Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tucson Day 4


I slept horridly the night after Mount Lemon.  I tossed and turned endlessly, getting up multiple times for water, the restroom, or to flush out my quickly congesting sinus.

I dragged my ass out of bed at 7 and walked into the living area of TCH.  Owen asked right away how I was feeling.  I'm pretty sure I replied "Nnnnnnngggh!" and went straight to the coffee.  I had a fairly light breakfast, more coffee, and went back into our room for a long hot shower with the hopes that the hot water would help unclog my head.

Today Madera Canyon was on the radar.  The crew loaded their bikes onto "Big Blue" to be shuttle down south to starting point of the ride.  We get the opportunity to see "downtown" Tucson.  Not terribly impressive.

A short 30 minute drive later we arrive at a small coffee shop where seemingly every Tucson police officer in a 10 mile radius was heading to, where we suit up for today's ride.  We head almost due west out past some huge mining complexes.  The road is a steady uphill grade, and after yesterdays effort and the start of the head cold, I really have no desire to ride hard or at the front.

I languish in the back for a while until Traci drops off the front of the pace and eases back into the group.  It's been a long hard week for her, and we've had little time to ride together so I take the opportunity to pull in next to her and keep her company.

The wind relentlessly blows at us from the south.  It isn't driving, but its a constant reminder that the trip up Madera Canyon is going to be into a  headwind.

Gregg and local legend Mike Longmeier hand back with Traci and I as the group rolls along up the road.  We shelter Traci from the wind as we snake our way through the desert.   Traci mentioned she feels a bit dizzy as we hit a small climb so we ease off the pace.  We roll up to the support van and she decides to call it a day.

I take off down the road and try to wake the body up with a hard effort.  About 10 minutes later I hit the regroup point where we get some info about the descent into town and the turn off to the road leading up to the canyon.

The route to the canyon is an out and back, 13 miles one way.  The road is heavily used by cyclists and a favorite among training rides in the area.  A steady almost un-noticeable climb of 1-2% heads out for roughly 10.5 miles before the road kicks you in crotch the last 2.5 miles with an average pitch of 12%.

A split quickly forms on the trip out, with Paul, Mike, RC, Deanna and myself trying to keep on the wheel of Brendan and Jen from the TCH, who is just "riding tempo".  A few half hearted attacks are made, but no one is able to stay away for too long.  After about 15 wheels of running at threshold in a draft, my insulin pump starts beeping at me.  I gratefully take the opportunity to pull out of the pace line and figure out what's up with my bionic pancreas.

"SENSOR ERROR".  Ah, no big deal, was about time to change it out anyway.  I take a second to shut the sensor off and look up the road.  The group is about 50 feet ahead of me and I just don't have the legs to take another dig and close the distance.  Russell and Deanna roll up behind me and we ride on together until Mr. Cree takes a Big Blue motor pace back up to the group ahead of us. 

Cheater.  I was very jealous.

Deanna and I ride along together, keeping the pace high, but steady.  We eventually pick up Jen who backed off the silly pace that was being set by the boys up the road.

We leapfrog the van one more time as the road noticeable gets closer to the canyon.  The grade is starting to kick up a bit and our small three person group splits up.  I get a final water bottle from Traci's who is riding support shotgun in Big Blue.  Owen informs us that he can't bring the van into the park due to a dumb ass park ranger who fined him $700 last year for having Hammer Nutrition stickers on the side of the van.  Napoleon wannabe.

As I enter the final, steep, 3 miles of the ride, the United Healthcare pro team comes bombing down the hill the other way, their team car following behind.  I wonder if they got fined.

A few of the riders wave and say hello in the short moment they were close by.  I'm looking forward to the descent.

I climb on through the forest and past the small campsites and turnouts.  A roadrunner strides out in front of me and crosses the road.  I wanted it to go "meep meep", but I guess it wasn't in the mood.  I pass a flock of wild turkeys hiding in the shade under one of the large tree's.  I've never seen one before, and I'm fairly shocked to have seen on less than 25 miles from the US-Mexico border.

F@ck You and your 16% grade.Eventually I hit the top of the climb, but not before one last knee  shredding wall I'm forced to grind up.  I reach the top and Paul snaps a photo of me doing my best "Ironclad Salute", complete with prerequisite gloves.

We hang for a bit while the rest of the riders roll in up that miserable last section.  The sun is warm, and the views are actually pretty amazing once you get the chance to look at them.  Owen rolls in on a borrowed bike, sans cycling shoes and with a big grin on his face.  He's been fighting a cold all week and its good to see him feeling better.

One of these three is a climber.  The other two eat chezburgers.Gregg comes into view a few minutes later, and the cheers of "Big Meat" echo off the surrounding rocks.  We take a moment to get one final PV press photo with a stunning background.


We roll out, taking it easy the first few miles due to the rough pavement.  Once we are clear of the forest the gloves come off and I get a chance to open up the legs.  Russell punks Gregg at the van on the way down.  Rumor has it he told Gregg to regroup then punched it as soon as Gregg stopped.  Unfortunately for RC, Gregg and I are designed to go downhill, fast.  Although he's got a good gap, its a matter of time before we reel him in.  In the middle of the chase, I record a one minute effort at 400w doing 43mph.  Fun times.

We eventually settle into a 4 person paceline, having towed the "waffer-thin" Paul along in our wake.  We rip off the next 9 miles in just over 17 minutes, averaging close to 32mph in what has to be one of the best sections of road I've had the pleasure of riding.  A few half hearted attacks happen in the last half mile, but for the most part the 4 of us roll into the finish together.  The rest of the group isn't too far behind and we quickly pack Big Blue up for a stop at In'N'Out on the way home.

The night wraps up with an amazing Fiesta at TCH, which Kender, Sal, and Heidi join in on.  The food is amazing, the wine, beer, and margaritas are wonderful, and Traci / Tina whip up a batch of homemade truffles for the gang to enjoy.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end sooner than we wish.  Goodnights and Goodbyes are exchanged, and during the middle of the night a rainstorm moves in, washing away all chance of an easy spin the next morning.  We spend Sunday relaxing at the house, having the last flight out of the day.

The gang at The Cycling House made this week special for those who had the chance to attend, and although this is just the first week of February, I'm pretty sure this will be one of the highlights of my year.

Thank you Owen, Andy, Sam, Brendan, and Jen for a wonderful week!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tucson Day 3


"Long ride w/ small climb."

Every night the whiteboard in the kitchen gets updated with the next days schedule, route, and a small sketch of the forecasted weather.  For the second day in a row there is a big smiling sunshine in the upper right corner.

The crew gets up a bit earlier today, as our schedule departure from TCH is an hour earlier than the previous two days.  Today is the day we tackle the "small climb" called Mount Lemon.

I've tired to get some advanced scouting info on this climb.  I know its long.. really long.  Something like 21 miles long, or 29 miles, depending on who you ask and where starting / stopping point is.  It just goes on and on and on and on and up and up and up.   Very rarely does it get over a 7 to 8% grade, and when it does its for a very short distance.  It's miles of climb on a wide smooth road gaining over a mile in elevation. And we are climbing it today.

I've often said I'm not a huge fan of climbing.  I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it a few times in the past on this blog.  But there is something different about this climb.  It just has the feeling about it that it will grind down even the strongest of climbers, through the sheer length of the ordeal.  I'm looking forward to it oddly enough.

The group rides out of TCH and towards the foot of the climb.  We are meeting our friends today at the base.  The snowbirds Sal and Heidi, and Mike Kender, all friends and teammates are staying across town.  We roll into the final stop before the climb and they arrive minutes later.  Warm greetings in warm sunshine.  A full crew of gleaming silver, black and red PV kits and team Velo Vie bikes.  It almost looks pro.

As a few final water bottles are topped off and photos are snapped before the climb, I look around for Traci.  I don't see here anywhere and have a moment of panic.  I ask out loud if anyone has seen her and was told she took off up the mountain.  I know she's determined to get to the top and needs to ride her own pace.

The group rolls out, the shiny pod of white PV jerseys rides in a clump as we pass the "Mile 0" marker and the road slowly starts to point up.  As we ride along, I can see the first switch back rise hundreds of feet above us to the right.  A small figure on a bike can be seen spinning away up the road.  I know its Traci as her infamous red bibs stand out against the brown desert landscape.  I want to take a photo of the sight but know my camera phone won't pick out the small details at this distance.

The pack slowly starts to separate out.  We all have to ride within our self on this one.  Mike and I end up riding together.  He's a much strong climber than I normally, but on this day he's fighting a cold and is under the weather.  We enjoy each others company, and the stunning view of the valley.

It takes a good 10 to 15 minute to catch Traci.  She's moving along at a good steady pace, breathing hard, but not labored.  I tell her I love her and to stay strong.  She wishes me the same as I spin away up the hill up towards Mike.

About mile 6 Mike starts to slow a bit, his cold and the elevation are bugging him.  We are both riding in our zones now.  That almost mechanical state where the body is working hard, but working for the long run.  I slowly ride away from him.

After a quick stop at the support van around mile 7 to snag some more sunblock, I run into Russell who's coming downhill to check on people.  He doubles back and rides up next to me all smiles.  The others aren't too far up the road, but the majority of the climb is still ahead and I keep my pace steady.  We ride along idly chatting and taking in the scenery.  I sniff the air and smell skunk.

"Javelina?" I ask.  They are often known as skunk-pigs because, well... the smell.

"Javelina!" Russell says with a crazy accent.  We don't see them anywhere though.

Another mile up the road, Owen is stopped with the van.  Sal and a few others are there having a snack and refilling bottles.  Russell pulls off as I decide to keep heading up hill.  A short distance later I see Paul at an overlook with a few others.  I let them know the others aren't far down hill and continue to ride along.

I look over my shoulder and see they continue to wait.  I want to stay warm and moving.

Mile 10 rolls by and we start heading into the forested area.  The temperature drops noticeably, and I'm frequently zipping and unzipping my jersey to regulate my temp as I climb in and out of the shadows, wind, and sun.

I continue to climb, the occasional light grade or dip in the road allowing me to turn the big ring over and stretch my back and legs.  I frequently look behind me waiting for that pack of climbers I know lurks below me to come into sight.  The road is quiet save the occasional car that passes and the rhythmic sounds of my bike and breathing.

Mile 14 ticks by and I realize I'm over half way up this climb.  Owen once again comes by and asks if I need anything.  I'm running a bit low on water so we meet up at the next lookout point where I stop for a minute to tank up.  Only Deanna is ahead of me, about 5 minutes up the road.  I'd love to catch her, but know that isn't likely.  My only goal now is to delay the catch from behind as long as I can.

I set out once again, working hard to keep the speed and wattage constant and my heart-rate at or below 160BPM.  Mile 16 and Owen comes by once again.  I ask for my vest, its getting chilly and I've been riding past snow for the last few miles.  I find out we are going just beyond Palisades.  A information sign coincidentally shows up and I see that's only 6 miles ahead.   About 40 more minutes at my current pace. I get an update on Traci.  She's riding with Tina and moving along steadily.

17 and 18 roll by and the occasional steeper sections pop up a bit more frequently.  I actually get confused for a moment as I thought the previous mile post said 18 when I approached the one that actually said 18.  Crap.

Owen swings by for the last time as he's getting ready to stage at the top.   He says I look strong and I tell him I'm feeling pretty good.  I hold up three fingers and ask about the mileage.  He nods and drives up around the next bend. 

I try to increase my pace a bit, wanting to finish strong.  Unfortunately I'm someplace between 7000 and 8000 feet above sea level and have been climbing for the better part of two hours.  The body complains and the heart rate climbs quickly.  I settle back into the pace my body has run faithfully at and promise only to push it if I see the climbers approaching behind me.  I may get caught, but if I do, I'll have something in the tank to hit them with!

19 rolls by, then 20.  I pass the 8000 ft elevation sign and see notifications of the Palisades campground ahead.  I nervously look over my shoulder for the climbers that aren't there.  I keep expecting the hungry pack lurking just out of sight waiting to pounce like a pack of hungry wolves.  Or maybe a herd of Javelina?  I'm sure we probably smell pretty bad by now.

I roll through the turnoffs for the campground, keeping an eye out for the support van and Owen.  About a quarter mile later I come around a corner and see the crown of the road.  Owen and Deanna are there cheering, and I've got a big dumb dazed grin on my face.

20.8 miles in 2hr8m.  I averaged about 240w for the duration of the climb, and about 10.5 mph.  Burning close to 1500 calories during that time.  I'm the first PV guy to summit today, and I'm feeling pretty good about that, even though I know in the back of my head the other stopped a bunch.  Have to take those little victories where you can!

I get some fuel, check my blood sugar, and put on my warm clothes.  About 15 minutes later Deanna and I start rolling down hill together.  As we pass the Palisades we see the first of the rest of the group and cheer them on.  In groups of one and two they come into view, and I keep hoping to see those bright red shorts come into view.  About 5 minutes after I start the descent, and 2.5 miles down I round a corner and see my beautiful wife.

I slow and double back to ride with her for a few moments.  She's laboring, but determined to get to the top.  "How much farther is it?" she asks.  I lie and say another mile and a half.  She lets me know she's going to ride down with the van.  I tell her I'm proud of her and that I love her and turn my bike back down hill.

I ride hard for the next few minutes and catch up to Deanna.  We spend the next 40 minutes or so going down hill, taking our time.  I'm freezing by the time I hit the base and my neck and arms are screaming. 

We roll into the coffee shop regroup point and grab a snack. A short time later more people roll in in small groups.  There are smiles all around.  Mount Lemon has been squeezed.

We've got about 20 miles to ride back home and the pace is easy.  We end up with a bit over 80 miles and 5 hours of saddle time on this day.  An ice bath, massage, and big dinner cap of the evening.

I'm pretty sure I said more than once that I liked the climb more than the descent that evening.  There isn't anything like that that I've done before.  I wrote last year about redefining epic, and I certainly feel this ride qualified.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Tucson Day 2


Forgive my delay.  Well I doubt there really is anything to forgive, we traveled yesterday and most of the world was watching a football game or doing something that involved not watching a football game.  We were traveling most of the day, and got home late last night.  Was happy to sleep in my own bed for the first time in week.

Anyway, back to Tucson!

A bright yellow thing showed up in the sky early Thursday morning.  I vaguely remember slathering stuff on my skin last year to protect myself from it, so that was the ritual to start out the day.

We rode from TCH to a location called Gates Pass, which was basically a notch in a Mnt range south west of Tucson.  It's a pretty regular place for cyclists to head as its the gateway to the Western part of Saguaro National forest. 

The ride out had us go through a good part of Tucson proper, which wasn't a lot of fun, but it did allow us to get in miles in the sun.  Spirits were high as the temperatures allowed us to shed the vests about 40 minutes into the ride.  A quick stop to change a flat tire and we hit a section of rollers below the run up to Gates Pass. 

The eastern approach to Gates Pass is about 2.5 to 3 miles long.  It's a steady climb with a few places that kicks up into a grade that makes you get out of the seat.  I knew we had a lot of climbing the next few days so I was content to ride at my pace up the hill and watch the ultra light climbers run away from me.

Owen was at the top taking some great photos of everyone, and even managed to catch me smiling as I hit the summit.   I had about 3 seconds to zip my jersey and check out the view before the road made a 90 degree left turn and dropped like a stone down the other side.  Beautiful flat pavement with long sweeping turns and full visibility greeted me with open arms and it wasn't long before I found myself catching up to a truck that had passed me about a minute before I hit the summit.  The drive waved me around on a straight-away and I yelled out my thanks as I tucked out of his draft and rocketed passed him.

The downhill gently transitioned into a long set of rollers, and I wasn't really sure where we regrouping so I eased up.  About 5 minutes later I hit the stop sign at the end of the road and the lead climbers were there.

We regrouped and rolled out to the national forest area and the promise of some great roads to ride on.  We heard the story of the wolf man, a legendary figure that is often seen riding around the Gates Pass area (not to be confused with the Gray Wolf, another Tucson legendary rider), in nothing more than cut off jean shorts and a hairy back.

We hit another long section of power rollers and the group splits as the pace picks up, favoring the power riders.  We play cat and mouse for a few miles before we make a turn on to "Mile Wide Road", a straight and an arrow road with a slight down hill.  A few of us sat up and relaxed before getting countered by Gregg with Dave in tow. 

Not being one to let a sprinter go unchallenged, I took off in pursuit with Jeremy, Paul, and Deanna chasing behind me.  Just as we caught Gregg who had sat up the tell-tale "fssssssssssst" of a flat came from behind me.  Everyone, except Dave, sat up to see who was the lucky victim.  Paul drew the lucky straw this time and Jeremy stopped with him, as the rest of us soft pedaled along for a minute.

By now Dave was a good 200m up the road and ride along without the acknowledgement that anything happened behind him.  "What do you think, 1-2 minute effort?" I asked Gregg.  He pondered a moment and said "yeah, looks about right."  He jumped on my wheel and Deanna on his and I set off after Dave. 

About 30 seconds later a car passed us, which would have been fairly un-noteworthy in most instances.  I glanced down at my Powertap to check our speed, 35mph and holding steady.  Looking back up the road the car lock up all 4 wheels and smoke pouring from the sides of the car.

"Holy Shit!" was all I could get out.  I didn't see Dave.  Gregg and I immediately started sprinting towards where we expected the worst.  As we approached the rear of the car, we saw Dave picking himself and his bike up and limping to the side of the road.  His entire side was ripped up from skidding across the ground, but he didn't look like he had gotten hit.

The lady in the car pulled to the side of the road, along with a City of Tucson truck that had been coming the other direction.  Gregg immediately started checking on Dave while I talked with the motorists who had stopped at the scene.  Cell phones came out and offers of help came from all the by standers. 

"What happened?" I asked the lady in the car.

"He fell over in the middle of the road in front of me, he just lost control of his bike and crashed."

I thanked her for her attentiveness.  She offered the use of her house, a half mile down the road.  Owen arrived on scene and the rest of the riders caught up. Dave stiffly walked over to the bed of the truck and sat down.  It was a bit of a surreal scene.  From best we could piece together from Dave and the guys in the truck, Dave tried to look behind him over his left shoulder, turned his bars sharply and lost control of his bike and crashed.

The sheer luck of the situation was not lost on most of us, but apparently it was on Dave.

Owen took Dave and Deanna to the local hospital while the rest of us finished the ride, our spirits fairly subdued. 

We finished our loop and made our way to the western climb up Gates Pass.  The descent down the other side was long and fun and the rollers heading home were mostly down hill.  Gregg and I took large pulls at the front of the line into the winds with the remainder of the group sitting safely in behind us.  Russell yelled out "Big Meat at the front!"

Gregg had a new nickname.  We christened it with bacon buffalo burgers that night at the house.  Tina arrived at the house, and Dave returned to the house later that evening, battered, bruised, but remarkable in good condition for what had happened or could have potentially happened.  The day ended on a happy note, and Lemons were in our future.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tucson Day 1


We woke up to mostly overcast skies.  I donned the long sleeve jersey, knee warmers, vest, and shoe covers, and packed my second windbreaker in the support car.  We knew this day was going to be hit or miss on the weather, and we all prepped for the worst.

We rolled out at 10 and headed east to Saguaro National Forest East.  The trip there was filled with rolling hills.  My legs felt very thick the first 10 minutes, so I gradually moved to the front and stayed there for the next 45 minutes.  Eventually the steady pace worked out the kinks of travel and a restless nights sleep.  Traci, Gregg, and Paul along with myself made up the contingent from PV that made the jaunt down to The Cycling House this year, along with our coach Russell Cree from Upper Echelon.  It’s great riding with familiar steady wheels in unfamiliar territory. 

We hit the first climb of the day and Paul and RC fly away with Jeremy, a super-strong Mountain Biker from NYC in close pursuit.  These three will end up trading blows for the remainder of the trip.

The first climb separates the campers into two groups, with Gregg, Paul, RC, Jeremy and I joined by two Canadian triathletes, Deanna, and Dave.  We ride a quick tempo up the hills for the next 10 minutes, no one wanting to expend a ton of energy on day one or really knowing how strong the others are.  Salvo the snowbird makes a short appearance as he’s finishing up his ride.  He looks fast and lean.  We say our goodbyes as we approach the entrance to the park, knowing we’ll see him in a few days.

It starts raining.

Owen is there with the support van and rain capes get donned.  We break into small groups of 4 so gain passage into the park, then amass a short distance down the road.  The park is a one way loop of about 8 miles, filled with twists turns and short punchy rollers and one sustained climb on the backside.  A rollercoaster track for bikes, lined with all sorts of nasty cacti waiting to eat you alive if you overshoot a corner.  I curse the weather for being what it was that day.

We ride hard to get warmed back up, road spray flying from the bikes and wind blow rain pelting us.  At least its 60.  We hit the base of the climb and we are sheltered from the wind.  The rain feels far less, and even non-existent in some places. 

Cree, Jeremy, and Formiller along with one of the TCH riders Brendan spread their wings and fly up the incline.  I stay with them a short bit before I settle myself into a tempo climb. We’ve got a lot of climbing over the next few days and I know I can’t burn myself out.

Deanna catches me about half way up the climb, and the two of us ride the rest of the climb together.  She’s a solid rider with great engine for going uphill, which she’ll prove numerous times over the next few days.

We hit the regroup point and decide to do another lap.  Paul, Jeremy, Brendan, Deanna and I head out a second time, pushing things a bit faster during the first section to get out of the rain.  At the base of the climb Jeremy and Brendan take off with Deanna in hot pursuit.  Paul and I decide to ride mellow to the top then hammer the rollers to catch back on to the trio out front, catching them right at the regroup.

The ride home is evil.  Rain fails steadily and our progress is slowed by standing water in the bike lane in many areas and Dave’s cramping legs.

We finally get home where hot showers and hot food is waiting for us.  I treat myself to a massage and a glass of wine. 

Tomorrow we climb.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tucson Day 0.5


I’m snowbirding… even if it’s only a week.  We got into Tucson on Tuesday afternoon, flight landed at 3:35 local time.  Owen from The Cycling House picked us up and got us to home base by 4:45.   A quick sandwich and kit change, and we are on our bikes by 5:15.  We only have time for a short spin due to the rapidly approaching darkness, but it was good to stretch our legs.

The first thing I notice, after the nasty cacti wanting to impale my body and bike if I happen to drift off the road, is the elevation.  Base camp for us is at ~2200 ft, which is 2000 ft higher than home.  Every small roller has me breathing harder than I anticipate.

Dinner is ready shortly after we get home.  Three different types of grilled salmon, all delicious.  After dinner we have a quick pow-wow to set the schedule for the next day.  Forecast calls for rain.