Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Boggs or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Mountain

This past weekend was Boggs, presented by Bike Monkey. Boggs is an 8 hour long Mountain Bike race taking place among the beautiful trees in Cobb, CA. There were many ways that one could participate in the race: solo (the full 8 hours for the mentally insane), 2 person team (for the brutally tough), and 3 person team (for those who know their limits). The 3 person team was obviously the team of choice for me. Our all women three person team consisted of: Emily McLanahan, May Woo, and Myself (Sam Bell).

My emotions before the race was like riding the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz. I have only been on a Mountain Bike twice before this race, and did not ride the course before the race started. Needless to say, I was going into the race with hardly any experience. However I was surrounded by our supportive Sheila Moon team and my anxiety was put at ease as I asked silly questions like what fashionable cycling outfit would be good for Boggs.

Boggs weekend finally came, Friday night was chuck full of excitement as we ate our pasta dinner and sat around the fire. I was still not sure what to expect from my first Mountain Bike race, but continued to get excited as the stories from last year's Boggs filled the air.

Morning came and my gut clinched. Holy crap, it was about to start. My team elected the young rookie (myself) to go first. My stomach continued to churn as we listened to the pre-race instructions and as the other categories were slowly started on their way. Our category started and I had a pretty good head start, well until we hit the single track and I got scared and forgot all the things I had learned that last ride with Murphy. Brake. Brake. Brake. Riders were passing me now, lots of riders. I was getting frustrated, I wanted to do really well my first race so I could be all proud of myself. Then the uphill fire roads came, and I pushed hard to get to the top passing a few riders on the way, and seeing one of myself teammates (Arena) on the side of the road fixing a flat. It felt like with every rider I passed on my incline, five would pass me on the decent, but I hung in there. Even after turning the wrong way, and going out of my way for about ten minutes I was determined not to be defeated by the mountain. I got the finish of my first lap feeling defeated. I watched as May took off up the road on her first lap, she looked tough on that little mountain bike. Emily and I ended up having to trade off bikes between our laps because I didn't have a mountain bike, it was a great bit of awesome teamwork.

Resting between laps was not as relaxing as I would have hoped. After speaking with Emily and our friend Joie, I began to calm down and be less mad at my performance. I mean, it was my first race and I lacked the technical skills that I will learn in future rides. Joie told me to remember what it was like being a little Sam and just have fun with it. My second lap was way better, and my theme song came into my head like I was a superhero. I beat my first lap time by ten minutes, and that in itself was enough to make me feel great. The last lap was the toughest, already feeling like I had raced two cross races in one day, I was in for another lap and my stomach started cramping. It was a painful finish, but I was proud of myself for pushing through it. In the end, our teams hard work paid off and we placed second in our category with our other 3 person women's team (Kathryn, Arena, and Clare) behind us in third.

There is no better way to end a Mountain Bike race then a campfire with tacos, beer, rum cider, and stories of the race. It was truly a fun weekend, and I can't wait to ride through the trees in the dirt again.



May and Emily:

Our Team:

This is the way you finish the race:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rider Down

Our teammate Jeremy just had his long-broken shoulder reconstructed, and has started his 6 month (or more) recovery.

He's in good spirits, though, although that could just be the painkillers.

Old Hardware
They pulled this out of his shoulder, and replaced it with shiny new hardware.

many screws
It's hard to tell, but several of those screws are stripped. Getting them out of his shoulder was apparently pretty tough!

We are all hoping Jeremy'll be back rolling again soon!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More Grasshopper

(somehow this post ended up almost as long as the ride itself. It hurt less, though)

This was probably the hardest day on a bike I've had, other than last year's Shasta Lemurian.

There were, I think, close to 200 people who started this ride. From what I hear, there were at least 3 mountain bike olympians, as well as a ton of miscellaneous fast folks. The ride started out with a big road spin. 200 people in a big pack, when many of them do not know how to ride in a group (like, me, for example) makes for a sketchy beginning.

About 20 minutes in to the ride, the pack declared a "nature break". Davin and I joined in. A little struggling with camelbaks and other kit, and by the time we were done, we were well off the back. We started rotating back and forth to try to catch the pack, since we had only a vague idea of where we were going. We picked up another rider at one point, and he slotted in nicely with us, till we hit the bottom of the first climb. This climb was surprisingly steep, but we made it up in good order nonetheless. Around the top of the first climb we went by Derrick, and on the way down managed to almost make the Cherry Road turn. We rode the next flat section in a group of about ten people, which promptly broke apart when we hit the next big climb, Old Caz.

Unfortunately, I was on the wrong end of the broken group. Davin just waltzed up out of sight, and meanwhile I struggled up the hill, getting passed by pairs of people chatting away, guys 20 years older than me, and probably people walking. I knew I was really in trouble when most of the way up, Derrick blew by me on his full-suspension mountain bike. Getting passed by someone on a duallie uphill is not usually a good sign. Fortunately, I was able to keep up with Derrick til the top of the climb, where Davin was handing out whiskey shots, and waiting with a couple other folks.

I grabbed some food out of my pack and had a quick nip or two to get in the right frame of mind, and then Davin, Derrick, Evan (the East Bay Alleycx organizer) and I started down the pretty swoopy dirt descent. Our fun was cut very short when we ran across a pretty horrifyiing sight. A dog tied in the back of a pickup had jumped out of the bed. Unfortunately, the rope was not long enough for it to actually reach the ground, and it was struggling to keep from hanging itself. We stopped, and not eager to try to handle an agitated dog struggling for its life, we started shouting for its owner, who had passed us going up the road on an ATV a minute before. Davin just started to go up the road to chase him down when a woman came from the field and tried to get it into the bed. Derrick dropped his brand new bike to help out, and between them, they wrestled the dog back into the truck, hopefully to stay.

The rest of the descent was pretty damn fun. Twisty, a little slick, and only slightly rocky. Since I was running pretty high tire pressure, though, it was pretty bumpy. But I made it to the bottom, where I was confronted by a 25-foot wide stream. I picked up my bike and waded across, in water up to my knees, to the far bank, where I saw Blake Van Knopka from Team Oakland (who'd apprently had a flat), Dustin from Touchstone, and a few other folks. Davin had apparently stopped to help someone with a screwed up chain, so I ended up waiting five or so minutes for him, while everyone else I know took off.

Eventually he showed up and we started the climb up out of the streambed with a guy in a Rock Lobster kit. He and Davin chatted about cars while I struggled grimly to stay with them. Eventually, we got to the paved road, which was a stunningly twisty downhill to a bridge and back along a road we'd already ridden the other way. We almost made the Austin Creek (?) turnoff, and only had to backtrack 25 feet or so to get to it. Austin Creek is a rolling, moderate uphill, and I was slowly starting to get my wind back, so the three of us ended up putting together a pretty good pace here. Eventually, we picked up a crew of around 5 people, including Rock Lobster guy and a guy on a Trek full-suspension bike. Davin and I each took a pull, then Trek guy took a monster pull, which dropped everybody else off the back, and then caused him to blow up spectacularly immediately after, leaving Davin and me to roll away.

As we turned onto 116, we saw a group of about half a dozen riders up ahead, and decided to catch them. Davin threw down a big effort and dragged me up to the group, which included Evan, Paul from Team Oakland, and was led by the mighty Blake Van Knopka. Earlier this month Blake spent a week with the MASH/SF guys riding the Tour of California route--on a fixed gear. So he turns out to be in pretty good shape these days. He was setting a pretty good pace, but every time he'd pull off to let someone else come through, no one would. Eventually, Davin and I (having been sitting on the back of the group for a couple minutes) started to feel bad about this, and jumped up to the front to help share the load.

I pulled first, and then when I was done, Davin stepped up, but whoever was on his wheel had left a big gap, so I dropped back just to second. Some of the guys in back missed this exchange, I think, cause about 30 seconds later someone called out "that's a huge pull, Sasha." I, of course, was not even pulling at all at that point.

Eventually Blake came through again, only to have the group shattered by a moderate climb as we hit Highway 1. On the short stretch of 1 we passed Derrick, who was valiantly barrelling along at the end of another group. As we turned back inland, our group of folks had been reduced to just Blake, Davin, and myself. The next 5 or so miles we spent trying to stay on Blake's wheel as he rolled along. I started to have a better understanding of what happened earlier, as every time I tried to take the lead, I would immediately redline, and he'd have to come drag me along more.

Eventually, we started the dirt climb. At first it was pretty moderate. We stopped for a food and nature break, and then after we started up, it became clear that we were just holding Blake back. He eventually rode off, and then the real suffering started. That climb was endless. We went up and up and up, both starting to cramp, starting to hurt in parts that rarely hurt from a bike ride. At one point, Dustin came wailing by (no idea how he'd gotten behind us) and disappeared around a switchback in pretty short order. There was one super-brutal steep section that presented a problem: how slow can you go and still turn the pedals? It was here where we were wishing for a triple chainring or mountain gearing or a motor or something. I spent what seemed like hours with a cramp just lurking in my right calf. Any exceptional effort made it seize, but it was constantly twingeing a touch, telling me it was lurking there. This section was by far the longest, most painful of the race. It felt endless, and there were parts where it seemed like millenia of geology had been somehow designed specifically to crush my spirit.

We finally made the top of the climb, and after a little milling about trying to make sure we knew where we were, we cruised down to the finish line, where we toasted the race with the rest of the whiskey, before dropping the rest of the way down to the car.

I realized from this ride that I am undertrained (and specifically, I have not done enough climbing) and that I do not understand how to eat sufficiently for a 3-4 hour race. I think I bonked several times on this ride, and given that I only ate one Mojo bar (risking salmonella, even) and one packet of clif blocks, I think I ate too little, too late. I think I am finally starting to understand the Gu thing.

Grasshopper training rides 2009... first installment...

grasshopper number one

#1 old caz

i started off behind the peeps i knew were faster than me. there were a lot of REALLY fast folks here…so I was midpack in the beginning.

we started off down the bohemian highway and the group stayed pretty well behaved. my biggest fear was inexperienced riders taking me down in the pack by overlapping wheels or not paying attention.

there was only one guy who i considered to be squirrelly, so i made sure to get clear of him. we rode for the first few miles and i was riding and chatting with dain from WTB for a bit. i was really comfortable next to him because he's rock solid in a pack (and everywhere else for that matter). it was neutral for this part so we were all just sitting in.

as we made the turn and started to head east on 116 i heard a loud BANG and saw yuri from marin bikes pull off to the side with a puncture. bummer for him. as the group rolled on i tried to stay somewhere near the front of the non-super-fast racers. i could see the leaders in the front pulling the group. then the sudden left turn up the steep side road. this came as a total surprise to me and a lot of people had to put a foot down and others got tangled up. i managed to stayed clear and rode the first climb with the woman in the red BMC kit and morgan fletcher. we made the first climb in ok time and then rode the downhill on the other side. i felt pretty good. kevin montgomery from roaring mouse materialized on my wheel.

after a ways on this road rolling up and down we overshot the turn and went downhill about 100 vertical feet back to 116 and morgan and i tried to figure out which way to go and saw the stream of riders behind us going back up the hill so we went off after them finding the turn just ahead. this is where we picked up sara piccalo(sp?) and pulled her along with us through the neighborhood there. the next climb started and i was suffering a bit dragging my ~23lb hardtail up the hill while everyone else was on a 18lb cx bike. blake from team oakland/mash joined us at this point. yuri from pedal revolution appeared here too. the five or six of us chugged up the hill and stayed together most of the way. i was at the back of the group on the climbs but could pass them for the downhills because i was running a front shock and had v brakes. i was sucking their exhaust at the very top of the climb but got by everyone on the next downhill towards the stream crossing. right as i went by blake my front wheel slipped out and i thought i was going down but i managed to save it with a two wheel drift for a couple of feet. i followed kevin down the hill to the water and ran across the cold thigh high crossing that kevin was running ahead of me, high stepping to try to maintain my footing. I felt like I looked like the funny walker from monty python. I’m sure it was completely ungraceful.

at the far side the 18 year old kid from Berkeley, walton was there waiting and looking for blake. he joined morgan and kevin and yuri and i. from here i think yuri took off and left us on the climb. we stayed together here for a long way on the rolling broken pavement and right before the end morgan and a couple of guys got away from kevin and i. i was trying to keep us all together but kevin seemed to be slowing a bit. we kept the lead group in sight but when we got to the road junction we could not see them... CRAP! which way do we go? we shot across the road straight to see if we could catch a glimpse but they were not to be seen. We looked for bike tracks and stopped to get out the map but then, through the trees back behind us, kevin spotted the group of five that had been behind us. we jetted back across the roads and tried to jump in with them but they had organized immediately into a rotating pace line and rode out of sight before we could get on board. crap. kevin and i just spun down the road and looked at the map while we were cruising alone, losing time to the organized groups ahead of us.

right as we made the right hand turn back onto 116 we say two guys bearing down hard on us. we sat up and pedaled lightly until they caught us and we jumped in with them. the lead guy was a monster and didn't want anyone else to pull... he towed the three of us into a head wind at about 24-25mph! DUDE! i just sat back there in the rocket chair and was not even pedaling half the time. i could see kevin was getting more work than me so i traded him places so he could rest more.

we got to the bridge just south of jenner and made the left hand turn and went across. then the left by the market and onto the eastbound start of the final climb. kevin fell off the back and Walton was stopped having a snack. He and i picked up a rider from soulcraft and we rode together for a good long bit until walton and I rode away from the guy. i was starting to fade at the bottom of the climb and ate my last two gels. half way up and i was really feeling bad. i was crashing and starting to burn. i told myself to ride through it but it was only getting worse. then i saw a group of riders catching us. i told walton to go for it as i was slowing him down and he took off. when i got to the really steep pitch i forced myself to get off and grabbed a bag of sport beans from my camelback and got back on the bike and got moving. i sucked down the beans as best i could making sure to get all of them and kept grinding away. i felt really bad. maybe riding only three times in the preceding two weeks was not the best training plan after all! i lost about 10 positions to peeps that were not fading and just kept chipping away it. with about a mile to go to the top it was all i could do to keep moving and my right calf was starting to cramp. i was just hoping i would not have to get off and walk. then, finally, the pavement. i got onto it and it felt soooo good to not be going uphill anymore.

i shifted into my big ring and tried to not lose any more positions. i actually reeled in two other guys that had blown up and were just trying to get to the finish. i made the final left hand turn on to the hardball road and got it going as fast as i could. i saw the group of finishers an sat up, zipped up and stuck my fingers to the sky like i had won. i hope somebody got a photo of that...

then i rode a little farther and barfed a bit off the bike but i don't think anyone saw that. the people still lingering at the finish when i got there were morgan, walton, paul, yuri and some of the dfl guys. i was SO glad it was over.

this coming weekend is the road ride. that should be just as much fun i bet.