Thursday, April 10, 2014

Banks Elsie Brevet

Quite a little crowd gathered at the Banks-Vernonia Trailhead on Saturday, all set to ride the lovely out and back brevet known as the Banks-Elsie.  Last year I set my personal best on this route and I aspired to beat it.

Permanent owner and RBA Susan warned us about moss and slippery bridges, called GO and off we went.  It's not a race, but it feels like a race when everyone starts together onto a narrow trail.  I spun out with Chris and Greg (previously referred to as crank-fell-off-guy) and was still warming my engine up when they raced off into the distance.  I'd see Chris one more time, on my way to Elsie and his way back, right after he dropped a cookie in the road.

A quick stop at the market in Vernonia to get my card signed revealed that they have crappy tap water.  I saw orange coat/orange bike/red rim dude there, along with recumbent guy.  Rolled out on the familiar 47, passing Big Eddy and Apiary and headed for the Birkenfeld store for water.  Too bad it was closed.

Bunches of birches past the Birk.  Pedaling hard, head down, into a slight headwind, I looked forward to a tailwind on the way back.  There were sprinkles and an overcast sky and wet streets, but generally it was pretty dry.  My gear was perfectly dialed for once - I never had to stop for a costume change.  A thin merino baselayer and goretex jacket worked perfectly.

I didn't see any elk on the way to the Elk Viewpoint, but I did spy orange coat dude and recumbent guy again.  Then on the way back from the Elk Viewpoint, I saw Jeff and Lynn and others.  They were probably only about 20 minutes behind me, and I shoulda coulda stopped to wait for them to have some company. 

I enjoyed a PBJ, milk and cookie at the Elsie store and shared a table with orange coat dude.  Turns out it was his first brevet.  Bravo!  Someone nearby lit a cigarette, lighting a fire under me.  Rolling down onto 103, I saw two guys turn left instead of right onto 26.  I yelled and hope they heard.

Soon after, I saw Jeff and Lynn and gang.  They looked just like I felt when I was climbing out of that pretty river valley.  Once again, I missed my chance for company, due to the silly quest to beat my personal best.  Plus it felt like good training to ride solo as that's how I plan to ride STP (Seattle to Portland) this year.

The tailwind I anticipated turned tail and transformed into a headwind.  My back wouldn't allow me to ride in the drops so I just sat there and sucked it up.  Since there wasn't any sparkling conversation to distract me, I tried to concentrate on the views. 

The countryside looked like an old fashioned theater background scroll rolling past.  The springtime nature views and scents seemed incredibly surreal.  A hawk caught a squirrel in a ditch beside me and flew off.  No pigs, but ponies!  Goats.  A donkey shaking his tail and doing a dance for me.  A horse rolling around on its back in the grass.  Beautiful dark cows with white striped butts.  A cow licking its own butt.  Yes, you read right.  He (she?) had tilted her back end way to the left and reached her head around.  I've never seen anything like that before.

By the time I reached Vernonia for the second time, I was a shadow of my former self.  Shredded, wrecked, decimated, destroyed, I sat in Subway eating chips and generally feeling pitiful.  An incoming text appeared and renewed me.  Great big wings sprouted and off I flew down the Banks-Vernonia trail.

The quality of light in the late afternoon produces an astounding effect: turning the edges of moss orange.  Everywhere, the moss glowed: on trees, outlining the twenty mile path, covering rock faces and boulders and bridges.  My mind, the only part of me that wasn't tired, flew to my book club book:  The Signature Of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  She's the author behind that other terrible title.  But this book is different and better.

She defines many different types of time.  Divine time: infinity.  Geological time: planetary eons.  Human time: a painful / joyful blink.  Then our protagonist discovers a new time: moss time.  Much longer than human time, quick in its accomplishments compared to geological time.  I propose a new sort of time: bicycle time.  It lands somewhere between human time and moss time.  It passes slowly but marches forward and in retrospect looks fast.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Alley Cat s c r a m b l e

Alley cat races are unsanctioned street races, traditionally designed by and for bike messengers and meant to emulate a run of pick-ups and deliveries.  They are also designed to challenge and even torture racers.  Speed is helpful, but cunning and mastery of the map may matter more so.

The alley cat scene is coming (back) to life here in Oregon.  Portland alley cats of late have included the Kuchen-Rennen, the Fly-Cat, the Fashion-Cat, the hugely successful Cranksgiving, Freak Cross and the Cross Dress series.  The last race I planned was in Eugene in '01 and sparked a tiny summer-long series of races (including a Cranksgiving).  So, it felt like my turn to throw a race.

Opening my old alley cat scrapbook for inspiration launched me on my own short race down memory lane. I had completely forgotten about the great dancing cat graphic.  So, once again, I found myself stopping at strange street corners looking for good graffiti, pouring over maps, cutting and pasting and printing a manifest.

My initial plan for checkpoint destinations fell apart so I started over the day before the race.  Riding around in the rain during my commute, stopping here and there, taking pictures and creating a scramble puzzle word made me late to work.  But I was able to pull it all together, even making copies just a short while before go time.

Fifteen minutes before the announced start time, racers started to roll in.  Eight in all!  Riders signed in, grabbed a quick beer and tried to prepare for the race.  Unlike recent races in Portland, riders were not provided with a manifest until GO.  Part of the scramble style is grabbing your list of checkpoints and riding away with it, skimming quickly on the go.  My personal strategy in those scenarios is to head to the furthest checkpoint, which creates several stolen moments on the road to make a plan for the other destinations.

These racers were unaccustomed to this sort of start and stood in the parking lot looking at their papers.  I threatened to take away points if people didn't get out of my sight post haste.  Actually there weren't any points but I wanted to see people scramble.  Unfortunately, one racer went around the corner and promptly fell over.

I moved to sit in the window, hoping to make racers scramble a bit more at the finish line to find me.  37 minutes later, two breathless boys were shoving crumpled manifests at me.  First place Bruce said "with a flat!" as I graded his sheet.  Scramble puzzle races are super easy for the organizer to judge, as you only need to look at one answer at the bottom of the page. All eight racers were in by 61 minutes after start, and all eight racers correctly answered DOLLS.
Luckily I had eight prizes to hand out, so everyone won something.  Surprisingly, the two women's garments were selected by men and one of the men's garments was selected by a woman.  Everyone had fun, no one got hurt, and people left happy.

Alley cat racing is a communal effort so I know one of these racers will organize their own race soon.  Kyle (second place, winner of Fly-Cat and Fashion-Cat) announced that the West Side Invite will take place July 4th, 5th and 6th and will include the infamous Coffee Cat, where I DFL'ed almost a decade ago.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

One Speed

Water Avenue Coffee: what a perfect place to meet.  Centrally located, amazing coffee and a big window where I can watch my unlocked bike.  I got excited when I saw the line up of single speed bikes on the rack.

But, alas, only one rider was inside waiting for me.  Then, another one showed up, proclaiming sickness and saying he'd catch up with us at the alley cat race later.  Another bit of perfection - he took my heavy bag full of prizes and dry clothes so I wouldn't have to carry them all day. 

Hardcore single speed aficionado Mark and I set out, into the rain and onto the Esplanade.  He rides a beautiful frame he made himself.  It's a fixed gear.  I was coasting, trying to put a few miles on my old single speed before attempting a double century on it this summer.  Riding on the dock portion of the Esplanade bike path is extra fun when it's raining.  Water everywhere!

Riding the up the little hill of Interstate Avenue felt like swimming upstream, there was so much water flowing quickly.  Up and over the corkscrew Concord bridge and out to Willamette.  Peninsula Crossing trail and a quick break on the bridge over the Slough.
Riding along the Delta Park golf course was gorgeous of course.  Birds flying every which way.  Tons of 'em.  For the first time on this path, I could see and hear cars racing around Portland International Raceway.  You could smell them too.

We found the connection onto the new bike path near Schmeer and more rain. Weaving back and forth over busy Columbia, we finally came across the a hidden nature park and gazebo.  This place feels secret.  We explored the different paths thoroughly and were surprised to find this:
And surprised to pop back out on Columbia.  Was it just a couple weeks ago I had my Brevet Card signed for a Permanent at this same mini-mart?  Up the hill, down the hill, to Velocult and the Alley Cat  s c r a m b l e race.  Then copies, then race!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beaverton - Bridge of the Gods - Beaverton

Three of us set out from Starbucks into the sprinkly morning.  Two of us were named Chris.  I had initially considered nicknames like "Cute Chris" and "Fast Chris" but, as it turns out, both of them were cute and fast.

We climbed up over the zoo from Beaverton, crossing the green speckled Shamrock Run route twice. There was an atmosphere of excitement in the air as we made our way past the pink cherry trees and across the Steel Bridge.

Routes through Portland are especially enjoyable for me, since I don't have to pay as close attention to cues. Up Wheeler and Williams, then going east on Going.  Past Rando Laura's house.  Past Break Bike Mike's project house.  Past the BikeTiresDirect warehouse. 

Riding northbound on the I-205 bridge is, well, it's better than riding on the freeway itself.  But it's loud and there seems to be a small sandstorm of debris flying up from the traffic on both sides.  Arriving at the other side, we rode on down to the bumpy, potholed Evergreen. 

We enjoyed some Burgerville goodness in Camas before heading east into a headwind on SR-14, our home for the next long while.  The gorge, of course, is gorgeous.  No matter how many times I ride along the Columbia Gorge, I find its beauty breathtaking.  Cape Horn is a particularly pretty spot.

Past the Bridge of the Gods and into Stevenson, which reminds me of a tour I've done out this way.  Several snacks and a few water refills later, we headed back westbound.  Unbelievably, we had a headwind again.  How is it possible to ride east into the wind and a few moments later ride west into the wind?

We rode across the Bridge of the Gods, which usually prompts me to sing my "fear song".  Don't know what a fear song is?  This is a song you sing to yourself whenever you're feeling especially fearful.  I've used mine dozens, no, hundreds of times.  And nothing bad happened during any of those times, so the song seems to gather power.

The new bike path from Cascade Locks to almost Ainsworth is such a gem.  Renovated and rebuilt in a style honoring the original architects of the historic highway (Sam Hill and Sam Lancaster), it's a real beauty.  This is where we started seeing a group that shall be known only as "The Assos Guys".  They were fast and advanced in age and had nice equipment and were wearing Assos jerseys and bibs and even shoe covers. We'd continue to leapfrog The Assos Guys all the way to the start of the Vista House climb.  Past all of the tremendously beautiful and overflowing waterfalls. 

More headwinds along Marine Drive set us into paceline mode.  Until I blew up and fell off the back.  My coping strategy in these circumstances is to take a deep breath, put my hands in the drops, put my head down and pedal.  The 205 bridge looked close, but it took a long time to get there.

All day the clouds and wet forecast loomed like dread in the distance, but so far there had just been intermittent sprinkles and several sun breaks.  Getting into Portland, we started noticing wet streets.  And, soon enough, we were getting more than sprinkled on.  A quick control at the 7-11 on Columbia and off into the twilighty wet.

I started having a conversation with myself in my head.  If I keep going straight, I could be home cuddling with my cat inside a half hour.  No, no, go, go, get that R12 (f) (2).  Broadway Bridge and wind and rain.  The zoo and an info control at a corner with no street signs.  We stood there in the dying light, watching our brevet cards smear as we looked for the answer to the clue.

Onward and upward, and I do mean upward, one last climb for the day.  On the other side of Washington Park lay the descent, which would have been much more enjoyable if it wasn't pouring and chilly.  Strange noises started to come out of each rider - noises I don't know how to spell.

Turning into the parking lot of the final control, a small cluster of friendly faces screamed and waved at us.  "YAY!  Good job!  Congratulations!" they cheered.  One of the Chris's family had come out to welcome us in.  I wish every finish control featured cheerleaders.

I enjoyed my first ever Philly Cheese Steak submarine sandwich and wonder what I've been doing wrong to not try one until now.  Speaking of nutrition, folks often ask, so I'll share my day's diet:
  • oatmeal, grapefruit, coffee (home)
  • coffee, banana (first control)
  • GU (road)
  • small chocolate mint milkshake, banana (Camas)
  • GU (road)
  • atomic fireball (road)
  • peanut butter & jelly sandwich, sunflower seeds, V8 (Stevenson)
  • atomic fireball (road)
  • chips, diet coke (Portland)
  • atomic fireball (road)
  • cheese steak sandwich (Beaverton)
  • electrolyte drink, zotz candies (train ride home)
  • 3 glasses of red wine (home)
Fascinating, right?  Actually, it's an interesting exercise to list all you eat on day-ride day, try it!  Apparently I like a lot of caffeine and sugar. 

Extra hugs and thanks to the Beaverton - Bridge of the Gods - Beaverton permanent route owner, Lynne, who not only created a really great ride but even rode it the week before to check that the cues were updated.  And showed up at the start to wish us well.  And loaned me a reflective sash since I grabbed the wrong (non-reflective) jacket.  Great job!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Velodirt Dalles Mt 60

Let's get in our bloggy time machine, shall we?!  We'll set the dial to May 2011, a big month in my life story.  March's Velodirt ride was over and I'd never even heard of it anyway.  Nor had I heard of Old Moody Road.  I woke up at DesChutes campground.  A handful of us were talked into riding an alternate route to The Dalles, and avoiding riding on the freeway shoulder.

I found a nemesis that day - Old Moody Road.  This gravel and dirt road, although beautiful at the top, is steep going up.  I had to walk, and it wouldn't be the last time.  On my first real gravel grinder ride, the 2012 Velodirt Dalles Mt 60, I walked up Old Moody again.  And I'd continue walking up Old Moody the next several times I encountered it. 
Fast forward to March 2014.  I'm embarking on my 6th Velodirt ride.  The day began with a crowd of 200 riders, and a lot of familiar friendly faces.   Our leader, Donnie, unceremoniously mounted up, saying something about "we're here to ride, let's go".  Even though he spoke softly, everyone heard him.  This man is a clever route finder and planner.  His understated style attracts the best riders - mobs of the best riders.

We rode together as a giant peleton, crossing the Columbia and spreading out along the first dirt climb on the Dalles Mountain Road.  Unlike past years, I kept up with the fast kids.  A few people passed me, but I also passed a few people.  It's not a race and it's silly to compare oneself to other riders, but it sure felt good to ride fast and strong.

Now for the descent.  I wasn't scared at all, not even for one second.  I flew down the hill at 30 miles per hour with complete confidence.  The AX (my new cyclocross bike - the Focus Mares A.X. 3.0) is a dynamo.  The Panaracer T-Servs (32s!) felt like a favorite pair of worn-in sneakers.  Reliable and comfortable.

When the gravel ended, I actually felt disappointed.  But I took comfort knowing the loops awaited.  Unfortunately, access was denied angrily by a selfish hording hillbilly standing in his front yard screaming and swearing and spitting all over the place.  It occurred to me how this poor schmuck and Donnie are the exact opposites.  Donnie shares.  He finds beautiful amazing adventures and tells people about them.
So instead of enjoying the lovely switchbacks on the car-free hill, I screamed down the busy highway, stopping to look at some baby rattlers and eat a PBJ.  Then down to the river, across to Biggs and a quick McDonald's stop.  I saw my pretty young co-worker there, Katie, who said she was having a crap day.  Later we compared notes.  My amazing day still took longer than her cruddy day!  But, then, it's not a race.
Riding along the river, I recalled riding down from the Fulton Canyon on the Stampede last year and how dramatically beautiful it is up there.  Then, the turn to meet my nemesis.  Good old Old Moody.  I rode it.  Yes, I rode up Old Moody the entire way, and I believe I could do that again.  Finally!  All of my gravel practice and suffering have paid off.

Old Moody's beauty cannot be beaten.  From the top of the ridge, you can see forever and forever looks pretty fantastic.  The weather was also pretty fantastic.  I spent the day riding with The Kid, who asked that I change his nickname to The Pirate, and we had a glorious time.

Rolling into the Dalles, I felt a single raindrop on my cheek.  We found a place for a beer and ran into other riders there, two of whom are actual readers of my blog (hi Bob, hi Kevin!).  The drive back to Portland was so wet it was scary.  What a different day we would've had if the rain came earlier.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Fear The Cyclist

"I had to steer around two cyclists riding side by side the other day.  I was in a hurry - I had somewhere to be, and it made me so angry!  The worst part is, when I looked back, they didn't even seem to care.  Can you believe it?!".

Yes, I can believe it.  What I can't believe is how often people feel it's appropriate to vent their frustration with cyclists to me.  Me, of all people.  Don't they know I will always side with the cyclist?

I do care about one thing in relation to motorists: that they don't hit me.  That's it.  I don't care about their feelings, or how important they are, or how busy or rushed.  I don't care if their lights are on or what they're wearing.  I don't care if they're having a bad day or bad breath.  And I certainly don't care what they think about me.

I've stared down the barrel of several road raged drivers over the past month.  Maybe tempers are short in the Pacific Northwest because the weather is weather-y and the sky's not always sunny.  Maybe anger flares for some other reason, like living a sedentary lifestyle and experiencing the disappointment innate in driving a car in our urban landscape.

It's usually the same set up.  We are "in the way".   The cycling humans, approximately human-sized, rolling at about 15 miles per hour in our little bike lane have the gall to be in the way of a single human who can't seem to find space in four lanes of asphalt for his or her giant motorized vehicle.  Their solution is to lay on the horn and flip the bird.

It's not my intention to, but I almost always "catch" these drivers at the next red light.  That's their cue to yell angrily, and maybe even lunge at me menacingly.  Although I'm the one at risk, the one whose eardrums smart from loud honking, the one taking up a tiny portion of the road - I don't feel angry during these exchanges.  I feel confused and maybe a little sad.  Often I feel frightened.

I simply don't care what motorists think of me or my bike or the decisions I make in traffic, which I can promise you are always with safety in mind.  It's very nice that they have a picture of a bike on their license plate and a "share the road" bumper sticker, but I don't care.  I refuse to alter my behavior to please drivers or coddle their perception of cyclists.

If they want to judge the entire cycling community by the actions of a single cyclist, and believe me, they do, then my riding around smugly trying to impress all the motorists will do nothing to further the cause.  The motorists' perception of what a cyclist is doing and why is often wrong.   But I don't care.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Volcanoes vs Farmland

The alarm went off at 5am.  I tried to roll over and stretch but my legs were stiff from Gold Sprint races Thursday night.  Luckily we had a flat day on tap.  Insert foreboding music here. 

As we left the Marsee Bakery in Sellwood, the sky started doing that underwater blue thing it does just before sunrise.  We chatted about what our day would be like.  That's when I learned this ride would not be flat, not even close. 

Every single route listed on the Randonneur USA website lists elevation gain.  But this route was calculated in a different way, different even from routes by the same organizer.  The descent loss was subtracted.  So, instead of an easy 3000 feet of elevation gain in 125 miles, we had 7300 feet to climb.  Most of the climbing was at the beginning and end, creating a nice torture sandwich for my useless hamstrings.  

The other thing I learned was that this was the first permanent route I'd ever ridden, back in January of 2012.  I didn't recognize it because that route included a descent down an unpaved trail in Forest Park and this one did not.  It's amazing that I continued doing rando rides, with this route as my introduction.  It's a long, tough day.

But, after all, this was just another bike ride.  We pedaled on together and watched the sun rise.  Soon, one rando, the same dude who lost his crank on the Mill City Coffee Run, fell over.  Turns out he had replaced his crank and pedals and couldn't clip out.  He was laughing before he even hit the ground and wasn't hurt.

Soon we were at Clackamette Park and comparing info control questions.  That's when crank-lost, fell-over guy announced his rear derailleur was not working at all.  Rando-Jeff tried to help him troubleshoot it, but without success.  So, this nice rider whose name escapes me, headed home.  Rando Laura said something to him that really got me thinking.  "Now you have a whole day to do whatever."

The remaining four of us did not have a whole day to do whatever, but instead, needed a whole day, almost fourteen hours as it would turn out, to ride our bikes.  Worse problems have existed in mankind.  In fact, there is no better problem.

The fifteen minutes lost trying to fix the derailleur seemed meaningless at the time.  Onward to the Barton store.  This is a nice control stop.  There are two bathrooms, lots of food choices, and even a comfortable place to sit.  We probably spent close to a half hour there, but that didn't seem to matter.

Up, up, up Highland Butte for an info control we couldn't find.  We snapped a picture of the street sign after losing ten minutes sniffing around for a non-existent road sponsor sign.  Ah, what's ten minutes.  Soon, Laura flatted.  Twenty more minutes, tossed into a ditch.

We were hungry for lunch when we passed through Canby, so we spent a good half hour at the Thirftway relaxing and enjoying snacks.  It wasn't a control, so that's a shame.  Then west, across the valley, and the bike path into Champoeg Park, then Newburg.
The stop at the Coffee Cat cafe seems like something from a different bike ride on a different day.  Was this our second lunch or third?  Back out and onto Mountainview Drive.  The gravel didn't phase me this time.  I pushed hard and then it was over.  A voice in my head repeated: float on top, just float. 
Spring Hill Road.  Gaston.  My favorite hill. Will I ever get sick of these places?  We lost one more rider as we rode near Hillsboro.  Some folks have more important things to do than ride bikes into the night.  I was jealous as we said goodbye.  Now we were three.  The frogs were singing on Zion Church when beer started calling to me.  "Beer" my legs and I whimpered together.

North Plains.  The Rogue Brew Pub.  The guys ordered burgers.  We drank beer and told high school stories.  Paid our check, had our brevet cards signed and came out to find a dark sky.  Only a few cues to memorize before the Old Cornelius Pass climb began.  The moon looked down at us as we climbed up and up, passing by the church on Skyline at last.

Many pedal strokes and pants later, we found ourselves at the top of Old Germantown Road.  A long steep descent with tight switchbacks, but nicely paved and much easier than the old route's dirt path.
As we arrived back in Northwest Portland, all eyes were on the clock.  The race to Sellwood began.  One rider missed a light: and then we were two.  Sprinting in the dark on the Springwater bike path, up through the nature reserve, then, finally, unceremoniously, anticlimactically, screaming into the Seven Eleven for our final control.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Crossing Over, The Series

Hey bicyclekitty fans! This is a republish from the blog series I put together for Western Bikeworks Dog and Pony blog. Just in case you didn't see it.
You know that feeling when you see the road stretched out in front of you? That beautiful beckoning silver ribbon with its tightly stitched yellow middle? It seems to scream "Come and get me! And do it quick!!" I call that phenomenon pavement passion. Spending all day riding the smooth and silky sexy road surface is more than just my hobby. It's been my passion for more years than I'll admit. But this story's not about that.

Gravel grinders are getting trendy and for good reason. They take roadies like me out of their comfort zone to try their hand at riding unpaved, pebbly fire roads. My efforts on these rides have been rewarded with front row views to a nature you can't see from paved country roads. I've logged a few hundred gravel miles, but all I have to show for it is a better understanding of which tires work best. Neither my off-road bike handling skills, nor my confidence on this surface, have improved. The gravel slows me down, sucks my confidence away and seems to serve only to deepen my love affair with the tarmac. But this story's not about that either.

I've dipped my toe in road racing and enjoyed it, but my home base race is the urban adventure known as an Alley Cat. Go ahead, google-ate it. These unsanctioned street races pay you back for your knowledge of the city and how to cut corners safely. You tear through the streets all alone, with the feeling that your opponents are breathing down your neck.

This past Spring, my team of five competed in one of these races. Instead of the traditional manifest stamp at each checkpoint, we were required to eat cake. At five checkpoints. Yes, five. Five beautifully made, fully frosted and sprinkled, double-layered cakes. One of my teammates, a cyclocross race fiend, is extremely disciplined about his training and was quite naturally unhappy about the alley cat race. As we collected our third place trophy, he informed me that I owed him and he'd be collecting his payment in the form of one cyclocross race. That's where this story really begins.
That was six months ago. I'll confess that I only agreed because I felt punchy from a lot of cake and a few fast miles. Cyclocross season seemed so far away and I felt I had no choice but to agree to my friend's demand. But now it's fall, and my debt has come due. So I've chosen the flattest race I could find. It happens in Washington County and apparently we get to ride through a barn. The OBRA calendar shows my D-Day (or CX-Day!) as Sunday, November 3rd, giving me just over three weeks to get ready.

My first step was to buy a cyclocross bike. My old mountain bike is too heavy and my shoulders too weak to carry it. My road bike has caliper brakes that will get gummed up by the mud. So what if I only race the new bike once? Lots of people use 'cross bikes for commuting, since they have powerful brakes and room for fenders. Lots of riders gravel grind on 'cross bikes. These are the sorts of rationalizations made by your typical "n+1" believer--meaning, the correct number of bikes to own is always "n+1". Give me a great excuse to buy a new bike and I'll take it.

A brand new, albeit last year's model, Focus Mares AX 3.0 is on its way to me now from California. The first, most important, question you'll need answered is "what color is it?" Well, it's matte gray with a lot of blood-red logo lettering on the lower portion of the bike. I haven't seen it in person yet, but I picture a post-apocalyptic war machine with an undercarriage covered in trompled zombie blood. Perfect.

I'll be recording here, on the shiny new Western Bikeworks blog, my journey from seasoned roadie to shaking-in-my-shoes, fresh-faced cyclocross racing newbie. Wish me luck. Give me advice. Just don't tell me to break a leg.

I'm excited to report that my new Focus Mares AX 3.0 cyclocross bicycle has arrived. It is currently awaiting assembly in the Western Bikeworks Service Department with a pink post-it note I wrote: "I need to blog this build". While I anticipate its birth into the outside world, I prepare for my own launch into a new realm by gathering advice on how to handle my first ever, and possibly last ever, cyclocross race. Some are words to live by offered with genuineness by experienced racers. Some are more along the lines of "If you can dodge a wrench, you can race cyclocross" (from one of our talented mechanics right before he winged a wrench at me).

Guidance and suggestions came pouring in on every front. Via text from a trusted source: "Practice running up hills in your shoes, with and without a bicycle on your shoulder. That is certainly a skill no road miles ready your legs for." An eight-year-old I know answered my request without skipping a beat. "Practice, practice, practice! Ride fast through the mud!". We were walking on an unimproved road in my neighborhood at the time so she demonstrated on foot.

My OBRA team (go Slow!) captain e-mailed me these wise words: "Your bike knows what it's doing. When you're descending a hill or going over bumpy stuff, relax a little bit. Trust that your bike is smart and that it will, generally, lead you in good directions. Dismount early for barriers and run an extra step or two before remounting. Dismount early for hills. Remember you don't get extra points for staying on your bike -- the really gnarly slow sections that people are riding at zero mph? Run them.

Remember that everybody else has to deal with traffic, mud, fatigue, and hills. Don't give up. Push past that girl in front of you and as soon as you're out of sight she might forget you're there or decide she can't chase you. And, of course, have fun, be communicative, talk to other racers to boost morale. Try really hard. Most of cross is just riding your bike. There are different surfaces and barriers but -- really -- it's just riding your bike. You can do that."

Then there was the dude outside the hotel in Maupin, Oregon the morning after the Double Trouble 200K and Halloween costume bash. He was dressed as the Duff Man the night before. He just finished loading his bike into his car and was headed to the Cross Crusade that morning when I asked him for helpful wisdom. "Congratulations on deciding to race! Let me get my bike out and show you some things. First: practice picking the bike up. Some people shoulder it but it can be easier to lift it right palm-down on the seat tube, left hand on the bars. And, very important: set the bike down very gently. People get all excited and toss their bike back down on the ground after a barrier, but once your chain's off, it's kinda over."
My favorite, and potentially the easiest to follow advice, came from the same dude who made me promise to race in the first place. Hours after I posted on facebook that I'd made the plunge into cyclocross-bike-ownership, there was a knock on my door. And there he was, his bike was behind him, covered with grass and dirt, leaning against the porch railing like a tuckered puppy. This guy trains people for a living and has taught many a cyclocross racer, so I expected a really complicated training plan. Instead, he said "Wax on, wax off. Take that bike down to the corner park and ride in the grass. Forget about proper cyclocross mounting and dismounting. Get on the bike, get off the bike, repeat. Get on the bike, get off the bike, repeat. Over and over every day. Wax on, wax off." And off he rode into the night.

cx (6)
Some folks put the hammer down, I put the AX down. Every noble steed needs a name. Mine is AX. But first this baby needs to get built.

As soon as the bike was in the stand, I was faced with a long list of decisions: Cheater brakes (aka cross-top brake levers), yes or no? Tires? How about some IRD Crossfires. Color? White, natch. Bar tape? The weirdest color you've got. Bottle cage? Bright baby blue. It turns out no serious 'cross aficionado puts bottle cages on their race bikes, but a girl gets thirsty. Faux pas be damned. While I'm at it, I might as well put a bell on it. Try as I might to uglify it, this bike stubbornly insists on being beautiful. I can't quit you, AX.
fbf (62)
After Saturday's Western Bikeworks shop ride, I ditched my road bike and grabbed the AX for its maiden voyage. Super comfy, it makes the pavement feel like carpet and potholes feel like "what potholes?" Getting up to the top of Gladstone, I ran into some nice folks and friends who were in the middle of their Cross Freak event. The serendipity of running into an underground 'cross race the day I built up my new 'cross bike was not lost on me. It was like hearing the universe ring the cowbell of good-natured heckling.

In keeping with the "Freak" portion of the Cross Freak, racers were challenged to a rather un-traditional LeMans start. Our bikes were far, far away, way down the hill. Racers had to perform some vertigo-inducing spins, run down the grass hill, grab our bikes, and mount up. Once there, we had to slog back up the hill. The race was perfectly matched to my nascent cyclocross racing skill set. The seal has been broken. I inadvertently raced my first 'cross race, without having to pin on a number. Now to master the tall-bike remount.

oct (9)
Where did we last leave off? Oh yes, Freak Cross. Having recovered from the short race and long after-party, I decided to continue my transition from roadie caterpillar to off-road butterfly by choosing unimproved roads for my commute to the shop. The AX is terrifically fun to ride and I'm getting out of the habit of dodging potholes like meteors and aiming for them instead.

The CX expert in my life called to ask if the new bike was up and rolling yet. When he learned I'd already been out on it, he practically gasped into the phone and told me to meet him for practice at the park that evening. As the day wore on and dusk fell, my apprehension grew. I relished the paved ride to the park. When I arrived, I could see, there, under the one small lamp post, the silhouette of my nemesis.

We rode onto the grass and he took a running dismount off his bike right in front of me. So, I decided to just go for it. And something amazing happened. I did it. I unclipped my right foot, swung my leg over the bike, unclipped the left foot and took a running jump (or is it a jumping run?) off the bike. And I didn't fall. I learned that this style of dismount is called "the cowboy". Bringing your right leg all the way past your left leg, while the left foot is still clipped in, is called "the scissor". Much like running with scissors, it is to be avoided (by me!) like the plague.

That's when my nemesis exposed himself to be more of an encouraging friendly coach than the meanie I had feared. "Good! Good job! Now do it again". I'd do it over a dozen times before leaving that evening. The remount proved more difficult. Apparently, I'm afraid to commit. He said something about a watershed moment created by sprinting next to the bike, hands on top of the bars and taking a literal leap of faith. "You want the inside of your right thigh to slide over the top and down the side of the saddle". Sounds great on paper, but I haven't managed to actually do it it yet.

Our next lesson put me in stitches. The good kind, not the emergency room kind. He instructed me to ride next to him and pace him while we rode long figure eights. He told me to hold my line and then he swerved into me. Deliberately! He elbowed me. He kneed me. He shouldered me. Finally, he grabbed my handlebars and shook 'em. It all seemed so funny to me that I forgot to fall over and was able to stay upright.

A few days later, I took the AX out on a relatively easy gravel ride I've done before on my road bike. Turns out it was really easy with the AX under me. I was pleasantly surprised that, even with my knobbly cyclocross tires, I was able to keep a respectable pace on the pavement. The very next morning, I wasted most of a twenty mile road ride dreading my next CX lesson. I ditched my trusty SOMA Smoothie ES at home, picked up the AX, and rushed over to Powell Butte to meet up with my coach and his girlfriend. 
oct (10)
He explained that, like a new pilot, he'd be teaching me by riding in tandem. At first I thought we were going to lock up our bikes and get on a bicycle built for two. Instead, the girlfriend rode off ahead, leading me so I could see where the trail went. My coach rode behind, telling me what to do. During every little climb, I'd hear "power, power, power!", and during the descents I'd hear (and ignore) things like "hands off the brakes". There were also priceless little nuggets of advice about unweighting the front wheel in loose gravel or sand.

We stopped for a short break because my adrenaline-shaking hands were compromising my already compromised handling skills. This was the moment where I learned the most. "You have to kick fear off your bike", he told me. It was then that I realized, no matter how much I respected my coach's expertise and gift of teaching, that I had built a relationship with Fear over the years and it wasn't about to change now.

I decided long ago to befriend Fear and use it as an ally. Occasionally I kowtow to it, recognizing it wants to keep me safe. Other times, I sing to it, lulling it into allowing me to delve into tricky situations. Then there are the times I wrestle with it. This is one of those times. I go to sleep thinking about the race this Sunday. I wake up thinking about it. Fear is right there with me and I'm going to choose to befriend it. I won't battle it. I'll show up Sunday and Fear and I will conquer this race together.

cx (18)
Butterflies infested my stomach from the moment I woke up Sunday. Getting on the MAX train, they multiplied. Five more stops until the Fairgrounds and I was nauseous. Finally I debarked the safety and comfort of public transit and stepped into the cold world of the Washington County Fairgrounds. I was glad for the cold as it provided a sensible reason for my shaking shoulders and hands. But I'll admit here: I was downright scared!

There were many friendly faces at the fairgrounds and many words of encouragement. The common advice on the day of the race was to have fun. That hadn't really occurred to me. I was concentrating on trying not to look too foolish and mostly hoping not to break my new bike or my old body, as I have plenty of future plans for both.

It took a while to get past the Beermonger tent and the Team Beer tent. Then there was the CX Pistols tent (cutest kit ever!). And of course my friends at the Women's West Coast Cycling Team tent, who were all hugs and smiles. And then finally, the CrossBikeReview tent - my tent (for the day, anyway). What a privilege to have access to this most cadillac of tents. It had walls. And a table! Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was nice to have a non-muddy spot to stash stuff. Best of all, there was a heater. The tent belongs to my friends, who I've previously referred to as "nemesis and girlfriend" - in reality they are friends and fiances. They looked up from their heart rate zone charts to greet me and give me last nuggets of advice. And I tried hard not to get in the way of their studious preparations.
cx (16)
I quickly learned that I needed to go to the OBRA (Oregon Bicycle Racing Association) tent. Even though I had pre-registered, I needed to check in. Even though I had spent a half hour that morning pinning on my numbers from the summer, turns out I'm a big dork (big surprise) and there are different numbers for cyclocross and road racing. Luckily, a nice lady from the WCWCT pinned on my new numbers. She expertly crumpled my tyvek 621 pennants, then smoothed them out and went to work.
cx (7)
Before I knew it, it was time to queue up. My heart rate was in the hot pink zone from nerves. Then I looked up and noticed the crowd of racers around me. As a woman working in the bike industry, I often hear feedback from women (and sometimes men) that we need to encourage more women to race. There are groups set up just for this purpose. I've sometimes mistaken this extra attention to one gender as patronizing or even coddling but the crowded start line at this Cross Crusade race was a giant wake up call for me. There were 143 ladies lined up with me at the start line. One hundred and forty three! I applaud all of the efforts that motivated each and every one of these athletes to race, including me.
This was it, this was the big moment, after all of the preparation, the practice, and even the blogging. The whistle blew and we were off! And it was not at all what I expected. Sure, it was muddy and cold. Sure, the course was practically oozing with beer. But I had expected, really dreaded, the heckling these races are renowned for. I have enough problems staying upright on an off-road course without people giving me a flashback to my bully-filled junior high days.

Instead, people cheered. They actually screamed in delight when they saw me coming. And I know why. It's the basket. Yes, I affix a ridiculous and silly little plastic basket to every single one of my steeds. You see, I've always, but always, ridden with a basket zip-tied to my handlebars. It's not just for looks, it's super useful. The basket carries my crap (tools, tube, pump, snacks, wallet, phone) so I don't have to.

I struggled with the decision to "basketize" the AX. I respect cyclocross racers and didn't want to appear to be poking fun at the discipline. In the end, I decided put it on because any other choice would be against my own personal tradition. And I'm so glad I did. Spectators went crazy when they saw it. "Go basket girl!" was a common cheer. People tried to gift me cans of beer and flasks. And it kept me from getting mud flung from my front tire into my teeth.
cx (6)
The bottom line: I didn't crash. I didn't make anyone else crash. I had fun. I learned lots. I grew my confidence in bike handling skills, especially in mud puddles. I made new friends. And I came in 32nd out of 35!

The really important takeaway here is the amazing cornucopia cycling offers us. After all these years, I'm not even close to exhausting the new things one can do on two wheels. I encourage you too, dear reader, to expand your cycling horizons in any way you can. The reward is guaranteed.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Miyata mixte, maroon.
Swooning, weaving.
Fatties soften the road.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mill City Coffee Run

Nine of us sat at Starbucks sipping coffee and folding our cue sheets just so.  Departing Wilsonville, we immediately jumped on the I-5 freeway to cross the river.  It's dark and traffic is passing fast.  I drop my computer and u-turn to retrieve it.

I love the first exit into the Charbonneau District.  Leaving the suburban sprawl, then the busy freeway bridge, this exit takes us smack dab into pretty country.  Also, it sounds french.

Arndt, Bents and Fargo are like old friends.  These are your postcard perfect Willamette Valley roads.  Quilted like farm country usually is, it's easy to spot other riders ahead or behind, even at 90 degree angles.  
I blinked and missed Butteville.  Howell Prairie Road goes on forever.  It feels familiar, but maybe that's only because it lasts so long.  Just as I start lamenting how boring flat routes can be, we start climbing.  The group of us spread out and come back together, much like a mile-long accordion. 

We're enjoying the long pretty stretch along the Santiam River when someone's crank comes off.  I looked at his fully inflated tires, wondering why he stopped.  It took two of us to help him unclip from the detached crank arm.  Soon Rando Jeff rolled up to the rescue with an 8mm wrench that's not part of a multi-tool.

Back together again, both people and parts that is, we're off to the cafe.  This quaint little coffee house and restaurant is just east of the middle of nowhere, but there's a line inside.  We get sandwiches and cocoas and scones and a big corner table.

Now it's time to head back.  I'm riding with Rando Laura and Rando Chris and we're going fast.  Ahead of everyone else by several miles, we're racing daylight.  We take a right onto Angel-Gervais Road.  You know, the one where you're supposed to turn left.  One gorgeous sunset and three hilly miles later, we realize our error and turn back.

It's dark and there's the sound of a hundred dogs barking.  We plow on ahead, squinting to catch a glimpse of a flashing red tail light ahead of us.  Catching the group becomes our carrot.  Finally, almost back to the freeway bridge, we see a light.  It's one dude alone, so we continue on as a foursome to the finish control, where we are dead last.