Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dodging Raindrops

I now have my illumination set up nicely for my winter bike commute, but I still haven’t figured out what to do in case of rain. We don’t get much precipitation by the standards of the eastern US or Pacific Northwest, but it is pretty much concentrated into six months of the year, from November to April. This year things seem to be off to an early start, with the second largest October storm ever recorded, and then a pretty good soaking on Monday.
I woke up to lowering skies, at least when it was light enough to see them, and a forecast offering “chance of a.m. showers.” I decided to take my chances without raingear, for the simple reason that I have no effective raingear. We’ve had three years of drought, so I haven't had to upgrade my old Patagonia jacket that lost its waterproof powers years ago.

Before I became a bike/train commuter, my approach to rain on the commute was to wear stout footwear and carry an umbrella for the half a block or full block that I’d walk from the car to the office. Working out in the rain was no problem, since I would happily get soaked in anticipation of a hot shower and dry sweats. I never was much for riding in the rain, though. It was an area in which I was, and remain, certifiably wimpy. I didn’t want to mess up my bike, I didn’t want to skid on wet pavement, and I definitely didn’t want to get hit by a car that couldn’t see me. Or even by one that could. So on rainy days I would abandon my plans to ride and head for the pool or the gym or even get a nice wet run in.

My co-worker Simon, however, rides to the office in all kinds of weather, clad in slicker and rain pants, and never seems to fall down or get hit by cars. His commute distance is now about the same as the Sacto end of mine, so it’s clearly possible. And I want to be hard core. At least, I think I want to try to be hard core. But here are the challenges that I perceive:
  1. I will get wet. Even if I spend hundreds of dollars on GoreTex or other such “breathable,” waterproof garments, I will still sweat more than the GoreTex will handle. It’s just the way it is. So I’ll either get wet from the inside or the outside. It might be better just to take my soaking and change once I get to the office, but then there’s that train ride in soggy clothes to think of.

  2. This is one that my friend Sheila, a former San Francisco bike commuter, pointed out: Once I get to work and change out of my wet clothes, I have to put them somewhere during the day. Festooning the office with damp and potentially odorous garments might be perceived as antisocial by my officemate and unprofessional even by my tolerant and flexible management.

  3. The load I carry to work is getting heavier. Ever since I broke down and bought the bike lock, I’ve been reluctant even to carry my lunch in my pack. Carrying a full change of clothes could be the straw to snap this camel’s back. Sheila suggested I could stash a couple pairs of black pants and grey sweaters at the office. Eventually I’d have to take them home and wash them, but that shouldn’t be too sucky. Every so often I have to drive in anyhow.

  4. I carry a laptop to work on the train. Part of what makes my work schedule manageable is that I put in work hours on the train and am rarely in the office for a full eight hours. Plus I have my wallet, cell phone, flash drive, and other goodies in my (formerly triathlon-specific) pink backpack. The pack might resist light rain, but a downpour would put all my crap at risk. Sheila helpfully noted that there are commuter backpacks with rain covers. More $$$. Dang.

  5. The dreaded “brown stripe” effect. In the absence of a rear fender, the wheel will throw up water and dirt, creating a deeply unattractive brown stripe up the back of the unwary rider. Now I have to spend money on a fender? And this also brings up my resistance to making my venerable but racy bike into a commuter mule. Yeah, I know I’m not racing at the moment - but I will. Even if I never race again, though, putting a fender on the Specialized Allez Epic would be like hitching Secretariat to a wagon. I shudder at the thought.
Possible solutions abound. I can look for raingear on the cheap at Sierra Trading Post or Marshall’s. Even Land’s End has pretty reasonable rain pants. Same for the waterproof backpack. The pink tri-pack is looking a little tatty anyway. If I wear rain gear, I won’t care about the Brown Stripe of Doom. I might be able to get away with hanging wet biking clothes in the server room, which is very, very warm, dry, rarely visited, and located behind a door in my office. I already use it as an impromptu changing room for getting out of my bike shorts. I don’t
In the end it’ll all come down to force of will on a dark wet morning. The will will feel a lot more forceful, though, if I feel well prepared. On Monday, I dodged two huge cloudbursts by minutes, and either might have damaged the will in a big way. No rain forecast for the next five days. Stay tuned for updates and storm watches.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Unstuck - Not Undone

Well, I'm delighted to report that one of the biggest October storms in Northern California history swept my indolence away in a gust of warm and humid wind. Tuesday, the day of the deluge, I didn't venture out of the house at all, just sat in the house working and checking the rainfall totals. Wednesday I did the walk to and from the train station after sleeping in too late to do the bike thing. Thursday was crazy humid for this part of the world, but I was eager to get out and break up a long day at the laptop, writing endless, uninteresting paragraphs under deadline.

I had planned a bike adventure for Thursday, an extra 8 miles on top of my regular commute, from the Richmond train station to a meeting with a client and thence to the office. These are long-standing clients with a casual dress code, so I wasn't worried about showing up in my deeply nerdy cycling sandals and cargo capri pants. I was more worried about riding through the heart of Richmond's Iron Triangle (in photo) - either about ripping up my tires on broken glass and discarded syringes or being set upon by Deep-C gangbangers, who might find a fat middle-aged white woman riding by with cycling sandals and a pink backpack simply too irresistible a target for youthful highjinks. I could do most of the ride on a bike trail along the bay, but to get there I'd have to negotiate the Triangle, a gnarly overpass over I-580, and another freeway undercrossing near the clients' office. It was a perfect illustration of how urban enviroments in much of California are not set up for people to walk or bike with any kind of feeling of safety.

Anyhow, my meeting got rescheduled. So I worked at home and then I tried to figure out what to do for exercise. I'd have another bike ride scheduled for the next day, and just walking sounded boring. I considered a kiddie playground workout but settled on a session of shooting hoops at Leroy F. Greene Middle School. I used to be a serious basketball fanatic, dating back to when my very cool
fifth grade teacher, Gordon Russ, taught us proper form for the layup, the jump shot and even the esoteric hook shot. I was never a speedy player, but I had a pretty decent shot, could dribble with either hand, and could be quite insistent about using my butt to back my opponent down low in the post.

But it had been a while. Years, probably, not counting the 20 minutes or so I spent shooting a strangely bouncy basketball on the little court on board the Norwegian Sun on the Alaska cruise in August. I strained my knee slightly then, so I was determined to go easy this time. No driving layups or sprinting for rebounds. Just some "jump" shots, a few drop step moves around the basket. Greene Middle is about a three-quarter mile walk, so it was a struggle just getting there with the ball. When I got there, I was slightly disconcerted to see that the kids were still there from the after-school program, shooting and giving each other crap. Twelve-year-olds can be scary. But fortunately they ignored me as I spotted up from various points not far from the basket and launched my high arcing shot. I mostly missed at first, but after a while, I started making a few and feeling like I remembered how to focus on the back rim, getting the range a bit. That was cool. And then I was tired, and I felt a brief twinge in the knee, so I walked home. And that was that. And later I felt fine. Probably 30 minutes of walking, 20 minutes of shooting and walking or jogging after the ball.

Friday I did ride the bike, and that was all good. It was insanely foggy in the early morning, the tule fog that comes up over the Central Valley and makes things very interesting for drivers. I was glad for my LED headlight and red blinky lights as I made my way along the levee, the familiar landmarks looming strangely in the mist.

Saturday I lazed about for much of the day, feeling tired, stiff, and cranky. The weather has been strangely humid since the storm, sucking the oxygen out of the air and making things smell bad. I had a stiff neck and shoulder and the only thing I wanted to do was swim. Still no pool on my horizon, so I put on my unflattering suit and clashing orange swim cap and went over to the river. Perfect! The water was cool, cool enough that I even hesitated before plunging in, and there were just enough people there that I thought someone might save me if I got entangled in a vicious clump of weeds. But I had a huge stretch of open, weed-free, boat-free water to myself, and I swam up and down, 50 strokes each way, until I felt fatigue set in. A little backstroke to open up the shoulders, some dolphin kicking for the lower back.

I'm back at the laptop now, obviously, and the neck and shoulder are tensing up again, but I'm not cranky, and I'm tired in a different, much way. And I'm unstuck and unstalled. I got some form of exercise 5 out of the last 6 days, and had fun at least three times.

Tomorrow, a bike ride to the farmers' market for veggies, apples, honey, and maybe a cinnamon roll from the Davis bakers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Weather No Longer Perfect

And now the perfect weather is gone. Wow. Is it. Huge wind, huge rain, huge tree limbs flying through the air. It's cool. I like it. I sure as hell didn't go outside in it though.

Stalled. Stuck. Stopped.

A week of perfect fall weather, almost entirely wasted. I am disappointed to report that last week was the worst week to date in terms of moving forward in the Big Fat Fitness Comeback. If I start the workout week on Monday, as I still tend to do after years of structuring training that way, I managed exactly one day of exercise. On Wednesday, I did my bike commute and even put in a couple of extra miles at lunch running some errands over on Fourth Street. But that was it.

Monday we drove back from Sea Ranch, and then I ran out and got a pedicure instead of doing exercise. Sometimes you just have to get the feet pretty before you can think of anything else. Tuesday I was in stressed out work mode from the time I got up (too late, too late!) till after dark. I didn’t make myself take a 20 minute walk before dinner. I just didn’t. Thursday… what happened Thursday? Oh, yeah, I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, a ton of work, and then a meeting at Capital Stage in the late afternoon. I had planned to ride my bike to the theater, but was dealing with work stuff until it was too late to ride the bike and be on time for the meeting. After the meeting I had more work.

Friday I had to drive to the office to pick up all the supplies for the all-day training I was doing on Saturday. Got home with a headache and couldn’t face going outside. Saturday I did the all-day training and got home with a stiff neck and serious fatigue. Hit the couch and fell asleep. Well, I thought, at least I’ll get a ride in on Sunday. But I woke up with mild vertigo - that’s a new one - and moving my head made it worse. So I tried to keep still until it was time to go out to the theater. The vertigo gradually subsided, but I felt pretty weird throughout the day. Maybe connected with my neck stiffness? After the matinee there was some hanging out with my family, whom I hadn’t seen in weeks. And then it was night.

Some weeks happen like this. But I can’t let this stretch get out to two weeks, or we could have trouble, and that starts with T and that rhymes with D and that stands for “D’oh! I turned into a couch potato again!” I need to work less (at my job) and yet remain a model employee.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

By the Beautiful Sea

Pretty much every October we head up the Sonoma coast, about as far as you can get before it becomes the Mendocino coast, for a long weekend at Sea Ranch. It's a spectacular corner of the world, where high sandstone bluffs meet the cold north Pacific, redwoods loom on the mountains just beyond the meadows, and rich white people go to retire. Sometimes, not-exactly-rich white people go there to vacation. Tim's brother Dan had picked out a little gem of a rental house overlooking the ocean and the golf course, or, as the deer like to think of it, the 24 hour all-you-can-eat vegetation buffet. There was a hot tub on a private patio, and another deck open to the sweeping view. Schweet.

Sea Ranch is the scene of some of my most treasured athletic memories. The trails along the bluffs and through the meadows are perfectly arranged for running, undulating gently for miles, soft and springy underfoot, offering some of the most amazing views you could ever hope for. And the air! Fresh off thousands of miles of open ocean, it seems to have more oxygen than regular air and invites you to run with every gust of sea breeze.

In my fitter days I ran miles and miles along those trails, and many of those runs felt like dream runs, good dreams where I bound along with ridiculous ease and strength, not those other running dreams where I'm trying to run but I'm stuck. I ran here with a whole posse of friends (and Elwood the dog) on the morning of my wedding. Did wonders for my nerves. I did long training runs for significant races; I did short, medium, and long runs preparing insignificant races and just for fun.

One of the chapters I should have written in Shape Up with the Slow Fat Triathlete
would have been "Don't Compare." I guess we can extrapolate from Chapter 32, "Be Noncompetitive," which is about the pitfalls of being competitive with others, to the pitfalls of being competitive with your former self. Fortunately, I knew well that there was no way I could hope to compete with my triathletic self of five years ago. So I wasn't tempted to lace up the Asics and try to do some epic eight-miler or anything. I just wanted to do some brisk walking.

Sea Ranch was also the scene of one of my most memorably unathletic moments, two years ago during the baffling onset of Boo-boo Kitty Syndrome. We had all ventured out for an easy walk down to Gualala Point, and on the way back, I could hardly lift my legs to put one foot in front of the other. I felt ill and exhausted, falling further and further behind the group, who ambled along without apparent effort. I dragged myself back up to the house and promptly fell asleep for an hour. Michelle, who has been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and has suffered quite a bit with it, observed that I just wasn't right. No matter how out of shape I might be (and Michelle has known me in shape and way, way out of shape), I wouldn't drag my ass around like that. It was one of many low points.

So being back at this familiar, beloved spot, feeling reasonably full of energy and able to walk kind of fast for an hour along the headlands, laughing at the wind poofing up Tim's jacket -- that felt like a pretty decent accomplishment. And being able to go out for another 40 minutes or so the next day, jogging a few steps here and there, enjoying some localized soreness in my ankles from the uneven terrain rather than a full-body ache? Bonus.

I still haven't made it to the pool at Sea Ranch (or anywhere else for that matter), and I did pretty much eat my body weight in salty snacks and cheese over the weekend, but as we know, exercise is one thing, and diet is another thing altogether (Chapter 33, "Don't Make the Donut the Reward").