Thursday, April 7, 2011

Riding off into the Golden Years

PCH Randos "Wine and Waves" 400k, March 12, 2011

OK, it's time to admit it: I finally went into retirement, on March 3rd. Nearly everybody who knows me imagines that ever since I am spending all my time riding the bicycle - but that's not how it works! (At least, not if you are married.) It's a cliché that retired people don't have time for anything any more; but it's true. Proof is that I am still four weeks behind in my blogging! I even didn't get to ride the Davis Bike Club 200k brevet on March 5th - although I had a good reason for that. I felt a little "under the weather" the day before and didn't want to overtax the organism. (I also had been busy celebrating the special milestone).

Celebrating retirement at Hardy's Bavaria
(note the Bavarian colors of the balloons)

It might be a worthy subject for a dissertation or a blog post to analyze the feelings that come along with the deep cut in one's everyday routine and the identity crisis that could arise from suddenly missing a very substantial component of one's self-worth - but I don't have time to get into it!

Identity crisis or not, on March 11th, we drove the familiar route down to our friend Yolande in Shell Beach. We found a nice dinner on the table:

and some "retirement balloons" in the bedroom:

All this didn't distract me from getting in time to the start of my first 400 km brevet of the season, the next morning in San Luis Obispo.

I was familiar with most of the route from various previous events in the area, and I was very much looking forward to a long day on the bike through the wonderful scenery of the Central Coast.

It was quite chilly in the morning, and I was overdressed as usual. Also, compared to the last time I climbed up Cuesta Grade, I was much slower, had much less ambition, and was much further back among the nearly 60 starters. I remembered, however, that many riders tend to relax on the following downhill and over the bucolic flat portion through Santa Margerita and beyond, and that I could catch up with them if I didn't abuse of the freewheel. And so I found myself eventually part of a friendly and very competent group which included several randonneuring luminaries (you know who you are!). I was thrilled of course to be in their midst and did my best to pretend being worthy of the privilege. As a side effect, I could benefit from drafting them (yes, again!) and arrived at the San Miguel control much earlier than anticipated. I was competitive in staying focussed and to-the-point during the time off the bike, but I did not remove enough layers. About half an hour later, when we got into the hills to the west of Paso Robles, I realized my mistake and had to let everybody else go while stopping for wardrobe adjustment. Then again, my legs had already started to twitch on the uphills and I would have been dropped from the group at that point, no matter what.

The climbs over the mountains towards the coast did nothing to make me feel stronger - quite the opposite. At the highest point, volunteer extraordinaire Bobbe (already mentioned several times in this blog) had set up a water stop. I certainly appreciated, but honestly couldn't buy into her compliments about my good riding. I felt lousy and had trouble articulating coherently. Silently, I promised myself to finally start training, some time in the months to come!

Recovery was slow during the long downhill to the coast, and I needed to extend my lunch stop at the Cambria control longer than planned. My feelings regarding the upcoming 22 mile stretch to Ragged Point were mixed, to put it diplomatically: the headwind was quite unforgiving (good thing I had seen much worse not so long ago). It certainly overpowered any consideration of the spectacular scenery. And my legs still didn't feel confident enough to wait for the company of some friends who had arrived during my stop. Of course, it would be reasonable to team up with them into the headwind; but I honestly felt unable to contribute my fair share, and (call me whatever you like) didn't want to only hang on their rear wheel either - heck, I wasn't even sure I would be able to hang on their wheel. And so I set out on my own, carefully optimizing my effort for this most demanding part of the whole ride.

After about twenty minutes, it didn't feel quite so difficult any more. I felt more comfortable keeping my head down and adopting a lower more aerodynamic position on the bike, and I realized that I was slowly catching up to a rider who had left the Cambria stop several minutes before me: Mel (who I had ridden the last portion of last year's Clambake 1000 with). This felt very motivating, and I increased the pressure on myself to actually catch him. I guess Mel wasn't sure whether I would cooperate with him into the headwind when he realized that I was at his wheel. He knows that he is fundamentally stronger than I; and I needed a recovery from my effort to catch him. But my morale was suddenly intact again, and as soon as possible I started trading pulls with him. I was satisfied of having overcome the earlier low point and was determined to put up a good fight against the wind. Mel seemed to feel more motivated himself and several times rode harder than I could follow. As soon as he noticed that I was "gone," he waited for me. And I am proud to report that this happened also reciprocally (even though much less frequently). All together, we covered good ground under difficult conditions and closed in on another rider ahead of us, maybe two miles (or three) before the climb up to Ragged Point. That's when I suddenly developed leg cramps and had to let loose. Still, I was happy: getting the cramps was evidence and proof that I had been working really hard - harder than I thought I could. I wasn't worried about recovering and finishing the ride in a satisfactory way.

On the way back from Ragged Point

For one, we were rewarded on the return trip to Cambria with a wonderful tailwind (which mostly died down at sunset, sadly). And then, back at the San Luis Obispo control (mile 175) the event master Vickie offered not only a well furnished dinner, but also moral support for the remaining 75 relatively easy miles - it was all good!

About eight miles after leaving San Luis Obispo, the route lead through Shell Beach, not far from where Ghislaine stayed with Yolande and her daughter Gerry. I had convinced them not to expect me for a stop - I wanted to cover the last portion of the ride in a good rhythm and get home as early as possible. But because Ghislaine followed my progression on SPOT, she had a good idea when I would come through and waited for me with Yolande, Gerry and the Pomeranian Jacquot at a street corner.  This was quite a surprise; and Ghislaine needed to document the event with a picture. Because her old iPhone doesn't have a flash, I used my helmet light for illumination:

I rode the remaining distance mostly alone and without any trouble other than the bitter cold that fell on us during the last hour. Even though I finished in good form and in good spirits, I did not expect that my rather modest finishing time of 21h44 would position me so close to the middle of the pack:

Despite some difficulties in the first part, my first ride in the Golden Years was a success!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Riding with the Daughters

Mega-Monster Enduro 2/12/2011
Death Valley Spring Century, 2/26/2011

If anybody had made me bet on the likeliness of one day riding a century with my daughters, even just two years ago, I would have lost all bets. Not that I didn't believe they could do it if they wanted to; but that they might want it appeared to be extremely far-fetched. Well, you may remember that I proudly titled a blog post "High Five to my Daughters!", a year ago, and that Valerie also completed the Fall Death Valley Century up to Scotty's Castle, last October. Even better: she then said that after those experiences as stoker on the tandem she now also needed to complete a century solo. This was all the more remarkable that Valerie doesn't even have a bicycle of her own and that she didn't ride a bike (other than on the backseat of the tandem) since childhood. Her younger sister Fabienne already had more solo miles under the belt and trained on indoor bikes; but her health is fragile and she missed out on the Fall Death Valley Century due to illness. So, both were signed up for this year's Death Valley Spring Century, again. Together with their elder brother Sebastian and myself, we certainly had the biggest family contingent in the event!

Due to the usual (Valerie is in a demanding full-time job; Fabienne's schedule is highly unpredictable) and some unusual constraints, training and preparation were less than minimal. So, participating in the 103 km option of the "Mega-Monster Enduro" as a dress rehearsal two weeks before the big event became absolutely mandatory and appeared to be a big enough challenge in itself. Fabienne still had trouble with the occasional annoying knee pain, and Valerie had accumulated, all in all, less than two hours' worth of practice on a borrowed bike that I adjusted to her needs as well as I could. I promised myself that I would not push them and rather encourage them instead to take it easy and turn around early if just ignoring the lack of preparation didn't work.

The conditions were rather favorable for the season, but the miles went by a little slower than planned (not a big surprise). Also, because I had changed the rear derailleur on Valerie's bike (to accomodate a MTB cassette for the steeper uphills), the derailleur cable needed to be re-adjusted after some time: the gears didn't change properly any more. After a couple of more miles, I asked her if shifting worked OK now.  She said, somewhat grumpily: "Yeah, the gears are shifting OK; but I still don't find any one I like."

Several times, I suggested to cut it short and turn around earlier; but they didn't want to hear anything of it (stubbornness seems to run in the family). And so we arrived at the Bitterwater checkpoint and had our picture taken:

The return trip was easier because of a flattering tailwind (except for the last ten miles) and the loss of altitude.  This (together with the marvelous scenery) explains the big smiles:

I encouraged them to take little rest stops - in particular when we arrived at unexpected places like Brigadoon in the Scottish Highlands:

All this did cost a little extra time, but it was worth it. Of course, a "racing team" is supposed to try to win and to save each and every second; but given that we were the only starters in our team category of "Father and Daughters", we took first place no matter what!

One week later, Valerie and I even managed to bring my fairly new son in law along for a training ride on the Coyote Creek Trail. 

Granted, he turned around early (he didn't like the saddle of my old mountain bike that I loaned him) and probably was impressed by the sign that pointed out that we were in mountain lion habitat. But it was a start! And I made Valerie a compliment after our sustained 2-hour ride: if she rode similarly well on the following Saturday, the century would be "in the bag" for her.


Finally, the weekend of our traditional Spring family reunion at the Furnace Creek Ranch was there.  Ghislaine and I arrived early on Friday afternoon, Sebastian came with his two toddlers accompanied by Fabienne from Los Angeles soon afterwards, and Valerie with Roman joined us a little later. The bad news: a) Fabienne was sick again and unfit to ride; b) a horrible wind made it a challenge to get out of the car! Despite keeping my mouth shut (already difficult enough for me in itself), I couldn't carry the luggage from the car to the hotel room without getting sand between my teeth. Of course, we had followed the weather forecast over the last days (it promised very low temperatures and rain!) and prepared our equipment and our mental selves accordingly. I reassured Valerie that the upcoming rain would bring the wind down - and that we didn't fear the rain.

Well - no rain overnight, and no rain at the start. Instead, a clear, crispy (even chilly) sky with gorgeous views to Telescope Peak:

Instead, we had to fight a headwind as I had never encountered it before. Recall that Valerie really didn't have many miles on a solo bike at all, and that consequently she was still not adept at taking advantage of somebody's rear wheel. I figured that this would be the day where she would learn it, and I was somewhat right, eventually. Until then, I puffed my little frame up as much as I could to increase the shelter for Valerie, and turned my head every two seconds to check if she was still there. If not, the wind had instantly blown her back so far I had to turn around to pick her up again. It was one of those situations where the difficulty turned into ridicule. When the first 40 km under these conditions took us 3 1/2 hours, I knew I needed to look for a "plan B." Diplomatically, I convinced Valerie that we would make it a metric century and turn around at km 50; this would be "hard enough." - Little did I know!

It is true that right after our turn around, we had an outrageous tailwind for about an hour. But we were still so exhausted from fighting the gale that we just let ourselves get pushed, without barely ever turning the pedals. And when we arrived at the Badwater rest stop, we were in no hurry to get back on our bikes for the last 18 miles. Now we didn't want to arrive too early at the finish and we could maybe even wait for Sebastian. He had left us shortly after the start to join a paceline of stronger riders, and I figured he had a good chance to catch up with us even after riding 40 more miles which included the climb to Jubilee Pass.

We should have hurried up! There was a wall of grey air between us and the finish which moved towards us. It represented the collision between the wind from the South which we had enjoyed during the last hour, and the wind from the North which was about to try to prevent us from reaching the finish!

We needed nearly three hours for the 18 miles, at some point even walking the bikes for a quarter mile (after the wind had blown us off the road while on a slow uphill). We saw other riders being sagged in by the dozens; several of them then climbed into their cars to come back and help sag in even more riders. Only two or three miles from the finish, one of them even offered to pick us up as well; but Valerie was the first to decline. We wanted to complete our "metric century" which was harder than a full century under "regular" conditions. And we did.

Note that we kept our jackets throughout!

Alexandre is complimenting his Grandfather to a memorable ride ...

... and enjoying a ride in the rocking chair, the next morning.
Sebastian (left) finished in 9h49 - the slowest Century finishing time of all my children. 
He had hoped for a time under seven hours; but under the conditions, 9h49 was good for rank 21 out of 73 finishers!

True to family tradition, we celebrated with a Sunday brunch at the Furnace Creek Inn (Julien in the middle). I had pushed the grandsons there, for some recovery cross-training: