Monday, February 22, 2010

Grasshopper '10 Chileno Valley

Team roster: Murphy Mack, Matthias, Myself, Emily McLanahan, May Woo.

Murph ready to rumble

The ride started with 200-something people headed immediately up Coleman Valley road. I lost sight of Murphy in the crowd before we made an 1/8th of a mile. Coleman Valley was a fairly nice climb and despite my cold there were not too many complaints from my body (yet). After two climbs and some rolls it breaks out of any tree cover completely into beautiful coastal California rolling hills with cattle grazing and peeks at the ocean. The last 1.5 of downhill is ripping and beautiful. The sun was out and it was the warmest it would be the whole ride. I was coughing so hard at one point that it was forcing my head down and I couldn't see the road ahead while descending. It was scary.

People ebbing and flowing congealed into a small group by the time we touched down at Rt. 1 and we got a little pace line going and picked up a few people. Curtis and a teammate or two was in there so I'll call it Grouppo Inglis. Also in there was Jay (sp?) of DFL/butter lap. Just before bodega there was a touch of wheels several riders back on an uphill and I believe someone went down. By the time I could look back it was way back and people were stopped to make sure it was OK. I believe everyone caught back up, but I didn't really notice any scrapes so I hope the rider was OK. Had to take a deep breath and remember that this is (for me at least) a training ride and I don't have to perfect my rusty pacelining today, just do what I can and be safe.

Headed towards valley forge we picked up more riders and a strong group was formed. We sat up for a bite at the beginning of Valley Ford School Road. Food was not working well for me - caused more mucus and more coughing. Banana-in-mouth, I noticed the grade start to pick up again and looked up to notice I'd left a little gap. I shoved half eaten banana back into the pocket and spent the next few miles attempting to close that gap, while hacking coughs. The elastic stretched. A team car gave me a bit of a swoop but I never caught on. The elastic snapped. By Tomales grouppo Inglis was gone and my Tifosis were all Jackson Pollock with dried sweat.

I was in serious no-mans land and would ride the next 20 miles almost completely alone. Marshal Petaluma Rd was beautiful, though I would have liked some sun. My knees began hurting which really has never happened to me on the road before and I was a little worried. My feet were cold, my neck sore, by back stiff, and despite eating and drinking, I was beginning to tire. The symphony of pain was tuning their instruments waiting for the conductor's baton to drop.

Turning to the race's eponymous Chileno Valley Rd, the sun broke out but it wasn't warm. Twisted, knurled and burled California oaks dotted the roadside and fields. California IS beautiful. The sun went away. A terrible, unrelenting wind bore down on me. The conductor dropped the baton. This was suffering. There were some whitecaps on the tiny Laguna lake - a horrible wind. Within a few miles I was joined by grouppo Lynz [Freewheel] and was able to hang on and rotate for a while but eventually... well.

Low blood flow was preventing the formulation of negative thoughts. The slightest hunger pang on Fallon-Two Rock prompted me to reach for my Pro Bar rather than a maintenance shot. If you've ever reached an epiphany - transcended space, time, or the limitations of the human brain, then I can begin to explain to you what eating this pro bar was like. I was transported. Chewy crunchy vibrant fruit and nut shook loose synapses in gustatory synesthesia. Grey-green agony gave way to blueberry strawberry cashew pineapple. I wanted to linger in this other world for the rest of the ride. A splashing sound shook the illusion and the rude sight of a roadside cow heeding the call of nature tore me from my special place back in to reality. Brutal, brutal reality.

The final 15 miles was unmemorable, possibly because remaining brain function was limited to motor skill and reptilian survival. I vaguely remember Joy Rd. They saved the steepest climb for last. Something about hurting.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Old Cazadero Grasshopper, Krishna's Report

I started near the front, but was well within the body of the giant
dragon that rolled out of Occidental, accompanied by the mesmerizing
sound of hundreds of knobbies buzzing the pavement. I'm still nervous
riding inside a pack, and twice I cringed when I saw tires touch ahead
of me.

Once we hit Moscow I was watching for breakaways, and bridged up to
one containing Levi and Miguel, but it was swallowed by the pack
before we crossed the river. I had let myself fade too far back by the
time we hit Duncan Grade, and red-lined pretty hard passing an endless
clot of people. I barely connected with the lead group by the time we
started heading downhill, and was glad to be on a mountain bike for
the rocky and rutted sections.

There were six of us at the base of Old Caz: Levi, Shane Bresnyan, Jim
Hewett, Roger Bartels, Aren Timmel, and myself, desperately clutching
their coattails. No one else was in sight. Aside from Shane, I knew
all of these riders by reputation. Aren and Jim are among the usual
suspects for the top step of the Pro podium at races like the Napa
Valley Dirt Classic, and Aren won the overall Grasshopper series last
year. Roger is 50 years old and still races XC at the front of the Pro
category. He is known in Sonoma County as The Godfather. And me? I was
trying to keep from cramping and throwing up.

Levi started pulling away soon enough, and Shane went with him. Jim
pulled ahead on the descent trying to bridge up, and got close enough
to see Levi and Shane in the distance at the creek crossing, but
shortly after we were four again. From there we worked together, with
Aren organizing us into an efficient pace-line along the river and
patiently coaching me into a smooth rhythm.

When we reached Bridge Haven we saw other riders for the first time: a
half dozen or so were closing in on us. They caught us just as Willow
Creek began climbing, but this is when the pace quickened again. As
soon as the climbing began in earnest it was clear Jim was in charge.
Things started to get quieter behind us, and to my surprise even Aren
faded back. It was a strange sensation: Jim and I were talking to each
other, just riding a solid tempo but not really pushing it, yet
everyone else was gone.

At this point I could have made an attack, but there were two
problems: first, I didn't know where I was going, and second, Jim was
looking solid and would likely be faster than me on the descent as
well. So I ended up working with Jim on the descent and trailing him
to the finish, about 3 minutes behind Shane and Levi. I'm pretty sure
Levi was riding just fast enough to stay warm the whole time-- someone
who can drop the peloton in major stage races would have had no
trouble sinking us like stones.

On Sunday I was planning to do another race, but barely managed to get
out of bed.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Old Cazadero Grasshopper, Slonie's Report

Note: This entry was originally posted to my own blog, and May suggested (shamelessly) re-posting it here. Great idea!
So here it is, my not-so-triumphant "Race Report" from my first-ever Grasshopper Adventure Series not-a-race! If you want triumph, talk to Krishna, who crushed in his characteristic fashion to an amazing fourth-place finish, three minutes behind Levi Leipheimer. Holy crap! And the team was well-represented, with Morgan, Evan, Christon, Liza, Derrick, Michigan Mat, Marko, Caitlin, and May rounding out the field.
Stay tuned after this for Krishna's report, featuring much more success!
• Most photos are in the flickr set
• See my GPS shame in Garmin Connect
• Results and more pics, from everyone, here

Normally I wouldn't consider a day like today to be incomplete in any way. I got to ride 25 miles over dirt and pavement through an absolutely beautiful area while hanging out with my friends. But after the way I built up the idea of this ride in my head, it's hard to avoid feeling unfulfilled at how my first Grasshopper went down.

Defeated, we reach Gate #2

The day started at 5:45 for me, when my "secondary" alarm on the iPhone woke me up. It turns out that I set my primary alarm for 5:30pm. That, along with a nagging sore throat, were omens that this day wasn't going to go quite as I expected. Michigan Mat graciously drove John and I up to Occidental, and we arrived with enough time to absorb yet more pastries and coffee drinks before the big ride to ensue. I figured I'd be out for four or five hours (using the Slonie Rule: Take the Fast Guys' time and multiply by two). And, since Derrick had warned me of how badly he and others had bonked last year, I came loaded for bear on the provisions. Extra tubes, Full Camelbak bladder, two bottles, and more Clif bars/bloks/roks than I've ever carried. (Of course, those Fast Guys were likely carrying one bottle and a couple of Gu's)

After registering and performing some brake adjustments in the parking lot, we all rolled to the start...

Go get 'em Mat

And we were underway...

(Photos by Nick Gaetano)

The mass of riders looked a whole lot like Levi's Gran Fondo (right down to Levi at the front, not that I saw him), but unlike the GranFondo, the whole pack took off in quite a hurry. Before I knew it, I was working decently hard just to stay on, and even John had moved up the road on me. I was keeping to a casual pace though, because I knew the hard part was yet to come. Once we turned left on Duncan, the pain train did indeed arrive, smashing us with a 20% grade at the outset, mellowing out to just mostly sucky further up the road. I truly appreciated the mountain cassette fitted to the Axis (of Evil) as I worked my way up the hill.

At the top, I stopped for nature and to hang out with the always affable Team Crash.
I Break For Team Crash

And I appeared in a weird photo as well:
What is going on here?

As a side note, while we stopped and regrouped there, at the top of the climb, in the video, Kabush and company hauled ass right through there and straight into the descent. Surprising nobody, I was quite a bit slower on the descent than in the video. There were also several more fallen trees across the road, including one that required a full dismount to get over. Then, right before a sharp upkick in the road that even the pros had to dismount for, the path turned down steeply, into a series of rutted, slick bumps. Not being able to stop for it even if I wanted to , I rolled right through the sketchy part with only minor drama, then climbed up the other side and stopped to wait for John.

While I was waiting, I met three dudes, two of whom were waiting for the third, who was engaged in tried-and-true methods of fixing an untrue wheel, trailside. For those that don't know, that means smacking it against the ground if it's too far gone for spoke adjustment.

Time for a new wheel

Before it had totally dawned on me that the taco'd wheel was due to a crash, John came barreling down the hill, cleared the first part of the sketchy section, then passed behind some trees. And didn't come out the other side. At this point I started to feel really bad for yelling "Ride it!" just moments before he endo'd. (turns out he couldn't hear me, so even "careful!" wouldn't have helped).

So John was down. And rather badly too, or so it seemed at first. But nothing was broken... As our newly-assembled group of "People who crashed, and those that ride with them" tended to John and his bike, I considered taking a photo of him down at the site of the impact. But I thought it seemed crass. Later, John was extremely disappointed that I didn't get that shot, so I told him I'd definitely get it next time. He said he preferred that there wouldn't be a next time...

John shows some leg to Dan, Dan, and Andrew:
Check back with this in a day...

So there we were. We had a nice little slow-moving group of five. Call it "People who crashed, and their friends that ride with them." Or if you prefer, "The Brotherhood of Failure"

Our ragtag bunch

Before we got moving again, John posed with the section of doom. Thanks to the magic of photography, it doesn't look steep or tricky at all.

John and the Culprit

So, back on the road, we had one crippled rider, and one rider with no front brake due to his taco'd wheel. Fantastic. We hobbled back to town, with navigation "helpfully" provided by my new Edge 705. It kept telling us to get off the highway and head back into the hills. I guess I should disable the "avoid highways" setting when riding in areas where there are no actual freeways. But it wasn't very far back to Occidental, and at least the Edge gave me the Distance to Objective indicator that's been sorely missing from from my non-videogame life.

I should quit it with making everyday occurrences sound more dramatic than they are, so here we go: I flatted on the way back. Then I punctured two tubes trying to wrestle the damn Vittoria Cross XG back onto the rim with a tire lever (yeah, I know). I can't even write anything clever about that level of failure, but it delayed us further. And hey, Dan got a photo!

After we got underway, the skies opened up on us. There are no photos of that because my camera isn't waterproof. Suffice to say, the rainfall was enough to check off that checkbox for the ride. And of course, my rain jacket was in my backpack, so I didn't want to put it on unless the rain got really bad. As soon as I decided to, I announced my intention to the group. Not more than ten seconds later, an oncoming car sped through a giant puddle, sending a huge wave of water into the group, and soaking me pretty thoroughly. Not my favorite moment, but all I could do was laugh (after yelling something unprintable). At least it made for a good story!

In the end, our group rolled back into Occidental with 1:44 of riding time on my clock, and 1:46 of waiting time. Naturally, this means most people had already finished their actual rides. But hey, we had still ridden 25 miles, though missing the best (and toughest) bits of the course. And I had come out of it with some new friends, which isn't something to scoff at. But I was pretty wrecked.

I was also kind of wrecked

Food and stories with my friends and teammates went a long way towards bringing me back to life, but at the same time left me feeling sad that I missed out on the "best day on the bike" that seemingly everybody experienced (except maybe Xton, glad you're okay!). We missed the most beautiful (and toughest?) parts of the course, so the total distance (50% of the real thing) doesn't really tell the story.

Who's up for a make-up/rematch ride? We can even wait till the weather gets better!

Addendum: You know, I got to "Ride with Levi" just as much as at his GranFondo, and it cost a LOT less. Score!

After finishing, I found out that Krishna came in 4th, behind Levi, a Bissell dude, and... Wait holy shit, did I just say that? Hell yeah, Krishna!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

cross season wrapup

Apologies to our reader(s) for going dark for the last month or so of cross season. I managed to crash out of third place at the Golden Gate Park race, breaking my collarbone and ending my season. My motivation, correspondingly, suffered.

The team, however, soldiered on!

Evan locked up his series win in Singlespeed B at Coyote Point.
SS B podium

Krishna also performed on the day with his first Pilarcitos podium
(Photo by Paul Doran)

In a slightly out-of-season foray into mountain biking, the Moonies cleaned up at the final Lake Sonoma race of the year (apparently the least-photographed race in Northern Califiornia in the 21st century), with Derrick winning beginner men, Arena winning sport women, Angel taking Expert women, and Krishna continuing his dominance with a win in Pro men.

Krishna started 2010 out right with the Men's A/Single Speed A double victory at CXSR #3, and May had her best finish ever (I think) at second in women's B, while Emily was 5th.
cxsr #4- em, krishna & me

Finally, over the course of the year, Lee clawed his way up to 3rd in C men at Surf City. He'll have to move up to B's next year, so it's a good thing he won a brand new bike at the final Coyote Point race!
(Photo by Tony Ballard)