It is nearly a year since last year’s Alps and Dolomites trip with Cinghiale Tours (and just a few days since I finished writing about the trip…) I am thrilled that in under a week I will departing for the 2018 trip, aka the 30th anniversary of Andy’s Giro win.
So what then? I can’t entirely blame how long it took me to write the trip up on work pressures. Turns out I’ve been out doing some bike riding this year too. What did that look like? I’m so glad you asked!
(Warning, overlong post ahead. But there will be pictures too.)
TLDR: Hired a coach, Eroica Nova, Mazama Weekend, STP, RAMROD (at least read this bit to find out about my dad’s ride), Ride the Hurricane, miscellaneous.
I like the sense of accomplishment of getting better at things. Over the last couple years, I’ve reached the point on the learning curve where getting better at cycling starts to require more work. Simultaneously, I’ve had less time to devote to cycling. When I would have time, I would often encounter of a decision paralysis of “should I do a long ride, or intervals? Should I ramble outdoors, or do a focused ride on the trainer?” etc, that would often result in no riding at all. My miles were down, and while my overall skill level was continuing to improve with experience, I wasn’t getting any stronger.
As a result, I had a good year in the Alps and Dolomites last year, but I also missed out on some of my goals, such as riding the other side of the Gavia.
In an effort to break myself out of a variety of funks, including a cycling funk, in January I hired a cycling coach. I’ve been working with Anne-Marije Rook, and have really appreciated the combination of challenge and encouragement she has given me throughout the year. Having her put workouts and rides on my calendar has eliminated the decision paralysis and kicked my butt. At this point, I almost have more miles ridden in the year than I did all of last year, and I have felt really good on my big rides of the year. Thanks AMR!
Big rides? What were they? I’m so glad you asked!
In February (aka, “I live in Seattle, so I haven’t seen the sun or been dry for months, and have no prospect of either for a couple more months at least.”) Andy Hampsten suggested that we pop down to Paso Robles in April to join him for the Eroica ride. Sunny California? Sign us up!
It was only later that I contemplated the fact that this ride features a fair amount of gravel adventure. And I’m scared of gravel adventure. Whoops.
I also don’t like giving in to being scared of things (within reason–I’m happy to stay scared of poisonous snakes, BASE jumping, etc), so I let Anne-Marije know what I had gotten myself into.
She took it upon herself to coach me through some gravel riding, so we headed to the Iron Horse Trail for some practice. As we started up the gravel trail, she gave me some helpful tips, and encouraged me along. And I was kinda doing ok. Then–it being early March–the mountain trail turned to snow. And she showed me by example that it was still rideable. So we kept riding. Ummm…
Riding gravel up a mountain in the snow–pretty much just like Andy in ’88, right?!?
The short version is that, after getting used to (by which I mean being constantly freaked out by) how much my bike could move around under me in the snow even as I stayed upright, the return to gravel felt like coming home. Riding in gravel is easy!
Sun in April?!? Who knew this was possible!
Fun trivia–I was number 892. The rider in the background wearing number 891 was also riding a Hampsten bike. We spent a lot of the ride being entertained by that coincidence.
The Eroica was challenging (I was taking part in the Nova Eroica–in which they allowed modern bicycles to ride the Coastal Route, carefully segregated from the vintage bikes by a different start time), and its 25 miles of gravel roads were more than I had done, combined, in my cycling life up to that point. And it was great! There were a couple sketchy descent sections that I wasn’t overjoyed about, but I did it! I was thrilled both during and after the ride that I could ride so much better that I thought I could (i.e., I could ride at all) on gravel/dirt roads, and those roads opened up access to some amazing scenery that I couldn’t have seen otherwise. I’d be willing to go back next year…
Well if they’re going to route the ride through a winery…
Then it was a couple more months of working a lot, and trying to train a little, and I went back for my 3rd Mazama Weekend, put on by Redmond Cycling Club. Like the previous two years, my dad did the ride too, which always makes the trip more fun. Ian was finally able to join us too–3rd time’s the charm! That ride over the North Cascades Highway is such a gem. I love the constant unfolding of views, and how they shift from western to eastern Washington. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
Atop… Well, you can probably figure out where we are…
In addition to the joy of doing such a beautiful ride, I had a little extra bit of enjoyment in how I rode it. I was definitely faster on the climbs than the previous two years, and I also felt like I recovered from the efforts faster, both in the moment, and how I felt later in the day and the following days. It’s almost as if putting in more training and work produces results!
Then I was travelling (awesome trip to Ireland with my mom!) and got back just a little before STP. Because jet lag is the perfect preparation for biking 200 miles, right? It actually worked out ok, because I was awake and alert in the early hours of the morning, making the 3:45am wake up for STP not so horrendous as it usually is. On the other hand, I didn’t yet have any ride over 100 miles yet on the year, so I really wasn’t sure how things would go.
Ireland with my mom!
It was another hot year, but went really well. Ian kept complaining of having nothing in the tank, yet we did close to if not our fastest first half ever, and made really good time overall to Portland. This despite not finding a good train to latch on to on Highway 30, so riding most of it by ourselves.
My post-STP sweat-caked jersey
(There was this one year… A team of muscular giants with very broad shoulders–all of them, the men and the women–went by, we latched on, and they pulled us most of the 30 miles from St Helens to Portland. We offered to buy them beer, but they declined for whatever reason. That was a great year…)
Again, one of the things that I found encouraging about STP was that I didn’t feel desperate to have a break and recover at each rest stop. I needed to cool down and fuel up, but was mostly raring to go pretty quickly. (I’ll admit that on the ride home from the train station the next day, I felt pretty cooked–but given my lack of long rides so far, that was to be expected.) It’s almost as if putting in more training and work produces results!
A while ago, my dad unwisely made the jest “I’m not going to do RAMROD until I’m in my 70’s!” Since he turned turned 70 this year, I decided to call his bluff and bluster, and–thanks to someone willing to donate their lottery bypass–for Christmas gave him an entry to RAMROD (plus an all-expenses-paid trip to Enumclaw!)
For context, this would be the longest ride he had ever done in his life, and he was doing it as the 20th-oldest person out of the 800-some riders.
Not only did writing this on my number spark a lot of fun conversations for me, but also had a lot of people greeting my dad with “hey, I saw your daughter!”
He told me to go ahead and ride my own ride, so that he wouldn’t feel pressured to keep up, or to not hold me back, so I can’t narrate his ride. But from reports of other riders, he was riding strongly, and the proof was at the finish line. He had a sub-12 hour ride (153ish miles)–which is a great time, especially on a hot day–and judging by the finish line photos, he was solidly in the top half of riders, and likely even in the top third. And he is still talking to me!
For myself, I was thrilled with how my ride went. I wasn’t really any faster on the road than I’ve been in past years, but I felt strong the whole way, and–broken record alert–didn’t feel the need to take time at the rest stops to recover. I just grabbed food and water and went. For the first time, I saw hardly anyone on the last 38 mile segment into Enumclaw (aka the headwind section…), and rode it solo in under 2 hours. I didn’t know I could do that.
I finished in 10:30, bettering my previous best by 9 minutes, on a course that, due to a changed start location, was about 7 miles longer than my previous best. (And for the record, what I said in that post about what a beautiful ride it is, and how well organized, still stands. Thank you, Redmond Cycling Club!)
Silly as it seems, it has taken trying to get all this stuff written up, rather than experiencing things a couple weeks or months apart from each other to really have a sense that it’s not a fluke or an isolated incidence–I really have gotten stronger on the bike.
The last of the summer’s pre-Italy “event” rides is also one of my favorites, Ride the Hurricane. It’s such a beautiful climb (and fun descent!) already, and to do it car-free is about as good as bike riding gets. To see if I was just fooling myself to think I had made some gains on the bike, I decided to go for it up the climb.
Even though the effort was definitely hurting me by the time I got to the top, I was feeling good all the way up–I never had to go to my dark place. And I have been there more than once on this climb. Feeling strong and hoping to accomplish something made it easier to push myself, such that the pain and fatigue in my legs didn’t bother me at much. I’ve definitely had times when I don’t feel great and the pain and fatigue in my legs is just proof to me of how weakly I’m riding, which makes it harder to put an effort in. At any rate the effort showed I wasn’t just fooling myself about my gains, as I bested my previous best time by several minutes.
Partway back down one of the best descents around. I had just verified that, despite not fully closing up my saddlebag at the top, I did indeed still have the car key…
Throughout the year, there have been other jewels of moments, such as setting a personal best time on a hill I’ve ridden up dozens if not hundreds of times. Or the day after RAMROD, riding up Zoo Hill as slowly as I ever have, yet feeling like I’d be fine to keep riding all day, as long as I could keep taking it slow. Or just getting better at negotiating this really annoying chicane on the bike path.
The ride up to Sunrise on Mt Rainier is always one of the highlights of the year
Which gets me to my goals for Italy. I was glad last year to knock off two and a bit of my three goals. For this year?
- Unsurprisingly, I want to finish the unfinished one, and ride all of the other side of the Gavia.
- My other two goals get more vague: I want to go for it if there is a day/days where there is an option to throw good sense to the winds and go big, and
- I want to ride well.