Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's a lonely religon.

On my ride yesterday, I found that I was facing a bit of a crisis towards the end. Before my bike trail incident, I started to feel a bit of a ticking in one of my pedals. Damn! The pedals are my next to last set of Sampson Stratic pedals from the 90s. These pedals are the absolute best pedals for cornering. Over the years, they have bought me an advantage in more than one race since you can pedal through even the tightest of turns without clipping them on the ground. I usually scare the hell out of someone following me through the turns when I do that since I can lean the bike over so far with them. Unfornately, you can only find them on ebay these days and that isn't very often anymore. I think there are 4 or 5 others in the country who bid on them and it has gotten competitive over the last couple years. They usually only last a couple years, but the amount of float and cornering clearance makes them so awesome. Now I find myself at the point of having to make a decision. Do I look for another pedal system or post out to the world to start sending me their old Sampsons and cleats so I can forever remain in the world of 1990s pedal systems. I've fought the conversion question for so long now it's almost like renouncing my religon. Do I remain a heathen or move on to the next great thing?

A wonderful spring day. Oh, wait...

Well, we had a nice warm day here in the Pittsburgh region yesterday. I had gone down to Morgantown to try and catch the ride. I'm kind of glad I was late since it turned into a hammerfest. I wound up riding 4 hours on my own at a good early season pace. I like days like this, but I also know that I have to force myself a bit more to get out on the bike in the following days as it will be getting colder. These rapid weather changes really goof with my system and the built in barometer I have in my shoulder usually lets me know about the coming changes. It's one of those dull aches that really let you know it's there, but there isn't much you can do about it. Anyway, back to my ride. Riding along in-town trails, you really learn just how much people exist in the world as if they are the only ones there. I look out for others, even if I wish they'd just fall in the stream when I approach sometimes. There was a couple out taking a walk with their kids. One of the kids was in a stroller, the other was on a little toddler bike. This was all well and good, except the one of the bike was about 50 yards behind them and not looking to sure of himself. I slowed almost to a crawl as I got up to him, not wanting to be going to fast past him. At walking speed, I got up to him and with his parents finally calling to him to pull to the other side of the trail, he looks over at me and rides directly at me. I pulled further over and then suddenly my rear wheel hits the edge of the pavement and the wheel starts skittering out from under me. I gave it a quick acceleration to try to right the ship or at least get beyond the little guy when finally, gravity took over and I went down in a heap. I was about 10 or 15 feet beyond him when I hit and I dug up my knee and elbow. Now comes the good part. The parents then went 'Awww Breez, are you ok?' and then scurried him off. Not one freaking word to me like 'we're sorry, are you ok?' Their lack of parenting in the situation caused it and their boy wasn't even touched. I'm lying there bleeding and my bike got scraped up. It took just about all my strength not to be a jerk about it, but damn, how nice are you supposed to be? There was another family riding their bikes who stopped and made sure I was ok and that maybe cooled me down enough to just go on my way, but it wasn't the best way to finish a ride.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Land of the slugs

Well, I'm just getting done with a vacation to the land of slugs. I've ridden the bike a couple times since Natz finished up but it took me almost a week to recover. Flying to Portland and then driving to KC was definitely over the top and left me more than a bit wasted. Seeing the news for Cross Natz next year is certainly interesting. I know I will be doing a similar trip but I will be looking to stay out in Portland next year and if my work there allows it, I can spend a few days downtown doing the work thing between the races and then rent the van and pickup friends at the airport for the drive to Bend. I've already worked on the logistics of it and it looks like I could wind up being pretty rested up for Natz if I do it this way. Now if I can just get myself into some better condition. I start the base miles training today with an hour on the trainer tonight and then a few hours on the road tomorrow. I'm hoping I can have 150-160 hours on the bike by the end of March. I have found over the last few years that number works to get me ready for the spring races and sets me up for a decent year. Unfortunately, the last couple years I missed that mark by around 40 hours, so the body just hasn't been ready. Also with the way the Munroe Falls races have run their categories, I can't hit those hard early races by doubling up in the 123s and the masters which were essentially another 123 race. Those races gave me a good 50 miles of hard racing and with warm-ups and warm-downs, I was usually doing 80 miles on those days. I really with they'd get their crap together and realize having the masters as a 35+ race was a whole lot better with a much bigger pack. The same guys are winning so the only difference is who is placing 4th through 10th. I won't hit the 45+ class for another couple years so I'm going nuts trying to figure out how to get the extra intensity I need at that time of year.

The team is forming up and everyone is getting pretty antsy about the new year. We had some very good results last year in the West Virginia series with Adam nearly taking the whole thing ahead of Gunnar. Staying out of the wind a bit more and learning to be a bit more wiley about tactics would have giving it to him but he did an awesome job. I'm considering doing some more of the 123 races to help him out this year as I'm really motivated to get back to the level I was at before the nasty wreck I had 4 years ago. The body has recovered, but I've had some problems with my ability to really make myself hurt isn't quite to where it once was. Still, I've won at least a couple races in the last 4 years with 2 years ago the number hitting 7. I'm looking to have another year where I've posted in the neighborhood of 10. I've done that a couple times and I liked it. I'm also looking to raise the game on the mountain bike this year as well. Last year the bike handling was noticeably better and in races, I was finding myself looking for where I was going to go rather than looking out for where not to go. I noticed my ability in this was really there at the Iron Cross this year. I'd gotten passed by a large number of riders on the long road climb before the fire road to the first big single track section. Of the large groups that passed me, I caught and passed back almost all of them and even left the group that I eventually wound up with in the end by almost a minute. (I dropped them in the end, thanks to the 50 tooth chainring and the big road descent). I was feeling the course and moving with it so I didn't have that 'beat up' feeling like I had the previous year. Even though I got stomped in most of the races this year, I think I'm finally ready to get the form back up to where it had been, shed the 10-15lbs I've been trying to get rid of for the past 10 years, and am finally feeling that aggresive streak that I had just a few years back when some of the bigger guns in the region were starting to notice from me. If all goes well, maybe we'll have a few more podium spots and wins for the team next year. Here's hoping.....nah forget about hoping, we're going to do it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

It's that wonderful time of year when jolly ol' St Nick comes marauding through the countryside in his sleigh with the tiny henchmen tagging along ready to back the fat man up in case trouble starts. Well, this year, we're ready for him. We're tired of the damage to the chimneys, the roof shingles ripped off by his sleigh tracks, having to pay him off with the milk and cookies and then all of the incessant noise that comes in the morning when we'd rather be sleeping. I've got the radar set up and Mort has the truck parked out back with a blast wall set up so we don't burn the fence. The fat guy runs around in a red suit, eh? He must be a communist then. We'll be out with a six pack waiting to wish him a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The great midwest....

If you ever get the chance to drive through the great mid-west of this country, I hope there is at least a good reason for you to do it. There's not a lot going on there. It was pretty much a mind-numbing experience but when you hit Rt 70 past St Charles there was the one piece of excitement that was there - Nostalgiaville! They begin getting you all pumped up a few miles past St Charles when you see the first sign.

They keep on coming and it's not long before you see the second one.

And then...well you get the idea... It goes on for around a dozen signs.

Finally, after getting all excited about arriving at the destination, you turn off the exit and here it is. It's a goofy little store and they do have a website too!

If you're into little novelty things from yesteryear, this is the place for you. I think they are able to capitalize on the fact that you've just been driving forever and are so excited about seeing something other than the occasion house or truck stop, that you'll buy lots of memorabilia that they have. It didn't seem to change any from last year but it's an odd little store to see. It did also break up the drive a bit and on the flip side of the highway, you have Ozarkland and a McStop. I didn't get a pic of the McStop but it was something different that we noticed on the way back. It's amazing how easily amused you are after 11+ hours in the car.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The second leg of the journey - Natz

After Portland, I'd made it back to Pittsburgh and worked a full Tuesday and half Wednesday and then buzzed down to Morgantown to load up the VW bus with Gunnar and Betsy. We dropped of Jackie with Betsy's parents in Dayton and continued on. After a stopover just east of St Louis, we finished off the trip to KC after stopping at Nostagiaville again. We got pics of every sign that had up along the highway. If you've ever driven through the midwest, you'd understand how that can be entertaining. Anyway, once there, we stopped at the course and did a few laps in the mud. It looked like it was going to be a fun weekend. I've been doing well in the slick muddy courses where it's more about handling than horsepower. After checking into the hotel and getting the bike I'd Fedexed from Portland, I was ready.

On Friday, we got to the course and I was able to do 5 laps on the course and then got myself ready to pit for Betsy and Gunnar. We wound up not being busy at all since the course was drying out. So I did my part in being ready and cheering people I knew on during the race. Betsy had a decent ride and finished 10th and Gunnar at least made the race entertaining after the few riders up front had ridden off. After starting fairly far back and beating his way into the top ten, he started falling back but then made a race of it for the last podium spot. He fell short but it was still a really good ride.

My race on Saturday didn't go well from the start. I missed a pedal and lost around 30 spots right from the gun. I got back in and started weaving through riders as they slowed to come off the pavement and then gunned it through the first turn. I'd hit it just right and was flying up the stretch and straight into the wreck that happened just as I got there. The race ended right there. I was in a big gear with fallen riders all around me. Damn. I tried to get restarted, but the morale had just taken too big a dive. I rode it out with a few others and we had our own little race within the race. I was winning that fight til towards the top of the fourth hill, I snapped a chain. This was starting to piss me off. I trotted the bike over the top section but the couple guys I was racing with, passed me by. Through the run-up section at the top, I wound up catching and passing one of them and then actually out coasted him through the next long dip towards the descent back down. It took a few hundred yards for the rider to finally catch and pass me. When I'd slow down, I'd get off and run the bike up to speed and coast it til I needed to repeat the process. All the while, I was shouting 'I wouldn't say no to a push, people'. I made it to the pits and got the spare bike and was off for the little bit of race that was left to me. At the end, I'd gotten lapped and it was the end of a dismal day.

After a painful Saturday night of getting the backup bike set up as a single speed, we'd lined up for the 8AM start. I was in the third row and began behind a couple guys on mountain bikes. I weaved thru them and going past the start line, I was about 7th or 8th and not really thinking about the hole shot. Then all of a sudden I was in third and was punching up the little rise. The 2 others wanted it a bit more than I did and I came back into view in third place. We got past the pits for the first time and I got my moment to feel cool. Then it was a slow slipping back through the field as we climbed. It was a bit too much for me. If we'd had a course like last years, I would've faired much better, but it dragged on about a couple hundred yards too far for me and I really died going across the last little section at the top. I held my position going back down and even gained a few spots, but with as fast as the course was, I wasn't going to make back much on the descents. I had fun on the day though and luckily we finished early. When we left the course at 9:30, it was still nice and warm out. About 10, things started to get ugly as the cold rolled in and did it fast. I had a couple friends in the collegiate race who absolutely suffered. I was back in the pits after breakfast at the hotel and it was pretty cold. I wound up hanging onto 3 different bikes as people came in and out for different reasons but there wasn't a whole lot of need for us. Betsy had an awesome ride from the very back of the field to finish 35th. This was made more amazing as she'd finished 22nd in the single speed race in the morning.

After doing the party on Sunday and loading up the bus so we wouldn't have to do it in the morning, we zonked out for one last night in KC. Monday, we fueled up and began the drive. It wound up being a really long drive back to Mo'town and from there I had to drive another hour to get home. I made it in at 4AM and was then up at 7:30 to get ready for work. I made it to 2PM and fell completely on my flat and was out. Twice across the country in 2 weeks might not have been such a good idea after all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Portland USGP

Well, after a few days doing the things that paid my way out to Portland and then a bit, I finally got the bike in from Fedex and tossed it together Friday evening. I road it around a bit to make sure everything was ok and then got some good sleep for the Saturday race. Because this was a late idea, I wound up in the back of the starting grid. I wasn't expecting to do well at all. I'd not had the best tires on the bike yet as I had to use a backup set since the zipps needed serious maintenance. Once started, I'd also found the brakes could've used a bit more attention. I wish there would be a standard width on these things sometimes. Anyhoo, I tried to make the best of it, but just didn't feel confident on the course nor did I really have the energy. In short, I rode like crap. After hanging out and watching the elite races, I got the bike cleaned up and zipped back to the house where I was staying. My friends went out to a Yakima company party with their little girl so I spent Saturday just laying on the couch and watching bad TV. 200+ channels and not a freakin decent thing on. My mind was pudding anyway. I got the tires flip flopped and had the Hutchinson bulldogs ready. Now these tires are seriously good tires. I'm told you shouldn't run clinchers too low but I had these puppies at a hair over 30lbs pressure (I didn't want to say 31lbs and really sound anal about it). Later I watched an Austin Powers movie and some mind numbing thing that I still can't remember. Onward to Sunday.

After finally being able to say I did a cyclocross race on the west coast when it wasn't raining(it was still muddy though), Sunday's race returned me to a more comfortable situation. It was pouring down rain, somehow for my race only though. I guess I'm one of those black cloud people. After not being able to hold anything the previous day, the bulldogs hooked up to the course as if there wasn't any mud at all. I again started at the back, but after the first section of the motocross section of the course, I was almost halfway thru the field. I was on a good one. On the second lap, I was still holding my ground, but got wrecked into on the loop de loops at the start of the lap. That set me back a few places, but I managed to get myself going. I even had a bit of a cheering section as I am finding quite a few people who've moved out there from Western PA. Others that I've met remember the ponytail and know it's me so that helps out more. I let myself get egged on and road the tough little off camber zigzag which then did a 180 at the bottom of the hill and went right back up. I was moving past others who were having alot of trouble with the course and I was starting to feel pretty cool. The third lap, I'd made the hill again but had to do a one step scoot as the mud was really getting wet with the rain. By the 4th lap, I was still in the mid upper 30s place, when coming over the top of the loop de loops, I pedaled to build up a big head of steam to go blowing through the mud and the rider who'd dropped over a few seconds before, suddenly panicked, hit his brakes, got sideways and then road straight into my path. It was at this moment, that I remembered Bill Cosby's line from one of his early stand-up acts. First you say it, then you do it. I broadsided him about 5 yards into the mud. If it had happened closer to the bottom of the hill, both of us probably would've been headed to the hospital. Luckily, the mud took some of the speed from me and it wasn't as bad as it could've been. We both still went ass over tin cups and both of us got a bit banged up and lost 30 seconds or more getting up. I'd also screwed up a wheel so I had to pit and get a spare. It was really nice to have the SRAM guys there with the spare Zipps but the tires they use suck in the mud. When I got to the off-camber section again, I figured my race was done, so let's entertain people. Well, entertain I did. I road strongly through the first section looking like I was Superman and then I hit the corner at the bottom with a bit too much speed. Well, from this part of the race, you'll see why the blog is named what it's named. I laid it down and really coated myself well with mud. It was fun though, but this lap had now cost me almost 3 minutes and it was still only half over and now I was feeling the day. I took it easy for the next half lap and then came through for the 5th lap. The following couple laps I road the first section but due to my lack of confidence in the front wheel,I opted to dismount and just run the last section of the zigzag. I was chasing a few of the other riders but just couldn't keep going like I was earlier. In the end, I road it in and called it a day well spent with the knowledge that I could go well and actually be competitive in the Master's elite field, but I just needed a bit more luck on my side and not the bad kind. I currently have a 3rd row start spot in the Natz 40-44 field. Barring a miracle, I'm not going to win the race but maybe I can pull off the hole shot. I've done that before at a MAC race in the Master's elite against some pretty fast guys. Maybe I can pull it off again.

In the end, I'd had a pretty good week. I got to finally meet my good friends Chuck's and Dawn's little baby girl, ridden a couple fun races, met some great people, had a good couple days of work, got a free round trip ticket to anywhere in the continental United States(I took the bump on the way out), got a couple test model Scott running shoes and will have a pair of Spira hiking boots sent to me, and came back to a work situation that was pretty stable and didn't resemble the aftermath of the London blitz. The guys at I-Generator are also looking to have me come out there 2 times next year so I'm feeling pretty stoked about everything.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Airline efficiency

I was pretty impressed with how well United's service was going ... until I got to Chicago. We got in with plenty of time to spare but when I got to the gate, there were about a couple thousand people waiting to get on the plane at my gate. They were vastly oversold. So much for my opinion of United's efficiency. I'm now spending the afternoon sitting at O'hara International and waiting for my first class flight thru San Fran and then to Portland. I did get the free air tickets for the troubles. I wasn't going to be doing a whole lot anyway, so I figured, take the bonus plan. I got my tickets paid for me to go out and now I've got another round trip to where ever. I'll have to think about where to use them. In the meantime, I'll resume people watching. So far, the current pick for the most different person was the girl who has the buzz cut and was wearing a short cutoff jean skirt and tights with skulls down the outside of the leg. Along with that, she had an array of piercings. The good thing was, they were at least tastefully done and not the 'oooo, you must have lost a dozzy of a bet' type of piercing.

More people watching. The area where my flight is currently is waiting to board a flight for Vegas. There are some normal business travelers and also some people who'll look like they're taking a few days to go do the slots. I know you really can't judge people by their looks, but it does look like there is a few 'professional' women too. Judging by their attire, I don't think they're working a normal 9 to 5 office job. If they are and the attire is just their 'casual' cloths, where are the companies that have women like that located and are they hiring?

People watching at the airport

I'm waiting for my flight to Portland this morning. I have fun people watching while in congested areas like this. You do find an interesting cross section of people in certain places. I find it's a lot like high school cliques. You get groups of the same type of people herding together. There must've been a country music convention somewhere that people are going to since there was about 20 people in a large group and everyone of them had their cowboy hats on. As I type this, there is also the stereotypical asian guy with the camera taking pictures out the window at the planes coming in. I guess I'm the stereotypical geek with the notebook doing senseless typing as I wait for my flight. I need another cup of coffee. 4AM came waaaayyyyyy too soon for me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pack Pack Pack!

I'm getting ready for a little work trip that just happens to be at the same bat time and same bat channel as the USGP this weekend. I'm upgrading a network I take care of out there which is paying for this little shin-ding. I've already fedex-ed the bike out there which saved me about $110 compared to what it would've cost me by taking it on the plane. From there, I'll send it on to KC for the following week. The spare bike will be getting a rest this weekend as I will have a spare out there already. It's always hell for me to get away for a few days and this year has been no different. I've gotten this routine down pretty well though and I should not have any problem this year. Portland is a town that I really enjoy going to, since I have some good friends there and it's a great town to visit. I do think I'm a bit too conservative(SARAH 2012! Unless Romney goes again. Some research scientist really needs to figure out how to re-animate the Gipper! ) for most folks out there to tolerate me for too long, but I enjoy it. It's funny how the locals there think Starbuck's is the great Satan of Coffee. There are lots of good coffee shops and sometimes the girls at the one near the office where I'll be are pretty cute. Some might bat from the left side of the plate, but that doesn't stop me from thinking they're cute. By Friday, the bike will be in and I'll slap it together and finish prepping it for the race. I only had enough time to get the worst of the crap off, lube it a bit and stuff it in the box on Monday. Sometimes I hate having a job. I also think I might actually get lucky this year. I've raced cross on the west coast in 5 of the past 6 years and I've never raced when it hasn't been in a downpour. Usually I get in and it's sunny for about the first 4 hours and then it gets cloudy and then goes to hell. I've been watching the forecast and the rain is supposed to have stopped before today and then it'll be sunny till Friday and then cloudy for the weekend. Dammit, I just checked again and they've advanced the rain to Sunday instead of Tuesday of next week. I'm hoping maybe I'll get just this little bit lucky this year.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Local racing

It's great to be able to jump in the car and drive off to some of the bigger events. With the larger number of racers, festive atmosphere and the getting out of town with friends thing, it's what keeps me going out there. But every now and then, it's fun to just be able to drive 30 minutes to a race and do the local thing. I've now done 2 weekends of the almost no travel and it hasn't sucked. The Freddie Fu team in Pittsburgh put on a good race yesterday. Too bad more riders didn't come out, but the weather had it's say on the day. Cold, like we experienced last week is one thing. Cold and wet is another. I would've tried a second race but I'm only able to deal with a wet chamois for so long. The course was a very good one and offered a lot of options for riders on the course. It was interesting to see how riders chose different lines and got up the little run-ups. The ride of the day had to be from Mike Mihalik. After crashing and getting swarmed by the 3 Speedgoat riders in the race, he'd fallen back to 6th place on the day. Then after a couple laps, he made the move of the day and burst up on the extreme inside of the first run-up and gapped Andy Gorski and Gerry Pflug. It wasn't just the small gap that yawned a bit but still allowed the others to get back on. It went to 3 or 4 seconds almost immediately and by the time he came back around the tennis courts a minute and a bit later, it was over 10 seconds. Something lit a fire under his ass and he took off. A few laps later, former MAC Masters champ Joe Ruggery came into his sights. On the lap where Mike caught him, Joe forced him to get off his bike the only time up the run-up for the day, but that just wasn't enough. The cold rain seemed to be getting to everyone except Mike. He came back to even closing to inside a minute behind long time leader Steve Cummings but he didn't quite have enough time. Overall, the venue was actually one of the better courses I'd been on this year. It would be a good one even with a pack of 40 or more riders. Maybe next year this will be where states are located and the idea has been floated. On top of the course being a good one for the riders, it was also a very good one for the spectators as you can view almost the entire course from 2 points. There are also a couple good points for being right at the tape and heckling. It was fun egging the riders on to attempt riding up the muddy climb and then the sharp off camber turns only a few yards away made it a really good spectator course. If we can get the Seton Hill cross race back next year, it could certainly make for a very good weekend. Time to start making those plans for next year.