Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yet another thing that trumps golf

The Almanzo 100 was Saturday. I rode it. The day, the course, the people, the challenge/s, the concept were all spectacular.
Four years ago, a guy wanted to host a race/ride that would showcase the local scenery & terrain, challenge riders, and be a conscious rebellion/counter-point to the high-fee event rides--thus, a free event. I believe four of the twelve completed the ride.

This year, there were over 400 signed up initially, and about 300 started the race. 268 completed it. That's crazy growth. One very dedicated man, with help from his family, friends, local officials, has created something truly special. There is now a 'race series' connected to this event, the AGRS (all gravel race series): the Ragnarok (in April, out of Red Wing); the Almanzo (May, Rochester/Spring Valley); Westside Dirty Benjamin (June, west of Mpls); Heck of the North (October, out of Duluth), plus the Gentleman's Ride (September, retracing Almanzo's route, but with Chris and friends able to participate this time).
The rules are simple: You are on your own. You are responsible for you. You are on you own. Help one another out. Be smart: bring food, liquid, tools, equipment, etc enough to get you through 100 miles and many hours of riding outside your comfort zone.

I am new to cycling. I had never ridden 100 miles at a shot (the previous weekend's 100 Miles of Nowhere for Fatty didn't really count). I'd never ridden on gravel. I was not a race favorite.

I sweat a great deal, which, over the course of long-distance exertion, makes me a strong candidate for dehydration. Or hypothermia, depending on temperature and wind. Sweating profusely causes saddle sores. Sweating profusely burns lots of energy, leading to bonking. Entering a self-supported ride was a stretch. I've been riding a good deal the past year, but that is relative.

I knew the mental component would play a significant factor: the unknown. CAN I do this? Do I have what it takes to finish? WHAT does it take, for that matter? WHAT's coming next? Not to mention, how my body would endure the hours of riding. That was another unknown. Hard to conceive what it would really entail--despite having biked 60-80 miles several times recently. If I weren't fighting uncertainty, I could logically assess what it all should/could mean. But that's what psychology does--my haze of doubt, unknown, fear, etc obscured my ability to clearly assess the realities.

I finished the ride. I came in under eight hours. I started at the way back of the pack, rather than getting caught up in racers' adrenalin. I figured I had plenty of time to catch/pass whomever I might. I must say that I passed a whole lot more people than passed me. I was the 140th finisher of 268. Not quite mid-pack, but I pedaled well and did my thing all day.

That being said, it was incredibly fucking hard. I felt like a salt-encrusted zombie (except for the brain-hunger) at the end. It was beyond me how all these other people were so spry.
The winners arrived around 5:15, two hours and 35 minutes before me. Wow. Granted, there were groups of fast-racers working together up there. And they were/are people who ride bikes seriously... I bonked at one point, not too far past Preston, I think. Mind started to quit--largely because of low blood sugar. But it was a fascinating feeling, to witness it (helplessly) while it was occurring. I'd packed way too much stuff and initially tried to self-carry it all (rather than take advantage of the drop-spot at mile 64), and this heavy, clunky bag swung against my back for many hours. It sucked.
Beautiful scenery. Gorgeous day. People were really nice, though most were doing their thing, riding as hard as they were able, or wanted. The gravel was really crazy. I've never played with it, so it was a non-crash crash course in riding on/over/through gravel. The HILLS were bonkers. Utterly fucking bonkers, and not only were they S T E E P: the descents were rough and on gravel. Quite scary. There were a handful of crashes over all. Even though I was prudent and started away from the front, I still got caught up in the early race adrenalin, AND, I certainly didn't help my overall time by losing so much time at the outset. Unsure whether my finishing time would have been much different had I been mid-pack (nor if that matters at all).

We were picking up speed and rolling out nicely when we hit the first descent, about three miles in. I'd begun passing people, making my way at a decent pace through the spreading crowd, and I was about to pass one more guy as we turned and started to roll downhill. I rode up on his ass, braked, started to pass but figured it was rude and I had 99 miles to go, no point rushing. That decision likely saved me, for the energy of passing gives a little burst of speed or acceleration, and, as it was, I found myself struggling to keep the bike under control as Mother Earth withdrew from us like the frosty virago she is. Seriously, a major introduction to how fucking steep the drops/climbs would be. And, just ahead, major carnage. Too many dudes at the front hitting it hard found themselves with no more road and too much momentum. Scary reminder/s of reality and risk. There were many more semi-perilous descents all day. A couple people wiped out hard along the way.

Suffering, alone.
Riding, riding, riding. Just trying to eat the miles in the swiftest pace possible, maintaining energy to get across the line. Fairly straightforward. Endurance=endure and time. Realizing more and more how freaking difficult it is to become a true cyclist--how many hundreds of hours and thousands of miles need to be spent to simply develop the muscle memory, stamina, experience to do it. And that's just the base level. To have more than one (slow) speed, or any actual skill--that's an entirely different, more complicated issue. I marvel at how many people just left me in the, well, dust, all day Saturday. Too, I caught and passed a great number of people, so I'm not horrible, but there were strata of competitive vs pleasure riders (perhaps not pleasure, per se); okay: racers vs riders.

In high school and college, being a football player, I was surrounded by lots of big dummies (not from Surly) who scoffed and mocked the soccer players for being effete and less-macho than the swollen, violent pigskin boys. I knew enough to appreciate how hard it was/is to run that much, and how much skill goes into the dexterity of good soccer. Cycling requires brutal stamina, merciless tactical acumen, yet the casual observer gets tripped up on the goofy costumes and the media illusions around Lance Armstrong's success.

I don't know that I could have pushed much more, or ridden any slower. I just go. Absent the uncertainty and worry, however, I think there would have been more efficient pedaling and mental focus.

We'll see how the Dirty Benjy goes in June. Going to be hot hotter hot, albeit less hilly.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Statements of the Obvious, parental version, brief

I hate mothers who smoke while pushing their kids in strollers.
I hate parents who smoke in the car with their kids.
(When I was young, my good friend's step-father was an abusive drunk; he did have a bitchin' camaro, however, and would drive us around occasionally in it. Except he was drunk-ish as people frequently were in the 70s, and he smoked, so the combination of the Camaro squealing corners and the trapped smoke gave me a visceral reaction. Too, for the first couple years after they married, my mother smoked and our trips up I-95 in August heat were marked by her smoke blowing back into the car. So: cars, smoke, and me are not good.)

I hate fathers who feel they have to 'man up' their sons before the boys are even in school, since the specter of 'gayness' is implicitly a mark of unmanly failure for these dumb dads.

I hate fathers who are disappointed by having a daughter, since they 'can't play with her' the way they could with a boy (by what? enforcing insecure homophobic machismo on them? Why, yes, actually: several guys have said they fear turning their daughters into lesbians by playing catch with them.)

I hate fathers who keep their daughters at a distance because they cannot separate parental and familial affection with predatory lechery. But if you actually liked your wife as a person, rather than as a fucktool, you might see women as more than just object and/or threat, which would make it easier to love your daughters correctly.

Awful lot of hate for so early on a sunny morning, sure, but it's what the world presented me.
On a better note, hooray for those who valiantly give it their best.

Monday, May 10, 2010

100 miles of the mind

Saturday I did the 100 Miles to Nowhere, a quasi-fundraiser spearheaded by Fat Cyclist/Team Fatty for Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Brief thoughts: 'Stuff White People Like' should certainly include 'adventure challenges'--triathlons, marathons, 'extreme' sports, fun runs, fundraiser runs: it's great stuff but people are safe and able to spend time & money (often quite a lot of both) to train for wholly artificial challenges. I'm no exception. The success of Kenyan runners isn't because they have a super-tight-knit fixie culture that forces the non-skinny-jeans crew to run rather than ride. It's a way out of their hard lives.

It IS an interesting and valid challenge to put oneself into mental discomfort (physical, too, but it's the mental part that limits the physical). I struggle with this some with my daughters: old-school football coaches did all sorts of damage, but the virtues of 'sucking it up' DO make one better, tougher, less inclined to quit. I've never ridden 100 miles. I've been working up to it. Last Monday I aimed for a century but wind was in my face first 35 miles, temps were cool, and the rain was coming at me. Mentally, I caved in. I stopped to piss and said, 'Sure, I'm alone on a beautiful trail. I've got 15 more miles out, about an hour of riding, then I'll turn around, ride the same 15 back, another hour--only to be standing right here, with another two-plus hours of return monotony facing me. MENTAL failure. As I turned around and headed back, I felt lighter. It was the release of worry, of uncertainty.

I'm 43 and a very late beginner for cycling. The hours necessary to develop a base, a reserve, not to mention the actual handling skills--let alone the ability to ride well, ride hard--it's all out of reach. Doesn't mean I can't ride because I enjoy it, or can't push myself because it's a good thing to do.

Annie's bemused by my fervid immersion into cycling. I don't do anything half-assed, and really throw myself into things I'm interested in--wine, women, & song. Wait: I don't drink (for that very reason, no moderation); I'm passionately faithful, but intense (to extreme) about my desire for Annie; I can't sing but the music that moves me strikes deep into my core.

When I drive long distances, I get focussed. If it's X-hundred miles somewhere, I'll drive there, stopping for gas only. It's a challenge and a mania. It's not an effort: any other way is anathema to me.

So, Saturday, I went to the basement, sat on my bike, popped 2003 Vuelta de Espana in the dvd player, and pedaled. I had lots of water and snacks and whatnot right beside me. I sweat. I sweat a lot. I changed my shirt/jersey four times; my bibs thrice--and should have changed them at least once more. Ended the day with saddle sores largely caused by the swamp in my shorts, plus shifting my body artificially on the trainer, lots of grinding rather than balancing.

I was aiming for 20 mph while pedaling, which would give me 5 hours, plus breaks. Except, of course, there's no coasting on a trainer, so whenever I needed to pause or shift or adjust myself, I slowed down or stopped. The ride got tedious, random joints barked a little, I sweat an awful lot. And that was it. Finished in toto just under six hours, with four five minute breaks and one or two shorter stops.

I explained to my (many) skeptical friends that it was a fundraiser that was also an analogy writ small for the frustrating labyrinth of cancer treatment: spinning wheels endlessly, going nowhere, suffering mentally from the tedium and the endlessness of it. It is NOT akin to cancer--about that I'm very clear, but a good-natured parallel.

I sweat hard, my skin tears easily, I need to hydrate a lot, I get bloated with hydration. Muscles a bit sore. Ass cheeks chafed from shifting on the seat w/ sopping bibs. Taint chafed, because that's what cycling is. Lycra abrasions on prick, again from sweaty bibs. Minor stuff for a good cause.