Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Did we have hurt lockers like this in high school?

Holy shit! CBS is covering the Tour’s first week. If I remember correctly, they used to wait until the final weekend to cover the full three weeks. Of course, it’s 5:20PM, I just tuned in, and they’re only now getting to Stage 1. I suspect they’re turning the race into a travel show…covering the sites, sounds, and landscape more than the actual racing. Oh well. I guess it’s better than nothing.

I’m not updating this blog regularly, so it’s hardly worth it to try to catch up on everything that has happened since last time.

On the cycling front, I’m just back from an epic day in the Virginia mountains. Word from Evan is that we climbed over 10,000 feet. Over the course of 83 miles, those feet hurt like a punch in the face. I decided to test myself this weekend. Instead of going into today’s ride fresh, with either a light Saturday ride or rest day leading up, I decided to put in some significant hours yesterday. Went out to Poolesville solo and tallied about 3:35 in the saddle. Didn’t exactly engage in proper recovery techniques yesterday (I don’t think beers, chips and salsa, and wasabi peas count for good recovery grub), so I wasn’t sure how I’d hold up today.

The group was a near repeat of one we gathered last year in August. Without Eric, who was stuck doing housework, it was a trifecta—me, Evan, and Matt. They were decked out in their City Bikes mountain bike team kits and each sported PowerTap SLs. They looked ripe to team up on me and stuff me into a cave of sheer and unbridled pain. Speaking of caves, I should clarify part of why I love to ride Skyline. The après-ride ritual is now deeply etched. On the way home, we generally stop off at the world famous Spelunkers burger joint in charming Front Royal, VA for calorie uploads. I’m partial to the double cavern burger and a side of fries…fried in 100% peanut oil. I don’t have the photo evidence to prove it, but the burgers there are pretty effin’ dope. They’re adequately greasy, piping hot, and generally thick. Certainly not the toppest notch, but pretty darn good enough. Back to the ride.

To sum up the ride, I think it’s fair to say we all suffered. About 27 miles in, I was already hurting in a way that left me wondering if I was gonna even be able to complete the route. BTW, the route took us from Front Royal down to Luray and back to Front Royal. I guess the cue is known around these parts as Mass-Sky. The name derives from the featured climbs…up Massanutten and up Skyline Drive. Back to the action. After a forty minute warm up, we kicked it into higher gear and pacelined a pretty good clip. As I mentioned, 27 miles found me hurting and panting and even sweating a bit. Knowing that I had a very long road ahead of me, I had to focus on convincing myself that yesterday’s miles were gonna mean a longer break-in period today and an eventual return of strength and stamina. It’s worth noting that motorists were mostly tame, but there are always a few who, even in the country with all its open roads and endless time, feel the need to pull inane moves.

The ascent up Massanutten was good times. It’s a steep little hill, but is probably only about 3 and a little more miles long. I stuck with Evan and definitely felt like hurling a few times. Kept my composure and summited feeling a little more hopeful about the rest of the day. The descent off the hill was screaming fast!! I hit 45 mph at one point before realizing I should probably slow down. I think the brakes might’ve been getting a little hot, as they started howling at one point…something they’ve never done on any ride.

There wasn’t much time for banter on this ride, as we pretty much kept it single file and took pulls of varying lengths. After a refueling stop in Luray, it was off to 211 and the rise into the park. 211 is a spectacular climb. The pavement is nearly butter, the grades are consistent, the length is challenging, the road is wide enough for feeling safe, and suffering is all but assured. We all put in a good ride up 211. I did some extra climbing (dropped my cue sheet and had to double back), so I’ve got all sorts of excuses for why my performance might’ve dipped after that climb. Of course, I’m only kidding. My double back was only about 200 meters, but the brief downhill quickly got my body ready for some descending and a respite from the crippling burn in my legs. For some perspective on how steep the pitch was, consider that, as I approached my fallen cue sheet, I ended up locking up my wheels trying to slow to a stop from only about 4 mph.

We finally made it to the entrance to Skyline Drive and I was pretty darn nervous about what still remained to tackle. From the last time I did this ride (in March and solo), I remembered that the true test came once on Skyline. Skyline doesn’t bring relief from the hills. I remembered some pretty severe shit greeting me as soon as I entered the park. This time, though, I was pleasantly surprised to find some pretty moderate terrain (even some downhill grades) for a few miles. Entering the park, and fearing what was to come, I kinda overdid my fuel intake. I pounded a Clif Nectar bar and started drinking some only slightly diluted Extran. Normally resilient to most potentially stomach distressing food and drink, the sugars in all my intake started causing certain gastro distress. I was not happy and my stomach was even less joyful. Not a good recipe for the climbing still left. Despite all efforts to stay hydrated and electrolyted and nourished, I still came down with a bad case of cramps in places I didn’t even know I could cramp. Cramping is always fun. It’s like a little puzzle that requires fast decision making. To be able to keep riding despite the cramp, the cyclist must adjust his pedaling technique to counter the muscle cramp. If seated and pushing on the pedals when the cramp strikes, the solution might be to stand and pull harder on the pedals. Of course, it matters whether the cramp is in the quad or calf or hammy or glute or groin, etc. Anyhow, battling the cramps is always a challenge and a test and another reason to love riding bikes!! In the end, I survived and even had strength to rock it pretty hard up the final climb that has become a nemesis of sorts. It’s the only place I ever really dropped Evan on a climb in a meaningful and dramatic way. He wasn’t about to let that happen again. Fast forward to the final four miles after Dickey Ridge. We were all descending like madmen…really pushing the pace. With about 2.5 miles to go, we came upon a monstrous RV. It was the size of a rock band’s tour bus. It was a pain in the ass for three specific reasons. It slowed us down significantly. The air turbulence coming off the back of the thing made the bikes handle in crazy, crazy ways. And, finally, the brakes on the thing were burnin’ up and throwin’ off some stinky-ass vapors. Not a welcome scent. The stench was bad enough to stick to my clothes. When undressing at the parking lot, I noticed that my base layer and jersey stunk from the brake fumes. Lovely.

To sum up…another successful pain fest out in the beautiful Shenandoah Mountains. They’re an awesome resource. So is Spelunkers. The company couldn’t have been better. The drive to and fro' was filled with entertaining tales of home improvement woes, zany in-law family in-fighting, God-fearing siblings, corrupt city sanitation workers, and whatever idiocy the drivers out on Route 66 chose to display.

We’ll aim to do it again before the weather turns cold!!

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