Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tour of Cali

After a great couple of days with the Tri-ers, I rested up for a bit of an evening and most of a morning before heading out again to meet Leslie, her tri-friend Lorna, and Leslie's 15-month-old bucket of adorable, aka Celio. Leslie is the Queen of viewing the Tour of California, and has leveraged her flexible schedule, spacious van, and sporadically amenable husband into some great roadtrips following the race through northern and central parts of the state. She scopes out where the post-race peeing van is, where the team buses are, and how to get to where the riders are going to be after each stage. She has a jersey and a visor covered with autographs, and a bunch of cool photos. Now, however, she has Celio, so our plan was a little more social, less hard core viewing.

I wrestled with the flat on the front tire of my Specialized so I could ride it into town. I knew the Sacramento Area Bike Advocates were providing free valet bike parking, but I was still nervous about leaving the LeMond, even in a guarded pen. Am I obsessive? Not by cycling standards, no.

It was a gorgeous ride into town, at least until I reached the streets around the Blue Diamond plant, ground zero for Sacramento's large homeless community. Some broken glass and a few catcalls were the only unpleasantnesses though. And many of the folks without houses are part of the cycling community. I've seen a lot of water bottles and firewood transported on bike racks and trailers. We nod to each other on the trails, worlds apart but for the bikes.

Down around the Capitol, though, the mood was festive in the extreme. A big expo with all things bicycle, a huge crowd all along the route, and a hum of excitement in the air. Some of the biggest teams and cycling stars in the world had passed on the Giro d'Italia to prep for the Tour de France in California. Mark Cavendish, Fabian Cancellara (Fabian!), Tom Boonen, Jens Voigt, Mick Rogers, Levi Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie, and that Armstrong guy - it was awesome. I was delighted and proud to see a race of this caliber in my home city, with such huge crowds. I could hear a lot of conversation as I moved along and the spectators knew their cycling, too.

Valet bike parking was just as wonderful as you would imagine, and I gladly stuffed a few bucks in the donation jar. Cities need more of this.

I bought like 13 pairs of cycling socks that were on killer sale. Some of them were random, but they were all cheap, and none of them were white. White cycling socks get too dirty, too fast.

The race itself whizzed by in a blur, three times around the finishing circuit, a flash of yellow and white, and Mark Cavendish took out a prestige win in the final sprint. Leslie and Lorna and Celio and I scooted around in search of autographs, but the cyclists were spirited away into their buses pretty quickly. Celio didn't care; he was asleep. While he was awake, he was delightful, and I do not say that lightly since I am not a baby person. Babies have to impress me on their own merits; they don't get points just for being babies.

I'm feeling kind of disjointed tonight. What was my point? Oh, yeah. Cycling is super fun. It's super fun being on a bike; it's super fun watching the best bike riders on the planet ride their bikes; and it's super fun buying cycling socks. If you get the chance to do any of these things, do them.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hard Work, Big Fun, a Little Dizziness, More Fun

Despite my frequent vows to take it easier at work, I often find myself putting in huge chunks of hours as grant deadlines approach. So after 108 hours in 11 days, I was able to take a Friday off and meet up with the WW Tri-ers group, a bunch of women who are gung-ho about having fun with triathlon and life. They have met up every year since 2004 to do a tri or a "spring training weekend" involving riding, running, swimming, eating, drinking, and laughing, in some combination. Last year we were in Austin, where I got to give a talk at Mellow Johnny's. This year, the gals (and a couple spouses) came out to do the Bay to Breakers run and some cycling in scenic NorCal.

I eschewed the B2B on the grounds that 12k was too far and that I wanted to be in Sacramento for the first stage of the Tour of California, the premier bike race in North America, finishing just a few miles from my front door. But on Friday morning, I was voluntarily out of bed at 6:15 sans alarm (!) and on the road to Healdsburg, in the heart of the Sonoma wine country by 7:20. A couple hours later I was waiting patiently for the convoy to arrive from San Francisco.

Lead by Marin-based Robin Van V., we toodled west out of town and along some beautiful rural roads that led us up the Dry Creek Valley. Some really fine zins and cabs come from there, and on this sunny May morning, it looked like paradise. The road wound gently up and down, which I wasn't really used to since I now live in pancake-flat Sacramento, but I was able to zoom down the downs and not fall too far behind in the ups. About half way through we stopped at Zichichi Winery to regroup, but there happened to be a sign outside that said "Barrel Tasting Today," so what could we do?

As often happens when I drink red wine these days, the wine went straight to my quads and the ride back was much, much harder. The 26-plus miles were more than I had done since last April, so I felt good about that, and I basked in the camaraderie and off-color triathlon/cycling talk we enjoyed with our upscale sandwiches at the Oakville Grocery. (Short and curlies in your BodyGlide, that sort of thing).

After a great evening with Michelle and Russ and a fine sleep, I rolled out of bed to get the alarm, feeling no soreness or physical fatigue. But wow, I was really dizzy. I lay back down, and the ceiling wouldn't quite stay still. Huh. I sat up. I was still dizzy. I lay down for 10 more minutes. Eventually I decided that a couple hours on a gyroscope was a bad idea and I bailed on the planned Tri-ers ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin.

It was frustrating to feel so good physically after the ride, no sore buns, no stiff legs, but not be able to go out again. But I figured I needed to heed this signal to Chill the Hell Out, so I spent another pleasant few hours with my fabulous friends, and by late afternoon I felt good enough to join the Tri-ers for dinner. A little dehydration, a little reaction to the 100-plus hours of work and other excitement of the past couple weeks, a little reaction to the longer, hillier ride. I guess. I got home around 10:30 and slept for 9.5 hours that night.

I woke up on Sunday feeling like I'd been clubbed on the head - a frequent sign that some fatigueiness is around - but it soon passed as I started getting pumped for the Tour of California and meeting up with my "tri soul sistah" Leslie from Chico. But I'll blog about that tomorrow, I think.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Long Neglected Other Bike

As loyal readers will know, I have been having some annoying issues with flat tires on my bicycle. I had to get new rim strips, which, in case you were wondering, are the cloth (preferably), rubber, or plastic strips that protect your fragile inner tubes from contact with elongated spoke ends or sharp edges of spoke holes. It was a long process that involved a lot of trips to bike stores to figure out what had happened. For those of you who would like to avoid the long process, check your inner tubes carefully after each flat to locate the area of the puncture. If it's on the inside of the tube, suspect that your rim is the culprit. Look for the corresponding area on the rim and see if any spoke hole edges or long spokes are exposed. If they are, get to the LBS and buy some rim strips.

And then my second ride after getting the new strips? I got a flat. The jagged hole in the front tire, though indicated to me that I was looking at a new culprit, probably a piece of the broken bottles that litter West Berkeley streets. I made my way home on the slow leak, cursing my bad tire karma. The next day, I went to change the offending tube, only to realize that I was plum out of tubes thanks to my incredible rate of flats lately. Nor could I find a patch kit that seemed viable.

I turned to my long-neglected second steed. My steel and carbon hybrid-framed LeMond Zurich (like the one pictured above, only with a triple chainring) was my new baby, my pride and joy, when I purchased it in the fall of 2006. I wanted a triple so I could possibly one day climb the longer hills above Los Altos and Mountain View without blowing out my knees or back. I test rode about 15 bikes, and that one had the "ahhh" factor. It just felt good.

But after getting Boo-Boo Kitty Syndrome and being unable to ride for a year, I had to go back to my old Specialized for my first rides. The LeMond's bars were a little lower, my position a little harder on my back, neck, shoulders. Plus, I had moved to Sacramento, to the pancake-flat land along the river, and couldn't foresee needing a triple for a while. So the Zurich languished in the garage until Saturday, when I just wanted to ride and didn't want to drive to the bike shop so I could do the riding.

I wheeled it out, dusted it off, pumped up the tires, lubed the chain, and rode off to Natomas Bike Shop for more tubes. Ooooh! It felt good. It felt smooth and fast. Even the Terry Butterfly Tri Gel Saddle was comfier than the rather unforgiving used Dragonfly I had put on the Specialized. Actually, much comfier. Yeah, it was a little more of a reach to the brake hoods, and I didn't have the nice clip-on aerobars with the flip-up armrests, but I could definitely ride it. I have, apparently, rebuilt enough core strength and flexibility to handle the more stretched out riding position.

Cruising around the Natomas roads and onto the Garden Highway, I was extremely happy to notice that the frame soaked up the many bumps in the road, leaving my tender posterior practically unscathed, even though I had forgotten to lube it up with an appropriate unguent.

I didn't go far, or particularly fast. I'd like to blame the vicious winds for that, if you don't mind. But I went on my long-neglected LeMond, and I felt good afterwards. I have to adjust the cleats on the bike shoes that fit those pedals, and I want to swap out the aerobars for the flippy-uppy ones, but what I really want is to ride that bike a lot. Maybe even up some modest hills. It's a step forward.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

An Open Letter to Outdoor Divas, Purveyors of Women's Fitness Wear

Dear Outdoor Divas,

I found out about your site from an ad that popped up on my Facebook author page. I’m the author of two fitness books for the world at large, Slow Fat Triathlete and Shape Up with the Slow Fat Triathlete, so I was interested to see what kind of great gear you had for women in the outdoors (and indoors).

Imagine my disappointment when I found that your online store does not offer one single item in extended sizes. Your “about” page states that “Women are not small men.” This is extremely true. It is also true that not all women are small, and not all active women are small. An estimated one-third of American women wear size 16 or larger. The teeny-weeny sizing associated with most women’s fitness brands won’t even fit an average size 14. Do you really want to exclude 33% to 40% of the entire female gender from being a part of your “group of passionate, active women (and men) who love being outside in every season”?

As an endurance athlete whose “racing weight” is well above 200 pounds, I can’t help thinking that your view of an outdoor diva might be a little narrow. I’m a cross-country skier, a cyclist, a triathlete,a swimmer, a paddler. I’ve engaged in yoga, salsa dancing, marathoning, backpacking, strength training, sea kayaking, disc golf, and open water swimming, just in the past four years, and I’ve needed technical clothing that fits me well for a lot of those activities. I’m happy to spend money on good gear, though I want fair pricing.
And you know what? There are thousands of women out there just like me, who just happen to wear sizes 1X-4X or larger.

Until you broaden your horizons and expand your perspective on what outdoor athletes might look like, I will continue to shop at Team Estrogen, REI, and Junonia for my fitness wear. And (sigh) wear men’s fitness clothes too.

Think bigger.

Jayne Williams