Thursday, August 27, 2015

I was born to be a ...

I wrote this post two years ago.  I never finished or published it.  I'm not going to finish it now.  I'm just going to publish it for 2 reasons.  The first is I'm tired, it's late, and I'm kind of hooked on the hit Netflix original series "Bloodline"  (Thanks for that, jwait).

The second reason is that it is the words of an excited newbie to mountain bike riding.  The truth is that 2 years later, after a little more experience, the words are more true.  I am sure I believed everything I said at the time I wrote it. Reading it now though just feels like I couldn't have known it back then.  I've learned so much, but the sentiment is unchanged.

I believe everybody should mountain bike because it teaches you real courage. Oh - and it's a fucking blast.

I still have many irrational fears when I go out there.  Most of the time, if I would concentrate on what I'm doing instead of what might happen, things would go much better.

I rode Calvin Crest for the first time last night.  I didn't ride it well.  It was easily the most fun I've ever had riding a bike.  I plan to go out there as much as possible because it is a great gentle place to learn some skills I sorely lack.  It's smooth and flowy with a bunch of high berms and tight turns straight downhill.  It's a beauty.

Anyway - I left the title of the post from two years ago as:

I was born to be a ...
road cyclist, golfer, poker player
Mountain biker

In fact, I now believe everybody was.  Oh great – Cube has found his new thing.

There are so many things that you can do in life where if you could overcome any anxiety, you would perform much better.  With golf, once you've learned the basic swing, there's little else to know.  Becoming a better golfer is about learning to relax and trust your swing.  Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is the person who can abandon caution and anxiety that will golf better.  

Mountain biking is similar.  Once you've learned to ride a bike, you know what to do.  Hesitation or apprehension about what will happen if you fail to execute is about the only thing that causes the failure.

A good ride on the trail is about relaxing and doing what you know to do.  Don't force anything.  Let it all happen.  

Much Like golfing, I’ve put this off for years.  I knew I’d love it once I got into it.  I had seen too many good road cyclists go down what I had considered “The Dark Path” to think I’d be immune.  Also, I’ve known for many years that if I was to take up "off road" riding, I’d become a more capable road rider.  Better handing skills, they say.  Road riding is important for sheer fitness, but it really teaches you nothing in terms of how to really handle a bike. 

I rarely crash on the road, but when I do it is not trivial.

Some of my road crashes would have surely been avoided had I handled the bike differently.
I’ve been riding the “super easy” trails of Tranquility and Swanson lately and wow.  I’ve got a lot to learn.  I’ve gone over my handlebars 2 of the last 3 times out.  The nice thing though is that in both cases, I’ve been lucky enough to land on the nice soft dirt.  I know that sounds funny, but on the first one, as I tumbled onto my back and rolled to my feet, I was thinking I could literally feel the ground give just a little as I hit.  My first thought at the moment my back hit with the ground was, "Hey - that was like landing on a pillow!"  

The street doesn’t do that.  At least not to that extent. 

I’m taking it slow. 

I know that confidence is important.

It’s like with kids.  They might be afraid to try something you know they can do.  Then when they half-heartedly try and fail, they don’t believe they can.

I think of it like this.  Say you knew you could jump 8 feet from a standing start.  No problem.  Now jump 6 feet from one building to another 6 stories up.  The stakes are considerably higher, but you know you can do it if you can successfully put the whole “I might die” thing out of your mind.  
Most of you know this already.

I’m a slow learner.

Mountain Biking or off road riding or trail riding or whatever - is quite possibly the best thing there is in terms of learning to overcome obstacles.  Literally.

Fear does not help in anything you do.  Sure there can be an adrenaline rush that can temporarily increase awareness and strength.  But that is the rare except... "Ding Dong" Hang on.  It's that blasted doorbell and I'm expecting an important package from the FedEx.

"Why hello esteemed presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and The Donald.  Why don't you come right in  and ... OH NO!!! Not again! Ahhh!!! This is terrible.  I would have never guessed you were BOTH vampi... Crunch, snap, bleed, die, etc.

Ok - that last part I wrote just now.  Good times.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

It's Technical

My first Mountain bike race was last year at Tranquility.  It took me a while to decide what category to race.  I consulted some people and decided I might as well enter as beginner - AKA Category 3.  I came in third place overall about a minute behind the winner.

There were about 30 or so people in the race, so I was pretty happy about that.  My handling skills are getting better, but I have a long way to go.  Last year I was much worse.  My overall fitness was the key.  I was getting passed by everybody going downhill, only to pass them all going up.

Finally, came the longish climb at Tranquility on the south side.  It was long enough for me to get a good lead on everybody (except 2 guys) and stay away for good on any down hills.

When it came time for the podium stuff, I was pretty stoked.  Then I heard Feagan say something like "Third place for 19-29 ..."

Huh?  This is all broken out by age?  Oh dear.

So I "won" the race because I was racing in 50+.  There were 6 people in 50+

I told people (honestly) that I'd rather have the 3rd over the whole field than first over the old guys.  I didn't say this at the race. That might not have sounded too good.

Anyway - standing atop the podium after my first Mtn Bike Race, listening to EOB's jeers of "Sandbagger!" I was pretty happy.

Also, I figured I needed to race Cat 2.

Bike racing quiz:

Q: When is it time to upgrade?
A: When you win.

That was my only MTB race last year.  I raced Tranquility again this year as a Cat 2.  I figured I'd win. I knew there were plenty of people in cat 2 that were way faster than me, but thought not many would be 50+.  I didn't know that Mark Sullivan had recently gotten real fast.  I came in a distant second to him in that race.

Overall, I was somewhere in the middle of the pack.  Several minutes down after 100 minutes of racing.

There was nobody in the race that I couldn't keep up with on the road.  I would have figured to easily drop most of the top five that day (I have on many occasions).

I don't say that to boast.  It's true - but what's important is how far behind I am on skill.

It's disappointing to get your ass handed to you by a fat guy on a bike.  But it indicates that there's something I can do about it. My fitness is fine.  I just need to learn to ride.

The good news is - it's coming along.  As I spend more time on the 29er, I am relearning what a bike can just roll over without stopping.

All last week while I was practicing at Swanson, I was starting to see smoother lines and having fun.

After getting over my fear of "The root of all evil" with Roxzanne's help, I was excited to do the race.

For many years, I have been mostly just nervous about doing any kind of race.

I didn't used to always approach races with dread.  I don't know when that started happening, but it has been keeping me from racing for a long time.

I'm a roadie.  Mostly because that's what I've always done.  But off road riding has improved my road handling skills tremendously.  I am way more confident in turns and over rough patches.

In the whole of my road racing, I've won a couple of time trials and been on the podium two other times. I've never won.

I've "won" 2 of the 3 MTB races I've finished.  I came in 2nd in the other one.

When it's all divided by age like it is, I've got a better shot.

I'm not complaining though.  I just don't think my age is the limiting factor. I'm not slow because I'm old. I'm slow because I suck.  So far.

I'm coming for you, Mark Sullivan ...

Sullivan.  Come out to play-e-ay ...

Anyway - as I've already talked about, the Swanson race was rescheduled to last Sunday.  That coincided with the Fredorate Fredling Fredlenge (Corporate Cycling Challenge).  I was signed up for it by my company. For the first time since I left The U.P.  I didn't have to pay to be registered.

The Swanson MTB race was the State championship. There were 6 50+ cat 2 guys signed up.

Mark Sullivan was not.  He was at the CCC.

Only 3 50+ guys showed up.  I had done a 68 mile ride the day before, so my legs were starting a bit slow.  I passed one of my competitors about 5 minutes in and the other one a couple of minutes later.

Easy street, I figured.  Except there was one other guy who didn't raise his hand when Darrell Webb said, "50+ raise your hands.  This is your competition." The guy was completely grey and looked to be at least 50.  I was worried about him because I didn't see him.  He was somewhere in front of me.  And he might be 50!

Then I heard a loud snapping noise and flipped over my stopped bike.

All my competition went around me as I tried to figure out if there was any damage.

I got past one of them a few minutes later but was gaining very slowly on the other , if at all.

That's when I became an aggressive passer of people.  I'd come up on a guy and yell, "I'm not racing against you and I'm passing on your right" or something.

If they didn't get out of my way, I went around them anyway.  Fuck those guys.

Finally, I caught up to the guy I was looking for.  It was right at the end of the first lap.

The start/finish is a big wide open field.  My competition's name is "Guy German."

Bye Guy!  I used the wide open space to get around Guy and continued my aggressive passing.  I figured if Guy was a bit more sheepish, he'd lose time.

I couldn't tell if I was putting distance between myself and Guy until after the end of the second lap.

I started the third lap and listened.  Listened to hear Feagan announce the name of "Guy German."

I thought maybe I'd missed it, when after more than a minute, I heard it.  Yes!

Now if only ...

Oh looky there!  It's the guy who might be 50+ but didn't raise his hand (turns out he wasn't).

When I went by him, he said "Go get 'em brother!" which proves Mtn biking is way cooler than road biking.

So I was by everybody that mattered for me.

I just needed to ride hard, but within myself and I'd win.  There was just one other little problem.

Some guy in the 40-49 group had been sitting about 5 seconds behind me about for the last 2 laps.

With about a half mile to go, he came up to my back wheel and just sat there.

I know - he's not in my race.  But we're racing now aren't we, Mark (I looked up who finished near me)

He had a couple of shots to pass me but didn't take them.  Whew.  If he'd have gone around me when we were in the woods, I don't know if I'd have been able to keep up with him.

I think he decided to leave it for the wide open sprint finish.  Silly whipper-snapper.

In the end, I'm technically the Nebraska state champion category 2, 50+ mountain bike rider guy.

But yeah, I've got some work to do.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Horse and The Mule

"The mule may take care while the horse just runs."  -- Ancient Proverb I just made up just now.

Some time in around 2013, I started riding off road a little bit.  The boys were involved in Devo - mountain bike training for kids.  I'd always tag along "to help" but honestly, I was there to learn from the area experts.

In the three seasons of Devo I've learned a ton.  Not as quickly as most of the kids, but I've learned.

This year has been rough.  I felt slower than ever.  I felt clumsy. I did race though.  I raced Cat 2 at Tranquility and Platte River State Park.  I was out of shape for both, but the main problem was my skill level is so low.  I quit the Platte River State Park race after about 3/4 of the first lap.  I just cruised to the start/finish and quit.

Last Sunday was the race at Swanson.  I was on the fence about it.  I rode the course a couple of times, but balked at the little part they call "The Root of all Evil."  It's visually terrifying for someone of my skill level and age and wimp-like disposition.

It's kind of a steep descent with some huge roots sticking out of the ground.  Once you hit the bottom, if you don't make a sharp left turn of about 130 degrees, you'll go into the woods. Your bike probably won't.  Next is a pretty steep climb with a bunch of big roots here and there.

So by the time last Sunday came around, I had gone down that first part exactly zero times.  I always intended to, but chickened out.

I was unsure if I'd race on Sunday because of that one little section.  You can't skip it in the race.  The race doesn't seem like the time to learn.

But then.  It rained.  I woke up Sunday to see the wet streets. I knew the race would be cancelled.  I was pretty happy about that.  "Yes," I said.

So everybody who was looking forward to this race;  the kids who had traveled from LeMars; all the planning and preparation by a bunch of people to get the course ready.  It was all ruined and I was happy about it, because I was afraid of a little bit of technical section.

The race was eventually postponed to this coming Sunday.  Excellent, I thought.  Now I can go and learn that section.  Except no.

I went out Tuesday, yesterday and today to do one thing.  Learn that part.  Each day, I chickened out and bypassed it.  As I was on my second lap today, I saw Roxzanne and Abbey.  Roxy was giving Abbey instruction on the root of all evil from the high side.  The high side won't be a part of the race, but it's much easier (and even scarier).  Instead of the sharp left, the high side goes up and around so you go down a long steep hill toward the rooty climb, but straight on.  You can use your speed to carry you up the tough part.

So I watched Roxzanne and Abbey do that and went on my way.

When my lap was done, I asked Roxy if the high side would be in the race. I had never done that either, but it did look easier (and scarier) than the low side way.

No - she said.  So I asked, what side of the low side did she ride down.

She said "Let's go find out."

Um ...

"No - I'm done.  I have to go get ice cream."

I didn't know this, but Roxy has this expression she knows how to make that lets you know she knows how big of a pussy you are being.

"C'mon.  Let's teach you how to climb that hill."

"It's ok.  I'll do it some other ..."

"Come on."

So as she and Abbey headed back to the root of all evil, I sort of followed them.  I just wanted to make sure they knew I was not going to do it.

"Just so you know, I'm terrified,"  I mentioned.

Roxy gave me a bunch of tips and I got down the hill sort of fine.  I had to nearly stop at the bottom, so there was no way I'd have made it to the top.

"Well that was good," I said.  "Now I know I can get down it.  See you later."

"No.  Again." Roxy said.  I really didn't want to, but there was no reason not to.

The second time, I did the whole thing successfully.

"Ok, great.  Thanks Roxy.  See you Sunday."

"Now it's time to put it all together," she said.

"The ice cream is going to melt," I tried.  Yeah the ice cream was still at the store, but I was desperate.

The third time I hit one of the roots on the way down the wrong way and lost all speed trying to keep upright.

I did it one last time and jacked it all up.  But on the fourth time all fear of the descent was gone.

So now I'm ready to have fun this Sunday. As long as there's no rain ...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Garden Party

Short List: a list of a small number of people or things that have been selected from a larger group and are being considered to receive an award, to get a job, etc.

I have been asked by a few good friends recently about my "short list" of names of people who have never been anything but cordial to me. I'm paraphrasing.

Some of them wanted to know precisely why they didn't make the list.  

Mostly because when I was writing the last post, I was on a certain train of thought with the short list.

I was asking myself who are some of the baddest mofos I've had the privilege of riding with who have basically gone out of their way to be cool to me.

If you are not on the list there are a few possible reasons why:

1) You've been a dick to me at one time or another.  This is the most common reason. I've probably been a dick to you too.  But that's not important right now.

2) You are not among the top cyclists in the area.  Second most common (pattern forming).

3) You are a close friend.  We ride a lot together. I'd be bored out of my mind if you were always cordial.  Chris Spence is the exception.  I've ridden a ton with him over the last year.  He's just a nice guy.  I'd venture he's Munson nice.

4) Even though you are always nice, I am often shitty to you.  Pure guilt keeps me from putting you on the list.  This also means I would not expect to be on anybody's similar list.  I fit none of my criteria.

5) You weren't one of the first five people I thought of.  My lists only go to five.

The main criteria was top cyclists who are not dicks because I was trying to make a point about bullies.  It was clumsy.  I didn't explain it well.

My point was this:  Don't be a dick.  We're all here to ride bikes fast.  There are several examples of people who are faster than you who aren't dicks.

For instance, there's ...

1) Chris Spence
2) Jonath ...

Oops.  There I go again.  Well.  You get the idea.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Well - here goes.

I'm 50.  There's really no way around that.  I ride my bike a lot and I do pretty well.  I work hard.  I do a lot of things that keep me from being the absolute best I can be on the bike.  I drink too much beer,  I eat the wrong foods (and too much),  I don't get enough sleep.  The list goes on and on.

But even if I did everything I possibly could to become the bestest fastest rider around, what would it be for?  There are certain things I'm just not willing to sacrifice for the dream of being a kind of fast 50 year old guy on a bike (Family, friends, beer, food, being awake).

A proper perspective and ordering of priorities is the way to go.  At least that's how I feel when I'm not sitting on the bike.  When I'm on the bike, feeling the sluggish legs or having a hard time breathing because my gut is in the way, I'm making all kinds of promises to myself.

I make the best lifestyle choices possible. I decide to eat and drink right.  To get enough sleep, etc.

I punish myself for all of my past transgressions. I ride as hard as I can to bring on the pain I deserve for my lack of discipline.

Then when the ride is done, I'm so spent from my effort I realize I deserve that beer/food/ice cream.  I've earned it.  So I indulge.  Only to do it all over again the next day.

Unconventional training plan, I know.  But it's my unconventional training plan.

So here's my race report for the WNW that took place on Aug 5, 2015.

First I'm going to say that I have heard that if you mention the name "Jordan Ross" in a blog post, your numbers will skyrocket.

Jordan is a local rider who is not only one of the very best in the area - he shares a trait that they all have.  He's a really good guy.

There are a ton of guys who've been kind of shitty to me for one reason or another.  Here's a short list of guys who never have:

Chris Spence
Jonathan Wait
Lee Bumgarner
Jordan Ross
Lucas Marshall

These guys are all among the very best in the area.

I'm pretty embarrassed about the thought process I'm about to describe.  Remember, when I'm off the bike, I know who I am.  I forget when I'm riding.  Maybe that's why I like it so much.

Last night was fast and furious.  I got dropped pretty early on the way to Ft Calhoun.  I realized I was in trouble and tried to just sit in, but it was too late.

During my solo ride to the regroup at Ft Calhoun, I considered how much I hated myself and my life choices concerning food and drink.  I pedaled along, making a bunch of promises.

Usually, the ride from Ft Calhoun starts off kind of mellow. The intensity picks up gradually.  We were riding along and I was chatting with Brady when he looked ahead and said, "I'm about to get dropped"

I'm glad he saw it.  Shim, Spence, Matt somebody, Jordan and maybe some others had a break going.  The rest were chasing.  Brady saw it and drilled it to catch up with the chase group. I sat on his wheel while he did that.  He likes it when I just sit there.  He gets a better workout that way.  Far be it for me ...

Anywhos - we all got organized.  about 8-10 of us were rotating to catch the break group. Paul Webb was doing some massive pulls.

We caught the last remnants of the break (Shim, Spence, and Jordan Ross) just a mile or so before that wicked surfside climb-false flat-climb thing.

Most everybody stopped working at that point.  Not Rafal and me.  We pulled as hard as ever.  I don't know why Rafal did, but I know why I did. I was going to get dropped anyway.  I might as well build an excuse (true story).

So about halfway up the first climb part, I shut it down and settled into a nice slow pace.  I watched as several talented riders flew by me.  I watched as Rafal went by me.  Then I saw Dr Peter go by me in his arm warmer clad calves.

"Aw hell no,"  I whispered.  I didn't want to, but I sped up to latch on to Dr Peter's wheel.

Once the climb flattened, I could turn on the speed.  I passed Rafal and made sure he was on.  We rotated a couple of times, but he didn't have it so I went on ahead.

I was feeling good. I had a nice rhythm going.  Then the second climb part came as I passed a bunch of riders.  I flew down the descent and onto the flat near Hummel park.  I had a nice 27 MPH going when Jordan flew by me.

I struggled to get on his wheel, but I did it.  I looked at my garmin.  We were going 33 MPH.  Jeez. There wasn't a tailwind.

I hung on for a while until I started to recover.  Jordan was beginning to slow a little.  Still way faster than I would ride, but in his draft, I could breathe again.

Once we got down to about 29 MPH I was thinking I should do some work.  I don't really have the chops for that kind of speed, but the main group is just ahead and we're gaining on them.  If I can maintain 29 for long enough, maybe Jordan can catch them.

I took a deep breath and went around Jordan.  This is the embarrassing part.  I have read numerous accounts of how the domestique will turn himself inside out for the leader.  I am some 50 year old computer programmer from Omaha on a spirited club ride.

29 is extremely difficult for me to maintain.  But I can see we are still gaining on the leaders.  I want to quit really bad.  But I keep going as hard as I can.  I want Jordan to catch those guys so I can pretend it matters.

After about 2 minutes, I can no longer keep up the pace.  I start to slow down.  28, 27 and so on. Jordan doesn't come around.  I look back.  He has sat up.


I was chatting with some friends about this and they are pretty sure Jordan sat up because when I went around him, the shock caused him to give up cycling.  You're welcome everybody else in the area.

So now I had a new mission which will explain how deep this sickness (pretending it matters) goes.  I figured there were 7 or 8 guys ahead of me.  I would not catch them, but I did not want anyone from behind to beat me to the sprint point. A yellow sign (actually, I don't know what it is because I've never arrived with the leaders).  I assume the intermediate sprint points pay out 15 places so I could still get some of that. I figured 25 MPH would be good enough to keep them away so I did not allow myself to drop below that no matter how much it hurt because it's really important.  Really.

So it ended up being a good ride.  Oh yeah, and FTG.