Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blazing Saddles

Last weekend I participated in the Macleod Dixon Ride for Kids, which took me from Jasper to Banff. I knew only three of the thirty or so people involved, but figured the downside was limited. The parkway from Jasper to Banff offers some world class cycling and the weather report predicted, accurately, sunshine and blue skies.

We headed out on Friday afternoon in a comfy coach with the 2005 Tour de France playing on the mini televisions. The Tour provided a distraction on the long ride and an easy topic of conversation among strangers. When the likes Rasmussen and Vinokourov appeared, the bus filled with boo's and talk of doping. In contrast, landscape shots inspired storytelling of our various experiences in France. It seemed many of us had made the pilgrimage to watch the Tour in person.

Eventually, someone opened the cooler and offered up some road pops. When the first response from the group was "does anyone want to split a Coors Light?” I wondered if I'd hitched a ride with the wrong group. But, time proved me wrong. I met some very interesting people and fantastic cyclists over the following 48 hours.

There was no shortage of legal banter - including an insolvency practitioner preaching the need for a market correction - but it was all amusing. We bonded as we recalled the challenges of the strong headwinds and hills that we rode and the aches that followed. We researched the healing qualities of Jagermeister first hand.

The range of cycling experience represented by the group was broad. There were many that had a positive impact on my weekend, but I will only mention a few. On one end of the spectrum, there was a lawyer named Pauline - an accomplished triathlete who tore the legs off every guy on the trip and served as a great example that professional and physical excellence are not mutually exclusive.

Then there was Peter the Giverator, a 60-year old man that rode with his water bottle in the back pocket of his shorts, had his handlebars positioned so that he could sit upright, and attempted a cheeky breakaway from the lead group near the end of the first day. Age doesn’t mean a thing.

And then there was Ryan, the cotton-shirt-wearing, flat-peddle-using, cyclocross-bike-riding, civil-disobedience-studying, litigation lawyer with the flaming zombie skull tattoo. He hadn’t ridden more than 20 kilometres at one time before the weekend, but cranked out over 200 kilometres over the two days. It was nice to see some individuality among one of the most notoriously conservative and homogeneous professions. I also had to admire his ambitious choice of entry into the world of cycling.

Let me not forget the epic cycling. The first day took us from Jasper, over Sunwapta Pass, to Saskatchewan Crossing. It was about 153 kilometres, but I continued riding until I hit 160 kilometres (obsessive compulsive, perhaps). I rode much of the first half of the day on my own, and then hitched on the wheels of some stronger riders for the second half. They set such an impressive pace that I was unable to contribute my share at the front and it took everything I had just to hang on the back. My key accomplishment for the day was snagging Queen of the Mountain honours for the time trial up Sunwapta (I have to come clean, Pauline handily beat me - but she was not eligible for the competition on account of her employment with Macleod Dixon).

On Sunday, our ride took us from the crossing, over Bow Summit to Lake Louise, to Banff; about 135 kilometres. I rode with a pack for the entire day and we set a blazing pace. I added a climb up Mount Norquay at the end to fill the day out to a century. It was hot and I was dehydrated, making it a real test of strength, but rewarding (in retrospect).

All said, it was a great weekend of cycling and socializing. The weather was spectacular, the company was great, the ride was extremely well organized, we raised some money for a great cause, and the route is absolutely one of the greatest epic rides in the world. I hope that I have a chance to do this again next year. For the kids, of course.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pave The World

I went for an evening spin around Nosehill Natural Environment Park last week. It's the largest natural area urban park in Canada (covering 2700 acres) and its only moments from my house. I was hoping to get a few offroad hours in on my mountain bike, but I was disappointed to discover that the city is: 1) paving the trails, and 2) mowing the park.

This is being done in the name of minimizing human impact on the natural environment at the park. That seems counter intuitive to me. The rationale behind paving is that people will be more likely to stay on a trail that is paved, which will cut down on the proliferation of the informal trail network. The rationale behind mowing is that it will keep the birds from nesting in the tall grass while the paving is taking place. Is there really a better alternative place for the birds to nest? Wont the absence of birds have an impact on other living things in the park? What are the possible implications of mowing on the native vegetation (ability to seed, exposure of short plants, etc)? What are the possible implications of mowing on the animal life (that rely on the grasses as habitat/protection/food)?

I realize that there are probably a lot of smart people that have put a lot of time in to thinking about this, but, I'm not satisfied this is a positive move for the park. Beyond the environmental reasons, I'm bothered by the paving for personal reasons. I go to the park because the paths aren't paved. I try to be mindful of my impact on the park environment by staying to the primary paths and avoiding use in wet conditions. I think others do too. I imagine those that don't are simply unaware of the impact that they make. It occurs to me that education (by way of signs, for example), would be a low-cost, low-impact solution. Unfortunately, it seems that I'm too late to have a say here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The New Girl

We recently hired a girl at my office. She's been a great addition because she's smart, hard working and fun to be around. She's also a great addition because she's from Scotland. It's been three months since she joined the firm and I still get a kick out of her Scottish ways. It adds sunshine to my day. When the phone rings, I look forward to hearing her say "helloou". It's a seriously cool accent. Occasionally, she will drop a line that is totally nonsensical to me - like, "are you feeling broody?". My most recent sort of amusement is a piece of garbage that was placed by the rear door for the cleaners to take out. The cleaners come three times each week, but the garbage hasn't moved for a couple of weeks. In her usual, organized fashion, Jill marked the item to indicate it was waste. Unfortunately, she used the word "rubbish", which is apparently beyond the English vocabulary of our cleaning staff. I suppose I could tell her, or throw it out myself, but I prefer to walk by it a few times each day and giggle.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Times, They Are A Changin'

As the countdown to TransRockies begins, I'm feeling a little (lot) underprepared. I knew it was absolutely necessary for me to get out for a big ride in the mountains this weekend. Several people 'in the know' made suggestions to me of a good ride that linked together several shorter rides, including Jewell Pass, Heart something or other, and some other pass. Not being a seasoned mountain biker, their descriptions and instructions made little sense to me and didn't resonate - but, I did know of Jewell Pass. Erik took me there shortly after we started dating. It was probably my first real mountain bike ride. I remember the spectacular views at the lookout. I also remember having no suspension on my bike, no gloves, open blisters on the palms of my hands for most of the descent, and no first aid kit. There were a lot of tears. This time it would be different. I would have better equipment, gloves and, hopefully, some better skills and fitness.

I was naively considering doing the loop on my own. Not because I think I'm tough, but because I don't have a lot of riding friends yet. I figured I might buy one of those mountain biking books (I'm sure we have one at home, but I couldn't find it). Or, maybe the trail would be marked well enough that I could figure it out on my own. Fortunately, my friend Pat (Not Doyle) from the Deadgoats (my biker gang) was looking for someone to ride with this weekend. Being relatively new to the sport himself, he was also not familiar with the loop that I had in mind. But, he was prepared and bought a map. Thank god.

We started at Heart Creek and headed up toward Jewell Pass. The terrain was a nice combination of swoopy single track and lung searing double track ascent. This was exactly what I was looking for. We inadvertently missed the turn to the 'spectacular views' - as I really had no recollection of where that was, other than 'at the top'. We bombed down Jewell Pass and I was blown away to think of the difference between this ride and my first experience here a decade ago. We were blazing through the trail faster than expected and, at one point, I wondered if I might come back and do it again on Sunday.

We rode some fast quad burning double track on Stoney Trail toward Skogan Pass. I determined that more water would be a good idea if I wanted to make it back to the vehicle with a smile (or, alive). The map came in really handy for this purpose. We tried a detour up to the Day Lodge at Nakiska, but found that it was closed. Fortunately, it turned out that there was a hostel only a short ride away, and I filled up there. From there, we continued up Skokum Pass. We approached a family of bikers and Pat explained to me that it was our Deadgoat duty to 'blow right past them'. That's the Deadgoat way.

We climbed and climbed in the heat. We were not moving as fast as before, but kept plugging away at it. This was great training and a fun adventure. Having the map was really handy, as we could gauge remaining vertical and progress. Fatigue was beginning to set in and we found ourselves chatting less. But, we could see that we were almost through the tough stuff and, soon, it would be all down hill.

Descending Skogan was a blast. Fast, moderately technical double track. When we got to the bottom, we felt we still had the energy to take the single track back to Heart Creek (as opposed to the highway). This is where our fun adventure began to turn into a crazy adventure (to steal a phrase from Sarah Marchildon). The path was so overgrown in some areas that it was difficult to see where it went. Thankfully, Pat was breaking the trail for us, so I didn't have to worry about it - but I could have done without the rose bushes scratching against my shins. There were some sections that I would describe as unridable (unless you are, say, Jon Nutbrown). Walking, pushing, and carrying our bikes through these sections quickly grew tired in the mosquito infested jungle. I began to rethink my ambitions of riding this again on Sunday. I'm not sure this is really considered a bike trail. We both ran out of water. Pat's GPS was acting up, so we had no idea how far we were along the seven kilometre stretch of single track. Then Pat's chain broke.

Our attention eventually focused exclusively on getting back to the vehicle. If we felt we could have cut through the trees to the highway, we probably would have. We reached a point on the trail that appeared to have been washed out. The downside was that we couldn't see how we could continue moving in the right direction on the trail. The bright side was that we could see the highway. Getting there would require carefully manouvering down a steep dirt hill with our bikes, but it beat back tracking. Obviously, since I am writing this, we made it down the cliff of insanity alive. But, I can tell you that it's not the kind of thing one would do voluntarily.
Notwithstanding the final moments of the ride, I think we both saw the day's ride as a success. Physically challenging, but also character building. I'm glad I was able to share the experience with someone. Pat is a really interesting guy. I know we only scratched the surface of his experience in this world, but he's got some amazing stories. If I've ever met someone whose life should be chronicled in a book, it's Pat's.

After I got home, I found the mountain biking book in my library. I flipped to the page on Jewell Pass and saw that Erik had actually made a little note for each time he was there. One note read "Aug. 30, 1998. Tori and Erik. This is not a beginner trail. Bring a first aid kit". I guess I'm not a beginner anymore.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fruit Loop

One of my favorite summer delights is the fresh Fruit Stand. Even though I know most of the product comes from the same source as the stuff I buy at the grocery store, I swear that Fruit Stand fruit tastes better. I think of going to the Fruit Stand as like going for ice cream. And what could be better than that? I'll tell you what: taking a break during a long summer bike ride at a Fruit Stand. That combination of a cycling-induced endorphine high and the blissful sugar rush that follows that first juicy bite of a fresh nectarine - it can turn a dilapitated truck in an abandoned gravel parking lot into a tropical oasis.

I've developed a small list of bike routes that feature a Fruit Stand as a destination rest stop. When I'm feeling ambitious, I connect a few of these routes together to form what I like to call my Fruit Loop.

I did my Fruit Loop on Saturday in the sweltering 32 degree heat. When I hit the third and final Fruit Stand on the Loop, I was famished and allowed myself to be upsold by the charming Fruit Stand Guy (at this point, it didn't take much to charm me). I feasted and, as my blood sugar level rebounded, causing a moment of sobriety, the magic paused. I realized the hideous reality of the Fruit Stand. Not only had I just paid six dollars for six pieces of fruit (for the record, I did not eat it all at once), but none of it was washed (my dad would cringe if he knew).

Let me first address the matter of the price gouging. It seems to me that the Fruit Stand Guy has the low overhead advantage - no capital tied up in real estate, and a jiffy marker and a piece of cardboard for advertising. He also has the advantage of no posted price. When he sees a salt stained cyclist approaching with a look of desperation, he sees infinite price elasticity. A station wagon full of restless children is the motherlode. This is good business and he knows it.

Then there is the matter of hygeine. I would wager a bet that more than 95 percent of Fruit Stand consumers are purchasing for instant gratification, rather than as a supplement to their Sunday grocery run (particularly in light of my pricing revelation). Assuming that this is the case, doesn't it seem to make sense that Fruit Stand fruit should be ready to eat? What kind of cruel trick is this to tempt ready consumers with mouth watering produce that will needs to be washed first? I looked at the Fruit Stand Guy, with his rotting teeth, stained shirt and blackened fingernails and wondered what value he placed on hygiene. I decided not to take a gamble and I tucked the rest of my fruit in my jersey for later, cleaner, consumption.

In the future, I think I'll pack my own fruit (smuggling plums?).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Twinkie and the Brain

I had a great ride with my TransRockies partner, Cindy, this week. It was our second time riding together and we had a lot of fun. Our plan for TransRockies domination is coming together nicely. Soon, we will take over the cycling world.

Brain: Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

Pinky: I'd have to say the odds of that are terribly slim, Brain.

Brain: True.

Pinky: I mean, really, when have I ever been pondering what you've been pondering?

Brain: To my knowledge, never.

Pinky: Exactly. So, what are the chances that this time, I'm pondering what you're pondering?

Brain: Next to nil.

Pinky: Well, that's exactly what I'm thinking, too.

Brain: Therefore, you are pondering what I'm pondering.

Pinky: I guess I am!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Great Expectations

I have recently been trying to introduce some intensity as well as some short duration, high impact activity to my training. The logical answer has been running; an activity that I don't particularly like and, as a result, have not been doing with regularity. I am not a runner.

I've run a handful of times (literally) in the last two years (since my last half ironman). Nevertheless, I ran the Stampede Half Marathon on Sunday. It was an impulse decision. My brother in law was doing it and I told myself that it would be a good chance to get out and make it happen.

Given that I was basically winging it, I tried not to put any pressure on myself in terms of pace. Finishing was the objective. Nevertheless, I was mindful of the 2 hour pace bunny that was in range for much of the race. He and his followers were doing the 10 minute run / 1 minute walk thing. Some people swear by this method, but I think it's torture to tease my body in this way (I consider it the equivalent of pushing the snooze button a dozen times in the morning). Instead, I opted for the agony of being passed by the 2 hour run/walk group of people every ten minutes until they finally slipped out of reach. I hate being passed.

I resisted the temptation to push myself over 'the line' by other runners as they passed and I stuck with the pace that my body dictated. That is, until a stubby little lady with a crooked leg awkwardly hobbled past me. I hated myself for thinking it, but I decided that I could not be slower than her. I stewed on my wickedness for a long time. Who was I to think that I should be faster? I had no way of knowing what sort of training she had done for the race. More than likely, it was more than me. Maybe I wasn’t giving her enough credit, or, maybe I was giving myself too much.

I was reminded of the first running race I entered, back in 2000. Dana and I had been running a few times each week for a couple of months on a nice, short, flat, paved route (I would estimate that it was a 5km route, but I really had no concept of distance at the time). We were proud of our progress, having started from scratch, and we fancied ourselves as ‘runners’. As the next step in our development as ‘runners’, we entered a 10km trail run at Nakiska. Waiting at the start line, we identified a heavy-set, middle-aged man that we affectionately labeled “heart attack man”. We weren’t out to win the race, but surely we would beat this guy. You might be surprised how poorly a flat, paved 5km training route prepares you for a rugged, hilly (up and back down a f’n ski hill) 10km race course. Not only did heart attack man beat me, but a girl that rolled her ankle and was driven to the finish line by the medical vehicle beat me. I was dead last. Dead last.

I ridicule guys for insisting on being faster than girls – but, if I’m honest with myself, I’m no different. I constantly find myself in situations in which I think I should perform better than others based on rapidly formed opinions and hubris. I should know by now that the images I have of fitness and athleticism that have been influenced by watching pro-sports and Bowflex advertisements are not entirely accurate – fitness and athleticism takes many forms. By the same token, my self-image is a bit generous at times, leading to ambitious expectations. I guess this is human nature and I should be glad for it, as it continuously propels me forward toward bigger and better things. Still, I can’t help feeling like a jerk. I have no idea whether the crooked-legged woman beat me (in my fatigued state, I lost track of her). I hope she did.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Finale

Despite a shorter total distance, today was set to be the toughest day yet. The forecast called for certain heavy rain, the route had proportionally less logging road, and I had a brand new riding partner. None of these factors proved to be an issue, but the day was not without challenges. There was the surprise secret decision to move the first food station from kilometre 28 to kilometre 48 (there were some LONG faces), the 5 kilometre climb that included 800 metres of elevation gain (I am getting REALLY good at hiking my bike), and the final extended section of singletrack (featuring 'bucket of blood', 'forest dump' and 'soggy biscuit' - sound like fun?).

We rode 85km from Port Alberni to Cumberland in a little under seven hours and were treated to some spectacular views of the Comox Valley. There were two notable memories from the day, both of which made me proud to be a girl. The first was a pace line that Lisa and I had going with six other girls through some rolling swoopy double track. We were very organized and considerate, taking turns pulling and calling out puddles, trees, dips and other obstacles as we hammered along. There were a couple of guys hanging off the back, barely staying on...that is, until we were approaching another team...and magically they had the energy to take a pull - ah, the male ego. Later on, as we were stuck behind some guys pushing their bikes through an 'unridable' section of single track, two girls caught up and politely asked us to get out of the way and then proceeded to bomb on down the trail like it was sidewalk. Go girls!

While I'm happy that I can sleep in tomorrow and that I don't have to put on bike shorts or sit on my bike seat or eat another cliff bar, part of me wishes I could stay and ride the rest of the course. This is so much fun (in a really twisted kind of way). I can't wait until Transrockies.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Bike Lessons

Beyond the physical preparation that I'm getting from the BC Bike Race, I'm learning some valuable lessons that I can take with me to Transrockies. Here are a few of the most notable:
- Keep your eyes peeled for the course markers. This will help you avoid turning a 118km day into a 132km day. We finished the day at 7 hours 38 minutes, but would have been a lot closer to 7 hours if we hadn't missed an important turn.
- It's a bad idea to 'lay the hammer down' and not change your fuel intake just because you're 'feeling great' and you THINK 'it's all down hill for the last 30km'. You may discover it's more like 40km, it's not downhill, and your body, suddenly and without warning, needs more fuel. (A lesson from yesterday) 
- Black bears can climb trees!
- Descending can be fun! I've never liked descending. At the absolute worst times (usually right before a dangerous obstacle), my brain short circuits as it struggles to reconcile conflicting messages. There is the conscious instruction to let my bike work its magic (by laying off the brakes), the semi-conscious desire to keep the handle bars from escaping my hands (by gripping my handlebars tightly), and then the primal 'survival' instinct to stop moving toward the danger (by slamming on the brakes). The result ranges from skidding, to an endo, to the person behind me cursing and crashing into me. Today, I discovered that I can manually override this malfunction by using my middle and ring finger on the brakes and using my pointer finger to grip the handle bar. I descended today like never before. I even came up with a new descending song - oh, hoh, I'm the great descender.
- Riding as part of a team is fun and educational. In the last two days, my teammates have taught me a bit about riding, a bit about myself and a bit about working with people. I've sometimes viewed teammates as adding a challenge to the experience, but I am learning that they can be quite the opposite.

We escaped today with almost no rain. We may not be so lucky tomorrow. But, I'm not going to spend too much time worrying about that. Time to sleep.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

BC Bike Race

As part of my preparation for Transrockies, I agreed to join a team of four for a seven day mountain bike race. I knew one of the girls, Alison, from a cycling trip in France last year. I met another, Alana, while racing (she beat my pants off) and then rode with her once a couple of weeks ago. I still have not met the other team member, Lisa.

The race goes from Victoria to Whistler via Comox. Only two people ride each stage of the race - so teams of four have some flexibility in terms of how the stages are divided among the team members. Due to time constraints related to my job, I elected to ride only the first three days.

Today was the first stage. I rode with Alison. We spun out 108 km of logging road, abandoned railway, and single track in about 7 and a quarter hours. It was a beautiful day, we had no (real) crashes and, while I finished with a smile, I don't feel like I could have gone much faster. As such, I was very impressed to see that the top teams finished in 4 hours and 22 minutes. Perhaps more impressive, a pair of singlespeeders (including deadgoat, Pat Doyle) finished in less than five hours. Wow.

Tomorrow, Stage 2 will take us through 118 km of logging roads and single track to Port Alberni. The forecast is calling for rain, which will make for a long day. I will be riding it with Alana. She earned a silver medal at mountain bike provincials on Saturday (expert category). Hopefully she's patient (or stiff)!