Friday, August 31, 2007

Topeak come back!

In my KoTR post I mentioned that I loaned my chain tool to a fellow racer on the side of the trail. After the race I checked the lost&found and didn't find it, so I was ready to write it up as a loss.

On Monday, Chris emailed me a link to a craigslist post from someone who had borrowed a chain tool during KoTR but couldn't find the owner afterwards. I emailed the person with a description of the tool I had loaned out, a 10-year old Topeak Power 21 multi-tool that's no longer made; and sure enough, it was mine that he had posted! The package showed up today, and I'm happy to have my multi-tool back. It's nothing particularly special, and $25 would buy something equal or better these days, but it's nice not to have to buy a new one.

That's twice this season that I've loaned out a tool to another racer (I gave my CO2 inflator to another racer in WP Race #5), and both times I got it back. I know that I'd want someone to stop for me if I were stuck without tools or air during a race, if only so I could ride across the finish line, and I hope anyone that reads this will do the same for someone else.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sugar Time

Tonight's group ride was Mt. Falcon, and we had a pretty good showing:

I was on the Sugar for this ride, mainly because Michelle didn't want to get stuck riding in the dark again (even with lights!). I had to take a picture of the Sugar for Scott since he always comments on it being too clean--I haven't cleaned it since KoTR!

The car could use a wash too!

We took our time on the ride up, but eventually it became clear that it was going to get dark before we got down. We split into a few groups; Chris, Bill, and I cruised up past the gazebo on the Castle Trail to hit Ute Trail. I remembered to bring my Niterider 15W headlamp this time, and I was happy to have some light on the descent. Towards the bottom I tried to hop around a switchback instead of rolling it, and that's when I discovered that a headlamp doesn't light the ground immediately beneath the rider. *ahem*

After picking myself up and dusting myself off, I learned another lesson--an 8-year old NiCd battery has a limited capacity, and trying to stretch the charge across two rides instead of taking the time to fully discharge and recharge it after Michelle used it on the previous week's ride meant that I was going to be riding in the dark soon. Fortunately we were nearly at the bottom, and I made it back to the car without incident.

Dinner at the Morrison Inn hit the spot as usual, and we learned that Chris was once a calculator-programming geek extraordinaire! If only I could find a link!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Unusual Visitor

While I was sitting down this evening eating a late dinner of reheated crab legs (thanks, Robyn!), Michelle got up to put some letters in the mail. As she was coming back in, she called out "Come here! You've got to check out this weird bug!" This is what we saw:

This is the first time I've seen a praying mantis in person that I can recall--I didn't even realize they could survive in Colorado! I'm no expert, but this particular specimen appears to be a European Mantis (M. reliogiosa) based on photos from wikipedia.

Mantids are generally considered beneficial insects, as they feed on pest insects. We made sure that the mantid was safely out of the way before closing the door.

By the way, this photo was taken with the Canon SD800 IS that I bought Michelle for her 25th birthday last year. The photo is nothing amazing, but not bad for a point-and-shoot! In fact, it was so dark when I took the photo that I could barely even see the mantis on the LCD to frame it. I was impressed that the macro function was able to focus accurately and quickly despite the darkness, and the flash didn't completely overwhelm the photo like my old Canon SD40 would have. Digital camera technology sure has come a long way!

If you click on the photo to zoom in, you can see that it's not perfectly clear. This is the difference between a point-and-shoot and a dSLR. As much as I think I want a dSLR, I've resigned myself to the fact that most things I do are better served by a compact point-and-shoot. Too often the photos I want to take are spur-of-the-moment, and it's just not practical to lug a huge dSLR around everywhere. I considered a mid-size prosumer camera like the Canon S5 IS, but then I realized that it's a compromise--too big to stick in a pocket, and you lose the fast action and large sensor advantages of a dSLR. An ideal setup for me would be a nice point-and-shoot to carry around everywhere for the spontaneous photos, plus a nice dSLR for those instances where I really want to take a mind-blowing shot. I love photography, and I still think a nice dSLR is in our future, but it's going to have to wait for now.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Toolin' around

Today my dad came down to hang out, and I suggested he bring his bike along with him. A few years ago I built up a mountain bike for him and gave it to him for his birthday, but we haven't gone for a ride together since then! It got hot pretty early in the day, and I was dreading going out in the blazing heat, but fortunately the clouds rolled in and cooled things off a bit before we headed out. We tooled around the area, explored some paths and neighborhoods I haven't seen before, and overall had a great time wandering around. I think this was the first time we've been riding together since I was a teenager! All in all a good day. I wish I had a picture of us together, especially with my dad fully outfitted in his bike gear, but I forgot until we had already put the bikes away. We'll just have to go riding again so I can get a pic next time--right, dad?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

King of the Rockies 2007

I've been meaning to start a blog for a very long time. After reading my friends' blogs and discovering how much easier it makes it to keep in touch with friends and family, share stories with others, and just keep a record of the goings-on that run our daily lives, I found myself composing blog entries in my head. This has been going on for months; but sadly, I've never sat down in front of the computer to type any of them! As they say, there's no time like the present, so I've finally decided to make time to get the ball rolling.

Saturday was the 2007 King of the Rockies ('KoTR' for short) mountain bike race, Race #6 in the Winter Park MTB race series. This is my second year racing in this series. Last year, my first MTB racing season, I raced in the Beginner 25-29 category. I raced hard, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun riding and racing with my friends. I earned a podium in each of the 5 races I entered (missed the 3rd race because I was out of town) and took home 1st place in my category for the series.

Needless to say, this year I had to move up a category from Beginner to Sport. The jump to the Sport category alone is pretty big, but I also turned 30 in June, and that put me in the 30-34 age group this year. For whatever reason, the 30-34 group is way more competitive. After my string of early success last year, my goal this year was simply to place in the top 10 in at least one of the races. As of Saturday I hadn't achieved my goal, so it was my last chance.

The KoTR course (aka 'Tipperary Creek Point to Point') is an absolute blast to ride, and I was very much looking forward to this race because I enjoyed it so much last year. Unfortunately, I haven't been keeping up with my riding like I should have been lately, and that came back to haunt me during the race. The start was fast, but not obnoxiously so. I was able to hang with the front group up the first 3.5 miles of dirt road to the start of the singletrack. Once on the singletrack, the group settled into a comfortable climbing rhythm. I lost touch with the frontmost group of riders in my category as we encountered slower riders from the groups that started ahead of us, but as far as I could tell I was still mid-pack.

With me from the start of the race was my friend Mike. We've been riding together on our summer Wed. night MTB rides, and for the last few races we've been very closely matched. We usually pass each other back and forth several times during the course of a race--Mike's a very strong and fast descender! So, somewhere on the first climb I jumped ahead of him for the first pass of the day. A little further on, a rider stranded with a mechanical failure on the side of the trail needed a chain tool, so I paused just long enough to toss him the multi-tool out of my seat bag and tell him my name and number so he could find me at the end of the race.

Shortly thereafter I passed a girl on a singlespeed and complemented her on her determination. The rider that passed her before me cussed at her for not getting out of his way--clearly this guy has never been on a singlespeed! It was only the first of several incidents of 'trail rage' I would witness that day, a couple of which were directed at me (more on that in a bit).

As I was nearing the top of the climb, I stood up to give my seated climbing muscles a short break, and I felt my right thigh start to twitch. "Uh-oh," I thought--not a good sign to have cramping issues only a third of the way into the race! Fortunately the first and longest climb was over, so I had a long downhill ahead of me to rest. This was my first race on my new setup--I recently upgraded to disc brakes, changed wheels from UST to Stan's tubeless, and switched tires. To boot, I was riding with Ergon grips borrowed from my biking nut friend Chris. I was behind a rider on a hardtail that wasn't going super fast through the rough stuff, so I decided it was prudent to hang back rather than attempt a risky passing maneuver.

Even then, I almost crashed! I made the mistake of following too close, and on one loose turn I followed the line of the rider ahead of me. It turned out to be a bad line... He was fortunate enough to save it right at the end and avoid a crash; but because I was hard on the brakes to avoid crashing into him, I left the trail. Fortunately I didn't hit anything, and I reminded myself that to finish well I first had to finish! A number of riders I had passed on the climb screamed past as I redirected my bike onto the trail and looked for an opening to hop back on.

Remember Mike? Well, unfortunately he didn't fare so well. Unbeknownst to me until after the race, he also had an off-trail incident...but his ended in a broken collarbone and a trip to the hospital! Mountain biking really is a high risk sport, but sometimes it takes a reminder like this to really bring it home--it could just as easily have been me in Mike's shoes. Heal thee well, Mike--we have some training to do this winter so we can crush the field next year!

After the descent, letting fast riders pass me as needed, we had a quick short climb up Chainsaw. When I saw the steep section coming, I stood up and jammed up it in my middle ring. A bunch of riders in my category were walking up either side of the trail pushing their bikes, and it was almost surreal to blow by them like that! They seemed to look at me in disbelief, and I felt like a king!

That was shortlived, however...remember that muscle twitch I mentioned earlier? Well, this time it came back with a vengeance and threatened a full-on muscle lockup. I tried throttling back on the upper portion of the climb; but after one small spurt from a quick slip of the rear wheel on a root, it became clear that I was about to cramp HARD. As I clipped out of my left pedal, my right leg began to cramp from supporting all of my weight. My left leg joined soon as I stepped off the bike, and both of my legs were screaming in agony together. I had no choice but to crouch down immediately and try to keep the muscles extended as much as possible. The pain was excruciating!

This is where I encountered one extremely unfriendly and uncompassionate female Expert class rider. I had passed her just after the steep section, where she was muttering and cussing at herself (!) as she climbed back onto her bike after walking it. I thought that was a little strange, but self-motivation means different things to different people. I figured she must be upset because the Expert women started well ahead of me, and clearly she wasn't doing very well if I was catching her in my Sport category. Little did I know she was about to unleash her fury on me!

When my legs cramped, it happened so suddenly that I hadn't moved off the main racing line. Common courtesy dictates that one should move completely off the racing line if stopping or walking. Problem is, my legs were so locked that I couldn't even stand up to move either myself or my bike! The woman started screaming at me to get out of the way as she approached, and I tried my hardest; but alas, I was unable to move. She had to stop and dismount, and I apologized prophetically. This was not enough, though, and she spared no profanity in proclaiming her displeasure with what I had just done to her. Both myself and some nearby spectators were stunned into silence by this display. Rather than continue on her way, she stopped to continue yelling at me! It was clear she had no intention to move on and my apologies were getting me nowhere, so I gave one last apology: "Look, I'm really sorry that I lost the race for you..." Apparently this was enough for her.

After squatting for a minute or two I was finally able to stand, and then walk. I was mere yards from the top of the climb; had I just made it a little further, I could have spun the relatively flat section at the top leading to the next downhill and saved myself a couple of minutes in the race. Oh, well. A quick jaunt up Vasquez Road, and then the Vasquez Ford creek crossing. I heard my wife Michelle cheering for me as I plunged into the water, but all I could do was cheer back rather than risking a wet and embarrassing dunk in the river. I made it, and face was saved!

The next descent gave me more time to rest before the final climb up Lower Cherokee, but when the trail turned upwards it became clear that I could do nothing more than keep the pedals turning in my lowest gear and hope to minimize the time I was losing. It was so frustrating to go so slowly that I wasn't even breathing hard, but at the same time I was unable to go any harder because of the cramping! Tons of people passed me, and all I could do was let them by. The Beginner category skips this last climb, and all I could think of was how much time I was losing relative to last year when I got to skip it.

The final descent down Long Trail was blast, and I even got to ride a wall on one of the turns! This isn't me, but this is the wall:

I only rode maybe two feet up the wall from the dirt berm below it, like the upper rider in the photo, but it was the first time I've even seen one of these things in person. I couldn't believe how steep it was! When we dropped onto the final straight along the railroad tracks to the finish, I gave it my all so I wouldn't get caught from behind and teetered on the edge of cramping once again. Across the finish line, another racing season concluded!

It was a mixed bag of results for my friends. Chris told me about what had happened to Mike after I finished, and that was a real downer. The race ended for Mike's wife Jeanie when she came across Mike after his crash. Melissa and Marni both rocked again. Neither finished on the podium this time, but Marni won her category for the series! After a bad crash in the last race, Chris had two flats in this race and lost a ton of time, knocking him out of contention for the series. Nonetheless, he was still upbeat, as always.

Our token Clyde Bill put in an awesome performance, bested in this race just slightly by the biggest rider I've EVER seen, Jason (I'm can hear murmurs in the crowd every time Jason goes up to pick up an award!). Bill pulled off first place for the season, though, with Jason just behind him in second place. Way to go, guys! Bill will be moving up to Expert next year--right, Bill?

Both Scott and Dan looked strong at the finish. Marni was approaching on the Beginner's course just as Scott was coming down off Long Trail, so we cheered him on by telling him not to let her catch him. Apparently Scott misunderstood that Marni was behind him, so he sprinted off and caught the rider ahead of him as we all watched with jaws agape!

Truesdale put in a strong showing, especially for his first MTB race--KoTR is certainly not the easiest race in which to debut! My hat's off to Truesdale for showing up and giving it his all.

Alright, this premier blog entry has turned into an essay...clearly I have some pent-up writing aggression to get out! Even though the Winter Park racing series has ended, there's plenty of riding coming up... There's 24 Hours of Moab , and the cyclocross season, not to mention fun winter and night rides....

I'll post pics soon, but it's past my bedtime (I must be getting old!). 'Til next time!