Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A rough night at the races... least it was a good learning experience.

Now any racer worthy of their wheels already knows after reading the first sentence that last night did not go quite as I had hoped. Tonight I chalked up both my first and second DNF of the season. Oof. But I'm jumping the gun. Let me go back to the beginning.

After two weeks of no racing and mostly long slow distance, I was ready for a serious change of pace last night. My legs were feeling good and I had plenty in the tank, however, the course was a doosy. The course for the night was a T-shape with a hairpin at the base of the T. On arrival, I had already heard rumor that this hairpin was giving a few of the Cat 1/2/3 field some trouble and knew to look out for it.

I ran into a teammate and did some quick warmup. I was able to crank out a 34.3 MPH sprint and was feeling good as I cooled down and headed to the start line. For some reason I have trouble riding at the front in technical courses and so I tried to move to the front of the pack at the start line. There were 68 riders starting with the 4/5 field and I was shooting for a top 15 finish.

The whistle blew and we were off like a shot for our 30 minutes of brain-blistering speed. I managed to stay in the top 1/3 to top 1/4 as we wound our way clockwise through the course, but that still meant that I was almost 20 riders off the front. Lap two through the hairpin claimed its first casualty with a low speed tangle of just two riders. The peloton gracefully navigated around it and continued on. To me, the hardest part about racing with the Cat 5 group is that the pace is pretty sporadic which makes navigating corners a lot more difficult and pops your heart rate into the red zone a little too unexpectedly.

With 5 or 6 laps to go I was feeling pretty good and trying to move closer towards the front of the group as I had been content to sit around 15th for most of the race. I had heard a few pedals scraping on occasion as we passed through the tight hairpin corner and had my own close call as well with a 2 inch hop of the back wheel from pedaling out of the tight turn too soon. But the real trouble came with 1.5 laps to go. I had stayed safe and out of trouble too long apparently.

The first 4 turns went flawlessly on the second to last lap and then as we made our only left hand turn, the first turn after the hairpin, I brushed wheels with the racer in front of me. It was like slow motion. I looked as he started to turn the corner and didn't expect him to slow down as much as he did and the next thing I knee I was buzzing his wheel. I can handle a little wheel rub, but I hit just straight enough that it wiggled my whole bike and I clipped the rider to my left and behind me with my back wheel and left pedal. The next thing I knew I was on a tangent off the curve aimed at the side of the road--still upright--but done for. I talked to another rider after it all and he said "Oh, so you were the guy who bounced out of the pack on that corner."

I checked over my bike and everything seemed to be in working order. It appears that I had a little cosmetic damage to my wheel wall, but spokes, tire and rims were intact and ready to ride again. So that's just what I did.

With only a lap and a half to go from the finish in my first race I was bummed out, but at least I had another race to make things right, right? Last night was the first night that I raced in a 3/4 field. I was a bit wary about the possible consequences and impending pain factor, but I figured it was worth a shot. My legs still felt all right and ready for another pounding and my heart was still beating, so I lined up to start after a short break between races.

I imagined that I wouldn't manage to stick with the 3/4 field (40 minute race) for as long as I did, but after an initial burst of high speed to stretch out the pack and navigate a couple laps the peloton settled into a more reasonable rhythm with a break of 2 riders off the front. Unfortunately, I was riding off the back. The nice thing, though, is that the 3/4 field is not quite as up and down as the 4/5. It's fast (I don't think we took any corners under 25 MPH besides the hairpin) but it's more metered.

Riding off the back is hard. Especially if you're strong enough to keep up with the pack; which, as it turns out, I was for awhile at least. The hard part is that the riders who aren't strong enough to hang in there are slowly peeling off in front of you leaving you with a gap to close. Closing those gaps is a fast way to eat through too much energy. As this started to happen I did my best to move up to the main field and it worked pretty well. Then they decided to chase the breakaway and I just tried to hold on for dear life.

I got gapped a bit, but another break of 4 or 5 riders got away and I managed to catch back up to the group as they slowed albeit ever so slightly. I also was able to take the corners in a little more of a kamikaze style since I was flying solo. It was at that point that I realized why I kept having to ride at the back. When I read corners in a group my brain charts my line, but also registers that there are riders where I want to go. Instead of connecting that I can follow them it sees them as obstacles and charts a new wider (and farther/slower) line around the same corner while the other riders who I have already passed take the corner inside of me and move ahead. Not so good when you are trying to keep up. When I caught back up to the back I tried to reprogram a little and managed to hang in on the corners a little more efficiently, but at that point there were only 6 laps to go and the peloton was ready to fly.

The speed ramped up and after chasing past the drifters off the back and fighting back after being a drifter off the back my legs were toast. They slowly road away from me as I tried to recover and pursue them yet again. I found myself with another rider from the Penn Cycle team and we did our best to work together until I made another and final cornering mistake for the night.

With 3.5 laps to go I headed into the infamous hairpin turn yet again. I let the Penn rider lead through after I had pulled for half a lap and tried to follow his line. I jumped up to chase and get on his wheel and my right pedal hit the ground. My back wheel jumped more than a foot to the outside of the turn, but I managed to stay up (maybe I should try bull riding or something like that instead). I pushed on to catch up but heard a "thup, thup, thup" as my back wheel went around. I yelled "Mechanical!" to the Penn rider to let him know he was now solo and slowed to the side off the road just as my back tire went BANG! Bummer.

As it turns out I blew the sidewall of my rear tire. I can only imagine it happened in that last corner as I accidentally hopped my rear wheel into the next county. The good news is that at this point I think the tire and tube were the only casualties. A moderately thorough inspection after the race didn't reveal any other glaring abnormalities, so until proven otherwise I will continue to ride. A little humbler and a little more wary of hairpin corners, but riding still nonetheless.

In the end it would appear that I managed to flunk out of the school of hard knocks last night even after I remediated and gave it a second try. But that's racing, right? An unfortunate way to end my season here in the Twin Cities, but I will have at least two more chances to redeem myself as a visitor in Illinois and Colorado over the next month. Hopefully better luck next time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another bike adventure: Lake Pepin edition

Not more than a few days after our return from my husband's epic bike ride to Canada, we set off on a dual adventure: riding around Lake Pepin. We planned this trip as consolation for my knees giving up on joining Craig to Canada, and let me tell you it was quite the adventure of it's own. The area is beautiful. Lushly green at this time of year, with gorgeous bluffs surrounding the lake.

We started off in Lake City, MN--the birthplace of water-skiing (or so the welcome sign claims...)--early on Sunday afternoon. Just me, my hubby, our bikes, and Bob (the trailer). The weather was sunny, but also hot. In the eighties and humid. We got a few miles out of town before the clouds ahead became threatening. We pulled over and got out our rain gear just in time for the downpour. But onward we went! And lucky for us, the rain only lasted about 5 miles and then it was back to hot and sunny.

About 30 miles into the trip came the biggest challenge for me: our largest hill. As you may have learned from my husbands previous entry...hills are not my strong point. This one was long and steady climbing, but I did it! No stopping, no granny gear. :) My encouraging husband cheered me on the entire way and the views from up on top of the bluffs were gorgeous.

After the monster hill, there were a few smaller ones that probably hurt more than they should have due to the heat fatigue setting in. We weren't too much farther along when all of a sudden a loud SNAP came from behind me. I cringed as I turned around to look at my husband behind me. While I was slightly relieved to see him and Bob both upright, I wasn't as pleased to hear that his front derailleur broke. Not so fun for a day on the hills, but he was a trooper and made do anyway.

We finally rolled into Stockholm just before 5 PM after our 40 mile journey. The town of 97 people was adorable but like many small towns, not so convenient. It turns out most restaurants close at 4 PM. This is bad news for two hungry bikers. Luckly, our innkeeper ventured down the block for us to the one cafe left open and told them to wait for us. So the cafe, or rather the pie shop, stayed open until we had time to get there and order some of their tasty homemade specialties. One pie was apple, sausage, cheddar and the other was a reuben quiche. They hit the spot!

Stockholm really was a quaint little town. I only regret we didn't have time to explore much of it's insides since we were only visiting during non-business hours. We stayed at a fabulous inn called Spring Street Inn. Just a couple blocks from the lake shore. We played a game of Monopoly after watching the sunset and then crashed pretty hard. The heat left us pretty exhausted.

The next morning, we were up early and on our way. The weather was cooler than on Sunday which was a nice relief. About 7 miles into our journey, we stopped in Pepin, WI and enjoyed an incredible breakfast at Third Street Deli. If you're in the area and looking for some good homemade food, you should check it out. After filling our stomachs it was onward to Lake City! We ran into some bridge construction crossing the lake, but it wasn't too terrible. Once we crossed the lake we turned right into a pretty strong headwind. And more hills. Needless to say, it was a rough finish for me. I'd been making pretty good time up until that point so that helped some. About 5 miles from the finish, we saw rain moving over the lake and quickly stopped to get out our gear. By the time we got all suited up and back on our bikes it was pouring! Luckily, like the day before, it didn't last too long. We rolled into Lake City just after noon and were happy to see our car still parked where we left it. We piled everything in and decided to celebrate with lunch before heading back to the cities.

71 miles down and our adventure was complete. We enjoyed exploring a new area together and recommend it to any of you who haven't been down there.

Until the next adventure...

Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

As I sit here lazily typing away, I can hear Jilian Michaels shouting at my wife doing yoga in the other room. "Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!"

How counterintuitive is that? Yet genius!

One look around and the obvious rears its ugly face. Nobody likes to be uncomfortable. We drive across the street to McDonald's and pump up the air conditioning so we don't sweat for the 45 seconds we sit at the stoplight. Now I will admit that using the word "nobody" may be a glaring over-generalization, but face it there are very few people willing to put up with pain and suffering for the sake of long term benefits. Because that's how it seems to work in the world, doesn't it? The times that we find ourselves truly uncomfortable is when the reward is somewhere in the distance. But if we could just hold on...

Sometimes this isn't true. I'm sure that Michael Phelps was in some serious hurt each time he was milliseconds away from another gold medal or world record, but it's not too often that we find ourselves in similar situations. More often the reality is hurt now benefit later in a lot of aspects of life. When it comes to fitness most people aren't willing to do the hurt now and so they don't generally get the benefit later. It's sad really. Psychologists say that being willing to delay gratification is a significant sign of maturity. The trend of the times and everyone's need for instant gratification would indicate that America has slumped into an age of immaturity. But there is hope, you really can overcome it!

I recently read the book Faster, Better, Stronger by Eric Heiden. He repeatedly stresses that the most important way to measure fitness is on a calendar not a clock. The point he's getting at is that it takes time to do things right and to do them best. Lots of get fit quick schemes promise fast results and a killer good looking body in no time at all; but the best programs take time, sometimes months or even a year or two to accomplish goals in the best way possible. Your body is pretty incredible. It responds to appropriate amounts of stress by rebuilding instead of breaking down. Kind of cool, really.

However, this is only with time for recovery after stress. For example three days on, one day off with three weeks intense, one week lighter and so on and so forth. Suddenly a month has passed. It's not to say results won't be measurable and satisfying along the way, but it's important to separate long term and short term goals. Losing 20 pounds generally is not a one week goal (despite what you might see on the Biggest Loser). Jogging a mile might be. Completing a food journal definitely is.

The bottom line is it takes patience. The magazine covers are fake, anyway, so why bother jumping on the bandwagon every time they promise a plan for "a new you in just 2 weeks" or "the one simple secret to 6 pack abs in just 10 days?" Learn from the tortoise and take it slow and steady. Make a plan for yourself and meter out when you want to accomplish which goals. Then as you accomplish or don't accomplish, take time to reevaluate and adjust your plans as necessary. Keep your eye on the horizon and even if it takes a few months, the results with be that much more worth it and that much longer lasting.

Rome wasn't built in a day, you know?

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Wife is Awesome

Now I know that some guys out there feel the need to keep some things their own things, but I'm all about having my wife in on my favorite things in life. That just makes them that much more favorite. Over the past year, she has been working hard to try and incorporate cycling into her life so that I don't just drive her crazy with all of my bike riding. At this point, I'd have to say, she's doing very well. Yesterday, she officially graduated to the level of bona fide bicycle adventurer while we were riding our bikes around Lake Pepin. We climbed big hills, rode a considerable distance into a headwind and even got rained on. Quite eventful for only 40 miles of riding. I'll let her tell you about the trip, but I want a chance to brag about her riding.

In just one year she has gone from a wobbly road riding novice to a savvy cyclista. She rides a straight enough line that I would feel comfortable drafting her if I wanted to and she's even to the point where she can take off and put on her sunglasses while she is riding. Impressive, no? Regardless of all this amazing improvement, like all of us she still has some weaknesses. Number 1 on that list is hills. For instance, today while riding uphill into a headwind she shouted in frustration with the incline "I'm going to ride around this stupid lake!" But even with her aversion to gaining altitude on two wheels she managed to tackle and CONQUER the biggest hill she has ever ridden yesterday. It was a veritable mountain by Minnesota standards (it was in Wisconsin, go figure) and looked something like this...

That's almost 400 vertical ft in just over 2.5 miles. Not bad for a flatlander, eh? She was a serious trooper and I'm proud of her for getting up it. Next up, Alpe D'huez! (I can just imagine her reaction if I knew she was reading this... "over my dead body"...I'll leave it to you to determine who's body that is.)

For those of you looking for a riding locale, Red Wing, MN is a great destination. The riding on the Wisconsin side is a little bit more biker friendly traffic-wise, but all in all it's a nice area with plenty of interesting terrain and muchas vistas buenas. Plenty of little B&B's like the Spring Street Inn where we stayed in Stockholm, WI and restaurants like the Stockholm Pie Company serving up tasty homestyle cooking.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Perfect pancakes

About six months ago, I began my journey to discover the perfect pancake recipe. This morning, I may have done it. Although I wouldn't mind proving myself wrong somewhere down the road if I can find a way to make it even better.

My journey started with a trip to the Original Pancake House (OPH) and a recipe I found on the food network. How come the OPH can make pancakes so much lighter and fluffier than anything I'd ever made myself? My first problem, I concluded, was that I had never made pancakes from scratch. Boxed recipes are easy and usually taste well enough, but I could never expect them to be as tasty as a homemade recipe. Which led me to the food network. A quick search for homemade pancake recipes, a trip to the grocery store for buttermilk, and I was on my way to some of the best pancakes I had ever made. But something was still missing. They weren't up to the par of the OPH fluffy deliciousness that my tastebuds remembered.

So the challenge began. Modifying one ingredient at a time, I sought to perfect my recipe. Needless to say, we've eaten more pancakes in the last six months than in the last few years (but I haven't heard my husband complain). So here it is. Try it out for yourself and tell me if you can make it better.

Perfect Homemade Pancakes
recipe yields 8-10 pancakes
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • dash of salt
  • 1 whole egg and 1 egg white (beaten until frothy--this is VERY important for fluffiness)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 Tbsp melted butter
A special thanks to my husband for his consumption of my trials along the way. :)

Friday, June 25, 2010


Is it just me, or does the whole world seem just a little bit distracted ALL the time? I can't say that all of the advancements in communication that we've made are necessarily a bad thing (i.e. email, cell phones, internet etc.). But I can't help but notice that it's gone a bit too far.

During my recent bicycle adventure I passed not one, not two but three people riding bicycles and talking on their cell phones. And one of these people was riding on a state highway. Now take into account that I only saw 50 or so other cyclists while I was riding for the three days and that makes it just plain ridiculous!

We can all agree that there is such a thing as too much cell phone use. We all know the people, whether they are the teen girls who are texting until their hands don't work any more, the busy businessman who is always talking work while he wanders through the airport or the soccer mom that is driving, talking, putting on her makeup and trying to manage her kids in the back seat at the same time. All of these people scare the bejeebers out of me for at least two reasons.

First, I like to ride my bike. A lot. Which puts me on a lot of roads which I appreciate being able to share and ride without the constant threat of someone plowing into me because they were looking down at their phone. Actually, forget the fact that I worry about that on my bicycle. How about just while I'm in the car, and the car in front of me doesn't start or--even worse--doesn't stop at a traffic signal when they are supposed to because they are too busy paying attention to 17 different conversations all at the same time conveniently brought to them via their omnipotent smartphone.

Some food for thought from research done by Virginia Tech last summer.


Risk of Crash or Near Crash event

Light Vehicle/Cars

Dialing Cell Phone

2.8 times as high as non‐distracted driving

Talking/Listening to Cell Phone

1.3 times as high as non‐distracted driving

Reaching for object (i.e. electronic device and other)

1.4 times as high as non‐distracted driving

Heavy Vehicles/Trucks

Dialing Cell phone

5.9 times as high as non‐distracted driving

Talking/Listening to Cell Phone

1.0 times as high as non‐distracted driving

Use/Reach for electronic device

6.7 times as high as non‐distracted driving

Text messaging

23.2 times as high as non‐distracted driving

The second reason, besides the obvious physical danger that people put themselves by being distracted by phones or ipods (lightning, trains, planes) and the like, is simply that you miss too much of life.

It's sad to me to see parents at kids sports games while talking on the phone. Or even walking the dog for that matter. How can you really enjoy the present and the here and now that is all around us when you are plugged into your gadgets nonstop. Unplug before you find out you are missing out on real life because of the constant ring of your phone or the tug of text messages and tweets.

Go outside. Walk the dog. Turn off your phone. Play with your kids. Sit on a bench in the park and just watch people go by (and laugh at them when they walk into a tree because they are texting). Just get away from gadgets for a little while. You'll be happy you did.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Epic Bike Adventure

This past weekend marks my first Epic Bike Adventure and it will certainly not be the last.

The Journey started in Hugo, MN...okay, let's take it a bit further back. The journey started somewhere while I was in college when my dad bought a B.O.B trailer. And I thought, "hmmm...where could I take that?" Naturally, being in Minnesota, my first thought was Canada. It's a nearby neighbor, but still an international destination and who can say no to the North Shore of Lake Superior?

A few years later and trailerless I set off for the border. 3 days to travel approximately 350 miles sounded pretty good to me. The route was set. Stage 1 would take me from Hugo to Jay Cooke State Park in Duluth. Stage 2 was a shorter day but a little hairier as I had to navigate my way through Duluth; and Stage 3 took me across the border into Canada and all the way to Thunder Bay.

Saturday, I started riding along highway 61 from Hugo, MN. The weather was overcast, but not unfriendly and I had a good looking bicycle trail to use for a sizeable chunk on my first of three stages. I cruised along happily around 16-17 MPH, setting a slow but worthwhile pace, knowing that I had three days of this to tackle back to back to back.

The sky spit on me a few times, but I stayed mostly dry. Sharing a few miles of trail with a new friend going the same direction until I reached North Branch was a pleasant way to finish my first portion. From North Branch the trail ends for 35 miles and I took to the road. Highway 61 is mostly quiet and traffic on Saturday was less than busy. As I rode I couldn't help but notice that I had never ridden this far in a straight line on such a flat parcours. It made me long for mountains and thankfully my next couple days were not nearly as monotonous.

Just before arriving in Hinckley to grab a caramel roll at Tobie's, the ride took it's first turn towards adventure. The bridge over the interstate that was supposed to keep me on pavement was under construction and uncrossable. I then had a decision to make. Either 1) turn around and ride 5 miles back to where I could cross the interstate and effectively add a minimum of 10 miles to my day or 2) soldier on and tackle the dirt roads that would be shorter, straighter and much more difficult. I chose #2. A mile and a half of loose gravel and washboard roads later I got myself back on asphalt and crawled into the Tobie's parking lot.

I've never been so thankful to get to Tobie's in my life. My beautiful wife was waiting for me and we quickly devoured our tasty goodness.

Next came the second true mark of adventure and the only real hiccup in my pilgrimage to Thunder Bay. Knee Pain... Drat! I rarely, I dare say never, have knee pain while I ride, but after getting back on the road after sitting in the car for 45 minutes my knee was not happy. For whatever reason my left knee was killing me! I was crestfallen. I thought for sure that my attempt at cycling awesomeness was at an end; and on the first day too. I tried to stretch and move my knee position but 13 miles later saw me sadly stopping in Finlayson where my first day ended in sorrow.

I grabbed a bag of ice and started rehab as quickly as I could. My final self diagnosis was IT band syndrome. Too much tightness from a quick, impulsive run that I took 4 days before starting my adventure and the result was too much pain in my knee to ride my bike. I used a big Mag Light to roll out the muscles in my quads and tried to have hope that it would be better for the next day. Staying at Jay Cooke that night was good consolation for my rough first day and by the end of the night I was in better spirits.

On the next day I decided that my best bet was to try and work a little harder so that my muscles warmed up and stayed warm. My first 10 miles were downhill from Jay Cooke, which worked in my favor and served as a good warm up. Then came the first real climb. For anyone who has been in Duluth, MN I don't really need to say anything about what kind of climbs are on offer there. For those of you who haven't seen the city and wondered how they drive those roads during winter, refer back to the Stage 2 link at the top. My climb was tough, but lots of fun and totally worth the view of the harbor when I got to the top. Best of all, no knee pain! I am convinced that it is God's grace that got me through the day without any knee problems and I even had a tailwind for awhile.

as you can see. I was pretty stoked.

Sunday night I made it to Tettegouche State Park which is one of the lesser traveled vistas along Lake Superior. It's a beautiful park with waterfalls nearby and still only a stone's throw from the Lake Superior shoreline.

The next morning I set out with high hopes of another knee painless day in the saddle. It was a Monday, too, so I was hoping for quieter traffic. The traffic was quieter, but I started to encounter some of my first road construction. Thankfully, nothing too serious and I made it through the two areas of traffic changes without any difficulty. Surprisingly, I still hadn't seen any other cyclists going my direction. There were a couple who I saw that day going SW back towards where I had come, but almost none going towards Canada.

I arrived in Grand Marais feeling fresh and really happy about the day so far. I stopped for lunch and quickly devoured a foot long Subway sandwich while sitting in the bay watching the boats playing on the fairly calm water. After a 45 minute break I hopped back on my bike and headed north. The weather was pristine, although, the breeze off the lake was a little cool; but as soon as I got moving again I was warm enough and sheltered by the trees. I was keeping a good pace and then came Mt. Josephine.

Before planning this trip, I had no idea that there was a mountain separating Minnesota and Ontario. Keep in mind that this is still a Minnesotan mountain and that it doesn't compare with the Alps or Pyrenees or Rockies; nevertheless, at 90 miles into the day it still felt pretty substantial. After 2 miles of uphill I started one of the most beautiful descents I've ever ridden. I had no idea that they were hiding all of the best parts of the North Shore just north of Grand Portage. It was like a different planet! Imagine the bluffs of Wisconsin Dells, mixed with the lakes and streams of Minnesota, and the greens of Ireland all bordered by Lake Superior. Just plain awesome, and all the more thrilling as I plummeted downhill at an effortless 30+ MPH.

Soon after my wonderful discovery, I arrived at the border feeling quite triumphant and ready for the home stretch.

Despite the fact that I was on a bicycle and carrying only a small Camelbak backpack the border patrol still felt the need to ask if I was carrying any alcohol, mace or firearms. I said no and told him about my ride to Thunder Bay. He didn't seem too impressed, but I think he gets paid to be unimpressed. So I'm glad I didn't cost him any pay for the day.

The next 30 miles were fairly hilly with inclines that were shorter and steeper than their adjacent descents. It made for hard work climbing with long drawn out pseudo-recovery sections after each one. Slogging along through the rolling hills was starting to wear me out but with 10 miles to go I reached the city limits of Thunder Bay and felt renewed energy as I made my break for the bay.

It turns out that the destination I had chosen was also the location for a Native American pow-wow that day. As I neared I could hear music and drums and I soon found myself listening to someone on a loudspeaker explaining the meanings of the dances. The funniest part, actually, was all of the me. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Besides the fact that I was all decked out in my cycling garb, I was also the only blonde person in the entire crowd (besides my wife).

We tried to discretely make our way through the gathering and down to the water's edge where we celebrated the completion of our trip.

oof... after 130+ miles that one hurt.

We loaded up my gear into the van and headed back south to stay in Grand Marais, MN. It was a welcome transfer. After 3 days of excellent weather, the skies suddenly opened up. Not more than 10 minutes after I got into the car, the floodgates were opened and we found ourselves in torrential downpour. Amazingly, I stayed dry for my entire trip and was happy to have missed out on this cold shower.

The legs were tired and sore, but had enough left to do a little hiking over the next couple days and enjoy Grand Marais. If you have the chance to go up there sometime, take your bike. The riding is fantastic. Big shoulders and great scenery on highway 61 and a fair number of paved backroads with good climbs and fun riding. The town of Grand Marais is a place to explore for at least a day by itself. Sven and Ole's Pizza is worth a dinner and don't miss Sydney's frozen custard. Stone Harbor is also a new outdoor store that just opened and looks like a great place to gear up. Most of all Grand Marais was a great place to just kick back and relax. There's plenty to do with the Gunflint trail and action on the waterfront, but it's also easy to just do nothing. Skip rocks, walk the beach, sit in town and people watch. It was great.

All in all, a great adventure and a great success. I'd ride the section from Grand Marais to the Canadian border almost every day if I could. But for now it's back home to the Twin Cities for a little taste of reality before the next big adventure can begin.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This is why you don't hike in sandals...

...they were Chaco's even.

The good news is that it still feels not broken and it fits in my shoe. I hiked Eagle Mountain today which is the highest point in MN at 2,301 feet. Pretty cool. Unfortunately, I was hurrying back down and trying to look at scenery at the same time when I tripped on a rock. No fall, just serious little toe impact. The purple even matches the lupine flowers that were in bloom nearby.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Epic Bike Adventure- Stage 3

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Epic Bike Adventure- Stage 2

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Epic Bike Adventure- Stage 1

Friday, June 18, 2010

I like the muppets

Only the muppets can pull off something this simple and make it this entertaining. A good reminder to chew your food before swallowing...

I don't think I'll ever think of this song the same way.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The right side is the Right side

To all of you on bicycle riders out there who have chosen against your best interest to ride your bike on the left side of the road (excluding our cycling friends in the UK and Australia), I have one question for you. Don't you get it?

Bicycles are supposed to be ridden with the direction of traffic. This is by far the safest for everyone on the road. I think the confusion comes in based on the guideline that pedestrians walk on the left side of the road and against traffic. I was reminded today yet again that for some reason a good portion of the recreational bike riders in the world don't realize which side of the road they belong on. While out for a 40 mile ride I realized that there were three junior high boys coming along towards me in the shoulder on my side of the road. Thankfully there was no traffic at the moment and with a 20 MPH tailwind I cruised past them around 32 MPH, which was fast enough to experience the Doppler Effect as they shouted who knows what at me going past them.

For those of you who remained unconvinced that the right side of the road is the right side to ride on, let's do a little physics, shall we? Most people make the argument that if you are opposing traffic you will have more time to see traffic and get out of the way. While this makes sense for a walker because they are basically standing still in comparison to a car, a cyclist runs a far greater risk by riding against traffic. Not only is it more difficult to safely dodge an object coming at you on a bicycle, the combined speeds of the two travelers would be incredibly dangerous.

You see, the impact force is based on the combined velocities of the two objects traveling towards one another. A stationary object hit by a car moving at 50 MPH feels the force of the car moving 50 MPH. A recreational bicyclist riding 15 MPH being struck by the same car feels the force of being hit at 65 MPH and for the amateur racing cyclist like myself out on a training ride at 32 MPH would be the same as being hit from at standstill by a car going 82 MPH. Not so cool.

The effect is also thankfully subtractive. So that same cyclist riding 15 MPH would only feel the impact of 45 MPH instead of the comparable 65 MPH head on collision. Starting to see the light?

Besides the difference in the risk for impact, traveling the same direction also effectively gives a car more time to decide what to do when approaching you, because the gap between you and said car closes at a less rapid pace when you are both going the same way.

So there you have it. At least two good reasons to ride the same direction as traffic. And in case that wasn't enough, here's number three. Riding against traffic is illegal. There you go.

Until next time, happy riding (on the right side).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Bike Nerds and Cheese Curds"

Last night was my first race in the State Fair Affair criterium series put on by the Category Six Racing Team. It was a blast. We rode an approximately 0.8 mile B-shaped course. The field was around 50+ with 39 finishers. I had a little mishap with my saddle and finished mid pack, but all in all, had a good night back after over a month without racing.

I registered for the category 4/5 field which lasts for 30 minutes. If you're not familiar with criteriums, they are usually very short lap circuit races that are determined either by a predetermined amount of time or number of laps. To read a little more click here.

As the race started I could feel the butterflies in my stomach that come with every race, but they were a little more pronounced as this was only my 3rd crit ever and had 8 right angle turns in the course. For some reason when I start a race, I have trouble staying at the front right away even if I line up at the front of the peloton. I'll have to work on that... Unfortunately, with all the turns in the course it made it a little tricky to make your way up in the peloton and I couldn't help but imagine that this must be what it feels like to swim with a school of barracudas. Lots of darting, changing direction and you can feel that everyone around you is hungry for the same thing.

10 minutes in and I was feeling fine, despite a very very poor month of training since my most recent prior race. However, before the race started I had made the unfortunate decision to watch the end of the Category 1/2/3 field instead of tightening my saddle after I had noticed that it appeared to be slightly loose. Had the course been perfectly flat, that wouldn't have been a problem; but as anyone in Minnesota knows our roads are very susceptible to the harsh winter months and there are very few roads without the bumps and repaired potholes that come from freezing and thawing for 6 months every year. Suddenly, one bump too many popped my saddle just loose enough so that it was pointing upward into that "soft fleshy region" that can be so uncomfortable after too many hours on a bike or after just a few minutes on a saddle that isn't right.


Nevertheless I soldiered on and even had enough in the tank to make an attack with 6 laps to go (at a certain point in a timed crit, the organizers calculate the approximate number of laps that will be raced and convert the race into laps). We turned south into the homestretch and I decided to jump hoping for a ninja prime. Ninja primes are a beautifully fiendish invention that are awarded to the leader of the pack at the finish of a lap without any warning. Traditionally primes are set at certain points in the race and announced as the lap starts. Unfortunately, what I couldn't see was that someone else closer to the front of the pack had jumped before me and was at least 50 yards out. I decided to kick hard, trusting my inner ninja, and crossed the line a bike length behind him. Sadly for me, I had guessed correctly and the lap was a prime lap, but I missed it by a bike length.

I then tried to get the other rider off the front with me to try and breakaway, but he looked at me as if I had spoken gibberish and floated back to the peloton. Out on my own with 6 laps to go I knew I couldn't go it alone, so I too drifted back into the pack.

Without any teammates, I did my best to stay towards the front, but had used too much energy to stay in contention. By the finish I sailed through to take 22nd place out of 39 finishers. It was a good night with some fun and mishaps mixed in. Thankfully no crashes and another chance to learn more about maneuvering in/with the pack. Most importantly I tried to spice things up and didn't just sit in and treat it like a training ride. After all who pays to go on a local training ride?

and since everyone else in the cycling world has probably mentioned it. I can't help but do the same. After watching the finish of Stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse, I'm just glad that my race didn't end like this...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bring on the Brothers Schleck!

Where have these guys been all year? For two standout members of the pro peloton, the Schleck brothers have been disappointingly absent from the spotlight and the podium in a year where Team Saxo Bank has had amazing success. Cancellera dominated the cobbled classics. Chris Anker Sørensen took a stage at the Giro (on the Terminillo no less) and Richie Porte rocked it in pink for an impressive chunk of time. JJ Haedo has a couple stage wins notched in his bike and Jens...well he's still alive and kicking, ready to light up the peloton even after his nasty crash in le Tour last year.

Yet, for one reason or another the Schleck brothers have been sadly invisible for the most part. Until now that is! Big brother Frank is starting the fire with his second win for the season and pretty soon I think that Andy will follow. Admittedly they've had a lot on their plates. Frank got married and had a baby. Andy got hit by a car. But those are just little bumps in the road and I think the brothers can be ready to roll come July.

While watching the Tour of California I was having a lot of doubts about Andy. Following last year's TdF he was my favorite for the overall win this year, especially with the help of his brother Frank and the support of his excellent team. The Schleck brothers are a particular favorite of mine because I can't help but imagine myself in their shoes with my little brother. It's like a dream come true and to be really honest I'm pretty jealous of them. It seems pretty close to how I think it would play out for me too...Start cycling career. Ride lots with little brother. Little brother takes over and becomes the stronger cyclist and voila, a recipe for a lot of fun and a great team to ride with. I love seeing the way that they work with and for each other in races, like when fighting with Contador last year for Frank's stage win and then again on Mont Ventoux in the penultimate stage. Although, it could have been even more interesting to see what would have happened if Andy would have just taken off and tried to attack Contador alone rather than dragging Frank up the mountain.

Anyway, with that aside put aside, I've been somewhat worried about the Schlecks this season. Andy in particular had a pretty dismal spring with a very weak showing in the Ardennes, and less than impressive climbing in California. Nevertheless, Frank has managed to show now that there is still time to step it up before the prologue kicks off the Tour...which happens to be just 18 days away. I'm not going to give up just yet. I'm still counting on Andy, so I hope that he doesn't disappoint. Woohoo! Go Schleck brothers!

Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank)

wow look at those pipes...

Monday, June 14, 2010

The World Cup is HERE!

I suppose I can hardly say the World Cup is here, seeing as I am not there in South Africa, but I think you know what I mean.

For those of us unfortunate enough to be brought up in a country without the love of true sports like soccer and cycling, the World Cup is an opportunity to overdose on great sport and try yet again to convince the teeming millions of American unbelievers that Futbol really is much more fun than football if you know what I mean. And while most of us were steeling ourselves against the likelihood of a jolly good whipping from our friends across the pond during the match vs England, I was pleasantly surprised to see the US soccer team not suffer total domination.

After watching that match, though, there are two questions that I have. The first is this: will the US actually get credit for their tie or will it forever be known as the win that England lost? It was pretty clear in the first 10 minutes that England was the stronger of the two teams. For the entirety of the game, they were able to fly through the American defensemen rather effortlessly. Thanks to a solid, aggressive goalkeeping performance from the US, the weakness of the US defense was somewhat less noticeable. In addition, the US offense stepped it up after they were awakened by the lightning fast attack from England that put them in a 0-1 deficit before they even had a chance to realize the game had started. However, it didn't appear that it would be enough to make the grade against England's stoic backs. Then, in what appeared to be just another meager attempt from outside of the box, a ball rolled past the English goalkeeper. Everyone who was watching felt the same way as me. HOW DID THAT JUST HAPPEN? But as I listened to the commentators blaming Green over and over again for his bumble and watched the replay I started to think. Wait, this isn't just his fault. That shot from Dempsey was hard and low and on goal. It's not like the keeper knocked a ball into the net that wasn't going to go in. Sure, he made a mistake and didn't get behind the ball enough to stop it. He probably could have stopped that ball in his sleep, but sometimes the way you win is by catching the opposition off guard which is exactly what Dempsey did. So good for him! Unfortunately, I think most people will credit this as Green's error rather than Dempsey's earnings, but the score is the score and so far the US has not had a loss in the World Cup.

The second question I have is of far more importance. Why are the US jerseys SO ugly? At first glance I thought it had some potential, but the longer I watched the harder it was for me not to imagine that the US players were just a bunch of beauty pageant contestants running around with their sashes on. Far bigger than the issue of wondering how Green let the US goal through, who let the US jersey through?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rain or Shine

Neither rain nor sleet nor snow...awww who am I kidding? I am not an all weather rider. At least not yet. I have braved the cold and ridden when I felt like my fingers would fall off on 30 F days (-1 C). And I've ridden casually in drizzle, but when it comes to really training and riding hard, I avoid seriously rainy days.

From what I understand the best way to prepare for racing in the rain--which I expect I will have to do sooner or later--is to practice riding hard in the rain. While I'm all for sticking it out if the weather is going to turn nasty, I generally avoid starting a ride in a monsoon. So when I woke up this morning to lightning and thunderstorms, I felt content to check on the progress of Dauphine Libere and crawl back in bed for an hour or so.

Sooner or later this has to change, and I'm a bit ashamed of my bashfulness in the face of bad weather on my bike, but I have plenty of excuses today and probably will for awhile still. For instance today: I have a trial saddle on my bike that I'm not supposed to ride in wet conditions, I'm about to start some summer vacation time before going to medical school and I don't want to blow it by ruining my plans with an early summer cold, or (my favorite and probably longest lasting) right now I have to keep my bike in the apartment because we don't have other space for it and I don't want to get the carpet all dirty when I come home wet.

Bottom line, I'm still a bit of a wimp and I'm not getting paid to ride when riding is less reasonable/more risky (although, I frequently choose to ride when less reasonable/more risky simply for the thrill of it). But I'll overcome my excuses soon enough and have more to tell you about the benefits of riding in the rain when nature demands it...maybe.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

NSC Velodrome

I had hoped to be able to write my first race results posting today after racing at the NSC Velodrome here in Blaine, MN. Unfortunately I just checked the radar and I don't think I will be racing tonight since races are always cancelled when it rains on our beautiful outdoor wooden track.

For those of you who have never been to a bicycle track race before, it's quite the experience and one that I think everyone should have at least once in life. And if you have any inclination to try riding on one of these amazing structures take any chance you get. As a rider and racer, I don't think any other experience has better honed my bike handling skills or challenged me more to give an all out effort on two wheels. Unfortunately, velodromes are a bit far a few between here in the US, but the Twin Cities metro area is lucky to have not only an avid cycling community, but a track too to keep us entertained when the road, mountain biking and cyclocross scenes aren't enough to satiate our appetites.

The NSC velodrome is a 250 m cigar shaped track with 43 degree banking in the turns (and you thought riding a track bike on level ground was challenging enough). It's a wild ride and the races are fast paced for both riders and spectators. No only that, but the races are short 5-20 minutes, so generally on a night there are at least 3 races per category. Which means that as a rider if you miss your chance to perform on one race you have a chance to pull something off in the next one and as a spectator there is always something new and exciting. The NSC also has a fun spectating environment with prizes on offer for choosing the winning cyclists of three or four different races each night and plenty of enthusiastic fans.

While I may be missing tonight's racing, there will be plenty more Thursdays to choose from since the track has a "Thursday Night Lights" series that starts at 7:00 PM every Thursday. Even better, the Nature Valley Grand Prix is coming soon and the velodrome with be hosting the NVGP Fixed Gear Classic with more than your average joes out to burn rubber on the boards.

If you ever find yourself nearby, stop over and take in a few races. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Up in Smoke

I recently saw this commercial for Splode at the beginning of a movie I rented from Redbox

I haven't seen it since the late 90's maybe, but was happy to see it's still out there. Besides being pretty amusing, I'm always one for an attention getting way to remind everyone out there to avoid smoking. Yet, somehow, amidst the barrage of bad press the message is just not getting through and it seems the ones who have the most to lose by smoking are the ones who can't get away from it. What's with that?

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter what time of day I show up to work there is always someone out smoking on the curb. And I work at a hospital! It's generally the food service people, techs and nurses and being that our hospital has a "non smoking campus" anyone wanting to light up has to take the walk of shame down to the 3 foot boulevard along the street where it's technically city property.

It didn't used to be that way. Or at least I'm told from the doctors and nurses who have been around long enough that it used to be the doctors who smoked the most and were the only ones allowed to smoke inside (where they would puff away in their offices until the ceiling was black). But they've gotten the bigger picture now and left the problem with the rest of the employees who are frequently encouraged to quit. Some do, to their credit, but others just tune it out and go on turning their lungs to tar.

As a cyclist and endurance sports fanatic this makes no sense to me. My heart and lungs are my engine and are nurtured with the utmost care. But as a medical profession the I'm aware the cost is much greater than having a little extra trouble running or walking up stairs. Set aside the big ones (cancer and heart disease) that get all the attention and there are a plethora of other reasons that are worth putting out that smoke, such as narrowing of blood vessels which leads to difficulty healing in places all over the body like your mouth. Not to mention the cost is ridiculous. The number of patients I meet in the emergency department who say they can't afford ibuprofen but are smoking a pack or two a day is unimaginable.

Thankfully the word is getting out, although, more slowly than you would think. Bowling alleys and bars are now bearable with indoor clean air acts like MN and many other states have taken the time to enact. Some colleges and universities have even gone as far as to make their campuses smoke free. And for some reason this meets resistance...weird, no? Obviously I could go on all day about this, but I'll stop banging my head against the wall and leave you with this, my favorite bumper sticker saying:

"Isn't a smoking area in a restaurant kind of like a peeing area in a pool?"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Yoga is hard!

yoga.jpg yoga image by miss_hays

I recently started trying out yoga. It is HARD! really hard. I haven't made it yet to the move shown above, but I expect I'll probably be there some time shortly after I turn 80. oof.

Seriously, though, I know it's ridiculously trendy right now, but Yoga is a great workout. Especially if you find a routine aimed at "power poses" and getting your heart rate up. I wanted to try it so my wife and I went to see what DVD's we could use to learn a bit. I found a "yoga meltdown" DVD by Jillian Michaels. Yep, that's right, yoga: biggest loser style.

I have to admit I felt a little weird purchasing a Jillian Michaels "Biggest Loser" branded workout DVD given that I am not typically a fad workout person, but compared to the other meditative routines offered by gaiam I decided this was more in the vein of what I wanted to be doing. Although, from what I hear, the meditative poses are great for flexibility so maybe I'll be back for more later.

Admittedly skeptical I popped the disc into the DVD player when I got home only to find out that the "meltdown" was a serious kick in the pants, face breakingly difficult workout routine. And that's only level 1. There are two levels of workout on this DVD and I can barely get through the first one. Meanwhile there are these two small, but rock solid ladies along side Jillian as she leads the way, who both make me look like a whiny little baby. I sit there quaking and whimpering trying to hold poses like Dolphin and a chataranga push up as they seem effortlessly static in these crazy hard poses. And while I'm trying not to fall over, the "advanced" assistant pulls something like this!
Needless to say, I'll be getting beat up by Jilian a few more times as I am determined not to succumb to level 1. As far as level 2 goes...I'll report back when we get there.

(Oh by the way, if you prefer not to have rug burns then consider buying yourself a yoga mat. It's more than just a flashy accessory)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Turn off the TV

I read an interesting article on today about the foods that get advertised on TV and what your diet would look like if you ate only things advertised in TV commercials.

Think about it a little. If you watch TV much and pay attention to the commercials instead of just skipping over them with Tivo (if you have that option), what are the most important things in life? Cars, Beer, new clothes, perfume, fast food, fine dining and weight name a few. Hmmm...fine dining, fast food and weight loss. A bit of a paradox eh?

The research team from Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, GA watched 84 hours of prime time television and 12 hours of Saturday morning cartoons. Then they formulated a 2000 calorie a day diet based only on the things that they saw advertised on TV. Here's a taste:

"When the research team calculated the nutritional content of a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet containing only foods that were advertised on television, they found that it exceeded the government's recommended daily amount of fat by 20 times and had 25 times the recommended daily intake of sugar. "That's almost a month's worth of sugar in one day," notes study leader Michael Mink."

Yuck! Not only that, but the daily intake was significantly deficient of important vitamins and minerals like potassium, calcium, Vitamins D and E for example. Not that this should really be surprising to anyone who thinks about the food they are putting in their mouths, but still, that's disgusting.

To quote your mother "Turn off the TV and go play outside." You'll be happy you did.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Just Stop

Let me preface this by saying that stoplights hate me. It's not a question of whether or not a light will turn red on me, it's a matter of how long I will sit at it. They don't even turn green for me when I come rolling up. It's almost a guarantee that if there is a stoplight I will at the minimum come to a complete stop.

And if you're in a hurry, you don't want to be my passenger. There's a good chance that we will sit at every light between our starting point and destination. Also, my sister-in-law also thinks that I drive like a grandma (simply because I drive the speed limit); but we'll see when our nephews get to be of driving age, she'll hope they drive like me.

But we're getting off topic. Everyone knows that a red light means stop. And that traffic signals are their for our safety, right? So why is it that so many bike riders just cruise on through?

Seriously, just stop not stopping!

I can't say that I'm one hundred percent innocent here. Stop lights are the easy ones to obey. Generally there is enough traffic at a stop light that if you stop, you just have to wait your turn and you will get to go through with the other waiting cars. However, this isn't always the case and unless you live someplace cool like Fort Collins, CO where the bike lane has a sensor to change the light for bikes, you could wind up sitting through several lights. Or if you're like me, you awkwardly hop/roll your ride over to the pedestrian crossing signal to hit the button so the light will change. Thankfully, here in MN, there is a law that says if you have been sitting at a light for an unreasonable length of time (i.e. a full cycle or more) it is okay to go through the red if there is no traffic. This actually applies to motorcycles too as they aren't big enough to set off the car sensors either.

However, there has been many a time when there is no traffic and an impatient cyclist (like myself) can't bear to have the flow of his or her ride interrupted and the red light is treated more like a yellow. Even worse is the number of stop signs that get run by cyclists. Again, I have to admit that I am a culprit at times. There are times when this is safe (like in your neighborhood where there are clearly no cars anywhere), but most of the time rolling through a stop sign is a just another reason for drivers to complain about us. Group rides are the scariest in this respect. It only takes one rider and the next thing you know, 20 bikes just cruised through an intersection. Not cool.

Do your fellow cycling buddies a favor and just stop. Every rider that gets caught riding through a stop light or stop sign when it's not safe or other traffic is waiting its turn just smears the good name of cyclists everywhere. Be mindful for the sake of your safety and your riding buddies. Because if you really want to share the road you have to follow the rules of the road. Just stop. It's worth it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

This is what I want for my birthday

It's still over a month away, but I'm already getting ready for it. The number one thing on my birthday list this year is to ride this loop.

Check out the elevation and you'll see why I'm preparing already. Having just finished following an awesome Giro d'Italia I'm ready to go ride some mountains of my own and this ride is top on the list. I've never ridden anything quite this size before, though, so we'll have to see if I survive.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

This is great

My dad works for an organization that sends English teachers to China. It's a pretty cool gig. I studied Chinese for awhile in college and got the chance to spend some time there over a few summers before he even had started this job. I wish that I could spend more time there, but for now other things are calling and I know I'll go back someday. A couple of his teachers made this video. It's sweet. And in case that one's not your style check this oUt. Clearly these guys are enjoying the ride.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Come Fly With Me

It would be really cool to be able to fly. Don't you think so?

So far the closest I've gotten is that good old two wheeled contraption of mine--the bicycle. As a matter of fact I'm a little addicted to my bicycle. It's a freeing feeling to get out and cruise the country on your own power and determination. With the wind at your back and a good riding buddy you can make it a long ways. Sounds a lot like life.

I figure life is a lot like a bike ride...a really LONG bike ride. We have our headwinds and tailwinds, riding partners, hill climbs and different stops and adventures along the way. It's not constantly exciting, but there are ups and downs, victories and defeats and learning experiences along the way to share in.

So come ride with me. Get a glimpse of the circles I spin as I make my way along the road of life. It might be boring, it might be interesting, you can stay as long or as short as you like before you turn off on your way. Just enjoy.