Blog

Back 2 July

All the recent effort and I am just now getting back to my fitness level from last July. If I had my druthers, I would be riding several hours a day to prep for my Sancho 200 “rice”. Work just gets in the way of what I want to do. Let’s face it, ALL of us that are working for a living have plenty of other things we would rather be doing. We are literally trading part (most?) of our life for money. The time I spend today, doing what I do for my company, has a cost and a return. I am happy with that return for now…even though I would rather be doing something else. It allows me to provide and afford a certain lifestyle….which includes riding a bike for fun. Ask me how I feel about my job when I am 16+ hours in to the Sancho and pushing my bike through sand and I will probably tell you I can’t wait to get back to work.

Hello! It’s been awhile.

I’m still assaulting the mountain.

To say there have been some changes would be an understatement.  We sold our home of over 20 years and moved to our newly built house (Note: Purging and packing 20+ years of “stuff” is no fun). Our youngest finished her sophomore year of high school and started her junior year in a completely new town. Our middle child graduated high school and is a freshman at Central. Our oldest child is a Senior at CMU.  Christine has already participated in a musical with the local theater company and found a job in our new hometown. I continue to work from home in a nice warm first floor office as opposed to my Michigan cellar with plywood desk.  I travel as little as possible. Some months I fail terribly at that but fortunately much of the travel is flying so not as much time on the highways as in past years.

We now live in a port town so I get to nerd out and watch lake freighters come in every few weeks to deliver and load goods. 

Life is good but often challenging as we face the reality of our parents aging and the imminent release of our children into the wild.

I did get to enjoy a couple of months of cycling last fall in the new neighborhood but I took somewhat of a hiatus over the winter.  While I enjoy riding on my own and find it helpful for stress relief, I miss my riding partner Tom.  He helped keep me accountable and pushed me to ride harder and more often.  I am hoping to join up on some group rides this spring that the local bike shop organizes and that should be nice.  In an effort to motivate myself, I signed up for a very tough 200-mile gravel ride in June.

Sancho 200

My training for the ride has started in earnest with a few weeks already spent on my trainer in the basement.  I don’t fancy riding inside but it is very convenient and the weather is always perfect.  It also allows forces me to stick to set goals.  With several work trips in the next couple of months I have to stay on top of the riding or I will never survive 200 miles of gravel and seasonal roads.  The fitness level is going up but I still have a long way to go to even match where I was last May/June when I did my big rides.

Looking at the graph, it makes me wonder why I even attempted Mount Mitchell.  I was ill prepared and still can’t believe I made it.  I would certainly never attempt it again without a much higher base of fitness.  Combine that experience with my 24 hour ride in June and I have a much better idea of what I need to do this year. 

Let’s see if I can pull it off.

A 24 Hour Ride

It was a challenge to be awake and on a bike for so many hours. I met some very nice people. The event was well organized and the volunteers manning the checkpoints were upbeat and encouraging. The roads traveled were scenic and very low traffic.  The climbing was difficult but manageable.  The heat and humidity did not become oppressive until later in the day.  The 7 mile “night loop”, with police at every corner waving you through the intersections, was almost comforting to ride once it got dark.

 but….I am on the fence about this ride. I still haven’t decided if I liked it.

Despite the positives, there were negatives.  There wasn’t much more than water at the checkpoints.  The checkpoints were far apart and those scenic roads had very little in the way of supply points if you needed food or really anything. To be fair, many riders had a crew supplying them along the route and this was actually a strong suggestion of the event organizers.  Unfortunately, my “crew” had plenty of other things to do on a perfectly good Saturday.  I can’t blame them for that.

The worst of it is that  saddle sores have made me rethink my entire life. Holy sh*t they hurt. 

I think I will just stick to my local routes and the odd century or two…once I can climb on my bike without cursing.

Stats for the ride:

Miles ridden 206

Vertical climbing 5397 ft.

Average speed 14.9mph

Calories burned 7,771

On bike time 13:48

Elapsed time 17:40

Assaulted by a Mountain

Apparently, at 50 years old, I am still naive.  I have planned to climb Mount Mitchell for more than six months.  I trained over the winter.  I trained as much as I could this spring.  I looked at the elevation profiles.  I researched the climb to the top and came up with a (ridiculous) goal. I researched some more.  I was confident that it would be difficult but I would make it with no issues.

Let’s just be honest here.  Arrogance can help in some situations.  I had a lot of arrogance about this ride. I thought “It can’t be that hard” “They only make it seem like it is difficult so that they can feel better or brag when they complete the ride.”  “It’s just a bit of climbing.  I do that all the time around here”.  I was incredibly wrong.

When I reached Marion, approximately 70 miles in, I still had a large amount of arrogance onboard with me. I felt good.  Plenty of energy and I had needed to use the restroom twice during the ride at that point so I knew I was getting enough water despite the record heat. This was going to be a cake walk.  Just rinse and repeat for the next 30 miles.

That is not how it went.  Those 30 miles were the toughest miles I have ever spent on my bike. There were climbs that were nearly impossible for me.  I had to get off the bike and rest before continuing on.  I had to put my head down between my legs so I wouldn’t pass out.  I had to squeeze thick glucose gel into my mouth to continue. In the end, I was one of the last allowed to finish the ride due to the time constraints that the park service places on this ride.  Many times during that relentless 30 mile climb and just shortly after, I swore that I would never do this ride again. EVER.

…and here we are, two days past the event, and I think I may want to do it again.  I can do better.  I can train in such a way that this won’t be as difficult. I will never make it to the top in 5:09 as the first finisher did this year but I can certainly make it in less than 10 hours….right?  Maybe I really am naive but let’s see what the next year brings. Arrogance does help.

2000

It’s going to be May momentarily.  Spring has still been quite elusive but I finally believe we have turned the corner.  The furnace still continues to run but not nearly as often nor for as long.  Construction has begun on our new home. Yard work and prepping our existing home for sale consumes much free time.  College visits and getting ready for our second child’s graduation figure in as well. Work is, as always, very busy. 

Throughout all of the craziness, cycling continues to be my refuge.  Think back to when you were a child and you first learned how to ride a bicycle.  Think about the sense of freedom you felt when those two wheels expanded your world far beyond what you were capable of before.  It really was not unlike the sense of flying, elevated above the ground with the wind in your face, traveling far faster than just your legs could carry you.  Remember?  I get to experience that on a regular basis.  It is my stress relief, my way to think, a way to socialize with a friend.  It helps me stay healthy. It challenges me.

…and speaking of challenges, take a look at the countdown in the sidebar. My assault on Mt. Mitchell is about two weeks away.  I think I am ready.   I am about 300 miles off the mileage pace I would like to be on but I have made it to the 2000 mile mark.  I have had lots of good “training” rides.  My legs feel strong. My fitness is the highest it has been since last October and is still increasing.  Bring on May!

Assaulting a Virtual Mountain

The weather and travel have conspired to hamper my training over the last week or so.   Travel brings its own special challenge in that it forces me to use either the elliptical or a recumbent stationary bike…both of which I absolutely abhor. This usually means I do far less than I should. Fifteen to twenty minutes in a hotel “fitness center” is about all I can take. The weather is a crap shoot lately. Low temperatures can be dealt with by bundling up and just riding anyway but cold coupled with a snow/rain mix just makes for a miserable and potentially dangerous ride.  Enter the smart trainer.  This is a device that I can attach my road bike to that can emulate the resistance of riding outside – including climbing hills.  It isn’t exactly the same but it is a reasonable facsimile.  I use two programs to control and track my rides, TrainerRoad and Zwift.

TrainerRoad is all about straight training.  There are loads of different training programs to follow depending on what you are trying to accomplish but the interface is bare bones – just a simple graph to follow with on screen prompts giving you tips and drills to improve your cadence, pedal efficiency, etc.

 

It’s simple and it works.  In conjunction with the smart trainer, you are forced to put out the power that the training program requires because it is in control of the trainer and the resistance that is required to turn the pedals.  No need to even shift gears.  I have used it a lot this winter and I am happy with my ability to maintain an acceptable level of fitness when I couldn’t get out on the fat bike.

Zwift is more immersive.  It is like a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game.  Your avatar is riding on virtual roads with hundreds of other riders from all over the world.  Two of the courses represent real world locations and roads- London and Richmond, VA.  The third course is called Watopia and it has an active volcano to ride up (and through!), jungle, dirt roads, flat and hilly roads. Most timely for me is the latest route that has opened – Alpe du Zwift .  Zwift created this route using GPS data to perfectly match the incline and distance of the famed Tour de France Alpe d’Huez climb with 21 hairpin turns and 3,399 feet of climbing at an average 8% grade.  What better way to train for climbing a mountain than by virtually climbing a mountain?  All I can say is that I made it.  I was slow – it took me well over two hours to make it to the top – but I made it.  With no real world climb in the area that can match this level of intensity and length, the plan will be to throw this virtual ride in at least a few more times before I actually climb Mount Mitchell.

*Note the above animation was borrowed from the Zwift blog

First Week in The Bag

The first full week of training is complete. It has been cold and windy but at least the roads have been clear and dry.  My use of the trainer this winter gave me a base to work from and I am not starting completely from scratch.  Riding the road is a far different animal though and it is much tougher when you are actually pushing your weight along rather than riding in place.  Speaking of which, to ease my climb up a mountain, I need to lighten the engine weight by ten or more pounds before the ride.  This may actually prove to be the bigger challenge as the extra exercise comes with an increased appetite. Wish me luck. 

 

What do I think?

A lot of people have been asking me what I think about turning 50.  I don’t have a good answer.  It is a milestone and arguably I have outlived our Cro-Magnon ancestors, who likely only made it to 20 on average, and I’ve even outlived a fair number of my not too distant relatives.  I don’t know if this is an accomplishment or just a function of the era we live in.  They say that 50 is the new 40, 60 the new 50, 70 the new 60 (and 80? 80 is 80 – you’re screwed).  I have benefited from being born in and living in the United States with access to modern medicine, proper attention to hygiene, access to clean water and plenty of food.  This makes me one of the lucky ones.

So what do I think?  I think I didn’t work terribly hard to reach 50 but I sure as hell am going to work hard to reach 80.

Beignets and Beads

I will call my latest work trip “The Last Hurrah” before I buckle down and seriously start training for the Mt. Mitchell ride in May.  I spent no time on the stationary bike in the hotel. I ate beignets and steak and shrimp and….  The only thing I can say is that I did a fair amount of walking in the evening to slightly offset the junk I put into my body. New Orleans was interesting to say the least.  I would love to have been carrying a real camera instead of a phone to capture the beauty and depravity but the phone is what I had.   That being said, I don’t believe I will be back unless work takes me there again for some reason.

 

So I guess U-locks work?

 

 

The Assault

I will soon be 50 years old. That is unremarkable in many ways but I think it is an important milestone. This is the point where I begin to really take stock of all that I do. I have limited time left on this planet and I want that time to mean something to me and my family. The name of this blog is “Assaulting A Mountain” for a reason. It is a metaphor in that I will be assaulting the “mountain” of my older years but it is also a very real goal that I have set to kick off my 50th year on this planet. In May I will be climbing Mount Mitchell in North Carolina on my bicycle.

The Assault on Mount Mitchell