degrees in the sun through stunning countryside:

Eh.

Eh.

And with the sun, of course, you can take some shadow pandas:

Me... and my... pa-a-anda.

Me... and my... pa-a-anda.

Oh, and I wore bibs today for the first time! It was great. I think I’m finally down to a weight where I can invest in bibs with some confidence that I’ll stick in that range for a while. I’ve had to throw away a lot of bike shorts over the last year (XXL, XL, L). If I ever go to a size small, however, it’s time for an intervention.