Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mt. Lemmon...in the nick of time

Jeff Rogers (L) and MarkCotovsky (R) at EXO in Tucson
Many of you know the fun story of how Mark and Jeff and I began our friendship. It was PAC Tour Desert Camp, 2007 in Sierra Vista, AZ. Breakfast that first morning everyone was going around the table with introductions which, of course, included where we each lived. Lo and behold, Mark and Jeff (and I) all live in Wilmette, IL and only 3 blocks from one another!! And so began a wonderful friendship on two wheels. For over a year now we have been targeting early November for their first visit to our new life in Tucson. This November visit would include a crest of Mt. Lemmon and their first El Tour. 

I was so excited to see them when they arrived I took them on a night ride along the Rillito River Path before I even let them eat dinner!!

Kirk gave up his Rotary responsibilities Friday, November 9th in order to crew for us up Mt. Lemmon, or The Lemmon, as I call her. Little did we know ahead of the ride we would really, really need him.


Mark, Jeff, and Wayne Collup
The end of June Wayne crewed for Mark Dumas and me. It was only right that we crew for him as he attempted his first summit in years and his first ever on his Tour Easy recumbent.

The day was cool, about 50, at Le Buzz, the coffee shop 4-1/2 miles from the base of The Lemmon that serves as the start and finish of most hopeful summiteurs. The weather forecast was expected to deteriorate at Summerhaven, the finish atop the Mountain, by mid-day. Our goal was to seek shelter and hot chili at The Sawmill before the bottom fell out of the temperature and winds would gust at 40+ mph.

Kirk planned to meet us every 6 miles (It's 25 miles and 6,000' from the base of Mt. Lemmon to Summerhaven). That plan quickly was abandoned as the 4 of us got too spread out along the highway. Wayne turned in an awesome performance before turning around at mile 12.

Mark and I would be in each others mirrors taking turns leading and following from mile 6 to 25. By mile 18 we had put on all the extra layers we had brought with us on the bikes. The absolute temp had dropped to 37 and the winds were, indeed, gusting in the 40's. A couple of times I needed to stop and anchor myself on the mountain with both wheels and both feet. By mile 21 the clouds so thickly enveloped us I could no longer see Mark. The pavement was wet from rain and covered with pine straw. Mark and I would need to "take the lane" to better ensure we could keep the rubber side down as we rode the fast descents through miles 21-23 before the final ascent into Summerhaven. Kirk assumed a RAAM position of "direct follow" protecting us from cars coming up on us from the rear through that  risky stretch of blind vision.

The winds were so severe and the temp so biting we didn't even pause at the summit for the photo-op. We just scurried into the Sawmill for dry jerseys and a hot bev. We had barely changed into warm clothes when the sky opened up and banged down an inch of hail.



We willingly accepted Kirk's offer to carry all three of us down the mountain in our trusty van.


We capped day's accomplishment with pix and smiles once we got home where it was 30 degrees warmer than atop the Lemmon. 

Kirk's support for us was so extraordinaire we awarded him with his very own King Of The Mountain T-Jersey. 
Mark, Kirk, and Jeff

Jeff, Susan, and Mark



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Abduction and Redemption


Tilda
Tilda joined my stable in October, 2009. She was just the Tikit, a Bike Friday Tikit,  She went with me to Hawaii, Aruba, Costa Rica. She carried me over the McKenzie Pass in Oregon, and was looking forward to going to Viet Nam with me in January, 2014.

She was thrilled to have had an extensive make-over this past Spring that would expand her gearing and make hill and mountain climbing less of an ordeal.

And then the unthinkable happened. She was abducted from my garage the middle of August. I assume culpability for not having padlocked her to an im-movable object in the garage. And, quite probably our garage door was left opened too long that day in August. 

Oh, I did all the right things: notifying the insurance company, filing a police report with the TPD, filing a stolen bike on Tucson Velo, filing her loss on Stolen Bikes, and Craig's List. For days after she left I would go to the garage and expect to see her orangeness. When I would open the garage I would expect to see her sitting on the berm next to the morning newspaper having come home from her night time wanderings with the coyotes. Neither ever happened.

Three weeks later I received an email through Craig's List from a guy who said he thought he might have my bike. I asked him to send me a pix, and Voila: 
Tilda, violated
It was unmistakably Tilda: her new Schwalbe Kojack tires, the Dual Drive hub, the Candy Crank pedals, the Trigger shifters; the safety light, the tilt of the handlebars...

There were several emails with the Craig's List guy and even more convo's with various ranking officers of the TPD. The Craig's List guy agreed to meet me in a shopping center parking lot with the bike. He wanted $300 more than my $200 reward offer. The detective had agreed to be "my husband" and meet the Craig's List guy with me in the parking lot. And, upon the detective's advice, there would be no exchange of money. 

The appointed hour came and went, no Craig's List guy, no Tilda. 

The detective subsequently went to the Craig's List guy's house and was surprised to find the house staked out with U.S. Marshalls. Apparently Tilda's abductor was also suspected of harboring fugitives. The detective returned a week later to find the house abandoned. 

What I made up in my mind was that Tilda had been abducted to Mexico. No evidence to support my suspicion, but....

Tilda was declared a closed case and a lost-for-good bike; USAA was glad to write us a reimbursement check.

October 2nd Kirk and I drove to Tempe, AZ to PortaPedal Bike, a wonderful shop that deals exclusively in folding and commuting bikes. It was at PortaPedal that Tilda had had her make-over just 4 months before her abduction.

NWT'n (pronounced Newton) would be my new ride. He is a Bike Friday New World Tourist, hence the NWT part of his name.

NWT'n

I wanted to ride him home from Picacho Peak, but the I-10 frontage road, my route, was under construction. So, Kirk dropped me off in Marana and I rode him home the last 26 miles.

Two days later I packed him in his Samsonite-airline compatible suitcase and he went to Chicago with me for miles along the Lake Front Path, the new Kinzie Greenway, and the hills of Barrington.

Ready for TSA

Barrington

Lake Front Path

It seems a travesty to say, but it's true: NWT'n is way more fun to ride than Tilda; he's more eager to fit in his suitcase without a hassle than Tilda; and we're a better fit. 

Riding him is such a pleasure I took him on a flat century ride to Eloy last week. Other than plugging his tread with freshly laid tar, he was a charmer. As for me, well, I did ok given that I have recumbent legs, not upright legs, and I was less than a week away from having ridden the Cochise 165, so tired were my legs, very tired. 

But, my Eloy Century was such a success I'm seriously thinking about taking him to Alaska in July 2013 to ride a 200k brevet. Packing NWT'n can be done in 30 minutes blindfolded. Packing TiBee, my Ti Aero, in a snowboard box after having stripped off all her components is a project of countless hours, if it all goes well.

The learnings of this whole experience for me are:
  • U-bolt my bikes in the garage
  • Re-double our conscientiousness in closing the garage door
  • Trust the process--I have only good words and gratitude for the TPD (I owe them a letter of thanks and appreciation)
  • Register all your bikes with your local police department
  • Know the serial number of all your bikes
  • Don't attempt a Sting operation without the support and guidance of your local police department
  • Your replacement bike just may be even a better fit than your lost one

Monday, October 29, 2012

Unfinished Business Finished

Finish Line At Cochise Classic 165 Miles

Barbara Franklin, Perimeter Bicycling Finish Line Director

Kirk crewed for me and now helps to hold my trophies

(I love this rendition of our National Anthem sung by the Knudson Bros. and played at the beginning of the Cochise)


Dex Tooke returned to Race Across America (RAAM) in 2011 to finish the business which he began in 2010, the year he DNF'd for failing to meet the time cut-offs. In his book, Unfinished Business, he captures the raw feelings of awe, gratitude, fear, pain, and punishing fatigue--his own and that of his crew, in his epic odyssey of Racing Across America solo in under 13 days at age 60.

Dex is one of my heros.

Like Dex, I had some unfinished business at the Cochise Classic in Douglas, AZ. 

I don't know how I first learned about about the Cochise County Cycling Classic some 8-10 years ago when I still lived in Chicago. Probably because Perimeter Bicycling hosts both El Tour de Tucson as well as the Cochise Classic. I think everyone who rides a bike has heard of El Tour, just like everyone who runs has heard of the Boston Marathon. 

After "coming back" in 2001 and being able to ride a recumbent after 11 years of disabling back surgeries and complicated recoveries, I thought I was ready to ride the mid-October, 157 mile Cochise Classic in Douglas, AZ just 3 blocks from the Mexican border in South East Arizona. 

So much I didn't know about ultradistance riding back then. I didn't know I would lose my heat acclimatization between the end of summer in Chicago (August) and the never-ending summer in Arizona. I didn't know how to monitor my fluid and electrolyte loss when sweat in AZ evaporates before your skin even thinks of glistening. I didn't know the perils of Gatorade. I didn't know how much to drink, how often, and how to make certain I balanced my fluid and electrolyte intake.

Despite my many unknowings I finished as the 2nd female overall, but I ended up in the Douglas Hospital for an overnight stay with hyponatremia--basically too little salt. Thank goodness for my crew, my son, Daniel and his wife Rachel, and my good friend, Suzanne, from Chicago.

I had much to learn about ultradistance cycling.

Having successfully crossed our continent with PAC Tour in 2006 in 26 days, I returned to Douglas in 2007 to right my mistakes in 2004. And, while I was at it I decided I'd opt for the 252 miles distance.  My son, Bryan from Eugene, OR, joined Daniel as my crew.

I aborted the 252 after only 27 miles.

Rhabdomyolysis.

I had fallen while riding just 2 weeks before the Cochise and sustained a crush injury to my left calf. The injured muscle, under the exertional effort of climbing the 2000' Mule Pass, caused the muscle fibers in my calf to release some toxic contents into my blood stream which were toxic to my kidneys.

It was personal growth to surrender the ride rather than ride through the dysfunction and risk long-term renal damage. While it was indeed growth, the emotional toll of having abandoned the ride that had been such a financial investment tapped into some childhood demons that strangled me like a boa for longer than it should have.

So back I came in 2012 to finish what was started in 2004 and aborted in 2007. The 60,000+ miles between the aborted 252 and 2012 have taught me much, AND we now live in Tucson so I'm permanently heat and hill acclimatized.

This year Kirk would be my crew. while I was riding joyfully, he was joyfully seeing the likes of Bisbee, Tombstone, Benson, the Dragoons for the first time.

It was grand to see Mule Pass in the light of day instead of in the pitch of night; it was a joy to ride I-10 since being re-surfaced. The weather gods prevailed and it was not too hot, not too cold, and the wind was just right--even a tail wind after turning south on Dragoon Rd and Rt 191. It was a relief to feel   "on top" of my fueling, fluids, and electrolytes.

And, best of all was pulling into the finish to cheers from Kirk and the Perimeter Bicycling Staff who have become good friends since Tucson has become home.













Sunday, August 19, 2012

High Country 200k (132 miles) Brevet: Now That Was A Challenge


Our route from Show Low->Springerville->Big Lake->and back to Show Low

Map Credit: Susan Plonsky AZ Brevet


The start/finish was in Show Low, AZ, 185 miles mostly north of Tucson. 

At one point it looked like I would be riding the brevet with a couple of recumbent buddies from Phoenix and one from Tucson. But it didn’t work out for Dave, Gerry, or Mark to join me, 
so Kirk and I drove up to Show Low on Friday, 
getting there in time for dinner with Dan Fallon from Prescott, a strong bent rider. 

I was eager to see a part of my new state and enjoy a day in cooler climes. I felt totally prepared for the climbing, which was advertised to be somewhere between 5,400 and 7,400’ depending upon whose altimeter or GPS mapping software you used.  After many local Tucson climbs, including a first-time scamper up Mt. Lemmon and a recent ascent of the McKenzie Pass from Sisters, OR to Eugene, I was confident this ride should pose no extraordinary challenge. 

I did take note of the fact that Show Low sits at a base elevation of 6,400’, about 4,000’ higher than Tucson and 3,000’ higher than Sisters. I did NOT take note of the fact that for much of the brevet I would be riding at 7,500-9,100’ of elevation.

About 16 riders (including 4 females and 2 bents) left the Safeway on Deuce of Clubs at 6:00 a.m. with a temp of 58. Haven’t seen that kind of “low” in Tucson for months. Even wondered if I should have brought my long-fingered gloves. But, since I didn’t have any with me it was one of those “Just Deal With It” realities. 

What I noticed right out of the “gate” was: I was short of breath. The chill (which wasn’t much), the elevation, and my tendency toward exercise-induced asthmas all coalesced as a desperate effort to suck oxygen wherever/however I could. Soon 13 riders were out of sight and it was just me and two women from Phoenix. No worries. I don’t mind riding alone.

The grandeur of this ride defies being captured into words. The expanse of verdant blankets sloping oh so welcomingly at the base of mountains, open range cattle grazing, and roads you could trust to descend at 40 mph was magnificently breathtaking, breathtaking in a good way. 

Until

Until some thoughtless oncoming motorist decided to pass 3 or 4 cars at upwards of 70 mph in my lane when I had NO shoulder save a 6” ribbon of deeply punch-pressed rumble strips.  Hard to stop at 35 mph rattling in rumble strips. But stop I did, breathing heavily, this time from adrenalin, not altitude.

Mile 47 found me in Springerville. Hadn’t been there since 2006 in my 1st Transcontinental. Brought a smile to my face. 

And then at mile 52 we began our climb to 9,000’ plus and where we’d stay for the next 50 miles or so. Mile 52 was where I began to get leg cramps, really the first time ever in over 100,000 miles of riding the last 11 years. 

I usually think of cramping as a fluid and electrolyte issue. Goodness knows I’ve had my share of dialing in the fluid/fuel/electrolyte balance. And after much work with a nutritionist, Joanna Chodorowska, after moving to Tucson I got my new “settings” for my Tucson climate and elevation. But, that plan wasn’t working for me at 6-7,000’ more elevation than I’m used to.

But cramps would end up being a constant companion for the next 75 miles, once pulling me off the road in traffic. I kept experimenting with a little more water, a few more Hammer Endurolyte capsules, a little more Hammer gel, a few stretches. Finally about mile 100 the cramps eased up. Had I found the sweet combination or had I just lost enough elevation that I was “home free” 

And, what role did hypoxia play in this whole scheme? Clearly I wasn’t getting the same amount of O2 I’m accustomed to at 2,100 feet. Clearly my exercise-induced asthmas reduced my available O2 and VO2 max and clearly muscles will cramp when they are asked to do a big job and don’t have the O2 fuel they need.

Take aways?
  • I loved this route and would do it again
  • I will be much more aware of elevation before beginning an event and its potential effect on my physiology
  • I will reduce my performance expectations if I’m playing at altitude (probably would have finished an hour sooner had I not struggled with altitude issues) 
  • Huge appreciation for “big dog” cyclists (all athletes, actually) who can perform at altitude when it is not their home elevation
  • Huge gratitude that being two months shy of 67 I can still perform respectably 
  • Huge gratitude for Kirk who is such an awesome supporter of me in my quests. I wish for everyone at least one person in their life who offers support with unconditional enthusiasm. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

McKenzie Pass On A Sunday

Tilda and me outside Elizabeth
and Jon's Airstream
The day was Sunday, but the bike was Friday, a Bike Friday, more precisely a Bike Friday Tikit, the little fold-up commuter with 16" wheels and a BIG heart. Destination: Eugene, OR from Sisters, OR over the McKenzie Pass.

This would be my 3rd roll up and over the pass, but my first on Tilda the Tikit. The first two times I rode on Fern, my Lightning P-38; those roll-overs were lightning fast and equally only a snap of effort. I remember each with great joy--calling my son, Bryan, from the eastern edge of Springfield, OR. That was his clue to hop on his bike and meet me on the trail he rides from Eugene to Riverbend School in Springfield where he has taught the last 10 years. Elijah and Ayva (this year ages 11 and 9) would meet us at Starbucks on Alder/13th and we'd all ride the last 4 miles home together.

Lots has changed for Kirk and me this last year what with retirement, moving to Tucson, reducing to one car, and more. One of the "mores" was the sale of Fern, my Lightning P-38 with about 80,000 miles on her. My Bacchetta Ti Aero had become my exclusive ride while Fern just sat, and sat, and sat wondering if I'd ever pack her in her suitcase again to go for a another long ride. Fern went to live on a sailboat with her new owner in Gloucester, MA; Tilda was upgraded to serve as my new traveling companion.

Leaving Sisters, heading up the Pass
So, this Sunday ride over the McKenzie on the Bike Friday, Tilda Tikit, would be a shake-down ride: could Tilda do it? Could I do it on Tilda? The answer to these questions would inform if/how Kirk and I will do some international travel with Tilda and his yet un-named, un-purchased two-wheeled steed.

Just a week before I had climbed Mt. Lemmon in Tucson on my Bacchetta, 25 miles, 6,335' to an elevation of 8,000' in 4 hrs-40 min. I knew I had "the stuff" to do the McKenzie, a much easier climb of less than half of all the numbers. The X-factors would be Tilda AND my ability to ride an upright bike that distance (about 120 miles door-to-door) and hauling an additonal 30+ pounds of bike and gear. Tilda is is irrefutably NOT a recumbent.

Elizabeth, my Sisters bent-buddy, and I gave Tilda a test ride after unpacking her in Sisters and shipping her suitcase to Eugene. Uh-oh, Tilda's rear wheel seemed out-of-round with a bump-hump-bump-hump with every rev of her 16" wheel. Everything we did to re-seat the tire was for naught, so it would be a bumpy ride all the way to Eugene. Oh well.

(Turned out my new rear wheel from Velocity was defective so I'm due for a new, new wheel sometime soon).

The beginning of the McKenzie Pass is about 10 miles from Elizabeth's house, then another 15 miles or so to the Dee Wright Observatory at the 5,300 summit. Two-thirds of the way up I was huffing and puffing which was relieved a bit by my inhaler; but my heart was at or above its max. I would needed several more short stops between the inhaler and the summit to slow my racing heart. Don't know what the difference is: small wheels, riding upright, different muscles; but it was a TOUGH ride to the top, for sure harder than Mt. Lemmon.
Tilda at the Snow Gate on the Pass about 5 miles from the summit


Dee Wright Observatory
in the background at the summit

View of two of the three Sisters Mountains from the summit
I still believe descents are over-rated, but I did enjoy my sense of accomplishment making it up and over the McKenzie and finally onto the flats of Rt. 126 west to Eugene after a water refill at the Ranger Station on sweet Tilda.

It wasn't long after the Ranger Station, my unaccustomed upright riding legs began to rebel.  That was also about the same time I lost my 3' shoulder and would need to share the two-lane road with 45 mph traffic and mobile RV/homes with HUGE side mirrors. My share of the road would be limited to 3 to 9 inches for the next 50 miles. Given my weary legs and spent heart from the climb I was beginning to doubt if I had another 60 miles in me.

I have learned to recognize when my body-mind-spirit says ENOUGH. It's hard to explain what those sensations are, but they are reliable and I have learned to trust them. Vida, a little town of 867, thirty miles east of Eugene, was grand enough to have a gas station. Instead of calling Bryan to say: "Time to get on your bike to meet me", I texted him with the plaintive reality, "I'm not certain I can make it much further".

While my two wheels have helped me learned when to say when, I was deeply grateful for Bryan's follow-up call to my text in which he said, "I would like to come pick you up. Would you let me do that?" What an awesome way to allow me my dignity and affording me the opportunity to practice accepting help when needed.

I'm grateful I was able to say "yes" to Bryan's offer of SAG which kept me safe on that sketchy 50 mile stretch on Rt 126 given my state of precarious fatigue. Maybe even best of all, accepting SAG help assured me a more speedy recovery so I could fully enjoy Eugene-time with the Ayva, Elijah, Bryan, Mandy, and Kirk who had been traveling for a month of Sundays.

Well done, Tilda!!

Thank you, Bryan!!







Monday, July 09, 2012

The Lemmon Vanquished

Mt. Lemmon sits waiting 15 miles east and a little north of home. The Lemmon has beckoned nigh every road bike rider who lives in Tucson; many come from afar just to vanquish her 25 miles straight up 6,300' to Summerhaven at 8,000'.

The Lemmon has beckoned me since moving to Tucson 8 months ago. I rode eight miles up the the Lemmon last December with Bob Klenke's Tuesday morning group, but that was not intended to be a summit, just a ride up as a few miles and back down in time for a Christmas luncheon. I did intend to summit the Lemmon in May with my son, Daniel. But alas, neither my lungs nor my legs showed up for the ride that day. Daniel, however, summitted with aplomb. 

My new plan: summit with my two recumbent buddies, Mark Doumas and Wayne Cullop, both of whom also ride Bacchettas on Friday, June 29th. When the day finally came, Wayne offered to SAG for us hauling water up the mountain for us. BIG help. Thank you, Wayne!! 

We summitted with ease in 4 hours and 40 minutes. Grand Joy!!


Thoughts and lessons learned on the mountain:
  • Know your demons. One of mine is feeling "less than" in the presence of others who seem to be excelling easily. So, for example, the day that our Club hosted a Mt. Lemmon Climb and there were 2-300 riders on the mountain and I'm the only recumbent...I felt less than. Yes, my legs weren't working that day nor were my lungs, but most importantly I was feeling less than. I know that there were some riders who made it up in 4 hours and others in 12. So, in reality...
  • Knowing the above demon well, I planned this attempt with Mark with whom I'm well matched. We chose to ride it on a Friday when the traffic, both bike and car, was light.
  • Having a SAG person on the road was HUGE so we didn't have to worry about water. Each of us went through 4 full bottles in 25 miles + the 4.5 from the start to the base of the mountain. If we had to carry 4 bottles that would have been weighty, and what if we needed an ounce more??
  • We planned ahead of time to stop every 6 miles, once we started the climb, so dividing the mountain into 4ths. That worked very well. We were ready for a breather every 6, and 6 seemed oh, so doable compared to 25. You gain 1,000' every 4 miles.
What we missed? Well, we didn't stop and enjoy the many vistas along the way. We were quite focused on getting to the top. But being Tucson residents, we can stop and see the vistas anytime whether biking or driving. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

RAAM 2012

The Pier at Oceanside, CA, the Start of RAAM
This was the 30th running of the Race Across America (RAAM), except the first year, 1982, it was called The Great American Bike Race. That was the year that Lon Haldeman, John Howard, John Marino, and Michael Shermer lined up in Santa Monica and raced to NYC. Since that first year it has started in Oceanside, CA and finished, most years, in Annapolis, MD; a few years it finished in Atlantic City, NJ.

The 2012 “running” of RAAM saw: 4 solo women and 41 solo men dip their rear wheels in the Pacific and ride east. 8d-6h-29m later Reto Schoch from Switzerland would dip his front wheel into the Atlantic winning the men’s solo division. Just a little more than two days later, at 10d-13h-59m later Trix Zgraggen, also from Switzerland, would win the women’s solo division; both set speed records. 


Three of the four women and 25 of the 41 men would complete the race within the 12-day time limit. 
There is also a Team Division with 2, 4, and 8-person categories with a total of 49 teams. 48 of the 49 teams would finish; three teams deserve an extra-special note: 
  • an 8-person team, Team ViaSat, finished in 5d-5h-5m setting a new speed record of 23.93 mph
  • an 8-person team, Believe and Achieve, the youngest team ever to race with an average age of 16.5, finished in 6d-6h-31m average speed, 19.89 
  • a 4-person team, Forever Young Grand PAC Masters with an average age of 79 finished in    9d-7h-11m with an average speed of 13.41
It’s hard to know where to stop talking about the notables because just making it to the starting line is, by definition, remarkable. But John and Nancy Guth must be mentioned, a couple with a combined age of >60 who finished in 8d-3h-43m; the two Bacchetta (recumbent) 4-person Teams, and the 4 teams comprised of wounded veterans, several on hand-cycles from the USA and the UK. 

The numbers are actually quite staggering when you think that there are 300+ riders, crew, and officials out there on 3,000 miles of road over a 12 day period all because the challenge is there. There is no prize money, no endorsements, no talk shows, not even a mention on any national news; and yet they ride and their crews support their riders with only 2-4 hours of sleep in each 24 hour period, no showers, and nothing to eat but fast food.

Some have said riders go to this “extreme” (RAAM) because they are running away from something, maybe their demons. I totally, totally disagree. I believe riders choose RAAM because a) they are phenomenal athletes, and b) because they know their demons well (we all have them, you know) and they’ve made friends with them. They’re okay with their demons coming along for the ride, and they will do just that, come along for the ride. (RAAM is at least 60% mental and 40% physical.) RAAM will try to break you, and if it does, the demons will laugh with glee. It is one of the crew’s many jobs to help their rider get back on the bike and keep pedaling when the demons wrestle with their rider’s soul and sink their feet in cement. 

So, RAAM Headquarters (HDQ) what is it? Why is it in Tucson? Let’s start with the second question, Why Tucson? It hasn’t always been here in Tucson. I know it had been at the Finish Line for a number of years and in Boulder a few years. Not sure why it left those other places, but I sure am glad it’s in Tucson, since that’s where I live. 

Headquarters uses a conference room at Perimeter Bicycling, the organization that hosts the well known El Tour de Tucson each November as well as several other notable events. Barbara Franklin manages RAAM Headquarters. It is her systems that she has fine tuned over her last 30 years of RAAM service that we use. She hires and trains all of us willing workers as well as trains and issues on-the-route assignments for national and regional Officials who are roving the course. Her knowledge of this race is as deep, comprehensive, fair, wise, and joyful as any you will find. 

HDQ can have 5 incoming calls at once or be so quiet you can get in some good time on Angry Birds. Whose calling and why?? Well, there are 54 Time Stations each about 50 miles apart. Time Station 1 (TS 1) is in Lake Henshaw, CA; TS 54 is in Annapolis. The finish line is TS 55. Each time a rider passes a TS, a crew member must call HDQ and report their rider’s arrival time. 49 teams x 54 Time Stations = 2,646 TS call ins. That’s a lot of calls.

HDQ is staffed with a Manager and 3 willing workers 24/7 for RAAM’s duration; two of us are dedicated to lines ready to receive those 2,646 TS calls.  The 3rd willing worker deals with Info calls most of which are about riders who are going off their bike for a sleep break (usually as little as 15 min or as many as 4 hrs) or getting back on the bike after a sleep break. 

All these calls, Info and TS, are systematically recorded into a 3-ring paper binder. RAAM time is east coast time, so all entires are recorded accordingly. Then, all TS calls are recorded into the computer which updates the Leaderboard on the RAAM Homepage. 

Each rider or team of riders has a color coded push pin with their number on it. After entering their data in the computer their push pin is advanced along the route to their current TS on about a 15' map of the US. In a glance you can see where all the riders are, who's leading and who’s trailing. It also gives the manager on duty a visual to know where to advance the on-the-route officials. 
Rider/Team Push-pins early in the race
Finally, the TS data the rider’s crew just called in will be entered on a 10' wide spread sheet. So in a glance we know where each rider is per map and per spread sheet. If the rider is down for a sleep break, the spread sheet will so indicate with a colored stickie which will be removed when the rider gets back on the bike. 
The Spreadsheet

Crew will call in to tell us about tornados, stopped trains impeding their forward progress, riders who have fallen off their bikes, and all manner of what I call “road fabric”. They are hoping HDQ will give them a time credit for all these road fabric impedances. But alas, 99% of the time the Manager’s response is: “This is RAAM”, deal with it. 

I love having this top side view of the race, but it’s hard to get a rich sense of the agony or the ecstasy that's going on out there. The crew calls in the data and that's all they want to say and all they want to hear from us is their confirmation number which they covet like air. It is their documented proof they were at a TS. When someone volunteered one night that all the cows in California were taking a dump at the same time, I was thrilled. It gave me a sense of road life. Add to this that for most of the crew (and riders) English is not their first language. So dealing with accents, theirs and ours, often lots of HDQ background noise (often 4 HDQ staff are talking on the phones at once), and crew member fatigue, it is not a chatty time. 

Let’s hear it though for Facebook and Twitter for road fabric updates from the teams themselves as well as from the 3  RAAM media vans covering the race. There were a few times when I'd learn about road happenings via FB before the call came into HDQ like one of the crew vehicles hitting a dead brown bear that was in the middle of the road when they were traveling at speed. 

There were 8-10 Did Not Finishes (DNF’s) in the first 800-1,000 miles of the race. The reason given for DNF-ing was most frequently medical (dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, respiratory issues) and exhaustion. The desert was exceptionally hot this year and after the Mojave came the AZ mountains. The heat, exhaustion, and inexperience with something as big as RAAM ground them to a halt. All that it takes training wise, emotionally, relationally, and financially just to get to the start is staggering. To grind to a halt at TS 8, or thereabouts, is devastating for the rider and the crew. 

There are three time cut-offs that all riders and teams must make in order for them to be allowed to continue to race: Durango, CO, the Mississippi River, and Mt. Airy, MD. This year all 18 DNF’s happened at or before Durango. A number of riders were “on the bubble” as they approached the Mississippi and Mt Airy. However, their crews were given the “bubble” information early enough that they were able to make adjustments in their race strategy with their rider. In the end EVERYONE who made it past Durango made it on to the City Dock in Annapolis.

Racer's Blue Finish Slips on the Map

All the push-pins nestled in Annapolis

It was amazing to all of us in HDQ how grateful and thoughtful the crews were to us when they called in--thanking us for being there for them, wishing US a good evening, and expressing a desire to finally meet us at the finish line. More than anything we wanted to be there at the finish line to cheer and hug these amazing crew and riders we had talked to for 12 days. Most never even knew we were in Tucson, not Annapolis, and that they would never meet us.


Would I do it again, work in HDQ? A resounding yes. 


Thursday, April 26, 2012

AZ Route 66



Progress across the western portion of Rt 66
Our trip to Kingman, AZ to hook up with PAC Tour was our first overnight venture out of Tucson since our arrival six and a half months ago. Our 99 Day Trek To Tucson from the end of June to October 1, 2011 sort of sated our travel bug for a bit.

The plan: PAC was riding the western half of Route 66 (Santa Monica to Amarillo) and I wanted to ride the AZ miles with them: Kingman to Seligman to Williams to Flagstaff to Winslow to Holbrook. It would be a great way for Kirk to get to know part of his new state he had not yet met, a great way for me to share with him some of the treasures I had discovered riding with PAC on other tours, and a great way for us to share the retirement joy of freely venturing together, something unknown to us when he was in active ministry having to work all weekends and holidays for 39 years.

I knew about half of the 18 riders ; it’s always great to reconnect and make anew.

The biggest take-aways for me from the 250 +/-miles was the devastating impact of I-40 on the cultural fabric of the lives of individuals and towns who before the decommissioning of Rt 66 in 1985 saw 9,000 cars  A DAY roll through their lives. After the decommissioning of The Mother Road that car traffic plummeted to no more than 50 a day. What does that do to economy? to identity? to sense of purpose? to hope? to creativity?
Our motel in Seligman

Dinner in Willimas

Lunch in Holbrook


In awe, too, of the Rt 66 aficionados and historians all along the eight states and 1,410 miles who are passionate about preserving the lore, the memories, the characters, and memorabilia of a time and place best known to the young today through Pixar’s/Lasseter’s movie, CARS.



Our hotel in Holbrook

Lon (left) and Mark, the Rt 66 historian in Winslow




La Posada--our hotel in Winslow


Our riders rode through chunkified sections of destroyed road, rode where the road should have been, but now sand, hopped barbed wire fences, dined at cafes where the owners remembered the way it was and talked with the barber, Angel, responsible for helping to preserve AZ’s Rt 66.




And then there's the Grand Canyon






Monday, April 09, 2012

Arivaca Permanent

Sometimes it's hard to know if I'm getting more finely tuned or just growing older. Of course, I guess both could be happening concurrently. Which ever it is, my list of bike-related personal "projects" seems to be ever increasing like stars in the heavens on a see-for-ever night.

I currently have three buckets of stars: one labeled nutrition, one labeled exercise induced asthma, and one labeled bike/biomechanics. It seems the three have coalesced adding to my adventures. An exponent to my equation is having moved to Tucson just 6 months ago and needing to re-build a team of holistic practitioners to keep me rolling; an increase of 2,100' of base elevation (Chicago is pretty tortilla-like); I have my choice of mountains to climb on a daily basis; AZ is both dry and hot, the antithesis of Chicago; and I can ride 365.

While a number of the AZ Randonneurs were riding the Easter Fleche somewhere between Flagstaff and Phoenix, I rode the Arivaca 200k Permanent Counter-clockwise. I was really excited to ride the route solo for a number of reasons. It helped a lot that I had basically ridden it Clockwise with Mark Doumas November, 2011 so I had a familiarity with the route. And, this time I would be able to ride Mission Road from Helmet Peak to Valencia DOWNHILL on a freshly paved surface that was absolutely grand. Frankly I appreciated the steepness of the climb much more seeing it rush by me at 30 mph on the descent!

My excitement, too, was charged with the realistic hope that the following tweaks, tips, and trials would make for a triumphant ride. Indeed it was triumphant.

Bucket Number Uno: Nutrition
Thanks to Joanna Chodorowska  my fluid and electrolyte and fueling-on-the-bike is coming together  well: about 10 oz of plain water every 10 miles, 2-3 Endurolytes every hour (probably more as the AZ temps climb), a bottle on the bike with 1 scoop Sustained Energy and 1 scoop Clif Shot Electrolyte replacement powder which I use to wash down the e-caps; a brown rice tortilla with home made guacamole for lunch, Perpetuem Solids (1 or 2 on a 200k), Hammer Gel as needed, 1 bag of Lays Classic Chips, and of course a Red Bull somewhere along the way.

The surprise to me, big surprise, actually, is that the nausea I experience on the bike is how I manifest dehydration. It's, of course, easy to recognize so when it starts to creep up my belly like a pet snake under my shirt, I can quell it with fluids and/or e-caps.

My success after the ride of righting my GI track to be willing to accept solid food again and restore a full tank of fluids and electrolytes minus nausea is still a work in progress. But, certainly I'm gaining on it. Thank You Joanna!!

Bucket Number Dos: Asthma
Joanna "wrinkled my jersey" when she suggested that maybe my asthma was a soy allergy. I abstained for a week before the Arivaca Perm and had NO respiratory distress on the 42 miler the day before the Perm, during the Perm, after the Perm, or on my 37 mil ride the day after the Perm.

Not yet sure if I can credit Soy with that resolution as there were several other "interventions" that I think may get all or at least a bunch of the credit. Need to do a few more tests and trials with the soy thing before ruling it out or back into my diet.
  • I received my new dental appliances from MedicineWheelDental which are truly having a positive impact on stabilizing my jaw, cervical spine, and therefore everything south of that
  • I have found an excellent Tucson-based cranial sacral therapist, a modality that served me so well back in the earlier days of my rehab from back disease
  • Just started working with Maria who has a private practice of Functional Yoga but also works out of Medicine Wheel Dental
  • And Nose Breathing!! Who woulda-thunk??? Maria swears by it, and I must admit I was incredibly doubtful. But after 200 miles of riding as a nose breather, even when climbing, I'm a believer.

Bucket Number Tres: Bike and Biomechanics
I've been riding my Bacchetta Ti Aero for about 1-1/2 years now and I have been continually trying to find the sweet spot with how much recline, how much leg extension, head rest or no, if head rest, which one, on and on. Of course I keep hoping for a "find" that's full of aero-ness and doesn't evoke a bio-mechanical injury, like hyperextension of my leg that took 8 months to heal, or neck pain, or chest compression. I truly believe the seat has had a huge part to do with my seemingly never-ending-saga of one owie after another.

Two days before the Arivaca Perm Maria videoed me riding my B while riding beside me in a pace car driven by Dr. Swidler of Medicine Wheel Dental. There it was in living video. The seat was not my friend, nor were my handlebars which were too narrow for my arms/shoulders.

I rigged up a lumbar thermarest cushion placing it vertically between the carbon fiber seat and the foam seat pad. Velcroed it all together and voila! Had to tweak the recline and the leg extension one notch each in order to accommodate the more forward position. But, my chest is now open, I can breathe freely. OMG, what a grand feeling.

I have ordered a new set of handle bars from Bacchetta (my current ones are 18.75" wide, the new ones will be 22" wide). I'm thinking that will complete my make-over.

As for the Arivaca ride itself, it truly was grand. Ride time for the 131 miles was 8:31, elapsed time was 9:34. Temp at its height was 87.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Gates Pass Triumphant

So you know I've been dealing with some exercise induced asthma (eia) of late. The inhaler helps, but it seems like there should be a more holistic "fix" rather than just going straight for the drugs.

I had a pretty dramatic episode last Saturday on a group ride climbing Pistol Hill which is a hill but not worthy of all my huffing and puffing that wouldn't have come close to blowing any house down. So, when I got home I posted on the Ultracycling FB page and asked for tips, tricks, do's and don't's. Got lots of good suggestion from ultra riders from all over the world (at least the English speaking world) who are way more ultra than I'll ever be. The suggestion I liked least was the one that said I should look at eliminating soy to see if that helped. Soy tea mistos, soy ice cream, and tofutti (vegan cream cheese made from tofu", are all comfort foods and staples of mine. But, I decided to give abstinence a try for a week to see if it made a difference on my 200k Permanent this Saturday the 7th.

I had ridden Gates Pass on February 1st when I did the 200k Perm from Tucson to Phoenix and it was a miserable showing. I remember it well and so decided I'd ride it again today to see if the ultra's  suggestions had an impact.

They did!!!! The suggestions I concentrated on the most during the 2.25 mi climb were:
ride within your lungs
concentrate on the exhale
soy free
use the drugs sparingly
breathing exercises

The two pitches at Ironwood and Oeste set up a wheeze so I decided to take a couple of puffs before I started the Gates Pass climb. There were two lycra warriors coaching their two female pigeons about how to ride the climb. One of lycras sprinted on up ahead, the other lycra in white shorts and white compression socks started up the grade. The females were still getting up their courage which gave me time to take a couple of puffs and start up. Soon I passed white socks who was shocked to get passed. The females were now not visible in my rearview mirror. I passed another male and female; I think she had done the fall over thing going so slow and not able to get her foot out of the cleat. He was brushing her back off and they were now both walking that second to last steep pitch (12.6%). At the top of the pitch that they were walking I did need to stop and catch my breath and take a couple more puffs. The final pitch (10.6%) was then easy.

There were about a dozen riders at the top of the Pass maybe waiting for those I had encountered along the way, I don't know. Most of the assembled and I descended together, they heading north on Kinney for the McCain Loop, I heading South on Kinney to scope out the start of my 200k this Saturday.

I feel absolutely exhilarated by my Gates Pass success/improvement. It's very empowering to see again that I/one/we can make a difference in how our body responds.

I celebrated by not pushing my bod/lungs the rest of the way home, east on Ajo, north on Mission/Grande/east on St. Mary's/through the university and on to home by way of Chipotle.

A very Boo-Yah kind of ride.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

3 Days--No Nausea-A Big Boo-Yah!!

My first multi-day ride in a bit. Saturday was  the Gila Bend 200k beginning and ending in Queen Creek, AZ. Just a delightful ride with Gerry from Phoenix on his CA2 and Bob and Colleen from Canada wintering in Tucson. The day was warm, the wind gentle, no mechanicals. Can't get much sweeter than that.


These three days would be continuing "study" of how I responded to the fluid and electrolyte plan Joanna Chodorowska from Nutrition-in-Motion had recommended. Between all the food intolerances I've developed over the last half-dozen years and my episode with hyponatremia that won me an overnight stay in the Douglas, AZ Hospital, coming up with a plan that can support my food-on-the-bike, fluid, and electrolyte needs has been a challenge.


Since the hyponatremia I have been so conscientious to keep my fluid intake to no more than 20 oz every 20 miles it never occurred to me that my nausea that precluded my eating solid foods other than Lays Classic Chips while on the bike could be fluid and electrolyte related.


What a great feeling to finish the 200k (126 miles), be able to eat a recovery meal, and drive 100 miles back to Tucson to hand over our one-and-only car to Kirk who had an evening obligation, AND to feel great!

Sunday I hooked up with PAC Tour near the Tucson Airport to ride with them on Day 1 of Week 1 of their seven weeks of Desert Camp. Always fun to see old PAC friends.
Joe and me readying for ride out

Susan and Lon
We rode through the Tucson Mountain Park, past Picacho Peak, through Eloy, which must certainly be trying out for ghost town status, and on into Casa Grande.

I love being able to call all these part home, now. It's the best.
Christopher, Parker and Josephine



 I would ride back to Tucson on Monday solo while the others would head on to Gila Bend and then Wickenburg before returning to Tucson by the same route to Tucson.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cycle of Life


Jen on Mt. Lemmon
Border Close
 






Another Glorious Sunset


































I can ride virtually 365 days a year, something like 350 of them are sunny.  There is no end to the hills to be climbed, vistas to rapture, and good folks with whom to share the ride nearly any day, any time. Scarce can take in my good fortune.

I've found a home with with GABA, the Cactus Cycling Club,  the Tuesday morning Mt. Lemmon riders, Mark Doumas' Bike and Breakfast Club, the Tucson Recumbent Riders and the AZ Randonneurs.

I rode my first El Tour, my first brevets with the AZ Randonneurs, my first Permanent ever (from Tucson to Phoenix), and the Picacho Metric Century. I'll be leading my first GABA ride this Thursday with a promise to lead some more for both GABA and Cactus. I've been asked by GABA to be their Outreach Coordinator helping GABA to be recognized as Everyone's Bicycle Club--Where Cycling Is More Than Just Riding A Bike.

I've attended meetings of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, the Living Streets Alliance, and the Pima Association of Governments Pedestrian Safety Task Force and have my fingers crossed I'll be volunteering out of the RAAM headquarters here in Tucson.

I had the privilege of beta testing Robin's prototype trike which he hopes to patent that's designed to equalize the bentrider's climbing ability, and I launched a movie group where we'll view cycling related movies like Bicycle Dreams and share our own cycling goals and challenges. Hopefully we can help support each other in achieving those goals and reducing the challenges.

Looking forward to continuing to share the road with you.