Archive | January, 2011

Epic Ride! To, uh, the QFC!

30 Jan

January’s been a toss. We rode the Centennial Trail for a hangover cure back at the beginning of the month, then spent the majority of the rest hunkered inside, peering fearfully out at the acid rain from slightly drawn curtains. When not doing that, we had carpet installed in the back half of the house, pulling out the old stuff in the not sweet master suite which had likely been there since 1998. The carpet and the not sweet master suite. Having carpet installed in half your house means you have to move half of your crap into the un-to-be-carpeted half. It’s a pain and a half.

Good news is, we were inspired recently by sites like that 57 Things joker that Bike Snob loves to pick on, sites where young people just out of college “discover” minimalism… and package it like it’s a multi level marketing pyramid… which they organically “discover” like it’s a totally new thing… it’s so cute, I have to say. Maybe one of them one day will spend a summer in a cottage near Walden Pond and then find, to their delight, while surfing on their iPad, that some old dude had done something similar way back in the paleolithic somethin somethin, some chap named Thoreau, and they’ll “discover” him and tweet all about it.

Where was I? Oh yeah, well in my day we had to walk 20 miles, uphill, in the SNOW, before we were allowed to be sarcastic.

Inspired as we were by this neu-minimalism (gosh, really they are so cute… maybe they’ll discover meditation, or, like, using coupons?… oh right, Groupon) and while packaging up all the crap in half of the house to store in the other half, we decided to streamline and get ourselves down to 5700 things. And I can with confidence admit the house is much, much better for the pruning. You just don’t need all that stuff. No, you don’t need the WWII magazines. No, you don’t need all those Martha Stewarts from the early oughts. No, you don’t need the paper invoice from your subscriptions to WWII Magazine and Martha Stewart Living, circa 2001.

But in slimming things down to 5700 items, and consequently re-arranging the entire house (that’s the new bedroom, this is the new cat crap box room and SurlyLad’s closet combo, that is SurlyLad’s new music room, this is the new dining room, this is the new TV room and office, that is my head exploding) and slimming down at yoga, spin and kickboxing classes, we just haven’t had much time lately to do anything outside. I do worry this bodes ill for the big bike riding plans this spring. We need base miles, not home-base trials.

And other commitments: every Saturday morning our two pups look at us like they have some kind of biological clock that tells them ‘Ah, hell’s yes it’s Saturday and you owe us a trip to Marymoor Park, you BEEPING BEEPS’. Then when that doesn’t work they bring the slippers and The Economist. When that doesn’t work they make us coffee. When that doesn’t work they go to the sad eyes, and so we spend hours driving to-and-from from Redmond… and not a single software programmer in the car. It’s sad.

But today, in between errands and errant errand intentions, I was damned and determined we were going to get on our bikes… at least for a little ride. Baby steps, baby. So there I was tooling along in the Toyota truck (that’s one of the 5700 items; does that count as one, or do I have to include the engine and the radio etc?) with the windows down, the KZOK blasting, and the cool springtime breeze blowing around with sun breaks and happiness. Then there I was walking with the SurlyLady and the two pups all the way up to the dog park here in Mountlake Terrace, with sun shining down, and barely needing that jacket, yo. And then there I was as it started lightly rain snowing and the sun went away and our noses turned red and runny and suddenly it wasn’t funny or sunny. And yet! After drinking some warm tea and looking at pictures of randonneurs (rando porn) I shrugged off the January blues and declared that, what we really needed, what the world really needed, was some of SurlyLady’s amazing mini lemon cupcakes!

So we got out the old bikes, didn’t even bother to check the tires or anything else for that matter, stumbled unfamiliarly through the bike tog routine (Where’s my other glove? What’s this stupid metal thingie on the bottom of this shoe? And where’s the other shoe with the stupid metal thingie on the bottom of it?) and hit the freezing road, pushing off into a stiff breeze in 39 degrees, on a quest to go to the QFC for some lemons, buttermilk and powdered sugar. Brrr.

Surly-i-cicle Cycle.

But the good news is we made it home from the epic ride. It wasn’t even long enough to warm up the old bones. Poor SurlyLady looked so cold. For my part, it felt great to get out on a bike, even for a 5 mile ride. Then it was back to re-arranging the house, cooking up some beets, parsnips, salmon and bread, and then of course, these for the kicker:

When life hands you lemon cupcakes, you make lemon cupcake crumbs.

Mountains

27 Jan

My life has changed completely from three years ago. I used to barely notice mountains. “Oh, yeah, they’re pretty today, sure,” I’d say, absent-mind-edly. Now, when I see the Olympics with their ice cream sundae snow caps on a sparkling blue winter morning my blood races. I once said on this blog (or typed something to this effect) that I had the heart of a mountain climber and the body of a, well, not even a domestique. Maybe a long-retired domestique who’d opened a pastry store and went everywhere, even to the mailbox at the end of the circular driveway, by hired limousine. Sheesh, I’m hard on myself aren’t I?

I’ve found my fascination for the mountain-ic metaphor has carried over to other areas of my life. At home, I keep finding ways to push myself. Oops, what I mean is, I keep finding ways to push SurlyLady. Zing! At work, doubly so. Not SurlyLady, but my own career goals. I find myself looking for new challenges, welcoming a tough change or two, not backing down, and deliberately facing the things I know I’m weakest on, and not just coast on the things I know I’m already good at. One example, I’m really good at taking lunches, so check. What I’m not so good at is getting to work on time. So, I’m going to work on that. Next week.

But back to mountains. It just so happens SurlyLady (push… hah) is now hooked on the Discovery Channel (Netflix re-runs of) ‘Everest, Beyond the Limit’ and so while I sit here on the compoo pretending to write my new a) children’s book, b) weight-loss presentation or c) novel while really surfing the Hampsten Cycles site while really half watching this show about these whackos climbing that mountain I can’t help dreaming about High Pass Challenge.

In short, I’ve got a vision: to finish HPC with a gold medal. And the strategy that’s going to get me there is going to be as much fun as the ride itself!

I go to spin class twice each week. I signed up for a personal trainer 10-session pack again, and have the same Army captain instructor. I’m still so sore from Tuesday’s torture fest that I can hardly walk. My hamstrings are so tight and sore that it hurts to even rub them. Spin class today sort of loosened things up, but whew. In my spare time I go and do regular cardio and resistance training. I’m on a 2031-calorie per day diet, and it’s really kicking in, have lost 7 pounds in three weeks, a little over schedule but I think that was mostly my winter excess.

The plan is to ease out of the personal trainer sessions about the time the road sessions begin in earnest, just in time to really enjoy the budding greenery of this beautiful state.

And so as I get these 42-year-old bones going again for the new season, as I happily suffer through intervals in a spin class and joyfully try to squeeze in as many reps as I can with my trainer I keep thinking of this place, on my bike, in September, with several oxygen bottles and a crew of sherpas:

Squint Mountain.

There is a Season, Spin, Spin, Spin, and a Time To Every Purpose

14 Jan

Gym

As we bunker behind drawn curtains and stout and sturdy roofs here in the soggy Pac NW, I find myself feigning going for outside rides and maining on the spinning class side. This week I did two days in a row even, running to catch the spin class in the gym in my building and trying to avoid those whose lunch time meeting I might have been missing. So, rather than describe a brisk training ride from yon to yonder, instead I’ll stick with the bike what I done brunged to the dance: in this case a ‘Spinner’ with cast iron frame and sweat-rust corroded crankset.

Class to class, I’ve noticed things about the folks and the instructors. Spin class can be almost as visceral as a road ride. Rather than near misses from various vehics, rednecks yelling at me to get a car (when they’re driving a truck, hah), rain showers, cheeseburgers, flat tires and chipseal-induced somnolence, amid whirring fans, grunts, blaring tunes and yelling maniac instructors, I get to watch the chap with the hairy upper arms sweat so profusely that two small lakes form beneath him on the hardwood floor. I’m tempted to name those two lakes. Maybe Lefty Lake and Lake Stinky.

Then there’s the bored-with-the-rest-of-us guy who is out of the saddle the entire class and seems to be rocking out to his own, inner-inspirational soundtrack. There’s the guy in chamois’d bike shorts and SPD pedals who is dead set on proving to everyone that he’s a ‘real’ biker, and not an indoor tosser like the rest of us. There are college students, the unemployed, the swing shifters and then those like me furtively squeezing in a sweaty lunch hour between sweaty project meetings.

These spin classes are insane. A couple days a week I sit (ride?) next to a guy from my same IT area who’s on a local bike racing team, and the dude just gets apoplectic, he turns as red as a furnace and sweat is absolutely pouring off of him. In that class in particlar, the instructor tends to favor speed and hill training, i.e. intervals varying up and down on the resistance scale. She likes to do lots of leapfrogging, from say level 7 to level 8.5, then back to level 8 then up to 9.5 etc. She doesn’t do a lot of pure speed stuff. The instructor on Fridays is the opposite. Everything is Spin as Fast as you possibly can… then SPRINT SPRINT SPRINT and seriously it’s just so over the top. It’s not really bicycling anymore, it’s almost a different sport. However. I will admit to the interval virtues of both styles. I walk out of both classes feeling completely spent, like I gave it 100%, and I even break a modest sweat (I’m not a sweater hence my repetitive descriptions of everyone else’s evaporations). I know a certain guy, who is likely reading this blog (hi!) who has a sweat threshold far lower down than me. He will start sweating upon hearing a sentence with more than one verb in it. He will start sweating just thinking about sweating. And probably all because he’s in good shape, and he didn’t have all his glands removed, like I did (I had gone in for a Pecs Change, and they thought Sex Change. It’s all fixed now, trust me). For me, if I work myself into a minor sweat, that’s a major thing, and another reason I’m loving these classes.

But those aren’t the only such. On Tuesday nights SurlyLady and I have been going to a ‘Turbo Kick’ class. The first one, about a month ago, she dragged me to fairly easily because I thought, like a typical guy, “Hey, it’s got Turbo, and Kick, in the title. Gotta be cool, right? Kicking stuff, fast like?”. We get there and I’m the only guy! And, I’m so butt awfully sloppy and slow and dunce like that my relatively tallness and singular sexiness (what, that’s technically correct) made me feel like as sore a thumb as my back was getting. I walked out of that class swearing I’d never go again. I was humiliated, confused, deafened, and humiliated. The next Tuesday it wasn’t so bad. And now, a full four classes into it, I’m getting the hang of it. I still feel like an awkward giraffe in a room full of elegant rocking chairs, but, damn it’s a good workout, upper, lower and cardio. The other class we’ve been going to is yoga, and that’s self explanatory enough. Next week I start up another 10-session Personal Trainer hell, with the same guy from last year. Honestly, though, I’m looking forward to it! I need someone to push me a little, otherwise I can tend to coast.

Brave Knew World

We’re all familiar with Orwell, how he studied under Huxley, and how 1984 and Brave New World are like opposite sides of the same coin. Well I’ve been reading a very interesting book by John Buchan, The Courts of the Morning. It’s done in one of Buchan’s Edgar Rice Burroughs modes, set in an entirely fictional country in South America, but it’s the political overtones that really catch my attention. There’s an autocratic chap who figures in there, name of Castor (eh?), the leader of a very successful copper mining operation, built on his own patented processing techniques and the bloody labor of the local indigenous folk. He is secretly aiming to, well, rule the world or thwart tepid Britain and immature America or something like that, it’s not exactly clear. Some of Buchan’s recurring characters (such as Sandy Arbuthnot, sort of like a T.E. Lawrence type) figure in a rebellion that thwarts mister megolomaniac’s plans.

But it’s two main themes that catch my eye: first the Big Brother aspect of the political aims of this organization/country, and the sort of pre Ayn Randish sensibilities; secondly the (sometimes over lengthy) military exposition, the lay out of the armies and air force forces, the guerilla tactics, that foreshadow so much of what came in the 1930s, published as it was in 1929. In the case of the former I find a somewhat tentative line to Huxley and Orwell; albeit in sort of Flash Gordon style excess, it does seem an odd precursor. As for the rebellion part, it’s also oddly prescient for the Spanish Civil War, cutting the railway lines, telegraph cables, a mix of tried-and-true guerilla actions in the face of seemingly overwhelming modern warfare machinery.

Does anyone else find these connections curious?

Like a Monkey Butterfly

2 Jan

This entire three-day weekend has been sunny, this after one of the soggiest Decembers to remember. Like a couple of chlorophyll addicts we’ve taken full advantage, with two trips to the Marymoor dog park (promenading with the other yuppie pups, nose bumping, butt sniffing, play acting – and the dogs seem to like it too) and a couple of rides.

Yesterday the SurlyLady and I got out the bikes — in my case the Poprad, in hers the CrossCheck — dusted off the cobwebs, checked the French-threaded BBs, applied some gimcrackle to the hufferman pulleys, shined up the leather helmets, curdled the chamois and headed for parts north, specifically to the Centennial trail, with an erminus and terminus at Snohomish. It was a grand day, aye that it was. Me and the missus were toolin’ along, happy as a couple of kids with ice cream. Because we were, litrally, in that our extremities were frozen. The trail was wide open, barely populated save for roaming groups of crazy older roadies and a few walkers… like a great setting for a low budget zombie flick. I hadn’t been on the Poprad since the dream vacation to Mazama/Methow in late September. It felt… odd. Like, “How did I ever ride like this, so low down and all scrunched over and oy, my back hurts…” odd. Within a few miles I settled in and it felt better. The thing that felt even better was getting back out on the trails, on two wheels, in sunlight. I have been positively starved for sunlight. I have come from a desert of rain, parched with the sodden wintry darkness, begging for just the smallest, tiniest taste of a single drop of sunshine on my cracked tongue.

As wonderful as the sub freezing wind and foggy breath and clear January sky were – I was feeling soooo out of shape. We only wound up doing 20 miles total. There’s a reason why so many cyclists go into hibernation each winter, letting their beards grow along with their leg hair, muttering to themselves the starting lineup for the 1999 TdF, pacing to and fro in front of their suburban picture windows and constantly checking the sky for signs of Please God Any Kind of Brightness. It makes those sunny and later sunnier springier rides all that much more enjoyable. It’s a simple contrast, darkness, light, but for a cyclist breaking out of the one and into the other it is especially rewarding because you get to immerse yourself in it, viscerally. Viscersion.

Oh Yellow Yangtze, How Frozen Are Thy Banks.

Today was just as sunny as Saturday, if not a pinch warmer. I hadn’t planned on it but couldn’t help going out for a jaunt. Today I felt in much finer mode and felt my shoes positively dancing on the pedals. I took out the Vaya and in inverse comfort acclimation to the Poprad spent the first several miles thinking “Ah, this is pretty good” and then the last bit groaning on the same refrain, “Oy my aching lower back!”

Doing an A/B comparison with the Poprad and Vaya tells me I’m close. The seat height on the Vaya is right on I think. Now it’s a matter of fore and aft, and bar height. I’m going to take out another 1 cm spacer and see if that helps.

Back to the lovely day: I noodled along the Sammamish River, enjoying the frosty wonderland. Nothing is quite so breathtaking as a moving body of water shrugged with white-covered banks. Mechanically, other than the fact I don’t feel stretched out enough on the Vaya, it works perfectly. The Avid BB-7 brakes, in particular, are sweetly dialed in. The Poprad barely stopped yesterday, a lingering effect of the crashing I did back near Winthrop when I had to do some on-the-road brake work.

For those who can sympathize, today was just about note perfect. Dazzled by blue skies and some kind of shiny yellow thing all up in their sky bidness, I hummed along, excited to be emerging from the winter chrysalis like a butterfly, but feeling all discombobulated and creaky, like a drunken monkey. Muscle memory is there, and the strength – at one point I surprised a covey of roadies and sped off in front of them, holding them off for several miles. It felt so good to be going, and going fast again! Just a few months ago, in September, I was worked up to a level of fitness where I could cruise at 20mph and hardly notice it. Now I feel like I can do that for a few minutes, but only that. I’m just plain old tired. But it’ll come back. The base miles, the training miles, the fun weekend miles, they’ll all add up. There will be a familiar arc to this year, with highlight rides in early and late summer, and then in November and December I’ll dial it down again, the bikes will gather dust, and I will retreat in overwhelming darkness to the gym.

Here’s to a new year of fun on the bike, with SurlyLady and a few friends!

Fred Vaya Panda