Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bike Accidents

Three weekends in a row. Three different trails. Today's was Fort Custer, which I haven't ridden since the Stampede of '08 (right before the wedding of the century). It seemed like a good idea since the weather was nice, I needed to ride and I would be over on that side of the state anyway.

But first, to Kalamazoo, zoo, zoo, to visit the slightly belated birthday boy, Sebastian. That boy loves legos and playmobil. Our contribution was the playmobil ambulance, complete with an indisposed cyclist lying on a stretcher after a bike accident. It necessitated an impromptu bicycle safety speech from Aunt Andrea.

Oh yeah, and that boy, when questioned about what the theme of his birthday party should be, chose "carbon." Yes, carbon, the element. Of course, this is the same boy who spent his sixth year obsessed with DNA. It's also the same boy who could identify all the planets on sight by the time he was five. Love that quirky boy. Call him strange, but he's a keeper.

Then on to Fort Custer, where I met Dave and Kate. Former Michiganders transplanted in Madison, they were back for Thanksgiving weekend visiting. They borrowed some chain lube from me in the parking lot and then asked me to ride with them. Turns out Dave works for that one bike company that I'm not a big fan of, but I didn't tell him that. They were quite a bit faster than me and they waited nicely and encouragingly every so often for me to catch up.

I was actually having a good time. It's fun to ride with other people, especially when they speak your language. Plus, I liked the trail better than I remembered and it was warm enough for short sleeves. And then a bit of hesitancy got me on a sketchy downhill and it happened—my first crash in weeks and my first endo in absolutely ages. It was witnessed by two people I just met who ran back down to see if I was okay. Nice. I recovered enough to smile for my picture, at least, but hours later, I'm still feeling a little battered.

Still, it was a fun ride. Next up is what is bound to be a bittersweet season finale of Kisscross.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Ultimate Small Town, Part 2

So, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by life, I slowly began to realize I liked the idea of moving to a small town, but not just any small town. It's crazy how I started thinking about living in Crested Butte as soon as we arrived. I can't begin to count how many times in the space of that week I found myself walking through town, trying to think of something from home I absolutely couldn't stand to give up if it meant living there.

I guess everyone has his or her own idea of what the perfect place to live might be. I certainly never thought my idea of a perfect place would be colder than Michigan with more snow. I thought it would be along the lines of something tropical. This just goes to show how much I've changed from who I used to be.

One of my coworkers recently loaned me the November issue of Ski, which contained an article about Crested Butte. Here are a few quotes from it:

"We have to keep in our mind that we're real, and we're unpretentious. And the people who gravitate to us are that way." (I guess that means I'm unpretentious.)

"If you go to the grocery store and forget your money, someone in line is going to help you out."

"We keep our doors unlocked. When you know 90 percent of the people it's easy to say hello to everyone ... And the 10 percent who are tourists? You might as well say hi to them, too."

These are great quotes, and they completely support the experience I had in Crested Butte. But these are also things that can be said about a lot of small towns. So what makes Crested Butte the ultimate small town? Name another small town where you can find the following:
  • Two different sushi restaurants
  • A restaurant owned by Heidi Montag's mom (okay, this doesn't thrill me much, but I thought I'd throw it in)
  • Stores selling North Face and Patagonia clothes
  • Zero stoplights
  • "The" four-way stop
  • A 15 mph posted speed limit
  • Free buses (with murals painted on them, quirky bus drivers and ski and bike racks) running every 20 minutes
  • Bartenders who hug you when you leave
  • People who cook for you after the kitchen is closed for the night
  • Bikes, bikes everywhere
  • People talking about bikes everywhere
  • A three block ride from the center of town to hit a mountain bike trail
  • A place where you can hitch a ride on a ski lift and ride your bike back down the mountain
  • Kids playing a soccer game at the foot of a mountain
  • So many dog people
  • The bluest sky ever

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. (And only 35 days until we go back. Woo hoo!)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Ultimate Small Town, Part 1

"Did I hear you talking about Colorado? Are you going there?"

"Yep. Well, we're going there for New Year's, but we're trying to move there, too."

"I just moved back. I lived there for four years. Where in Colorado do you want to move?"

"Crested Butte."

"Crested Butte or Gunnison?"

"Crested Butte."

"Why would you want to move to Crested Butte?"

"Why, where did you live in Colorado?"



The above is a reasonable facsimile of a conversation my husband had in a bar this week. Though it may seem from this blog that we've moved on, we still want to move to Crested Butte, just as soon as we can figure out how to make it happen. And we still talk about it all the time, particularly to strangers who aren't sick of hearing about it already.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that the time I spent in Denver was entirely in the airport, but I wasn't impressed by what I saw when we were landing. I'm sure that Denver probably has lots to offer, but I'm positive it's not anywhere I want to live. I'll also admit I didn't know this guy at all or anything about his background, but I suspect that he thinks Crested Butte is entirely too small (much the same way I think Denver is entirely too big).

If anyone had told me when I was in high school that I would someday want to live in a small town with a population of about 1,500, I would have thought they were nuts. In fact, until I went away to college and met people from actual small towns, I thought I did live in a small town, even though the population was about 40,000. It seemed that there was nothing there. If we want to do much shopping, go to a concert or go to a chain restaurant that wasn't fast food (think Chi Chi's), we had to go to Lansing or Ann Arbor. I couldn't wait to leave and I couldn't imagine wanting to live anywhere smaller. Many of the people I grew up with felt the same way, and most of them did move away the first chance they got.

But that was before things like the Internet, satellite t.v., BlackBerry and e-mail were a part of my everyday life. And slowly I began to think that living in a small town, and getting away from the traffic (yes, I am complaining about traffic in Lansing—it's relative, get over it), the endless construction and the general bullshit that comes from living in a place where there are a lot of other people, wasn't such a bad idea after all. 

I started to realize this more after we bought our cabin. It was always hard to leave and come back to the city after we spent the weekend up there. The pace was so much nicer, there were fewer people on the roads, you could run into the hardware store and get something on a Saturday morning without fighting crowds of people. In short, it was peaceful.

Still, there was something missing there, and although it many ways, it would be a good place to move, it certainly wasn't the perfect place. 

To be continued ...

Monday, November 23, 2009

What a Difference the Dirt Makes

I was looking to hit the trail yesterday and was scheduled for a 3.5 hour ride. I knew I didn't want to spend 3.5 hours at Burchfield, so I reviewed my options. I could make a second try at Poto, but riding Poto by myself after the trouble I had the last time didn't seem like a good idea. I thought about going to Yankee, but that meant doing at least two laps and I really doubted I could make myself ride two laps at Yankee.

Then I remembered the trail I was talking about just a week earlier—Luton Park. I had yet to ride there, and I thought the lure of a previously unexplored trail might just be enough to coax my husband out the door. When I asked him, he agreed right away.

Unfortunately, we got a later start than we wanted to, and ended up in Rockford at about 1 p.m. The trail is in a county park, but if you weren't looking for it, you could easily miss it. The only sign is of the "no motorized vehicles" variety, and there's no parking lot. We drove by and luckily, Chris caught the sign. We then turned around and went to park in the supermarket parking lot, since the park itself has no lot and due to an agreement with the county, riders are prohibited (discouraged) from parking on the side of the road.

In the parking lot, we encountered Mr. Kisscross, Rick Plite and his wife, Cathy. After chatting with them for a few minutes and getting some advice on how to navigate the trail, we took off down the road for a mile before turning on to the dirt.

The trail was longer than I expected, and contained a lot of varied terrain. There were a few muddy spots and one or two sandy sections, but most of the trail was in good shape. There were wooded areas and lots of that piney goodness I love so much, with some log piles and rock piles mixed in. Oddly enough, there were also sections of trail stretching alongside cornfields. I don't know why this struck me as so strange. I guess it was just because I've never ridden my bike next to a cornfield before (except on the road, of course).

Out on the trail, we caught up with Rick again, marking out some reroutes. We stopped for a minute to catch our breath and so Chris could offer his two cents. We headed back soon after. I hadn't ridden anywhere close to 3.5 hours, but we had a good ride and were tired.

I ended up with about 1 hour and 45 minutes, only slightly longer than my ride on Saturday. However, getting outside on another beautiful day, trying out a new trail and experiencing a rare ride with my husband far outweighed my disappointment in my stamina. What was amazing to me was how much more worn out I was after my ride on Sunday than I was on Saturday. What a difference it makes riding on dirt.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Training on Borrowed Time

 I started my winter training program this week. Monday was strength training, Tuesday was 1.5 hours on the bike, Wednesday was both and Friday was just strength training. I did all that training inside because, as nice as it has been outside, it's almost completely dark when I get out of work at the end of the day. I don't have a light, and there's no way I'm riding outside in the dark with no light.

Luckily, I still have weekends. I have no idea how long this weather is going to hold, but as long as it does, I'm certainly going to take advantage of any outside riding I can do. Yesterday, I was scheduled to do 1.5 hours of E1, which is recovery pace. Since I knew I'd be heading out on the trail for a 3.5-hour ride today, I decided to hit the river trail for a low-key trek through town.

The only way you can tell it's almost the end of November right now is by the bare trees. Everything else seems like early fall. The temperatures were hovering just below 50. If I hadn't been riding so slowly, I would certainly have been overdressed. The grass is still green. I just don't think Mother Nature knows it's almost Thanksgiving, not that I'm complaining.

The ride was a welcome change from the trainer. More fun to come today.

Monday, November 16, 2009


After the good riding and racing I have done lately, I was excited to get out for a day of Kisscross. The weather was pretty warm, though overcast, but the skies started to clear as I made my way to Grand Rapids. My first surprise came after I finished my warm up lap and was getting ready to line up for the start. Someone said "What are you doing here?" and came up and hugged me. It was my On 2 Wheels teammate Nichole! "No," I answered. "The question is, what are you doing here? I'm always here." As it turns out, at the last minute she had been talked into doing her first cross race that day on a borrowed bike.

Nichole is an excellent rider/racer. This year was her first year of racing and I think she podiumed pretty much every race she did. At the beginning of the season, right before Yankee, she was thinking of racing Beginner, where she definitely didn't belong, but decided to race Sport at the last minute. Before this season, I think she had only really ridden on one trail, but that trail was Poto. Needless to say, she didn't have any trouble leaving me in the dust. She finished 4th at Iceman with a time of 2:19, but was bummed that she didn't do better since she was in the lead for much of the race before dropping her chain twice and getting passed.

Since I was talking to Nichole and she seemed very nervous, I started near the middle of the pack with her instead of in my usual back of the pack spot. I quickly got passed when the race started, but not by everyone. The course was challenging and fun. It was set up just differently enough from last year to make it interesting.

I stayed near the back, but there was a girl just slightly in front of me and I thought I had a chance to beat her. I like having someone just in front of me like that because it keeps me motivated to push harder. I finally ended up passing her riding up a hill, but then she passed me on a run up and I never caught up again. I think I had more skill than she did, but she was more fit and I couldn't keep up the pace.

My second suprise of the day was that for the first time in a long time, I didn't get lapped. I was waiting for it the whole race, but as the leaders started to gain on me, I kicked it up a notch and crossed over into the next lap before they had a chance.

I had resigned myself to finish last and pulled across the finish line with the thought that I was last, only to find my third surprise of the day—there were two women quite a ways behind me! I was 10th out of 12 women, 40 out of 42 overall. My teammate, who claimed she had a terrible race, finished second in the women and 10th or so overall. Rick was also testing out timing chips for Kisscross, so we got to see our lap times, which was kind of fun.

It was a nice finale to a very enjoyable weekend.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tree Farming

We had a pretty crappy summer, weather-wise, but Mother Nature is sure making up for it now. I woke to another gorgeous Indian Summer day, and the temperatures proceeded to climb into the mid-60s. It was a great idea for Di, Marty, Nick, Dave and I to meet on the East side of the state to work on the new MMBA brochure, but it was an even better one for us to get a ride in first.

The venue was the Tree Farm. I had never been there before and I was excited to try out a new trail with guidance from people who knew it. I was not disappointed. With 10 miles of singletrack, complete with a pump track, a "crater" and a fair amount of log piles, it's a fun trail. I challenged myself to ride some of the things that were a little scary for me, although I admit I didn't try the crater. (I do try the pump track, though.) Maybe next time, since I definitely want to go back.

It was fun to ride with a group, which is something I rarely do anymore. We rode at a nice, leisurely pace and stopped often to wait for each other (okay, they waited for me). I haven't had that much fun riding since Iceman and before that I don't remember when. Dave, who is the trail coordinator, led the way and told us a bit about the trail when we stopped.

Afterward, we attempted to undo all our hard work riding with pizza and beer back at Dave's office. (No, I didn't drink the beer.) As we ate, we got down to business brainstorming and coming up with copy for the brochure. Well, Di came up with copy and the rest of us commented on it and offered suggestions, when we weren't talking about other stuff. All in all, it was a very enjoyable day.

In late afternoon, I headed back home, and to make an already outstanding day even better, watched my Spartan hockey team complete a weekend sweep of the arrogant and blue before a crowd of more than 7,000 screaming fans. The only thing that could make this weekend better is a little Kisscross. Hmm ...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Iceman Cometh and Goeth

A few years ago, Chris and I went up to Iceman to hang out and watch some friends race. The weather that year was phenomenal. It was a sunny, unseasonably warm day. At the time, I remember really wishing I had been ready to race it that year (although at that point I hadn't raced anything yet), just so I could have taken advantage of the weather. I was sure that by the time I was ready to race Iceman it would be freezing and precipitating. I couldn't have been more wrong.

After obsessing over the entire tights issue for a couple weeks (wherein I couldn't find mine and ended up ordering another pair at the last minute, as well as having to drive across town on Friday to get them out of the bike shop owner's car, which was in the shop, and was where he left the box with my tights in it), I found myself again obsessing over them at the start line, wondering whether or not I had overdressed. I'm not sure of the exact temperature, but I think it ended up being about 65.

When we pulled into the parking lot, my stomach was churning. I have never felt as nervous for a race as I did that day. Luckily, I had my own personal pit crew. I paced the parking lot and made last minute trips to the bathroom as Chris got my bike put together, attached water bottle cages and even secured a bento box and filled it with shot blocks (with the wrappers pre-ripped so I wouldn't have to struggle). It was several blocks to the start line and I worried that Chris wouldn't get there on foot fast enough to take my picture, but my fears were unfounded. He made it just in time to catch my nervousness with his Nikon.

Even Frankie Andreu's calming voice giving commentary and answering Tour trivia wasn't enough to calm me down. I felt like a basketcase. As I zipped down the pavement before hitting the dirt, I tried to remind myself over and over that there was nothing technical on the course, and that everything was going to be okay.

By the time we were on the trail, I felt better. There were only a couple people behind me, but I passed a few more as they struggled in the sand. I even felt good enough to joke to a person near me when we saw the 26 sign that I couldn't believe we had already ridden 26 miles. (For those of you who don't know, the signs were counting down how many miles we had left.)

Though it was somewhat overcast at the start, it quickly started to break up and the sun came pouring through the clouds. It was a beautiful day, the trail wasn't particularly challenging and I was able to just enjoy the ride and the atmosphere. My main concern at that point was to make it to Williamsburg road by 2 p.m. I knew if I didn't I would get pulled from the course to make room for the pros. However, it didn't seem like even I could be that slow and I felt pretty confident I could make it.

I loved the course. Absolutely loved it. Singletrack snobs can scoff all they want, but that was my kind of race. Dirt and woods, but no fear. It was perfect for me. I just wished I was in better shape. My attitude was positive, but I kept thinking that if I was in the kind of shape I was for Barry-Roubaix or even Yankee earlier this year, I could have killed that course.

The thing that truly surprised me was how early and often people were walking the hills. Hills that seemed not even challenging, in the early parts of the race, had people bailing off left and right. I personally think it takes a lot more energy to push a bike up a hill than it does to ride one, even if you are in your granny gear and going 2.5 mph, so I tried to ride them as much as I could. I often rode up a hill where everyone else was walking. It made me feel pretty good, so I gave myself a large pat on the back.

After about an hour, it became clear that I couldn't continue with the tights on any longer. I pulled over and ripped them off, right over my shoes, and stuffed them in my back pocket. So much for that.

I didn't stop for the first aid station. At Williamsburg Road, I had plenty of time and knew I would finish, but I just stopped briefly to adjust a couple of things and throw away a few wrappers. With about 10 miles to go I started watching the time. I had determined that I wanted to finish in under 4 hours (yes, I know that's really slow), but I started thinking maybe I could make it in 3:30.

That time became a pipe dream as I slogged through the last five miles. I did end up walking up three hills at the very end because I just had nothing left in my legs. Overall, I felt really good for the whole race up until the last couple miles. Those were extreme torture because I was so close to the finish line and could hear everyone but it just kept dragging on and on.

When I was almost to the finish line, I started looking for Chris. We weren't sure how he was going to make it from the start to the finish with no available ride, but I saw him right before the finish line ready to take my picture and that was just the icing on the cake.

My final time was 3:53, which is painfully slow, but made me happy because I met my goal. I finished 38 of 42 in my class and 3038 of 3372 finishers overall. So, there actually were people slower than me. All in all, I had a great race; I felt good, had no mechanicals and no crashes and I truly enjoyed it. I can't wait to come back and race it again. It's too bad I have to wait an entire year.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Knew There Was Some Reason I Wanted to Do This

There have been many times in my life when I have truly wished I was better, but those instances don't often translate into renewed effort. Without really knowing why, I have wanted very badly to race Iceman for a long time, and this past weekend I finally did it. Not only that, for me it was one of the few definining moments in my life. Because this race, like few things in my life have done, really made me wish I was better, and made me wish it enough to actually make myself better. Even though I had a great time during this race and I loved racing it, part of me was sad and unfulfilled for the entire race. I wished with everything I had in me that I had the fitness to push myself the way I wanted to push myself—to make myself ride harder and faster—to truly conquer the race the way I wanted to conquer it.

I did my best, and at the end of the day I was happy with that. But I also got the shot in the arm I really needed. At a time when fatigue, lethargy and the beginnings of apathy were keeping me from riding, training and even racing, I found a renewed motivation to be better. This race made me want to drop 30 pounds, strengthen my core, Bowflex, layer up and ride through the freezing cold and do intervals on the trainer until I'm ready to hurl. It made me want to leave my old self in the dust.

P.S. As soon as my personal photographer/spouse processes the photos from Iceman, I will do a real race report (much to Ali's chagrin).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Banishing Negativity

Iceman is tomorrow. Tomorrow. The day after today.

The scant amount of time I've spent on blog posts recently has seen me whining about how I'm not ready for Iceman, how it's going to be a disaster, etc. If I had been writing more there would have undoubtedly been more of the same.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail pep talk from someone who has always been very encouraging, and it really made me want to get my act together, as far as the negativity is concerned. So I thought about the facts:
  • I don't have as much training as I wish had, and I've lost a lot of fitness since the beginning of the year.
  • I've been sick all week long and all I've done is go to work and go straight to bed when I got home. I haven't had energy for anything else.
But here are a few more facts for me to chew on:
  • Through two seasons of mountain bike racing and what's now my third season of cyclocross, I've never, ever had a DNF, even when I've been absolutely miserable. When I've felt humiliated, demoralized, beaten and battered, I still haven't allowed myself to quit. I know, deep down, that I never would unless I had a really, really good reason, such as a major injury or major mechanical.
  • My legs and my stamina might not be in the shape to conquer this race, but they're certainly in good enough shape to finish this race. I haven't doubted for a second in all of this that I can finish.
  • I have a really nice bike now.
  • This morning I feel better than I have since last Saturday. In fact, besides a slight headache and an occasional cough, I feel almost normal again.
The e-mail I got told me to "banish negative thoughts, focus on the good stuff." So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to remind myself that what happens in this race is almost exclusively up to me. I'm going to remember how much I've always wanted to do this race and let myself enjoy the experience.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go pack for Traverse City.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Trying to Keep Up

To say I've been noticeably absent from this blog lately would be a huge understatement. Life has been flying by at a high rate of speed lately and I haven't made time to read anyone else's blogs, much less update my own. Work has been crazy busy. On top of my usual tasks, I've been providing some support for my boss, who is trying to get some legislation passed; planning a Christmas party for about 300 people; and organizing a photo shoot for about 50 garbage trucks.

Any time I wasn't at work, I was trying keep just enough housework done to have dishes to eat out of and clean clothes to wear to work. I've been watching a little hockey, riding a little (mostly on the trainer) and getting some last minute supplies ordered for Iceman, which is getting frighteningly close. The weather has been mostly horrible during that time.

Yesterday morning was cold and wet, but I needed to get a ride in before I went to my dad's birthday party, so I did a two-hour trainer ride. So today, when I woke up to a day that was sunny and warm (relatively speaking), why is that I couldn't make myself do anything at all? Not only did I skip the Kisscross race, I didn't even take the dogs to the dog park, or even leave the house until after 5 p.m. Honestly, I think I was just completely worn out. I just hope after the lazy day I had today I can find some energy to get through the week. I have four days of work before I head up to Traverse City to my doom. I hope I survive.