STP #5

Five 1-day STP's in a row!

Five 1-day STP’s in a row!

Really, it is amazing that a person can get from Seattle to Portland completely under her own power in a single day. The bicycle is a marvel of mechanical efficiency. Which is to say that Saturday was my fifth STP ride in a row. Each year it gets easier in certain respects, yet each year I look back the next day and think “really?!?! I did that?!?! Wow!”

And even more impressive than the fact that I got to Portland under my own power, is that about 10,000 people did the same thing, spread between one and two-day riders. It’s pretty neat.

Anyway, the annual endurance tradition went well. You may recall that last year saw us dealing with temperatures well into the 90’s. With the heat wave that we’ve been having, I was worried about a repeat. But it was cloudy with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s–my power weather.

The flip side was that we did not have the usual tailwind (last year’s was especially impressive), but instead had a slight headwind. We grumbled quite a bit about it, but I’ll still take this year’s weather over last year’s. And despite the big difference in wind, we got to Portland at about the same time as last year–that’s how much extra time the heat took out of us in longer rest stops, and having to keep our effort level low while riding.

This year was an interesting experience for me in the differing fitnesses on the bike.

After doing this four times, I didn’t have any doubt about my ability to finish, barring freak accidents. But it is true that this year, I have fewer long (80 mile plus) rides under my belt that in previous years. But I’ve also been feeling really strong, and have smashed some personal best times on hills that I have ridden up dozens of times.

So STP turned out pretty much how one might expect. The things on the bike that are more durational fitness-related were barking at me a little–for me, my wrists and neck, mostly. Yet I was overall riding really strongly. For example, I went up “The Hill” in Puyallup about 15% faster than before, without feeling like I was working any harder. And 140 miles in, I felt like I was flying, and collected quite a paceline of people happy to draft me–but later on, I looked back and they were gone. I wasn’t trying to ride them off my wheel, I just felt good and was going.

There are a couple sections that tend to be lows for me, and they were again. But I overall felt better and stronger on the ride–enough so that I didn’t mind that my neck and wrists were a little annoyed with me.

A piece of information that I got at the finish line was that I was the 44th woman to cross the line. Now, mind you, I don’t know how many women do the ride in one day, so I don’t exactly know what that number means–but my hunch is that it’s something to feel good about!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

In other news, a cold derailed me from my plans to ride on Mt Rainier last weekend, which I’m still bummed about. I’m going to see if I can squeeze that in this week. And the tail end of the cold also interrupted my Tenth of the Tour run–I was doing ok, but woke up the day before STP feeling not so great again, and decided that I was better off getting as much rest as I could. Luckily I felt good again on Saturday for STP. I’m bummed about all of that, but I made the right decisions. I’m going to keep as much of the Tenth of the Tour going as I can, just as a way to keep me biking, even if I won’t get “credit” for having done the whole thing.

And I’m going to try to get rid of this lingering congestion and cough!

Dolomites and Alps, Rest Day!

After four days of spectacular but challenging riding, our tired legs had a day off. For lunch, Ian and I took the two gondola ride up out of Alleghe to the ski-area-in-winter Col dei Baldi (elevation, 6,300 feet). Turns out there is an easier way to get up a mountain than riding your bike up it…

Here is some of the trip:

Just got on the first gondola, heading up out of town.

Just got on the first gondola, heading up out of town.

Looking back at Alleghe

Looking back at Alleghe

Some of the ride was really steep!

Some of the ride was really steep!

Ahhh, the views...

Ahhh, the views…

On the second gondola--we're really starting to get up there!

On the second gondola–we’re really starting to get up there!

At the top--ok setting to have lunch in.

At the top–ok setting to have lunch in.

Love the light up here

Love the light up here

Close up of the previous view

Close up of the previous view

In the gondola heading back down, when we realized that peak is the summit of the Marmolada

In the gondola heading back down, when we realized that peak is the summit of the Marmolada

Dolomites and Alps, Day 3, Part 2

(When we left off, our heroine was relaxing in the sun partway up the Passo Gardegna after a challenging morning on the bike that saw her tempted to pack it in…)

I’ll admit, it was pretty nice for a while to have no more difficult physical exertion than having to stand up and walk over to the food table a remarkable number of times. And when I could keep my eyes open, the view was pretty great.

More lunch view on Sella Ronda day

More lunch view on Sella Ronda day

Eventually we hefted ourselves and our full bellies back onto our bicycles to finish the ascent of the Passo Gardegna. I almost feel it was cheating to count this as a pass–the descent from the Passo Sella didn’t go down very far, and the total ascent up the Gardegna was less than 1,000′, with lunch and then a flat section in the middle. Really, it was like climbing a couple Seattle-area hills with an extended siesta in between. But hey, it’s called “Passo” so it goes in the book as the 3rd pass of 4 on the day.

From the "Passo" Gardegna

From the “Passo” Gardegna

More Passo Gardegna

More Passo Gardegna

The descent took us into the town of Corvara, where we stopped in at a little Pinarello-brand bike gallery/museum attached to a hotel/bar/cafe. They had one of Bradley Wiggins’ yellow Pinarello’s from the year he won the Tour de France, and other such historic bicycles and items from throughout the years. One of the bikes was Miguel Indurain’s fantastic hour record aero track bike (from before the UCI outlawed such cool space-agey bikes…) Andy leaned in to get a closer look at the monster gearing on it, and joked “sure, I could turn that gear over, no problem… On a downhill…” Then, continuing the jest, he pretended to be not impressed by Indurain and his bike… In being too slow to get a picture of the former, I managed to get a photo of the latter:

Meh! Andy is not impressed!

Meh! Andy is not impressed!

After we had been there for a little bit, the proprietor realized who was there–not some schmuck cyclist named Andy, but THE ANDY HAMPSTEN!!! In shock and apology and awe and delight, he dropped to his knees at Andy’s feet, torn between begging forgiveness and uttering effusive praise!

I love Italians!

A little later, we were sitting in the bar area, enjoying espressos and such, when the proprietor came up again, and deeply and sincerely thanked Andy for stopping by. He expressed how much he had always appreciated Andy, that he was a great champion, a “campionissime di bicicletta e gentilezza”–a great bicyclist and a great person. Which is all true.

View from our stop in Corvara

View from our stop in Corvara

So to recap, since lunch, we had bicycled a negligible amount uphill, hung out at the Passo Gardegna for a bit (it would be a shame to go by a rifugio and *not* get espresso…), rolled ourselves downhill into Corvara, and hung out some more, consuming more espresso, and enjoying more sunshine and great views. The day was suddenly about as easy and laid back of a day as I’ve had on a bike in a long time.

But, the more astute readers may also remember that we had only done 3 of the 4 passes–still remaining was the Passo Campolongo. (Cue ominous music…)

But in the most satisfying anticlimax ever, the Passo Campolongo was mild both in terms of elevation gain, and in terms of slope. I thought it was the easiest of the day, and I was laughing at times with the delight of biking uphill and it feeling easy! I didn’t set any land speed records up the Campolongo, but I had a lot of fun reveling in the delight of cycling up it.

Soon enough, we were regrouping at the top, and then just had 17 miles left to Alleghe (and showers! and beer! and dinner!), over the course of which we would drop from about 6,200′ to 3,200′.

If you are unsure what that means, it means FUN!!!!!

Somehow, I ended up behind Andy as we descended, and this is when the day went from wonderful to I-must-be-dreaming deliriously amazing. Not only is he skilled beyond my ability to even understand how much better than me he is (I can only analogize by thinking about how my beginning dance students don’t even have the experience to know how beginning they are and how much more is involved with getting to a barely competent level of professional ability, much less an exceptional level) (seriously, the pro level of ability is way higher than you think it is. If you’re pretty fast on a bike, and wondering if you could maybe hang with the pro’s on a stage of the Tour or something, just stop. They’re faster and better than you.), he was on a road he’s ridden countless times.

(Really. They’re way better. It’s not just being faster–it’s things like riding along at a good clip, and reaching down to grab a branch off the road and toss it aside so that it doesn’t impede the people behind you. Or riding no-hands down a winding descent, doing airplane arms, as I heard he’s done.) (And I’ve asked around–no one has seen Andy sweat. Or breathe hard. Including when he whizzed past some of the fast guys, going uphill past them like they were standing still, when they were at their limit. And he’s on the record as saying he’s not near his level of fitness he had as a pro.) (So seriously, people on the internet bike forums who like to speculate from the couch about being as good as a pro if they just trained a bit more. Stop it.)

Anyway. As the road twisted its way around sharp hairpins, while sometimes simultaneously dropping precipitously down, Andy just flowed around the corners, smoothly, effortlessly, the picture of delight. I had to push myself a bit to keep up with his lollygagging his way down the mountain, but by just following his approaches to corners, trying to copy his body language, the descent became secure and full of ease for me too. (To an extent.)

I was going way faster than I could have gone on my own, yet felt like I was much more within my limits, taking on way less risk than I would have been (descending slower) on my own. I was essentially getting a private lesson on descending–from a winner of the Giro d’Italia!!!!–and felt like I was a better cyclist by the time I reached the bottom of the mountain.

As I’ve mentioned, I love descending, and am alarmed by descending. Getting to do such a fun descent, and feel that in the course of it, I became a safer, better descender, was almost too much awesomeness for one day to contain.

I finished the day feeling how I did at the start of the day–I’m ready to sign up for next year’s trip.

I also finished the day with more delicious food–are we detecting a theme here? The hotel’s restaurant was legitimately really good (Andy and Elaine reportedly have the hotel restaurant’s quality as their top criterion for picking tour hotels), but pretty much any food at all tastes amazing on days like we were doing. That we got to eat delicious, fresh, nutritive, flavorful, variety-filled food just made the constant “find more food” drumbeat in my brain all the more enjoyable of a quest.

At the end of the day, I had ridden about 60 miles (I forgot to turn my bike computer on until a few miles in, so the exact number is a mystery) and almost 8,900 feet of elevation gain. The only ride I’ve done with more elevation gain was 190 miles long…

day 3

Goals for the week of 7/28, miscellany

So I have completed the Tenth of the Tour (woo hoo!), and the Rapha Rising challenge (that one was a push…)–now what?

So: goals for the week of 7/28. First off, it turns out there are other things in my life–projects and chores–that need to get done, so some of that is in order for this week.

Secondly, I did a lot of riding in the last three weeks, and a lot of climbing in the last week, and my legs are tired! Today and tomorrow are rest days, and for doing non-strenuous projects and chores…

Though a computer crisis (I’m very unimpressed with Sony and their laptop quality control) has somewhat derailed the first goal, it has abetted the second, as I have been sitting around waiting on computer stuff. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my time, but I’ll count it towards my rest goal I guess, and call it good.

Thirdly, Wednesday I’ll be riding my bike on Mt Rainier again!!!! I enjoyed myself so much last time, and I’m really looking forward to being back there. Then I’m staying overnight and volunteering for RAMROD Thursday morning. Despite having to get up incredibly early for this (I’m not even willing to type the numbers of the o’ clock I’ll be starting at…), I’m looking forward to it also. I have been the beneficiary of fabulous volunteers at a number of events, and it will be good to give back a bit.

Lastly, on Sunday, depending on weather and life, as mentioned before we might do Ride the Hurricane.

And some navel-gazing miscellany:

Kicking around in my head is the awareness that, as much as this blog has already been really useful for me in setting goals and holding myself accountable, there are also much more systematic training programs that I could be following. I could have a professional cycling coach draw up a plan for me. I could get a power meter, and do targeted intervals. I could push myself harder more often.

Kicking around in my head also is that I have the tendency to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Just because I could be training better, could be improving more, doesn’t mean that what I am doing is worthless. (And this is a concept that I sometimes have a hard time with.)

I have gotten a lot stronger this year. I can see this both in absolute results, with steadily improving times on roads I do often, and in my attitude. I’m not having as much energy sapped by the worry that I can’t do something.

I really enjoy getting better on the bike, and I also enjoy enjoying myself on the bike. Sometimes those things intersect, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s fun to push myself as hard as I can up a hill, sometimes it just isn’t. And when it isn’t, I usually don’t. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit up and admire the scenery.

This summer hasn’t been as methodical as it could have been, but it’s been a lot of fun so far. I was looking back at my to-do rides of the summer post, and realized that I’ve done most of them, and had a blast in the process! Despite growing up here, there are a number of amazing places I had never been until I biked their roads in the last couple months. (And that includes some in-city nooks and crannies…)

Even though it’s important to me to get better, nothing is depending on it. It’s not my job. And even though I have a lot invested in this Italy trip, if I’m not feeling it, I can stay in the hotel for the day, or hop in the follow van, or turn around and  head back down the mountain. So why suffer more than I find entertaining to suffer?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that on the bike I’d rather do a mediocre job of getting better than do a mediocre job of having fun. So far, so good.

PS: our house has too many stairs. By which I mean it has stairs.

Got ‘er done! (And goals for the week of 7/21)

Whoops, I’m supposed to be writing this post at the end of the week, so that I can tailor my goals to what I actually did during the week. Oh well. Too late now.

Yesterday was pretty much a repeat of Saturday’s ride, except I went all the way out to Squak Mountain, and then biked up Zoo Hill on the way back. And I made a bargain with myself that I only had to do Zoo Hill as far as the bus stop–many consider that the top of the climb (1000′ of elevation gain is enough, some think), but if you like, at that point you can turn left to get another 250′ higher in the air. Usually the rule is that I have to do the left turn also and ride until the road turns to gravel. Then I get to go back down (the rule says I have to do uphill, but I don’t have to do gravel uphill.)

No, I don’t know who makes these horrible rules.

Anyway, I bent the rules a bit, and continued straight at the bus stop, and it was awesome. I’m such a rebel!

The rain overnight had really cleared out the air, and going through wooded parts of the ride, there was a delicious green, growing freshness that was almost as much a taste as a smell. On parts of Zoo Hill, when my head wasn’t hanging down, eyes fixated on the pavement 3 feet in front of me, it was really great to look into the woods on either side and enjoy the lush growth creating the delicious fresh air. The woods are even more impressive for the nearly vertical hillside they’re managing to cling to and thrive on–the steep road seems flat in comparison.

Also notable was the guy who cheered me on from his car at the beginning of the hill, and again when I went past him working in his yard towards the top of the hill. Thanks dude!

I’m especially proud of myself for bringing my phone/cards/cash with me and actually knowing that I had them with me. I’m also very thankful that the under-renovation-Leschi-Starbucks is open all day long on the weekends. I even checked that info ahead of time, so that I wouldn’t have a repeat of last month’s sadness. Though now I know I should ask for an extra mondo amount of whipped cream on my mocha if it’s been a tough ride.

Anyway, I rode 100k (that’s 62 miles for those of you who like real numbers) and had 5300 feet of elevation gain. Not insanely hilly, but pretty good considering that too much of the ride is essentially flat.

So, here we go with goals for the week:

Monday, a rest day–I can’t check this off as accomplished quite yet, but I’m getting a good start on it!

Tuesday-Sunday–finish off the Tenth of the Tour challenge, and do some climby rides. I’d like to do Hurricane Ridge, but I’m keeping an eye on the weather forecast (which keeps changing!) because I’m perfectly happy to be a weather wimp… And that is making it hard to be day-to-day specific, as I don’t want to trash myself by committing to a really hard ride the day before trying out Hurricane Ridge. Which, if I started at sea level, would be a full mile up into the air… Climby! But somewhere in there I might head over to Bainbridge Island too.

So I guess this week’s strategy is to be incredibly vague about my goals, and then put my own interpretive spin on whether or not I accomplished them… Tricky!

Stay tuned for next week, which will mark the one-month-before-departure point (I’m sure I won’t be freaking out at all…) and will also feature Mt Rainier!

I really need to be better about taking pictures when I'm riding. But here's a jack o' lantern I make a couple years ago. I was quite entertained by it!

I really need to be better about taking pictures when I’m riding. But here’s a jack o’ lantern I made a couple years ago. I was quite entertained by it!

A little perspective

So I did get out for a decent ride today–the south end of Lake Washington, around Mercer Island, and then home via south Lake Washington again, for a total of 75 miles.

I was poo-pooing my ride to myself a bit: “you just did an easy ride, relatively flat, no big climbs, I thought you were supposed to be challenging yourself here. There are Dolomites to be climbed!” Then I stopped and considered that not so long ago, this would have been a big-deal challenging ride for me. So that’s something.

I will admit though, for having done an “easy” ride, I have pretty tired legs now…