Tuesday, June 22, 2010

what a difference a devious friend makes

Colin's surprise party 2008, when he tried lamely to pretend he was surprised:

Colin's surprise party 2010, when he was truly shocked:

All in all, the night was a lot of fun, a lot of work, but worth it to see the look on his face, and for that awesome mousse-cake from Whole Foods.  More pics from the evening here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

the Stoopid 50

So this race I was determined not to bonk.  You can see I brought along chips, salsa, coconut macaroons, granola, Raw Revolution bars, GU Chomps, chocolate cookies, bananas, and yes jelly beans.  Although the only things I ate during the race were some jelly beans, the GU Chomps, and the coconut macaroons, my new secret weapon. And the jelly beans were pretty good too and a nice break from all the Gu blocks, which started to give me a stomachache halfway through the race. 

And it worked.  Or at least I did not bonk. The only problem was I am not sure it was because I rode slow enough that my body did not need those extra calories.

Chris Scott, the Promoter, liked my nutrition choices so much he posted this pic of my drop bag to his Facebook page after the race with the caption, "all I need is more sugar!" I love being mocked.
Anyway, about the course, 50 miles, 70% incredibly technical, scenic, backcountry singletrack with more rocks than even French Creek. There were plenty of gravel climbs as well.  I started out way too slow, something new and different. There was a long three mile climb and then more climbing. I did not warm up, so my glutes were on fire the whole time. I took it easy and paid the price. I got behind every rider who did not know how to carry speed though rock gardens. The first trail was the Tussey Mountain Trail that I had rocked at the training camp. I had to pass folks right and left.  I need to be better at that.  Even if they are not going that much slower than you and you are thinking twice about passing them, once you do pass them they tend to ride even slower. Unless of course they are male sport riders whose egos take a beating when they are passed by a chick. And they speed up which is really annoying. It took me the first half of the race to get out of that mess. It had rained for the first hour so everything was slick and muddy. I took a few nasty spills during the race.  Perhaps the best was when I cracked my head after sailing through a long section of treacherous rock gardens, passing a bunch of riders, all proud of myself and then…whack.  ^^%$!!

“Are you OK? Can I help you?” the rider I had easily showed up (ha) said as he came rolling up to me. Now you need to understand before you read my answer to him that:
a.  I had forgotten my pharmaceuticals in my haste to pack for the hotel, so I had not had my wellbutrin   that morning. And
b.  I had just spent 2 hours fighting my way from behind the folks who were just out for a 50-mile ride. And
c.  I had just cracked my head, which always pisses me off, whether I fall or run into a door or whatever.

 “no, there is nothing YOU can POSSIBLY do to help me.” I said, being a total bitch but as I said I was irritated.
The main problem I had during this race was my left hand. I have terrible carpal tunnel syndrome. I had a nerve study done, had made changes to my bikes, had tried anti-inflammatories and a cortisone shot and I wear these really sexy wrist braces to bed. Nothing has helped. My left hand goes totally numb and I cannot feel it or even use it at all. I have to reach my right arm across to shift my gears. I have to look down and see if I am braking or not. It was a special problem at the Stoopid because many of the rocky downhils really require that you lay off the brakes and just trust that the bike, if you choose the right line, can pretty much roll over anyting with your momentum. In my case not only did I have to brake too much because of traffic, but I was so terrified that if I let go of my front brake I would not be able to use my hand again, that I was riding my brakes way too much on the downhills. My wrists were not only numb but they were burning and it was excruciating and terrifying because at any moment my hand could fail and I would crash, badly. On one steep downhill with switchbacks I was in so much pain I rode off the trail, stood up and just shook out my left wrist for a few minutes, waiting for the pain and numbness to subside. It was pretty awful. But then there were times when the numbness would dissipate and I could ride normally for awhile. It turns out that Dr. Todd does the surgery all the time and apparently the downtime is not that bad, so in a few weeks after Marysville I will make an appt with him and see about getting my ligament cut. That’s what I need, one more surgery.  The first one of 2010!
Anyway, I was determined to speed up during the second half, which I did and I passed a lot of people, but it was late to make a huge change in my results. By the time it was finished I felt like I could do another 30 miles. That is a good indication you did not push yourself hard enough. The course ended with the Three Bridges Trail which fortunately I had pre-ridden at the TSE camp. You come up a gravel climb (after climbing for miles) and make a quick left into the woods and straight down a treacherous, rock strewn descent. The entire trail is a descent but not one you could relax on. The pre-ride (at the camp) was invaluable; this was the trail on which  Mike had videotaped me demonstrating how to nail it to the other campers. Sothe only thing freaking me out on that trail were my numb wrists.
I shared a hotel room with Janel and Todd, which was an adventure, as was the road trip up in my new plush ride. We ended up listening to 80s and 90s music on XM most of the time. I made Todd drive up since I knew I would be the best one to drive home since they would both have raced hard, and I haven't learned to do that since the installation of my little box.

As for the results, there were 202 racers that finished, 21 women.
I came in 6th out of 21, Top female Kristin Gavin came in at 5:17, Janel at 5:53, and I did not roll in until 6:44--yikes. The good news is I know I can do a lot better, 6:44 was riding easy.  I came in 125th overall (all racers), Kristin was 29th overall, Nicki 57th, and Janel 76th.
Todd came in 6:38 as strong as he is: it was a very technical course for him and he bit it on the Three Bridges at the end.  He was bleeding and annoyed when I got back to my car and saw him, rare for Dr. Smiles.  It started to pour and we ended up cleaning ourselves up the best we could and scooping up Janel and skipping the post-race beer and burgers.  And of course we all forgot our drop bags. We went back to the hotel and showered up and then headed to Chipotle for some burritos and the trip home. 
Good things I learned:

  • I can get a handle on my nutrition if I choose the right foods and consume more liquid calories. 

  • I need to start faster, even if I go into a deficit for a bit afterwards I will recover. No fear. My heart needs to go into block in the warmup, because when it blocks and the pacer kicks in, my legs blow up for about 25 seconds and I feel like shit.  It messes with your head.  Which means I have to get off my ass and warmup before these races. 

  • I probably need more intensity in my training but that is for coach to figure out.

  • I can ride a lot faster.  50 hard miles is very manageable for me and it wasn't a month ago. My legs were not even sore on Monday!  Besides the multiple bruises. I went into the gym Tuesday and hammered them though so today they are sore.

  • I need to be a lot more aggressive about passing people.

  • I get stronger as the race goes on if again,  I stay on top of my nutrition. Coconut macaroons rock.

  • I need carpal tunnel surgery most likely, and a new saddle desperately. 
 The best part, somehow after this race I am in first place in the endurance series.  That probably won't last, especially if Selene does more MASS races, but hey, for now I'll take it. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Philly Race

So a few weekends ago was the big bike race in Philadelphia, known offically this year as the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Champoinship  Of course it is the big day of spectating for all of the road cyclists for miles around.  I blew off a MASS endurance race at Iron Hill which had been rescheduled from May for some reason but this day of fun was not to be missed.

The weekend started out on Friday night with a party at Cadence honoring the Bahati Foundation Cycling Team.  Rahsaan Bahati, Cesar Grajales, Nathan O'Neill,  and Jason Donald were there and Cadence threw a party in their honor.  At some point in the festivities Nathan O'Neill introduced himself and we started talking about race nutrition among other topics.  I explained how I was having such a hard time downing enough calories during races and rides because food makes me sick as soon as I am training hard. I have to force it down.  We talked about the methods you use to train your body to utililize fat as fuel rather than solely muscle glycogen.  I read a book on this topic by Stu Mittleman a year ago, Slow Burn, but having a pro cyclist discuss with me how he manages to do this in the real world was interesting and invaluable.  

Saturday morning was hot and humid.  I did the Cadence ride, which was easy, but fun with 100 people, it seemed like I waited the whole ride to get a chance up at the front.  You know, so I could climb into my endurance zone.  Afterwards I went out with some teammates for another 10 mile loop or so.  We hit some hills with Todd at the helm. It was hot, I was melting.  Got back to Cadence and I think I went upstairs and drank a gallon of water.  Throughout the morning various pro teams were coming and going.  I was just about to hop on my bike and go home when Soren Petersen from the Danish National Team lilterally stopped me in the doorway.  He asked me straightforwardly how I was doing, if I had finished my ride, and if I were racing tomorrow.  I looked down at my old bike and wondered how he could have thought that.  "Hell no, I'm an amateur," I said with a smile.  It was kind of funny.  "You should feed for us," he stated, and before I knew it he had pulled the Director over to me and Dave Sommerville took my cell phone number.  He told me to call him in the am before 8.

Which I did, I met Todd, Larry and the boys at the shop at 7:50 and while I was waiting I called Dave  who was driving the team car.  He put me in touch with Dave Berson, and after riding the course and then going home and showering and changing into shorts and a t-shirt I hopped on my bike and rode down there with my backpack. I ended up getting a pass to get behind the scenes and pass water bottles to riders blowing past me at 35mph.  It was pretty cool, almost scary.   So I'm under the tent waiting for the next opportunity to feed and suddenly Dave's wife snaps a photo of me, "they said they wanted a hot chick to feed them, " she explained, I found out later that she and Dave had hosted the entire team for the week so in retrospect the whole exercise of reeling me in was a plot to make the Danes happy but that was OK with me.  It was a fun experience and only took about an hour.

view in front of Cadence before the start

Nathan O'Neill top sprint winner
As I was down there I saw Nate, who had quit the race after winning the Sugarhouse Sprint competition.  We joked about bluffing our way into the VIP tent for some grub but then I decided to head up to Lemon Hill instead as I was getting a bunch of text messages asking where the heck I was.  I finally made it up there to catch some of the last part of the race, where I took this video above.
the start before the race

         the team monitoring pedestrian traffic across the race course

               Lemon Hill

As the race wore on the winds picked up and cooled us off, although I'm sure it meant strong headwinds for the riders.  The clouds rolled in and the skies looked ominous.  Colin and I rode home, me on my Orbea and Colin on his commuter bike that got stolen from my front porch a week later.  As soon as I stepped up onto my porch I felt the first drops of rain.

Friday, June 11, 2010

in case you missed our own environmental disaster right here in PA last week....

Yesterday I was not in a great mood to start with because work sucked, and then I was listening to all of the coverage of the Gulf Oil Spill disaster as I was driving home.  Terry Gross on Fresh Air was interviewing ProPublica's Abrahm Lustgarden about the internal documents he uncovered revealing that BP has a history of disregard for environmental and safety regulations. She then interviewed Josh Fox, a filmmaker whose family was offered 100,000 for the right to drill on their land.  Fox ended up making a movie, Gasland, about the hazards of gas drilling on private lands, which won the Best U.S. Documentary Feature at Sundance.  You can see the trailer here.  Rural landowners are offered (to them) large sums of money to allow the gas companies to drill on their properties after being told it is perfectly safe.  The companies clear the land and pollute the water supply to the point where in several areas, you are actually able to set the tap water on fire due to its high methane content.  It was truly shocking.  I encourage you to listen to the interviews here and here

Anyway by the time I got home I was depressed and thanking the powers that be that I had never brought another life onto this planet as we were systematically destroying it day after day.  Just last week there was a horrific incicent where a massive explosion took place at a gas drilling rig just outside of  Pennsylvania’s Moshannon State Forest in the western part of the state. The accident shot gas and polluted water 75 feet into the air for 16 hours, spreading this toxic pollution throughout the surrounding area.

If there is anything good that can come out of the Gulf Oil Spill and this incident in Moshannon State Forest, is that it fires up citizens like you and I to pressure our legislators to get off their bums and do something about it.  During the Bush Administration regulations on the oil and gas companies were dismantled to the point where nowadays they essentially police themselves, and obviously that is not working.

Please take a minute to use this form to send an email to your senator and state rep letting them know that you favor more regulations on natural gas drilling in our beautiful state.  Especially if, like me, you enjoy riding around for 50 miles in the deep wilderness of PA like Rothrock State Forest where I'm going to ride this weekend in the Stoopid 50.  You can see by the map that it is one of State Forests targeted for gas drilling by the gas companies in this article by the Sierra Club. Taking action, however small, is the best medicine for that feeling of hopelessness sometimes brought on by all of the bad news.  And sometimes turning off the news and blasting Montgomery Gentry on your way home from work helps too.  Yes, believe it or not I like country music too.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

go flyers!

This how my 9-year old nephew went to school today:

I guess this means we will be watching the game after celebrating his mother's birthday.  Happy birthday Jackie (today) and Sabrina (yesterday).  Yes my sister's birthdays are 1 day apart. Makes you wonder what was so special about September 8-9 of the years before....

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Last week I said goodbye to the my truck, which I have been driving  for the past 11 years.  The Jeep Cherokee was 3 years old when I got it in 1999, which would put it circa 1996.  I knew I would be driving it for as long as possible, as it had suited my lifestyle well, but over the past 4-5 months our relationship had gotten rocky, and I knew it had to go. 

There was a lot of nolstalgia attached to that hunk of metal and rubber.  It was the vehicle  I used to drive down the shore with every weekend for 4 years when I was dating Rich, with my trusty dog Gryphon strapped in the back seat.  It was the vehicle that drove me to bike race after bike race, as it was the perfect car for camping and racing.  When I rescued nine 6-week old puppies from the junkyard 8 years ago, I scooped up each little furball and placed them in the back so they could huddle together for warmth and comfort while I took them home to the upstairs room in 3434 on that bitter cold day in February.  They would live in the house I had just bought until they were adopted, all except for littermates Madison and Chloe, who never left. It had towed a trailer filled with mulch, sod, or mushroom soil time after time.  It had towed my motorcycle on the back of a landscape trailer.  It had brought home bags of topsoil, stones and sand from Home Depot, bricks I had picked from rubble in  North Philly, as well as carful upon carful of flower flats from Holods. It had bussed my brood to the vet and to the park to visit with their doggy friends time after time.

What is nolstalgia anyway?  Isn't it just a tangled vine of an emotion that attaches itself to certain objects and memories that have impressed upon us particularly deeply?  We can recognize it as such, prune it and put it in its place, or we can neglect it and let it grow unrestrainedly until eventually it becomes larger than the original memory ever was.  It can strangle those memories by tricking us into thinking that the past was better than the present or even the future will ever be.  Nolstalgia can be intoxicating and sweet, or it can sour our efforts to live squarely in the present and keep the past in its place.  I choose to smile when it shows up and then let it go.  I see others letting nolstalgia get the best of them until they believe that nothing in their present can measure up to that magical time in their lives when the world was theirs to explore and plunder.  The past takes on a mythology that the present reality, chock full of chores, frustrations, boredom and stress,  cannot even touch.  But it's just that, a myth.

So I was surprised when I was able to give it up so easily, especially since I had not had a car payment since 2004.  But as I said, the end was drawing near, and even though many people, usually former Jeep owners, would shake their heads, chuckle and affirm that the car would indeed run forever, I knew that it wouldn't. I'm just not that lucky as most of my friends know by now. It had started to nickle and dime me.  I got into two fender-benders within the past 6 months, trashing my perfect driving record.  When Joe Long put the front grill back together he did not bother replacing the radiator, and I knew once the hot weather hit and I had no AC that would be the end of my patience. 

Then on mothers day this year my alternator went, and I woke up my mom up so she could rescue me from a late-night visit to Bryn Mawr Rehab where my Dad was convalesing after his bike accident, by driving in front of me so I could drive the Jeep towards home in the dark without headlamps on.  Every few miles we had to stop and I would jump my battery from her Toyota, until we finally we abandoned the car at a gas station when that plan failed to work and the next day I had it towed.  Total for new alternator, labor and towing = $400.  That was 3 weeks before I got my new wheels, what a shame. 

As for my new wheels, well, here is where the guilt part comes in.  I did not want to drive a budget car anymore.  I wanted a small SUV since my lifestyle demands it, but the Ford Escape hybrid was just not doing it for me.  The Honda Element has a 4-cylinder engine and it too damn slow.  I ended up looking at the Infiniti EX35, and it was pretty much love at first sight.  However, the gas mileage was not much better than the Jeep, although it burns cleaner.  I test drove it on a Wednesday night, and they ran the numbers by me, ouch, it was too much. A few weeks prior to this I was telling Matt from work that I was looking at luxury cars but the payments were so damn high, and I was thinking about leasing.  We had hired Matt because he was a hardass, for want of a better term, who could stand up to the General Contractors on behalf of Liberty so they did not take advantage of us in the rough a tumble world of Philadelphia commercial construction.  He did his job with relish.  He offered to help me negotiate a better deal.  So I texted him from the dealership.  The salesmen did not let me leave the showroom until they came down a bit on pricing in an effort to have me buy the car before I walked off the lot. They offered to install the hitch rack for my bike rack, etc, but they still wanted $2500 down.

The next day Matt strode into my office.  "Get the guy on the phone" he demanded, by the "guy" he meant the salesman at Infiniti of Ardmore. 

I dialed, and Chuck DeSantis got on the phone. I identified myself and Chuck asked how I was doing.  I had him on speakerphone, and suddenly Matt broke in and said, "Hey Chuck. This is Matt Lerner."

"Who are you?" Chuck asked, suddenly sounding a bit more south-philly than Main Line.

"This is Andrea's ex-husband, and my alimony has to pay for this thing, so you gotta give me a better deal!"  At this point I was covering my mouth so I would not bust out laughing.  By the time he was finished beating up on Chuck, Matt had negotiated a no money down, 36 month lease of a 2010 infiniti EX 35 in exchange for my old Jeep, and the dealership would pay for UHAUL to install my hitch for my bike rack, as well as throw in the crossbars for the roof rails in case I needed to get a Thule carrier for all my camping shit, since the EX was a bit smaller than the Jeep.  I got back on the phone. "So when would you like to pick up the car?" Chuck asked me.

"um...." this was all a bit of a shock to me.  I had just test-driven the thing the night before.  I had not really done much research on other cars.  Sometimes it's just like that though, love at first sight.  And people tell me I can be impulsive sometimes.

"I guess tomorrow," I mumbled.  Chuck was delighted.

"Great, we will have it ready for you." And that was it.

The beast had 167,000 miles on it when it finally was traded in.  I pulled up to the dealership and three bros who were employed by the dealership to detail the cars were on break, sitting in the sun on the curb.  I walked up to them.  "How can I help you?" one of them said politely.

"I am trading in my Jeep today, and there is some really high-end stereo equipment in there, 2 amps, a bazooka, etc.  It's a bit old but it works great, are you interested?"

The three of them jumped up and inspected the goods.  Damn!  I'm all over that shit, one of them said, as if to say you would never know all this shit was hiding in that hunk of metal.

"I gotta go get a screwdriver!" one of them said, jumping up.

"There's a cordless drill in the backseat, " I told them.  "I would get that stuff out of there as soon as you can and keep it on the down-low." I smiled and walked into the dealership in my heels and minidress.  It was 88 degrees. 

By the time I got out of there, 2 hours later, they had my car stripped.  They had dropped the pretense of formality and were now thanking me in their own dialect, it was funny.  Even funnier is that the car had almost died on my way to Ardmore, I could not get it started outside of Cadence, so really was most likely headed for the junkyard.  And I had gotten $2500 for it. Thanks Matt!
So now I have a gargantuan car payment. I did get cold feet a few days later, but there was no backing out now. I will have to cut some of the fat out of my spending in the coming months, which will be painful, but I can do it.  Sacrifice is not so hard for me anymore.  And frankly, for driving a fourteen year old car for so long, I deserved this, right?  Guilt never did any good for anyone anyway.

Although the most acute judges of the witches and even the witches themselves, were convinced of the guilt of witchery, the guilt nevertheless was non-existent. It is thus with all guilt.

Friedrich Nietzsche

the first example of the modern sensibility

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Matthew Arnold, 1867