Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Race Report:

They called this one the "Independence Valley" road race. I know one is fooling oneself to think that rain might be avoided while racing in the Seattle area, but today was -really- wet. I woke up, threw my race wheels on my bike (such as they are,) made coffee, and stepped out on the porch. When I noticed the deluge, I thought, screw this, and put my training wheels back on. Ksyrium Equipes, plus Michelin Carbons, heavy tubes, and tire liners. I briefly considered bagging the whole thing, because I am a whiner, but then I yelled at myself for whining and suited up.

The race was in Rochester, Washington, about halfway between Seattle and Portland, and the Oregon calendar had a big goose egg for the week, so there was a pretty solid mix of OR and WA talent present at the rainy start. As a plus, it wasn't even that cold. I saw some folks kitting up like it was a blizzard or something, but I rocked shorts, knee warmers, a jersey, and arm warmers. C'mon, guys, it's 50 degrees out. A few people suggested that maybe the reason I showed up was because there were hills in the race, but they were more like speed bumps. Each one had about 250 feet of gain, and since they're at mile 2 and mile 11 of the 20-mile loop, it's not as though they would be the decisive factor in the race. A few teams had brought half a dozen soldiers to the fray, but for the blue and white it was only Yours Truly, a striking contrast to the armada that clogged up the field for me last week. C'est la vie. I mused about this with Speedy Young and Curly at the start, and then suddenly he realized he had a flat and rushed around to change it before we rolled out.

On to it: we're rolling along at a pretty slow pace, and a few people are jawing about in the peloton about needing to "take pulls" or "go faster," which I will never understand why Cat 3's feel the need to do. If you are not attacking, and there is no one off the front, who the heck cares how fast the group goes around and around? But I guess some guys feel like it isn't racing if we're just puttering around, but don't actually want to attack because that would mean a bunch of work, or something. I don't know. When we got to the first climb I pushed the pace a little bit, decided my legs felt like crap, and then looked behind me to realize I was kinda alone, so I just rolled down the descent and tried to get an idea of where people would start crashing when the pace lit up. I heard the Crash 5's lived up to their name earlier.

Second climb, same kind of a deal: just keep it in the big ring, ride tempo, and kinda sorta drop the field. I don't REALLY want to drop the field and solo around for the whole lap and blow up, but it would be nice to soften some people up going uphill and maybe some people will get the message and get a break going. No one does just yet. Over the next lap, there are some more little moves, and I find myself being pretty active at the front, which I am okay with. I'm not going to be a super chump and never get on the front, just because I have no team, either. I AM here to get a workout, at least! Nothing goes anywhere, really, a few little gaps open up here or there. On the last climb of the second lap, I have a glance back and it looks like the field has thinned out a good bit. The weather, and the surging around, might've had something to do with it, I'm not really sure because going down the other side people decide it is a great time to crash.

So, wet chip seal doesn't have a lot of traction, y'know? Someone a couple of wheels up figures this out and crashes, the guy behind him stacks into him, and I run it into the dirt to avoid them. That's the idea the guy behind me has, too, only without so much of the braking, and he runs into me from behind. I just sorta clumsily put a foot down, end up halfway on my side, and have to hike a few steps out of the ditch and play Dorothy with my Speedplay cleats to get the mud out. Right, then, attack from the back! I mean, chase time.

It takes about two matches but I catch back on. A guy at the back waves me by, and says he's glad I got back. Well, he reconsiders, I mean he's not glad for HIM, but he is, you know? I don' t see the lead car, so I ask about the situation, and find out three guys are up the road. Someone is saying something else to me but I decide I've got to get back up to the front. As I'm working my way through the pack, I see someone else jump, and he's moving away pretty well. I'm still pretty cooked, so I try to get a chase going on, but all people do is half a turn and squabble around a bit. Whatever. Time to attack.

That hurts a bunch, and I'm kinda hoping I'll get a bridge group will get together, but it's just me and one other guy, and then it's just me. I get to the little hill which is actually kind of steep, and make sure I stay well within my limits going up it -- I'm starting to learn about how my gas tank works, and it's pretty low. There is a blur of pain for a while, but I remember seeing the lights of the lead car in the distance, and I remember blowing by 2 of the previous 3 guys that were up the road, who had basically given up the ghost as the guy who attacked just after I got on passed them. There's still one more guy up the road, in the pale blue, yellow, and white of one of the other large teams in the area. I catch up to him in another K or so, and at this point I'm on full gas. As I pass him I realize that this guy is Tony, and he was in the break with me in my first race. He looks over and laughs. "Oh, great, you again!"

"Yeah, unfortunately," I manage, "hop on." Tony says he's pretty cooked, and is mostly going to have to sit on. Well, okay then. We're at about, what, 10K to go? 15? I just keep going. I don't look behind me, because that would be information that I don't want to know. Tony takes about 2 pulls for 15 seconds, to take a bit of pressure off, and I ask him how big the gap is.

"Uh. Not ... very big." Crap. I drape my hands on either side of the stem, pseudo-aerobar style, and hammer, hammer, hammer. I upshift, and hammer, hammer, hammer. It hurts, I can feel myself starting to rock all over my bike, and honestly I don't think I'm going to make it but there's nothing to save for at this point. When I FINALLY get to the last corner, I know the 1K to go sign is coming up soon, and I throw one quick glance under the elbow. At that point, I think, I just might make it. Maybe. I also see Tony's been popped off. That last K is a big cave of pain, but at the 200 to go sign I manage a full look behind me and notice I've actually got a pretty solid gap.

I think someone thought "200 to go" means "100 to go" based upon where the sign was, but, in any case I feel reasonably satisfied with 2nd considering what had happened, though of course I wish I'd been at the front to go with the winning move when it had gone down.

And that's a wrap.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The System Is Down:

Just a quick note to say -- my phone was stolen a few nights ago, I got a new one, so I am new longer incommunicado, but my Comcast is ALSO down, so I am only sporadically able to use e-mail. That should be fixed tomorrow, and I can get back to rambling...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

What can you say about a race where you're in so many different breaks, you can't really recall which was which and how it all went down? I'll do the best I can here.

Today was the third and final installment of the Mason Lake road race series, which are Washington's first road races of the season. It's a 20 km flattish loop around the race's eponymous lake, with my group doing 5 laps of it. It's sort of an odd series, as I'm finding out. In one sense, no one REALLY cares, since it is a "racing for racing's sake" early season tune-up race, but in another sense everyone has been pedalling circles in the pouring rain all g.d. winter, and is pretty excited just to get their legs RACING again, so it's more competitive than you might think.

It's forty-seven degrees, gray, and drizzly. Hello, Pacific Northwest March! The race rolls out pretty easily, and one thing I notice is that there looks to be more of my teammates in the race than any other team. I'm happy about this, because the course itself isn't challenge enough to make a selection -- it'll all be up to the riders. Early in the first lap, a couple of solo flyers take off the front and get quickly pulled back, and then I notice one more attack that's immediately marked by a teammate of mine. I can jump across without dragging the field with me, so, I do. We of us rotate a few turns through, but the gap doesn't really grow. I go hard for a few moments, but this is mostly to jump-start the legs, convince 'em that there's hard work to be done. Caught in a couple k.

Back in the pack, I continually remind myself to stay in the first dozen riders or so, when one of my teammates doesn't really attack, but just rolls off the front. Scotty does this every g.d. group ride, too. (Yes guys, people call him "scotty," it's hard not to think of him as scotty2hotty. But he doesn't spend $2500 on coats.) He gets a bit more of a gap than I'd expect, but the pack isn't really too excited on the first lap, and another rider jumps across to join him. I see two more riders jump pretty aggressively, and mark that move. A little expected confusion as the rider in front of me flicks his elbow for me to come through, and I have to decline -- I'm not chasing my teammate down. The two riders with me sort themselves out, get across to Scotty and companion, but a glance over the shoulder shows the field is right on us all. Scotty drops back a hair, the break sits up, and the pack has that bit of confusion that always happens when a move is caught.

It's got to be now, then. I haven't been much of an attacker in the past, and I'm trying to improve on that score. I jump as hard as I can, throwing it in to the pain zone, out of the saddle for a couple hundred meters, click down a gear, put my head down, and dig, counting my pedal revs. One hundred strokes later, I look under my arm and am a bit suprised to see nothing. That wasn't quite what I wanted to happen. Well, I can't sit up now. I settle into time-trial mode and keep kicking the pedals over, turning the slightly bigger gear that seems to be working better for me on this sort of effort lately. Around the next bend I take a longer look over the shoulder and see two riders trying to bridge across, a gap, three more riders, a gap, and I can just make out the head of the field. I hope the chase catches me and that we can make this stick, but I decide I can't just let them catch me; I'm too commited and I want anyone with me to be just as tired as I am.

So I keep pedalling. The lap ends, the finish-line crowd cheers a bit, and I pedal some more. Another 10km down the road, and I think, where the hell IS this chase? Will SOMEONE please bridge up here? But a look over the shoulder shows they've given up, and so I keep it rolling. I can't hold this on my own. Can I?

Finally, towards the end of this third lap, it's clear that I can't. The field is only ten seconds behind me at this point, but I keep my head down and hope someone will come across. At last, I see two riders motoring on over, and am struck again by the fanciness of Cat 3 bikes. Carbon tubulars? Check. SRMs? Of course! The three of us work together for a few minutes, but number 2 gets dropped in short order. We reel the gap back out to thirty seconds or so, and then get hauled back. I settle back in the pack, and one of my teammates comes up beside me. "Stay on number 360, there, he looks pretty eager." Garth is always observant like that. I nod, move through the pack, and no sooner do I find three-six-zero's wheel then he jumps, HARD. I mean, this guy is hauling, embrocation gleaming on his massive calves. I'm in the red staying with this move, and he keeps his infernal pace for about 500 meters, at which point I somehow have the gas to come through. I pull for thirty seconds or so and flick my elbow, just praying that SOMEONE gets the hint.

Superman comes through again, but this time there are a couple of other riders in tow, and we're all working together at a pretty serious pace. I count the jerseys in the break, and find that out of 6 fairly strong teams, we've got 4 of them represented, and we're hauling. This might be it. After a couple of K we settle in to a hard, but sustainable pace, with 3 of us doing most of the work. I can't pull as hard as superman, but hey, I've been off on my own for a bunch of the race, right?

That doesn't matter now. Time to dig. I have NOT done all this work today just to get caught, and there is no way in hell I'm getting dropped from this break. So I keep taking pulls, somehow. That's the thing that's magic about bike racing, that's why I do it, I think. It makes you learn you are tougher than you thought; you die a thousand deaths out there, you think there is no way you can continue, this is too hard, but you do it anyway. One of the escapees gets dropped from the pace, another can't even come through to do a turn. Then, an unfamiliar jersey comes through the rotation: one more rider has bridged the gap, and he's riding strongly.

As we cross the line for the bell lap, we're told we've got forty-five seconds. That might JUST be enough, with a couple of strong teams policing the front, if we keep it rolling, and thankfully, we do. I'm sort of suprised no one tries to attack out of the break, I don't know if I could go with superman again but I know at least 2 could not. At about 2K to go, I look over my shoulder and think, we're going to make it. By 1K to go I'm sure of it. The last guy across goes early, and I let him fly, then open up what sprint I can manage at 200 to go and beat everyone else. That'll do.

Sunday: Ravensdale. There is even LESS to say about this race, other than this: it's raining a little, muddy a lot. The Cat 4's coming in after their race look like hell -- I mean, these guys are dirtier than 'cross racers. I race around for a couple hours in the mud, mostly just sitting in and having a training day. Most of the field seems to feel the same way, until I see a break of three go up the road with two people on the same team involed. I get to the front, and chuckle when I hear a few folks shouting "hey, hey, watch that First Rate guy, don't let him get away!" I do a big turn at the front, just opening the legs up and reeling the break back, when something feels ... wrong. My bike feels like it's wobbling a bit, the same kind of loss of control that happens with a rear flat. Hrm. It doesn't LOOK flat, but the feeling is unmistakable. I put my hand in the air, let the pack roll past me, and hop off my bike. The service car pulls over too, but I quickly realize that it's not my tire. Hrm again. Maybe my rear brake was rubbing? I re-straighten the brake, open the quick release, remount, and chase. My legs inform me that yesterday was a HARD day, and that I really shouldn't be doing this. Shouldn't you just abandon? Surely there is no shame in that! Yeah, whatever, I tell the legs, stuff it.

I catch back on, but clearly something is still wrong. What could this be? I narrow it down to my left pedal. Is my cleat loose? I unclip, fidget with the cleat a bit. No, not the cleat. Clip back in, pedal a bit more, but it's still the pedal. Is the PEDAL okay? Just as I'm trying to decide what to do about this, I start to get out of my saddle and my crankarm hits me in the calf. Because it has come off of the bike, and is now attached only to my pedal, attached to my foot. Yikes!

I'm not that far from the finish area, at least, and hey, I didn't crash. Day over. Now I am horrendously muddy and have a crankarm in my hand. I just laugh, but if this was the finishing sprint yesterday? Yikes again. That would have been bad.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

An assortment of things:

"In like a Lion" -- I saw this phrase a few places, and I guess I was the only one who hadn't heard that March "comes in like a lion, but goes out like a lamb."

What does THAT mean? Is it a reference to the weather? If so, it has been a WEIRD March of Seattle weather. This whole winter has been bizarre. The Pacific Northwest, fair Cascadia, is known for winters that pound you into submission with their depressing monotony. Okay, that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but still. It almost never snows or stays below freezing during the days. It is almost never sunny. We basically get 3 solid months of 39 to 44 degrees and rain, in some degree.

Last week, on Tuesday, it was 72 -- this is June-weather. The week before that, there was a 45-car pileup at Cayuse pass because of the massive snowstorm. It hit some areas harder than others, but in lotsa Snohomish they got about 6 inches of snow. That's the average annual snowfall in seattle, or nearly. Last week it went back to Seattle "winter" weather, then it got hit on the head by "spring."

Still, people complain about the rain, but I don't understand how people LIVE in places where it never un-freezees from December to March. How is that fun?

Superheroes -- Chris made an observation a while back about cyclists that I thought was funny enough to share, especially because it's so right. I'm paraphrasing here, but he says that we're the athletic equivalent of the 30-year-old dude who lives in his mom's basement and plays online video games all day. Nobody understands what he's doing and he really doesn't have a "life," but he's a superhero in a world that doesn't really exist. How many times have you suffered and died up that one hill, how many long, solitary hours have you pedalled along in the rain, how much antisocial suffering has it been, just for that one day of "glory?" Why the heck do we do this to ourselves?

The Name Game -- So, I've never really had a nickname. For some reason, Area Cyclists are big on it. It makes me laugh when they call fast guys "Mr Boots," and "The Pleasure." I'm sure they all have stories behind them. The Axley guys seem particularly big on this. I nearly spat out my tea when I read about "Darth Tubbs." I don't get it, but I don't know these types. I do know that Chris started calling me "The Spaniard," a couple of weeks ago, and this must've passed on to Kerry, because he called me that last week. Okay, I am not from Spain, and I don't have any distant relatives from Spain, as far as I know. So, what then? Is it because I have a goatee?

Ladies and Crashing -- What is going on with constant crashes in women's fields? Is it because the fields are so much smaller that the fight for the few wheels that are available? Are the women repressing so much aggression that they go all roller-derby in every race? They certainly aren't out of road...

This doesn't help my case when I try to persuade cycling-inclined ladies to come out to race. But, seriously, I mathed out one recent race, and there were 293 men and 42 women.

Okay, then.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Can I take a mulligan?

This weekend was pretty dumb. It's all Mick's fault. Okay not really, but OAD did tell me that I shouldn't attack the crap out of this week's race, so, I didn't. Very much. Apparently the idea is to be fast in July instead of March or something, but I tend to ride on a lot of anger and it just makes me grumpy to sit around in a pack and not do anything. Anyhow all that happened was a bunch of crappy negative racing, since everyone seems to think they're robbie mcsomeone or something. So, every break that I am in gets hauled back in a hurry, but I keep waiting for the counter that never comes. Or, if I attack, chased down again in 2.5 seconds. Very nice. So we got to ride around in circles and get poured on for a few hours to have a Mason Lake bunch sprint, which I have absolutely no interest in screwing around with. I think we've exposed my biggest on-the-bike weakness: fighting my way through a bunch of riders to get to the front, when all of them are determined to Not Ride Very Fast.

Then I crashed, which really didn't do much harm but it made me mad and I WOULD scrape up my face some, so now I get to tell everyone the same 2-line story about 50 times. I hate doing that.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

But I won my first road race of the season, and, ever, on Saturday, which was cool, even if it was only a Cat 3 Mason Lake.

Gotta start somewhere, right?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Pocketful of George:

I have about $30 in US change in my pocket, and it's not very heavy or unwieldy. Yeah, I've just picked up a roll of the first of the new "US Presidents" dollar coins from the bank, which hold 25 of the not-really-properly-named "golden dollars." They're pictured below, alongside one of the abortive Sacajawea golden dollars, and a quarter for size reference. The dollars are a little bigger.

I've been a proponent of the United States joining the rest of the first world and using dollar-value coinage, but we've been pretty stuck in our ways about it. The main thing it's going to take is a change in mindset: for my entire life, "change" has been a Bad Thing, the annoying little bits of metal that are barely worth keeping around. Paper money is "real money." Why bother with a dollar coin? We've tried this before, but an attempt at a modern dollar coin has been met with the same resounding apathy that the Metric system has -- the overal result has been more complication, and LESS efficiency. Come on, I can buy a quart of milk (32 fl. oz), but a liter (~33.8 fl oz.) of soda? Just how much does a kilogram weigh? I don't know, but my aspirin tablet is 200 milligrams.

Right, well, inflation has gotten the best of all of us, and have you tried to use a parking meter lately with coinage? In downtown portland, you can get 5 hours for $6.25, or twenty-five quarters. You could just put a five-spot in there, except, of course, you can't. There's no bill acceptor at all.** Laundry faces a similar double-fistful-of-quarters predicament, as do vending machines. Who hasn't played the "take my goddamn dollar, you piece of crap" game with a bill acceptor? Is this somebody's sick joke?

So, seriously, folks, accept the dollar coin. It's economically efficient, too. According to the good folks at the mint, dollar bills have an average lifespan of about a year and a half. A quick glance at the coinage in my pocket reveals a penny from 1983 and a quarter from 1974, among others. Pretty much every day, I get coins older than I am. Printing, recycling, and distributing all of those ones really does cost the government money, and, at some level, that means it costs you and I and joe taxpayer. Use dollar coins? More money for the war in iraq schools and roads!
If you don't care at all about the aesthetic properties of your coinage -- everybody say, "numismatics!" -- then read no further.

Onto the coin: George, himself looks pretty good on there. Shiny new from the mint, the gold-colored brass top layer looks gold-colored, and the years of his reign Presidency are listed on the bottom of the coin's obverse. I'm a little disappointed about the reverse, however -- it's a solid numismatic design of the Statue of Liberty, projecting through an external ring that reads "United States of America." It also says "$1" in large, clearly legible type. So, now, are we illiterate as well as incapable of math?

Have a look at a quarter -- even the new, 50-state ones. It's "A quarter," not a "25-cent-piece," and the text reads, "quarter dollar." The Sacajawea and Susan B Anthony dollars, as well as older "silver" dollars, all read "One Dollar." I can't think of any US coin that has had a symbol / numeral description of value. It just doesn't feel right.

The coin gets an overall cleaner, modern look from a lack of fine printing on the reverse. Instead, "2007 P," "In God We Trust," and "E Pluribus Unum," are printed onto the edge of the coin. I'm a bit concerned about how this will hold up over those aforementioned 30-plus years. Go find a quarter from the '70's, and look at its edge. You'll see the shiny nickel-heavy cladding has started to rub off from the copper core, leaving a darker ribbon in the middle. If the President dollars do this, the edge lettering will look pretty bad in a few years. But, brass is pretty tough, and it's still mostly a coppery-gold color, so hopefully the effect is marginalized.

Finally, where's the eagle? US coins over a quarter, since like FOREVER, have had a person on the obverse, and an eagle on the reverse. Up until the 50-state program, quarters did, the long-archaic-but-still-minted 50 cent piece does, as well as the Sacajawea dollar and, my personal favorite, the eagle over the moon on the Eisenhower dollar. (It must've been someone else's favorite as well, for this same image appears on the reverse of the Susan B. Anthony dollar). The 50-staters I can forgive, since it is the reverse that is commemorative, and there've been a number of commemorative coins dispensing with the eagle for a time. But the presidential dollars simply put the president on the obverse, where there has been a president on all of our coins for quite some time anyway. And, hey, now we can all know what Grover Cleveland LOOKED like. But I still want my eagle.


**I think that's because the small solar cells that power them couldn't handle the motors and sensors required to manage bills, but I'm not sure. Maybe it also has to do with collection -- right now, the parking guy just sticks a canvas bag in there, punches in his code or key or whatever, and out spit the coinage. Perhaps it'd be more complicated and theft-prone to take bills. Anyone? How does this work in other cities?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Lock n' load.

First 2 races this weekend.

Nah, I'm not gonna take those wheels to Mason Lake. But they LOOK super-fast, eh?