Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things That Make Me Feel Like an Athlete (Accidental or Otherwise)

Riding this downhill repeatedly with no brakes every time I'm at Burchfield (I know it doesn't look scary in the picture. It doesn't even look scary in person, but for some reason, it terrifies me, so I make myself ride it over and over)
Being on a team

Riding in the winter

Cresting the top of a hill I was sure I couldn't ride (Not that I rode this one. This is just an example.)
Endorphins Crossing the finish line

Monday, June 22, 2009


They'll be coming any minute now

Too fast to focus

The beginning of the first killer hill

It keeps going ...
And going
The view from the top

Our friend Frank (on the left) with a random racer at the top of the killer hill

Little aid station in the woods (I know it looks like that guy's peeing, but I assure you, he's not.)
Can it be? Yes, it really is! Live and in person, Ali B. We finally meet.

Chris chillin' and guarding the kegs
Riding (part of) the course the next day

Another fun weekend of Lumberjack festivities is over. We'll definitely be back again next year.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Saturday With the Stars

Tomorrow after work we head to lovely Udell, Michigan in the heart of the Manistee National Forest. The Lumberjack 100 is Michigan's contribution to the National Ultra Endurance Race Series. It's also run by Mr. Kisscross, Rick Plite, so you know it's a good one.

At Lumberjack, elite mountain bike racers challenge themselves with four, 25-mile laps of killer singletrack. Lumberjack is unique in the series, with 99% singletrack. The other races incorporate fire roads and two track.

Anyone can pay their money and try their hand at Lumberjack, not everyone finishes. I was amazed last year at the sheer number of people who race just to see how much of the race they can complete. It is my dream that one of these days I will be able to test my mettle at Lumberjack to see how much of it I can ride before collapsing in a sobbing heap on the side of the trail. I had hoped that might be next year, but judging from the way my endurance season began, I'd say the outlook for this looks bleak. Maybe my turn will come in 2011.

At any rate, for this weekend we will be mere spectators. We're working the aid station from 1 - 3 p.m. Last year, we worked the very last shift, and I am interested to see how the attitude of the racers differs. Last year, they were sometimes dillusioned, disoriented and completely spent. They were also grateful for a chance to stop and get some refreshment. This year, they’ll likely be fresher and have more energy. Maybe many of them won’t even stop.

Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the experience.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Don't I Do This Every Monday?

I almost didn't go on Danielle's ride tonight, even though I've been planning to for weeks. I've been whining for two days about how much I hurt after the Cannonsburg race and it seemed like a good excuse. That would have been a big mistake, big, huge (name that movie)!

It turned out to be a great night for a ride and it was one of those rides that really drives home to me why I love riding. I felt great the entire time I was out there and I wasn't hurting at all. I was a bit afraid about keeping up with the rest of the group, but I did fine. There was a stream crossing I didn't ride that I feel a bit ashamed about, but other than that I pretty much rode everything.

It was also nice to spend some time talking to Danielle and asking her questions. She had a lot of great advice for how to ride things and I learned a lot. Even though it's a bit far to go on a Monday, I'm going to try to make as many of these rides as I can. It's not often I get to ride with a group and I really enjoyed it.

BTW, if that photo isn't a good motivation to lose weight, I don't know what is. Not only did I wear the Fat Cyclist jersey, I downright personified it. It's definitely time to get back to work and take care of this problem.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

4 Hours of Cannonsburg

I couldn't believe it when I woke up yesterday and it was raining again. Seriously, it has been rainy and wet at every race I've done this year (except the winter ones, of course). I was not really in the mood to ride for eight hours in the rain, but there was no way I wasn't going.

Since I went off my winter training schedule, my riding has been more sporadic than I would like it to be. I definitely wasn't prepared for this race like I should have been. As the pack pulled away from me at the starting line, I struggled to keep my legs, which felt like lead, turning. The first hill, which is really more like a gentle slope, felt worse than anything I had ridden at Yankee or Poto. My goal of doing 10 laps began to look like a serious pipe dream.

At the top of the hill I decided to pull over and regroup. I know I'm not in great riding shape, but I am in good riding shape. I also knew that because there were only three women riding solo, I was guaranteed a podium spot as long as I could complete a lap. I decided what I always end up deciding in races, that I will do the best I can, not worry about where everyone else is and just try to have a good race. Then I put Sugarland on my MP3 player for company and started riding again.

My first lap was painfully slow. I was at least a half an hour into it before I really started to feel warmed up. I'm beginning to question the whole idea that you don't need to warm up if you're doing a race that's more than an hour long. It makes sense, but I think I'm just one of those people who takes a really long time to get warmed up and it may not be a good plan for me.

The first lap ended up taking me 54 minutes to complete. I could probably have walked it in that amount of time. I did end up walking three uphills, as well as walking around a log pile that seemed really high. I promised myself I would ride it on at least one of the laps. At this point, I also had a serious case of the curse of the Camelbak, which is a syndrome I get when riding with my Camelbak during a race causes my shoulders to hurt.

I stopped long enough at the pit area to take off my jacket, get rid of my Camelbak and wish I had two water bottle cages on my bike. For now I would have to alternate a bottle of water with a bottle of Heed every lap. (I was drinking the Heed that tastes like bubble gum and thinking I knew the flavor wasn't really bubble gum. When I got home and looked at the container, it said "Mandarin Orange." WTF?)

My second lap was much faster. I felt better overall and I was beginning to really like the course. The most fun thing about the whole course, in my opinion, is that near the end there are all these berms. I've always been scared of berms, but as I gained confidence I was flying through them. There are four of them right in a row and I was having a blast.

I only walked one hill, which I didn't I'd ever be able to ride, although I did see one person doing it. The only thing that was mildly demoralizing was when I got lapped near the end. But when I emerged from the woods, I found some blue sky had emerged too, and the weather would continue to get better as the day wore on.

I stopped for 10 minutes at the pit to eat something and fill up my water bottle before starting the third lap. Suddenly, I felt out of power again, but I plugged up the hill and it got better. Unfortunately, about half way through I got a stitch in my side that didn't want to go away. I stopped for a minute or two, drank some water and started riding again, more slowly. Eventually, I started ramping up my speed again and I was back to full on by the time I hit the berm playground. The stitch was still there, though, and I decided to take another 10 minutes in the pit.

The fourth lap started out okay, but it was to be my undoing. There was a small log pile which dropped off a bit on a downhill. It's exactly the sort of thing I normally avoid. (Ask Anne about my aversion to going over downhill log piles, which she had to beat out of me one day at Burchfield.) However, the first time I saw it, it was too late to avoid it, so I just went over it slowly and it was fine. I rode over it every other time without worry.

On the fourth lap I don't know what went wrong, other than the fact that I was going much faster when I hit it. The next thing I knew I was in the air doing a spectacular endo. My shoes came unclipped and one of them actually flew off my foot and I had to go looking for it.

I got up, dusted myself off and rode a bit cautiously for a while. Then, just when I started getting my confidence back, I crashed again. This time, similarly, I don't know what happened. I wasn't going that fast, and hurt a lot more than it seemed like it should have. Before I finished the lap, my bike started acting up when I was shifting and I dropped my chain 5 times.

I sat around in the sun in my pit area for more than a half an hour, trying to get myself motivated to go back out there, but I just couldn't do it. I felt like I had been steamrolled (and I felt even worse when I woke up this morning). As I drove back home, I felt really crappy about quitting. I know it doesn't really count as a DNF, but it sure feels like it. On the bright side, at least I shouldn't have any trouble beating this performance next year.

Next up: Regrouping

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Another Race Day

After skipping Ft. Custer to go to Key West and 6 Hours of Addison Oaks getting cancelled, it seemed like forever between Yankee Springs and the Hanson Hills race last week. Now it's time for another race and it hasn't even been a week.

Today I'll race 8 Hours of Cannonsburg. I'm pretty nervous, which explains why I woke up well before the alarm went off and was unable to get back to sleep. My nervousness is probably understandable, considering I never even ridden this course, let alone raced on it. It will also be my longest race ever. I know it's not long compared to the races this racer is doing, but it's only my second foray into the endurance scene. My goal is to do 10 laps. Last year I did 8 at 6 Hours of Ithaca, so 10 shouldn't be a stretch for this race as long as I don't burn myself out too early. I am supposed to be faster this year, after all, even if that wasn't apparent at Hanson Hills. Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bitter Disappointment: Hanson Hills Race Report

I should have known I was setting myself up for disappointment at Hanson Hills. The thing is, I am so slow that the only way I can feel good about my season and all the training I did over the winter is if I don't worry about anyone else. I can't compare myself to other racers because if I do I start wondering why I even race at all.

The only way I can keep myself from feeling discouraged is to only race against myself, meaning that I have to see some progress from last year. Even though I didn't place well at Yankee, I was happy about how much I improved my time from last year. So, here's the problem. Last year I had an uncharacteristically good race at Hanson Hills. I got first place in my age group in a field of three girls. Granted, I only beat my teammate Sheila because she was being tended to by paramedics when I passed her, but even so, it was a great race for me.

This year's race got off to an inauspicious start. To begin with it was ridiculously, unseasonably chilly and wet. I was underdressed since I didn't bother to check the weather forecast before we left for the weekend and all I brought to wear was bike shorts—no knickers or tights.

I was also worried because there were five in the beginner women 30+ class and I knew they were all going to beat me. They left me in the dust fairly quickly (even the one who was whining to me beforehand about how it was her first race, she was slow, everyone was going to be so far ahead of her, etc.). Someone told me that the course was different than last year, so I didn't even think I could shoot for a better time.

I snapped myself out of my funk by setting a goal for myself—no walking anything on the course. I know this seems like it's not that much of a challenge, but I had walked quite a bit during my pre-ride.

Not only did I ride everything, I was having a good race all around. I discovered that the course seemed to be the same, so I began to pay attention to the time I was logging. I felt pretty fast (relatively speaking) and estimated I would be able to significantly beat last year's time. I even passed some people walking up hills. What's more, despite the dampness and the cold temperatures, I was having a great time. I was feeling better and having more fun than I have had in any mountain bike race, with the possible exception of 6 Hours of Ithaca last year.

What I didn't anticipate was that, due to my inexperience with the trail and the fact that my computer doesn't work, I was much farther from the finish line than I thought I was. I ended up taking only about a minute off my time from last year (and I did come in last). Even though I know I had an exceptional race last year, it's still depressing to go from first to last when I'm supposed to be so much better this year.

Oh well, better luck next time.

Next up: What I've got on tap for this weekend

Here's What I Do For An Encore

To add insult to injury after my disastrous ride at Poto, I somehow forgot to pack my front wheel in my vehicle. It wasn't lost for long, though, because I found it immediately when I began backing up. Luckily, only the skewer and the hub had to be replaced. But, it's after days like this that I really start to wonder if I'm slipping into some type of premature dementia.

Next up: Hanson Hills Race Report, at long last

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Random Weekend Photos

I was wondering the other day why Ali's blog is so cool and fun to read and mine is so booooooring. Here's what I came up with:
  1. Ali puts a lot more pictures on her blog.
  2. Ali is more creative and sparse with her verbiage, rather than writing long, rambling diatribes like me.
  3. Ali lives up North and has more interesting things of which to write about and take pictures.

Chances are, I will still write rambling diatribes, but I thought every once in a while I could post some up North pictures and it would help. So here they are, fresh from our weekend:

Random lake on Weaver Rd. (the road our cabin is on)
Where Weaver Rd. turns to gravel

Looking to the right while crossing Island Lake Rd.

Pastoral vista near the end of Weaver Rd.

Here's where I left my bike while taking pictures of the pastoral vista

Pine-y goodness on Weaver Rd.

Maddy girl relaxing near the cabin

Gretchen looking very interested in something

That's why those waders were so heavy!

That squirrel is going to be pissed when he can't find his stash!

The boys preparing to leave to fish on the lovely Au Sable

The End

Next Up: What I Didn't Tell You About My Poto Trip

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And Then It Happened Again, Part 2

When we last left our unlucky heroine, she had made an unfortunate trail choice at Poto.

Things just didn't look right, but for some reason, I was reluctant to admit defeat and turn around. I think it was because I didn't want to believe I had wasted as much time as I did. Finally, I came to a place where the trail crossed the road. When it started up again on the other side, I noticed there was a sign indicating that bikes were prohibited. I turned around and noticed the same sign on the section of trail I just left. I was clearly on the wrong trail. I turned around and hoped I could find the way back.

By the time I got back to the correct trail, I had wasted more than an hour. I was torn. There were two trails left to choose. I started up the middle trail only to have it peter out at the top of the hill. Feeling frustrated and deflated, I headed back to the intersection. As soon as I got back, I wanted to kick myself. When I looked at the trail that went to the right, it was obvious that was the right way to go. The trail had a natural flow to the right and there were all kinds of tire tracks to follow. What was I thinking?

I had trouble enjoying the rest of the ride because I was so worried about how late I was going to be and how my teammates would have to wait for me. I ended up taking a shortcut at the end and cutting a few miles off the trail because I had been gone so long, although I'm not sure I ended up with any less mileage, considering the extra trail I rode.

When I finally reached the parking lot, my teammates were nowhere in sight, but their vehicles were still sitting there. I sat down to wait for them. As it turns out, Pat and Jake were able to ride Poto twice in about the amount of time it took me to do it once. They arrived about five minutes after I did. Nichole had actually been waiting for me at the end of the trail, but I missed her since I took the shortcut.

Luckily my teammates were very understanding about the whole thing, but I still felt pretty dumb. But, hey, at least I didn't crash and my next trip to Poto is bound to be better.

Next up: Random weekend photos

Friday, June 5, 2009

And Then It Happened Again

Last weekend I decided to ride Poto. I thought it was about time I did, since it's supposed to be "the" mountain bike trail in Michigan and no one seems to take you seriously if you haven't ridden it. Besides, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and to prove to myself I could do it. I sent an e-mail to my teammates, judging that after the Hanson Hills experience it was probably not a good idea to ride by myself on a unfamiliar trail. As it turns out, a few of them were already planning a trip to Poto that day.

Saturday started out okay. I was planning to hang out with my brother, nephew and mom later at my parents' house in Jackson. I went down a bit early and dropped the puppy girls off with my mom, since they have a fenced yard and I wanted them to get some exercise. I had gotten a text from Jake earlier that morning that we were meeting at 8 at Best Buy in Jackson to car pool out to the trail. I was running a bit late, but luckily my mom is the type of person who just swoops in and takes care of everything. I did a hand off at the door and she fed the puppies and got them settled and put away the food I had brought for dinner while I headed over to meet my team.

I was a bit apprehensive before we started, but I was also excited. On the way there, Nichole told me in passing about some steps at the beginning of the trail. I thought I would have to walk up them, but when I got to the first hill, I realized I was supposed to ride over these steps, which were more like landscape timbers. Yikes!

Needless to say, I walked the first hill and many more after it. The hills were big, but that wasn't what made them so hard. Poto was by far the most technical trail I have ever ridden. The number of obstacles in the uphills, combined with the fact that I was crawling up them, meant that invariably I ran into a rock or a big root and had to get off my bike due to a complete loss of momentum. I fell over a lot.

My teammates knew I had never been there and they were great about waiting for me at every intersection. I started to feel guilty about it, though, not wanting them to have to wait for me all the time. When we parted ways, they left me with the instructions to "go left wherever there was an intersection." That seemed easy enough.

Up to this point I was having a good ride. I was walking a lot, but I was still riding quite a bit, too. The trail was hard, but it wasn't impossible. And that was when I made my first mistake.

The trail split in three directions—left, straight and curving off to the right. To the left was a huge drop. It seem like something that should be ridden, but then again, I thought that about a lot of things that other people rode. The middle trail went practically straight up, but other than that, it didn't look like it went much of anywhere. The trail to the right I didn't pay much attention to, of course, because I was supposed to go to the left.

After much standing around waffling, I finally took the trail on the left. I hadn't gone too far before there were other intersections where I was again unsure of what to do. The trail didn't seem much like a mountain bike trail and I started to get worried.

To be continued, since this post is already way too long

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bad Luck or Bad Judgment?

It seems like a lot of bad stuff has been happening lately. Some of it has been my fault. It started on Memorial Day at Hanson Hills. I really meant to check out some information online before pre-riding the race course. I knew there were a couple of places along the trail where I would have to make a decision about which way to go. Since I'd only been on the trail twice before and both of those rides were about a year ago, I knew I wouldn't remember which way I was supposed to go.

But things got hectic before we left to go up North and I never did figure out where I was supposed to go. I figured I'd have to play it by ear when I got to the trail. The next bad decision I made was not eating enough. I had eaten breakfast at the cabin while I was waiting for Chris to wake up, but by the time we got to Hanson Hills it was after 1 p.m. Not only did I neglect to eat lunch, I didn't take any food with me on the ride. Needless to say, I was starving.

As it turned out, there was a new loop which I eventually decided to follow. In the past I really enjoyed Hanson, but that day I wasn't having much fun. The new trail didn't seem to flow very well and it was ridiculously rough. I was feeling beaten and battered early in the ride.

At a certain point the trail dumped out onto some sandy two-track. It was so sandy, in fact, that pretty soon I couldn't ride at all, so I ended up pushing my bike. Presumably, the singletrack started up again somewhere, but I sure couldn't find where. I ended up going back and forth on the two-track for at least an hour.

When I finally found the trail again, I wasn't convinced it was the right one. I was completely disoriented at this point and didn't even think I was going in the right direction. Eventually, I made my way back to the parking lot where Chris was waiting with the puppies, ready to call out a search party. I had been gone more than three hours.

Oh and one more thing. As Chris was helping me load my bike in the car, he noticed my tires had a ridiculous amount of air in them—about 60 psi. I pumped them way up for my road ride and forgot to let air out of them. I guess that new trail wasn't as rough as I thought.

Next up: the Poto disaster