Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow day

Today was my first snow day in Seattle.  Not the first day that it snowed - it's been doing that off and on since Saturday - but the first day that I've had work canceled.  The annoying thing is that it was by text message, and I didn't get it until after I failed to drive my car to work.

In retrospect, perhaps I could have started by putting chains on.  My usual parking spot's actually a great place to do that.  But roads are plowed and sanded, right?

Anyway, I started by trying to do the U-turn route onto 99 southbound.  That involves leaving my place onto 99 North, going down a steep hill and turning left, going up a very steep hill, making a sharp left turn, going down a shallow grade, and then accelerating really hard onto 99 south because the speed of traffic is 40mph and there's no on ramp or signal.

I got to the hill I needed to go up, and didn't succeed in getting up it.  So I did a combination of a drift turn and a three-point turn, while a city sand or plow truck blocked traffic, went back down the hill engine braking in 1st with just a little accelerator, somehow got my truck back up to the road between 99 and Dexter, my nearest city street, and then did a drift all the way down to Dexter, which is flat.  There was nobody there, so it was kind of like skiing if skis weighed 3700 pounds and didn't have edges.

So I parked on Dexter and I'm leaving the truck there until the city decides to plow and sand the roads.

My roommate recently put winter tires on her Subaru and has a set of bald tires that she isn't reusing in the spring.  I think those are getting tied into my truck bed for the winter, and I'm not even going to try to drive it without chains if there's snow on the ground at all.

The really brilliant part is that after I parked my truck, I got out my phone to call my job and tell them that I was going to be really late.  It had a text message sitting on it, letting me know the place is closed today.  I could have slept in.  D'oh!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Last Race of the Series

Today was the last race of the series I've been competing in.  It was a good day for me in a number of ways - while the course wasn't great for me, being mostly flat and on grass, with no trail sections, it required a lot of short, hard accelerations, which is something I've been practicing.  I'm also just getting to be in better shape and more capable of maintaining a higher level of intensity for the whole race - while I suppose I could have gone a little harder in the beginning (and blown myself out for the end) I was able to race a lot harder than I could in the beginning of the season.  I almost wish it would never end, so I could keep clawing my way up the standings.

I finished 33rd today.  Numerically that's my best finish so far, although the field was smaller - 47 instead of 67 finishers last week.  When the final scores come out, I'll know how many started.  Last week, I beat 17 other racers and this week I beat 14 others, but I think that proportionally I finished further up.  Improvement's really what I'm looking for.

Anyway, what everyone really wants is pictures and Zach was there playing "personal photographer" today.  So here's a selection of shots he took...

The course was mainly flat, but there was a grassy bump on it.  It was really only about 15' tall, but the course designers work with what they have.  The course approached it from one direction, did an off-camber hairpin, and went back the way it came, then had a runup up it, which is what's behind me in this picture, and finally approached the shoulder again for a sandy runup and an uphill remount.

Mostly I think this is a cool picture.  This is one of the many hairpin turns on the course.  Today's race really favored someone who could sprint out of them again and again and again.  I have a limit as to how much of a sprint I can still bring to one of these things by the fourth lap, but the guys who win on courses like this can do it again and again and again.

This is my "roadie face."  Sort of like a metal face or a war face, but for racing bikes.

Zach took the last shot from on top of a sand mound with some jumps built into it.  I'm going downhill after the last section on the side of the little grass hill thing.  He says it's his favorite picture from today.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Less Mud, Less Race

My race on the 9th was actually really bad.  I feel like my biggest problem was not being able to get any traction, but it was bad in a lot of ways, which was kind of wierd.  I got a decent start and I felt like I was doing okay for a while, but there was a marshy section of track in the infield that I just bogged down in, and lost a bunch of places.  The course deteriorated from lap to lap, and my next problem was that a turn across a paved section had a thin layer of mud on it that I had a really difficult time doing without falling.  I didn't fall, but I had to slow way down every time.  Another section of track was a slight downhill section on grass with another 180 degree turn.  I had lots of trouble with that every time, frequently skidding my rear wheel.  The turn itself pointed down hill, which made it really difficult.  I had to put my foot down to keep from falling a couple times, and once the guy behind me actually wiped out.  Passing through the marsh section during the last lap, I actually washed out my rear wheel badly enough to wipe out.  Since it was flat, that's pretty embarassing.

The other place that was a problem for me was the trail section.  I'm not always brilliant in those, but I'm usually pretty good - mountain biking means much rougher trails than what these races ever go through.  My cyclocross bike is less capable but I'm usually able to negotiate the trails well and frequently close on the next guy in front of me.  I also usually don't make mistakes that lose me places, while other guys do.  I didn't really have a problem with the trail sections during this race, but they didn't help me either, and I lost some places misreading the tape lines twice, which is really dumb.

I feel like what gave me the most trouble on this race were the muddy sections that forced me to slow down more than they slowed the other guys racing, although I did have to stop and fix a dropped chain at one point, which is really irritating.  I did a "no excuses" tune-up on my bike afterwards - I've been using an all-conditions tire with a moderate knob, and I stuck a more aggressive tire on the rear wheel, which should help some with all the skidding, I had a chain watcher installed to help prevent my chain from dropping, and I tipped up my handlebars some to offer me a wider variety of hand positions.  I hope that the bar position will make it easier for me to adjust my weight over the bicycle, which should help with both the handling and traction problems I was having.

I think that I didn't have these problems in earlier races because the ones before Donida Farms were all pretty dry and fast courses, and Donida's mud was mainly on a trail and wet enough to flow well.  I'm realizing that when the mud is working its way up from under grass, it functions like a lubricant between my tire and the grass, which is already slick, so traction is even worse than when what I'm finding under the mud is dirt.  Donida also tended to have steeper slopes when we were riding on grassy sections, so they drained better and there weren't any mud-over-grass bogs like what I had so much trouble getting through last Sunday.

There's no race this weekend, so I can't go back and try again yet.  I had my rest day today and I'm going to try to do some off-roading tomorrow and on Sunday, with a couple intervals mixed in on Sunday either on the mountain bike or later in the day on my road bike, and then I'll ride but take it easy all of next week.  I don't think that my poor performance last Sunday was due to taking it easy the week before - I feel like I actually had more race in my legs, but was too bogged down by my problems with the course to do well.  Anyway, it'll be nice to have my "no more excuses" bike for the last two races at the end of the month, and if I do better I'll do one more in December before putting some road slicks and fenders on the bike and riding it to work.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Muddy Day in Hell

Last Sunday's race was cold, wet and ridiculously fun.  I did all my pre-race stuff properly - I got there in time to pre-ride, warm up, etc., and I turned in a pretty decent race.  I was 52 out of 66 finishers, although there were another four guys who didn't finish.  As far as pack placement, that puts me about where I've been, which is fine, and I'm going to tell myself that last weekend's race had fewer of the slow guys and so I had to beat more fast guys.  Or something.  In any case, it was definitely a race to remember.

It'd been raining most of the week and continued to rain on the day of the race, so the mud was unbelievable.  The course varied from dryer, stickier mud that generated a ton of rolling resistance to wetter mud that my bike had to sink through before finding traction.  There were even a couple puddles deep enough for me to submerge my rims in.  Despite all that, I managed to keep the rubber side down for most of my race.  I went down once in the infield, descending a tricky series of off-camber turns on a hillside, and then again near the end of the race.

The trail section was so saturated that at times it seemed like I was riding my bike through a giant milk shake.  I had to be extremely conscious of keeping my weight back any time the course went even a little uphill during that portion or I spun my rear wheel, and the rolling resistance was so high that even though the trails were mostly level, I was all the way in my lowest gear.  At the end of the race, I'd find myself trying to downshift and then remembering that I didn't have any more down to shift.  My second fall of the race came during this portion.  Because of how slick the mud was, if I wasn't pedalling evenly, I fishtailed.  Since I was tired and out of gears, my pedalling was not the smoothest it's even been.  So I was going around a little bit of a bend and lost traction in my rear wheel and fell.  The fun part of that was that I found the one thorn bush on the course to fall into.  I wasn't badly hurt, but it was enough to bleed a little bit.

While I was trying to get out of the bush I got passed by another racer.  He asked if I was alright, which is a nice courtesy, and I yelled at him to go ahead.  He shouted back (he was opening a gap by this point) that I'd catch him soon - he only had one gear.  It looked like a multispeed bike and I'm not sure what he meant.  Maybe he broke some of his drivetrain?  After I got back under way, I tried to catch him but I couldn't close the gap.  When the trail opened up again and got to the final straight, some other guy blazed past me.  I'm not sure how he still had the energy to do that at that point in the race, but he certainly earned the spot he took from me.  I managed a little bit of a sprint myself once the course got onto concrete, and now that I have the results in front of me, I can see that it's a good thing I did - some other dude was just a second behind me when I crossed the line.  That's close enough that if I hadn't sprinted when I got onto the pavement, he would probably have caught me.  At the time, I thought I was just sprinting because it's good training to cap a race with one last effort.

Anyway, I'm not racing up front with the really fast guys yet, but I've had to fight for my final position in my last two races and it's getting to be really fun.  I feel like I'm starting to race at a level where I'm really racing, if only with the other guys at the back, and not just slogging around a course for four laps and getting a time.

This coming race should be fun too.  Since I don't have one on the 16th, I've been training lightly this week on the theory that it's really the race a week out that my training is for.  It'll be interesting to see if I do much differently with a softer week behind me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lots of mistakes, but a kickass race

Here's me, using my shiny new bike for its intended purpose.  I think that as of now, it has more racing miles than any other kind.

It wasn't my best race for a number of reasons.  I finished 79th out of 90 finishers.  However, I learn more every time I race, so I'm not too broken up about it.  I actually had a really good time.  Near the end of the last lap, some guy came up on my rear wheel and started yelling at me to regain contact with the dude in front.  So I did.  Before that happened, I thought I was going as hard as I could without standing and sprinting (and blowing myself out.)  But with him shouting at me, I was able to dig a little deeper, spin a little harder, and get back on that rear wheel.  At the time I thought, "He just wants me to pull him into position to take me and the three guys in front.  But you know...  I don't care."  And while I'm not sure who it was behind me and I don't know if he actually did pass us all or not, I raced a little better because of him.

Earlier in the race, something very similar happened to me.  I think I passed him first, but I'm not sure...  If my memory of the race numbers isn't mixed up, which is possible, it was the guy wearing '451.'  Anyway, after I passed him and rode for a while, he passed me.  I yelled at him, "Are you going to be my race today?"  He yelled back something that came down to "Yes, and I'm sure we'll both go faster." So we battled it out for a while, and then I lost track of him.  In looking at the results, he actually finished one second after I did.  If my memory serves, which, again, is questionable, my chain dropped some time after that interaction, so I must have dropped him and lost contact for a while.  I think it was on an ascent that I had more legs for, but, again, it was the middle of a race - I'm not really sure what happened.  Perhaps he was also the guy yelling at me in the last lap.

Anyway, there were a lot of mistakes I made that prevented me from doing my best race in terms of competing with the other racers.  My biggest was probably that I didn't get to the event in time to pre-ride before the first race.  That meant that I pre-rode after they finished, which took them a while - it was a tough course - and started at the back of the pack.  There had been some bad crashes during the starts when the 9:30 races went, so I didn't start too aggressively - there's always a risk, but it seemed like a bad day to put myself out there.  Luckily, none of those riders were badly injured - there were some broken helmets and some road rash, but nobody needed to go to their doctor.  Anyway, I also did a ride on Saturday that ended up being harder than I anticipated, and I went into the race with tired-feeling legs.  So when the first turns started happening, I was definitely maintaining contact with the guys in front of me, but that consisted of almost everyone who was at the race that day.  I know I got passed some, so I could certainly have put myself in a worse position following the sprint, but I feel like I spent more of the day following, passing and bridging than struggling to maintain contact or being dropped or passed.

I feel like everything I did following the first turn was good racing, although not as hard or fast as I'd have been able to go if I rode fewer miles last week or a more conservative ride on Saturday.  However, with the size of the men's category four field, starts are super-important and I think that my bad one was a bigger factor than anything else in where I finished.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Best race yet

I meant to write about last week's race, but I've got a full-time job and I'm doing some after-work riding, and I never quite got to it.  It was a fun race, and I improved on my performance in the previous race, but it was incremental - my placement in my field was about the same as it had been two weeks before, albeit in a smaller field, and it was generally just a race in a series of races.  It was nice to have my bike all dialed in after the previous week's issues, but still - just a race.  I finished 68th in a field of 86, three spots away from getting series points for my finish.

This week I saw some dividends from what I've been putting in.  I finished 57th in a field of 77.  That's my best place both in terms of the raw number and in terms of where I ended in the pack, and it was good enough to get more series points than the two I get just for showing up.  Last week I included a hills workout and a fast group ride along with commuting and a slower group ride, and while I think I did too many miles and had to skip my recovery day rather than going on an easy ride, I don't think it's really effected me.  I also did my pre-ride earlier, which I messed up last week, so I could spend the 9:30 race watching, having a cup of coffee, and then wandering over to the starting area before everyone else showed up so I could start near the front.

When the whistle blew, my row started a lot sooner than the row I ended up in the last time, and I went pretty hard to try to maintain my position during the initial sprint, although I didn't go as fast as I can because there was another half hour of racing to do.  While I was still far enough back to have to walk the first little ascent and get tangled in other people's mistakes on two others, I did experience anywhere near the traffic jam that I have the last few times.  I think I may go a little harder on the sprint next time to stay in the draft from the more competitive guys, but aside from that I think I made the right choices about my pre-ride and start.  Riding aggressively in a group is something I really need to get used to.

The race itself was pretty fun.  I was pushing myself more because I wanted to maintain my spot and I figured I probably could.  There was a little rain last night, so there were some mud patches - my bike definitely looks like it's been to an off-road race - and the ground was pretty well packed.  The sandy parts were more ridable and a climb with some roots in it that I dismissed as a run-up last week had good enough traction to do it mounted this time, which I did.  I also tried to stay on the bike more, even in areas where I might have gained some time by running, on the principle that the energy I'd save staying on the bike would probably be more valuable by the end of the race.  I think that was a good choice today.

I think the only thing I really did wrong was the way I rode my easy miles last night.  I did some pretty extensive reconstruction on my project bike recently and wasn't able to get the shifters placed on the down tube, as I'd hoped to.  Right now they're tied to the handlebars and almost unusable, so I did most of my evening ride last night in a gear that's good for going fast on flat roads but makes climbing a little difficult.  Rather than fighting with the shifters, I just pushed the gear I was in, and this morning I could feel some fatigue in my legs from the moment I got on my bike to pre-ride the new course.  I think that's part of why I drifted back a little bit during the sprint at the start of the race, although the other guys having stronger legs is a much bigger factor.

Anyway, by the end of the race I was only using my smallest chainring.  That's not a whole lot slower than what I was doing in the beginning, which was to ride in the middle chainring except on climbs and use fairly easy gears within that range, but it's not finishing strong either.  There was definitely a certain extent to which I was just trying to finish by the time I did, because I was looking at the counter to see how many laps I had left when I got through the line even though I knew the last time I crossed it that I was embarking on my last lap.  My lungs were still doing fine and I didn't feel sick or heavy or anything, so I think I just didn't have enough race in my legs that day and used up the last little bit on one of the run-ups.

I was pretty confident that I'd done well when I did get my head out of its fog at the end.  I wasn't exactly passing riders left and right, but the pace felt good and I didn't actually lose many places during the last lap.  So after the race I wandered around for a while and had another coffee and then went to see the score board and I was certainly pleased that I'd made it into the points, but I wasn't too surprised about it.  I was a little surprised at how much better I did than I have been doing - I thought I'd be clinging to the bottom of the list of guys earning more than two points, and I suppose I am but I was thinking "Come on, come on, three points" and eleven's certainly more than three.

In order to improve next week, I think I need to to keep following this training schedule, with a hills workout and a fast ride on Tuesday and Wednesday and more conservative riding tomorrow and on Thursday, and I need to do my easy ride on Saturday on a bike with a functioning shifting system so I don't end up stomping up any hills I should spin up - my easy ride needs to actually be easy.  It would also be good to do it earlier in the day, but whatever.  Doing some running would be good too.  I think if I keep doing some decent training during the week (but not too late) I should keep improving my race.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Another weekend, another race.  I went out and bought a shiny new toy after last week's race.  It's lighter, faster and handles better.  It's also less stable, has less traction and won't take as much punishment.  However, that's the tradeoff going from a mountain bike to a cyclocross bike, and I'm glad I did.  I had a blast racing today.

This was a non-series race, which is fine because I didn't want a race to be the first time I took my new Kona off-road, and it was.  But it's not one that counts toward my standing in the series I'm doing.  I did pretty much the same thing this time as last time in terms of going to the race early to pre-ride, etc.  The course had some sections on real, honest-to-goodness singletrack, which made me happy, and it passed through a volleyball court at one point, which was a really sadistic choice.  Anyway, I did my usual thing - got there early, pre-rode, registered, watched the 9:30 race, etc.  It was raining, though, which added a little spice to the undertaking.  I tried to look at people actually doing sections of the track when I was watching and I learned some interesting things - for example the traction on the sand in the volleyball court was so bad that guys who got off their bikes and ran it actually passed the guys trying to ride it.  The organizers also decided to eliminate the barrier at the bottom of the run-up, such as it was, and replace it with two barriers in the middle.  I thought that was a good choice because when I pre-rode, I found that the barrier was in a place that made a dismount super-awkward and potentially dangerous (more than cyclocross already is.)

When my race got called up, I found myself a spot near the back of the pack at the starting line, on the idea that if I wasn't planning to explode out of the gate, try for the holeshot, and spend the whole course standing up and hammering, something I'm not really in good enough shape to do, it would be better not to spend the race getting passed either.  The men's category 4 field was 70 riders deep, so as soon as the course had its first turn there was a bottleneck and there were more bottlenecks at the following 180s and the volleyball court.  The race actually slowed down enough for me to dismount and smack-talk at these points.  The volleyball court slowed the field enough that when people got going again they were spread enough not to have another major traffic jam until the first singletrack section, a very short loop that entered and left the woods surrounding the race course.  The next singletrack was another bottleneck, and that problem cropped up pretty much every time the course ventured into mountain bike territory.  On the trails, I was passing riders from time to time, but there were some 180s in the infield that went under trees and had roots and loose soil complicating them and those gave me lots of trouble.

On the second and third laps I got to push my speed a little bit, although I never charged because I didn't want to blow myself out before the fourth lap.  I ended up falling a couple of times when my rear tire wiped out on the wet grass and almost fell once when I decided to do a powerslide.  Note to remember:  Regaining traction on 35mm tires is much harder than on 2.1" tires.

I banged my front left shifter a couple of times and during the fourth lap I got it so far off-angle that I couldn't operate the brake properly.  Since it's my front brake, I stopped at that point and shoved it back, more-or-less, into place before continuing.  That lost me a couple of places and since it was during the fourth lap I was never able to regain them.  I actually passed those guys running through the volleyball court, but I couldn't get back into my pedals fast enough when I remounted to maintain my advantage.

Ultimately I finished 62nd in a field of 70.  I'm not totally sure how to interpret that.  I finished 85th in the last race, but in a much larger field.  The most charitable view would be that the twenty guys I beat and sixteen guys I didn't decided not to come today, and I beat eight guys who beat me last week.  Or I could figure that the top guys didn't bother to come because this is a non-series race and so I did worse.  I guess I'll have to wait until the next SCX race and see how I do.

Things that worked for me in this race were that the course involved singletrack, my bike was better, and my legs were rested enough for me to race harder than last week.  I think that my idea about taking the day off two days before a race and doing an easier ride the day before was a good one, and I'm going to keep doing that.

Things that didn't work for me were that I may have sold myself a little short in my starting position and lost places because of that, that I had a really hard time keeping the rubber side down, that the bolts holding my shifters on weren't tight enough, and that I could  have done better if I had more aerobic capacity at really high effort.  Also that I frequently got stuck behind slower riders on the singletrack sections.  At the end of the race, my back hurt like crazy, so I think my handlebars are too low.

The biggest thing for me to ride better races through the season is probably to work on my aerobic capacity up at really high heart rates.  Tomorrow I'm going to do a chill-out ride, but that leaves me with Monday-Thursday to train, depending on work.  With Thursday as a recovery ride, I have three rides to play with.  I think a fast road ride, a fast off-road ride, and an intervals ride would be a good use of my time.  I also think that I need to work on keeping the rubber side down.  I don't know how many places I lost falling or how much energy I wasted getting started again, but I'm sure it was significant.  I need to start doing some off-roading on my cyclocross bike, and it occurs to me that I can do that on my chill days if I don't go too hard.  I think that to ride a better race next week I also need to keep tweaking my equipment - I'm going to try raising my bars a little and tipping them down a little more, since I found I rode the drops most of the time in the race and that would make them more comfortable, and I'm going to try running my tires at 35psi instead of 40, which should give me better traction.  I'm also going to make the bolts on my shifters a lot tighter.  Having to stop and fix a mechanical problem was really irritating, but nobody's lining up to sponsor me and have a duplicate bike waiting in the pits for me to trade to if I have an issue.

So another race where I finished all the laps, wasn't the last person to do that, and didn't kill myself.  I also had much more fun than last time.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cyclocross hurts

So here's me after one of the runups.  I'm pretty sure it was the big one.

There were a couple others, but I just look like I'm out for a leisurely Sunday morning ride in them, and here I've just completed a flying mount.  Since I'm standing in the pedals, I'm guessing I mounted a little too early, while there was still a bit of a grade, stalled, and am trying to get started again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Race #1

So I just got up from my post-race nap.  I finished my race 85th in a field of 106.  I'm actually happy with that result.  There were a lot of things about race day today that didn't work well for me, but before I whine about that, here's what my result means.  I wasn't last.  I was actually many places away from last.  The place number alone doesn't tell you this, but I also completed all the laps.  So while I would hardly consider myself to have been in contention with the leaders, I didn't get lapped either.  The fact that I finished at all means that I didn't have any major problems with my training, equipment, or the way I chose to run the race.

My race day went pretty smoothly.  I printed out directions and a liability release form last night, laid out the clothes I planned to wear, and lubed the chain on my MTB.  It's been tuned recently and didn't need much further work, although I think I got the shifting to work a little better.  I also went and found an ATM, which is difficult in Seattle, and got some cash so I wouldn't need to do that today.

This morning I got up, went to the little deli near my house to get coffee, at which I failed, dressed, put my stuff in my truck, and drove to the race.  Along the way, I got passed by a bunch of people with cyclocross bikes on their cars, so I was confident I was going the right place.  Also, I wanted to pass them back later, on the course, but it's impossible to know what class they were in and whether or not I passed them later.  I parked further away than I had to, but whatever.  So I changed shoes at my truck, put my release in my pocket, and rode back to the race course.  Registration went super-smoothly, since I pre-registered.  They looked up my pre-done stuff, took my form, and gave me my numbers.  That left me with an hour and a half to kill before racing, which was the plan.

Getting into the race area was fun because I was wearing my Ride the Lightning jersey and the start/finish trailer was playing "Enter Sandman" when I arrived.  I decided to consider that a good omen.

In pre-riding the course, it felt longer than the ones I did in college.  I think that's an inaccurate perception because four laps in my class was a little under six miles, which meant the course was actually a little short.  There was also only one set of barriers, a double, which were placed during a gently inclined uphill section.  The run-up was in a completely different part of the course, and it was pretty nasty.  It was steep and sandy.  I'm glad I found the toe spikes for my shoes, although I think they didn't help as much as in firmer soil.  Oh, well.  Pre-riding I just pushed my bike up, which was difficult enough.  The run-up was followed by a somewhat more gently inclined section before leveling out briefly and then descending almost as fast.  During the pre-ride, that section was almost immediately followed by a very short, steep incline leading into a series of switchbacks alternating between grass and exposed dirt.  The switchbacks were incredibly tight.  The tape around the outside would continue around the turn keeping the course at about the same width while the tape at the inside just ended, so they were pretty extreme.  I found that making sure to get to the outside of the turn and turn in late was important.  Thanks, Grand Turismo.  The switchbacks over grass pretty much continued working back toward the finish line, frequently up and down a bank that ran along the south side of that part of the field.  Sometimes there were some sections that had dirt instead, but mostly it was shady spots rather than paths.  The barriers actually fit into the course between the finish line and the staging/starting area, so in a four lap race I only did them three times.  Pre-ride felt like a lot of work and my legs were feeling tired, so I decided I wasn't going to be too ambitious when I raced it for real.

I was rode around some and tried to keep myself warm after the pre-ride, then had some coffee, then they called the Category 4 Men.  They ended up holding us for an extra ten minutes due to some problem that I didn't really find out about.  C'est la vie.  I placed myself a few rows back from the front and was the lone mountain bike in a sea of cyclocross bikes.

When they called "start," I didn't go too fast because being in a massed start made me nervous and I didn't want to blow myself out.  I think, actually, that I paced myself well.  Our starting/staging area was on a grit running track and we spent about two hundred and fifty meters on it - we started around the middle of one straightaway, with the elite juniors organized behind us, went around the curve, and did the whole straightaway on the other side before going onto the grass.  I did the whole track at a chill-out speed, and got passed by a fair number of guys whose cruising speeds were higher than mine.  The start was pretty clean and I don't think there were any crashes behind me, but I thought that at one race where I later learned that the dude behind me tripped over a barrier and took out half the field.  The first switchback was a huge bottleneck and some guys even dismounted.  I had to take a foot out of my pedals and dab some because of how slow the pace got, and I didn't get to line myself up to do any of the switchbacks before the run-up with any kind of racing line.  It can take a long time for a race to start making sense, though, so that didn't bother me.

Earlier in the day, it occurred to me to do runups holding my bike under my arm by grabbing the down tube.  I figured out when I was practicing on Thursday that I can't shoulder this bike, which is unfortunate because it makes run-ups much more difficult, but that definitely beat holding it by the top tube which requires me to keep my arm very flexed to avoid dragging a wheel.  Anyway, the run-up was a little shocking in how hard it was.  It was very sandy, and very steep and I didn't do it at anything approaching racing pace when I pre-rode.  For me and for most people I saw in the following race, it was a little more of a stumble/jog/scramble-up.  It was also longer than anything I did in college.   Supposedly I have a worse one to look forward to at the end of next month.

Anyway, the run-up spread out the field more, but I was still afraid to really charge the following descent.  I was on a bike that I could just point at the bottom, but the guys in front of me were going more slowly and I didn't want to hit someone or try to pass.  After the day's first race, the organizers decided the course was too short, and it turned out that the way they lengthened it was by adding a switchback immediately following that descent.  That made me happy, because I'd thought I'd have to regulate my speed on the descent in order to be able to turn into the mini-runup, but the additional course length eliminated that problem.  The mini-runup was something I probably could have done mounted if I wanted to, but it was very sandy and I thought I'd probably expend less energy running it.  On the first lap, there was also too much of a bottleneck there and it was impossible to maintain speed anyway.  I saw one woman in the race after mine do it mounted and while she made it look easy, she was the only person who did it that way.  I'd say after the mini run-up, the field in my race was spread out enough for me to stop worrying about the guys around me and just ride the course.

I did the rest of my race essentially just as a slightly faster MTB ride that happened to be between tapes and incorporated barriers and run-ups.  I found a couple spots where I could really book it into corners on my mountain bike and a couple of little rollers to take joy hops off of, and had fun with it.  People still passed me a little bit in the laps following the first, but I think the field mostly organized itself during that lap, so it didn't happen much.  A guy on a Stumpjumper with a Manitou fork passed me at one point, which I sort of enjoyed because it's what my bike would be if it weighed a whole lot less.  It still took him a couple laps to catch me.

By the fourth lap, I was pretty tired.  I don't know if my lap times took a dive or not - it would be interesting to have that information, but I don't think they record anything that detailed for all 150 people or so who start in the 10:20 race.  In any case, I didn't have a kick left in me by then.  The course layout also didn't have a good place to do it, in my opinion.  The finish line seemed like it was just a spot in the middle of a slightly elongated section after a bunch of switchbacks, but it was quite a short section and the stuff leading up to it had a fair amount of up-and-down and some slight direction adjustments.  It would have been very difficult to fight for position with someone coming into that area.

Things that worked for me about today's race include getting all my stuff ready the night before and my shoe/pedal system.  I was also spot-on in how I dressed for the race and was neither too hot nor too cold when I was racing.  Mechanically, my bike performed pretty well.  I occasionally had trouble with shifts under load but in general I'm a better mountain biker than that and know to anticipate.  I think my mounts and dismounts were pretty good.  I ended up drifting away from the technique I practiced, which is to swing my right leg through the space between my bike frame and left leg and started just tearing my left foot out of the pedal as my right leg came down - more of a jump than a step.  I think that's fine - it's faster, anyway.  I also didn't find myself moving my right hand to my top tube before doing that, but I don't think that really slowed me down.  I saw some people dismounting, hefting their bikes, and then changing hand position, and at least I didn't do that.

The biggest thing that didn't work for me about today's race was that I felt tired coming into it.  My brother tells me that he sometimes turns in his best times when he starts feeling tired, but I'm fairly sure I'd have had a higher pace and maybe a kick at the end in me if I'd been having a better day.  The other thing that didn't work for me is that my bike's not very fast and it's quite heavy.  It weighs close to two pro-level cyclocross bikes and about one and half of what I'd like to buy.  If I decide after doing some more stuff I need to do next week that I can't afford to spend $1200 on another bike, I might get the $900 bike I rode last week and didn't like as much (which is at least racable, unlike the $700 cx bikes) or I might get some lighter wheels and faster tires for my mountain bike if I don't want to spend $900 either.

The training schedule I can change for this weekend.  I think I'm going to try making Friday an off day instead of a riding day, and Saturday an easy day so that I come into race day having had a more recent rest day and then a day to blow out the cobwebs.  It should also help that I'm done with all my travel and messing around and I can get back to regular riding.  Now that I've got all my bikes here, I should also be able to add some off-road days to my schedule.  Off-roading is aerobically less intense but more demanding of muscular endurance and power and given today's result I think that muscular endurance is a more important thing to work on for now.

It's pretty cool to be in a place in my life, now, where I can do this stuff.  I'll see if someone posts any pictures of me later, since I didn't bring anyone to the race with me today.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If you haven't seen enough of me

One of my coworkers, Roger, took this at a gig.  It was actually a really hot day and if I look like I'm just chilling out...  It's because I practice.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting ready to race a whole season

Cyclocross racing
Six hardest miles ever done
Blood but no glory

Actually these races are a lot of fun. But they've also been the most miserable forty minutes I've ever done on a bike. Imagine alternating full sprints and inadequate recoveries, with the motivation to go further into your anaerobic zone than you ever do in training. The first time I went racing, I almost puked all over the finish line when it was over. The second and third times I paced myself slightly better and wasn't in good enough shape to push quite as far into the whole "Oh my God, my heart's going to explode and I'm going to vomit it out and die" zone. I think that roadies call that zone by a number.

Many of my readers already know that I'm planning to compete in the Seattle Cyclocross Series this Fall. I've wanted to do some more racing ever since the last time I went racing, back in college, but dance was more important at the time, and doing any kind of off-road racing while based in Manhattan is incredibly difficult. I have the opportunity to do a whole series now, something I couldn't do in college or since, and so I'm going to take it.

In a way, cyclocross is the perfect sport for me. Conventional road and mountain bike races both take place over many miles and at least two hours (ok, maybe not crits) and because of my knee problems I can't complete that kind of distance. In my race class, a cyclocross race takes place over three or four laps of a 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 mile course. It also requires some off-road skill, which I have, fast accelerations and sprints, which I have, and a high degree of mental endurance - the course isn't long, but the unique joy of cyclocross is that a course includes obstacles requiring dismount and remount, and some uphill running. None of these are very long, so they can generally be done at the fastest sprint a racer is capable of given the footing. When I've gone racing in the past, I've found that maintaining a good flow was the most important thing for me to have my best race, and that this was a matter of maintaining the focus to do clean mounts and dismounts over the barriers and before the runups, and to charge the runups, mount cleanly, and accelerate out of them.

When I went racing in college, I had no strategy, per se. The first time, I just wanted to check it out. I'd been riding my mountain bike a ton for the latter half of the summer, and was doing a ton of riding in general, so I just went racing. I did well for the first three laps, but hadn't paced myself for a fourth and lost a lot of places during that lap. Even so, I actually did fairly well - I think I was in the top quarter of the field in my class (Beginner, but it was my first race.) The second and third races I went to found me in no condition to race. They were after I'd hurt my knee, and aside from commuting, I wasn't doing a lot of riding.

I don't remember where in the field I placed, but I'll always remember my third race because I found a guy to get competitive with at the end. I'd been doing alright for most of the race, but not well by any standard. I was passing some guys but I was also getting passed a lot. This guy, who was older than me, passed me with about a lap and a half to go. The thought that sprang into my head was, "No. You are not passing me." I reached a little deeper into my self and pushed a little harder and passed him. Then he got around me again. We did that for almost all of the remainder of the race, right up until the paved section before the end. For the lap and a half that we raced each other, we were both still getting passed a lot, but for me at least, this was where the race was happening. The other riders didn't matter, and for all I knew they could have been in a different class anyway, but this man was not going to beat me. That course ended with a straight grass section leading onto about a hundred yards of pavement before the start/finish line. The other guy and I were pretty even until we hit the pavement, but then I still had a sprint in me and he didn't. While from a performance standpoint, that was probably the worst race I ever rode, it's been my best racing experience. From the way that he said "Good race," and shook my hand at the end, I think it may have been his best too.

I don't know how I'll do this year. I haven't been riding off-road a lot, but I've had the best weekly mileage since college this summer, and I'm doing some interval and hill training here in San Francisco. I can also afford to buy a real cyclocross bike this time, which should be a considerable improvement over racing on the old sport/touring bike I was commuting on in college, which was still better than racing on a mountain bike. My goal for the first race is to time my kick for the right part of the race, so I don't blow myself out before the finish, finish the race, and not be the last rider across the line. Depending on how competitive my category is, that may be difficult - lapped riders get pulled - but my experience suggests that at my current level of fitness I ought to be able to achieve that. For the other seven races in the series... We'll see. It'll be good to get to do a whole season of racing.

Friday, August 29, 2008

In for ankles, out with a blood disease

I hurt my ankles two weeks ago. I didn't tell anyone because at first I thought it was probably no big deal - starting a new exercise regimen usually hurts at least some, some of the time, and it was time for me to take two consecutive days off anyway. Also, there was no distinct accident that happened - I didn't turn an ankle or anything.

After several days had passed and my ankles were getting, if anything, worse, and I'd had to cancel some work, I went to see my doctor. He had me get an x-ray to see if I'd fractured something, and I also had him draw some blood to make sure I continue not to have hepatitis, and to check for hemachromatosis, a blood disorder that family history suggests I might have. That was pretty much an afterthought, but since it has some bearing on hepatitis, I thought I should find out sooner rather than later. It's not confirmed, but I found out today that I probably have it. D'oh!

The most common symptoms of hemachromatosis are joint pain and an enlarged liver. This is interesting to me because I've had both, although my liver's fine at the moment. The liver connection means that, especially with my recent hepatitis scare, I'm back off alcohol, at least until I can follow up on the hemachromatosis thing. I'm also supposed to cut down drastically on red meat. Which is annoying, because I really like red meat. And no organ meats (which is fine - I never liked them that much and they're expensive.) Hopefully Washington State has some good laws protecting health insurance subscribers and dealing with pre-existing conditions. If not, look for me to remove this post in the next two weeks and commit some fraud.

As far as the ankles go, I'm off running until they feel all the way better, and then I should run with a trainer for a while. So for someone with my budget and preferences in sports, that pretty much means that at least until next Spring, when I may want to start training to do some cycle racing again, I'm off running. The mechanism for hemachromatosis causing joint pain is unknown, according to, but the theory they post is that the iron attracts calcium, which crystalizes in the joint. It sounds to me like grit getting into a bearing, which is bad news. The hemachromatosis thing does have the possibility of unifying my joint problems and my liver problem under a common cause, so in a way that's kind of cool, although my ferratin levels are within normal range at the moment, so it seems a little unlikely. I'm just annoyed to keep finding out about wierd health problems.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Slowing to Smell the Roses

Every now and then, I decide I'm going to do some chill-out miles. Usually between my LeMond's ability to go very, very fast and my personality that lasts about two miles and then I push my average to something high and go hard for the rest of the ride. Every now and then, though, I actually soft-pedal for semi-significant distances and find that I have, yet again, forgotten that fast isn't the only speed bikes can go and it's not the only speed I can enjoy. Today was one of those days.

I think it helps that my LeMond is in Seattle already, so I only have my mountain bike and my commuter. The things the mountain bike is good for are stability and handling, but it doesn't have the need for speed that the racing bike does. When I'm on one of my bikes and I'm pushing myself, my world narrows to the road/trail/whatever in front of me and a scan along the sides to make sure that nobody's about to try to commit suicide by cyclist. Granted, I was going for it on the way out today, but after I stretched I decided that I was still feeling beat up from my running adventures and I soft-pedaled back. I got to look at the water, read the T-shirts of people coming in the opposite direction, listen to the knobs on my tires sing, enjoy the light, etc. etc. Nothing hurt, I barely sweated, and yet my speedometer somehow drifted as high as 19. I think I had a tailwind.

So now I have to figure out if and how I'm going to integrate this kind of thing into my training schedule, once I have one again. Most cycle training schedules call for six rides a week, with the sixth one being at an easy pace and distance. In the past I've thought that that was something I didn't get to do - I've always tried for consecutive off days. In the past I've also thought that my knees would prevent me from making running one of my regular activities, but it's my ankles that are limitting me now. If I can discipline myself to ride slowly, and not give in to the temptation to shift up a gear, push a little harder, and fill all that empty space in front of me, I can do one more ride a week.

There are a lot of reasons I enjoy riding bikes and, lately, running. One of the chief ones is that it gives me some privacy in the middle of a crowded city. Another is that I like to go fast, and a big one is that I like a challenge. Perhaps now I can add a fourth reason. A weekly slow ride might be the way I can do just enough not to get too jumpy to take some time to do nothing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trying running again

So my fast bike is in Seattle, my off-road bike is in the shop, and my commuter generally gets quite uncomfortable to ride after about five miles. I spent all of last week sitting on my butt and playing video games. A friend once told me that she didn't think I'd ever get fat because inactivity would start to bother me before my fitness level even started to go downhill. She's right and I decided to try running again. Shoes cost a lot less than a new bike.

There turns out to be a running specialty store right next to World Trade, which puts it a very short walk from my apartment. When I decided last night to try running again, I also decided to give it a real chance. Rather than repurposing a pair of trail shoes I got on Steep and Cheap because they were cheap and running shoes are comfortable, I went and bought a pair of running shoes to address my foot type and gait and I even paid retail. Whether or not I can resume running is something I'll have a better idea of tomorrow and an even better idea on Wednesday, but it's important for me to wear something that supports my foot and ankle so they don't collapse inward when I weight the foot and my knee doesn't travel laterally. Once that happens, the floodgates of pain open wide.

I was pretty hungry, so I had a little more lunch than was perhaps wise, and then went for three miles. Three seems like a tiny number to me. Three on a bike, assuming I'm riding somewhere where I can be continuous, takes me about eight minutes. I probably haven't even figured out how I'm feeling that day, and I'm definitely not ready to stretch yet. To be honest, I didn't do three miles continuously today. One of the things that I never used to worry about when I didn't know my knees were flaky was stretching. I'd do it - I was doing dance and I wanted higher extensions and more stable balances - but it was only because it served a goal. I didn't think I really needed to in order to continue my chosen activities. So let's talk about one and a half on foot.

I ran the West Side Highway from Vesey St. to W. 11th Ave, stretched, and ran back. According to Google Earth, that's one and a half miles each way. It also terminates in a nice little plaza thing. The first thing that happened was my hip flexors got sore. I'm not surprised. I do most of my cycling on a road bike, riding either the hoods or, frequently, the drops. Riding in a tuck means that even when I extend my legs, I really don't extend that muscle. I don't even unfold it. Doing something that involved being forward of my foot didn't make that muscle happy today. Masochistic reason #1 for me to think I'm doing something I should be doing. This happened less than a quarter of a mile into the run. Next, my right IT band started getting tight. That, to me, is a little more worrisome. Not that worrisome - it's not a problem until it pulls my patella out of its track. But definitely something to watch. At around a half mile, my quads started to hurt. It was inevitable, really, that the other three heads should follow their early-adopter partner in protesting this unaccustomed activity. Apparently running is harder than cycling. About a mile in, my hamstrings decided to join the fun. That actually surprised me a little. I use them on my bike and my brother has commented that his hamstrings hurting is something that typically happens when he's getting back into shape after a period of inactivity. I didn't think I'd be strong enough to do that to myself.

When I knew I was near my mile and a half mark, it got really hard to continue. I knew that I was going to stop and stretch soon. I typically wait until I've been doing something for fifteen minutes before I break, but I didn't think it would take me thirty minutes to do three miles, so I figured I'd stop at my halfway point. I occasionally do this for really short bike rides too. Now I know what the landmark for a mile and a half is, so I won't have the excuse to slow down and look at street signs in future.

Running the mile and a half back to Vesey street was easier than the first leg. I read something about distance training that recomended loops because you can't just decide that you don't like cycling that much after all and turn around, and once you hit halfway, it gets easier. I can see where the writer was coming from when he wrote that. On my bike, I have inertia. Once I get going, I want to continue. Running, I have the ability to stop at any time. Today took some determination - it was difficult.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Big Mountain I Kinda Saw

After the initial weekend of messing around in Seattle, I picked up Action Mom at the airport and we drove to Mt. Rainier. Our hotel was the National Park Inn at Longmire, which is south of the mountain. Due to my sheep-like instinct for following directions to places posted on signs, we ended up driving to the hotel the long way, entering the park in the northwest corner and driving all the way around the east side. It was actually quite a beautiful, if very long drive. Rainier is a really big mountain. It's a 14er, but unlike many such mountains, the range it's in is quite low, so the prominence is huge. The drive within the park boundaries is mainly on two-lane blacktop with a fair amount of frost damage and a lot of exposure, and when they advise five or ten mph around a turn, they mean it. I'm bothered by the idea of driving to a place, driving around there for a while, and then saying you've seen it, but I definitely enjoyed driving those roads.

The inn itself is a beautiful old-fashioned hotel. The rooms aren't very big, there are no TVs, and the bathrooms are down the hall, but I'd choose it over a Motel 6 any day. It has character, and that character isn't mildew or a parking lot. They also have an excellent kitchen. Because Rainier is a national park, nothing served there actually comes from there, although the dishes are designed to reflect their environment. I found that amusing, although it seems like it would be logistically a little awkward, especially in the winter, to try to source the principal ingredients for things locally. They also have an afternoon tea service, which is very civilized and of which I'm now a fan.

It was pretty cloudy when we arrived, and Mt. Rainier itself was hidden. While Action Mom and I were sitting outside and having tea, the clouds parted for a little while and we actually saw Rainier. This is in contrast to Grand Targhee, where we never actually saw the Grand Titons, and Whistler, where we rarely saw anything, including moguls the size of Volkswagens. The mountain is huge - most mountains I've seen, I've been able to look at and say, "Yeah... That's pretty big." Mt. Rainier has such a large prominence that I actually had to look up. It's a fairly perfectly shaped cone from a distance, with a glacier cap. We tried twice over the next few days to get closer, and met with limited success.

The first trip we planned was going to be a loop around the Sunrise area. Due to some theories involving heavy traffic and parking issues, we decided to go to the White River campground, three miles away by foot, and start from there. The route from White River to Sunrise turns out to be 2.6 miles climbing about 2200' and then another half mile that would be pretty easy if it wasn't under snow.

Near the top of all the climbing, we found a stream crossing that had washed out. I couldn't tell if it was supposed to have a bridge or not, because there was no sign of one. The point where the crossing used to be was about a foot away from a waterfall that was going pretty hard, and crossing at that point didn't seem like a good idea. Upstream was at least 20' straight up a rock face, so that didn't seem like a great idea. We ended up scrambling down a pretty steep bank to a point where the stream narrowed, the snow bank on the other side didn't have any cornicing, and there were some rocks big enough to sit out of the water and offer some stability. After that, we had to scramble back up the bank on the other side to get back onto the trail. Whining and moaning aside, I actually find that sort of hiking much more engaging than walking around on some ridiculously well-maintained trail with little handrails and stuff. Not too long after that, we reached the elevation where the trees started to thin out significantly, and could see all the way down to the White River. It looked really far away, and the sense of having traveled that kind of distance on foot was kind of cool.

Around that time, the water falling from the sky turned from being a fairly gentle mist into rain. Northern California has similarly unpredictable weather, especially in the foothills of the Bay Area and in the Sierras, so Action Mom and I weren't unprepared - we just took our shells out of our bags and continued. When we got to the top, where the snow started to be more of a snowpack rather than random banks of snow hiding in sheltered spots like stream beds, it was still raining and we figured that we didn't have anything to prove and hung out inside the lodge for a while. It continued raining and didn't look like stopping, so we got a ride with a church group back to the intersection with the road to the campground where we left the rental car and called it a day.

The next day, we planned to hike the Wonderland trail from Longmire to Paradise. Due to multiple bridges being out, with no alternative routes, we bagged that plan and did a ridge trail near the inn. That trail was another one that went straight up the hillside - 1.8 miles of switchbacks, with about 1300' of gain. After that, we took the bus to Paradise, had lunch, and tried to find a loop in that area. It turned out to be fully buried under snow, and after a short hike that went the wrong place, we found the right line of flags but the weather got nasty again. We decided that neither of us really considered walking several miles in the rain over snow fun if we couldn't see the mountain anyway and we weren't going to be skiing down, so we hung out in the lodge for a while, had dinner, and headed back to Longmire.

Unfortunately the way mountains create some of their own weather makes it difficult to catch them on a good day. At least this mountain we got to see, and of course the weather turned nice on Sunday when we were leaving, so we could see it all the way from Seattle. On another day, I saw Mt. Baker from Seattle. It's pretty cool to be a place where, on clear days, it's possible to see mountains as far away as Rainer, Baker and the Olympics. I've also come to the conclusion that hiking is kind of okay, as long as it goes places that are inaccessible by other means. Part of the reward has to be that I won't arrive at a destination and have people there who drove their cars and RVs, or worse yet rode their mountain bikes - then I'd be really envious.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Breast Cancer Site is having trouble

Every now and then, someone will solicit me to help a cause and I won't tell them to go to hell. Helping fund breast cancer detection is one such cause - women in the US have a 1 in 8 chance of developing it (Wikepedia - Breast Cancer) and a 1 in 35 chance of dying from it (that's all women - so more like 1 in 4 for women who have breast cancer.) Anyway, it's highly treatable with early detection, and the breast cancer site has a click-through set up whereby their sponsors donate money that the Breast Cancer Foundation uses to fund mammography for under-privileged women. So it's a lot like those ads about getting a free TV, except that you don't have to sign up for anything, give them an e-mail address, answer inane questions about Jessica Simpson, etc. etc. and it's not a scam.

Follow the link, and then click the big pink button near the top of the page.

The Breast Cancer Site

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Forty Miles

Or 39.9 if you're splitting hairs. The last time I did a ride this long, I was at UCSC and it was the two rides from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. One of the things that I love about doing a decently long ride is that you get to see a variety of different environments. I rode urban streets, a fair amount of shoreline roadway, some random bike paths passing through areas without roads, rolling hills, and the world's second longest floating bridge.

It was also fun to do some real mileage with friends. We didn't talk a whole lot, but it's nice to share the ride and sprinkle in some drafting now and then. Of course it didn't hurt to be doing the ride with a guide - the whole loop is signed, more-or-less, but the more-or-less and transitions between road and path could have been difficult to figure out if I was on my own.

Around mile 20, my knee started to bother me a little bit, but we stopped and stretched and it calmed down. It feels pretty good at the moment. I think it helps to be riding with friends - without an impressive degree of organization it's a somewhat slower pace than when I'm riding solo. I was also trying for an 18mph pace as the point where I started to really push, rather than the 20mph pace I've been trying for on my shorter rides in New York.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Five things I want from a city

I was driving back to Seattle yesterday from the job my friend got me in Issaquah, which is a suburb to the southeast, when I found myself thinking about what I need from Seattle in order to decide to move here. I think it comes down to five things - I need to be able to work in a job I don't hate, design shows, go dancing, ride my bikes and go skiing. The first three I already have in New York. The last two, though, I find frustrating and nearly impossible respectively.

So far, I'm already working as a stagehand. It doesn't mean all that much - my friend got me the job - but it suggests that there's a decent amount of work to be had. There are also a couple of employment options I haven't had time to pursue, since I've been working, and the union, which sounds like it's relatively easy to get into, at least as a general stagehand. My friend was grousing about their apprentice program today, so maybe advancing within the union is tricky right now. I'm not too concerned about that, because being a stagehand is just a job, so as long as it pays I'm happy.

The next thing is that I want to do is design shows. That's not just a job - I love telling stories, although I don't necessarily feel like I have any stories of my own to tell yet. Design is a way of helping someone to tell a story, and I think that absent telling my own, that's pretty cool. This area bears further investigation. Since I've been caught up in having a job, trying to secure housing, etc. etc. I haven't looked at it as much. However, Seattle is supposed to have a huge independent theatre scene with production values roughly in between Off-off-Broadway and Off-Broadway. Since in New York, Off-off usually can't afford me and Off is looking for a more experienced lighting designer, this could be perfect. Of course Seattle also has the larger regional theatre appropriate to a city of its size, so it's not like there'd be nowhere to grow as I design more shows and want to take on bigger challenges.

Going dancing has already happened by accident, which ended up being a very fun evening. On the principle that people who are any good at partnering are at least somewhat hooked into the swing scene, I asked around and found the local calendar web site (every city with a swing dance scene has one and only one.) So in that area as well, more dancing awaits. I've heard that the blues scene in this city is awesome too.

All that leaves the two areas where living in New York has been very disappointing. One of the reasons I think I need to actually move to a city where the access to skiing is better is that I think that it gets in the way of building the career I want if I leave the city for months at a time to go skiing. Two years ago, when I spent five months in Lake Tahoe and collected 90 days of skiing and snowboarding, I didn't do anything about trying to design more shows while I was away. That's a pretty big problem since spring is a big season for openings and it's also the time to be looking for summer work. Essentially I left myself the summer to look for something to do in the fall before leaving. I did luck into a show, and it's one of the better ones I've done, but if I lived in one place year round I think I'd be better able to create the career I want. I want skiing to be something that I can go and do on random days off during the week, for a week at a time a few times a season, maybe after work sometimes, but not something that takes me away from my "real life."

Last season was an experiment in having a less disruptive season in terms of being able to work, and I'd say it was moderately successful - I was back in New York in time for Fashion Week, and when those paychecks came in I stopped being broke from spending a lot of time in Tahoe working for ridiculously low pay. People I worked for hadn't forgotten I exist, so even without Fashion Week, getting back into my regular work load wasn't too hard. However, I was still away for a really big chunk of time rather than promoting myself and it also wasn't as many ski days as I'd have liked to do. I filled out my season with some family trips (thanks, Mom!) and some day trips but it wasn't like my 90 day season either.

My theory about the winter is that if I do the appropriate coursework to be a ski patroller and join National Ski Patrol at one of the local resorts, I'll be committed to a certain number of on-hill days doing that and between the season pass at that resort and visiting privileges at others I'll be able to add all the days I can fit into my schedule. Given the drive times, I may still spend a fair amount on hotels, but at least that's lift and plane tickets out of my ski budget. More importantly, I'll still be living full-time in Seattle so aside from my commitment to NSP, I'll be able to make myself available for work and production meetings and promote myself as those opportunities come up.

While I haven't been able to properly explore cycling here in Seattle yet, I get the impression that it's a really great place to do it. My LeMond recently and I got to ride it yestoday. The trail that everyone talks about is nice and long, which is cool, and supposedly leads into some nice, long road loops. I'm looking forward to exploring that further. I did a little riding when I'd just arrived on my friend's hybrid and found the city very friendly to cyclists. There are bike lanes all over the place, and drivers are accustomed to sharing the road. There are also nice, big hills and mountains all over the place and the local mountain bike advocacy group has secured access to lots of them. In New York, I spend at least as much time getting to where I want to ride as riding, and I would prefer to have more fun with the sport.

I guess I'm not that solid as to whether or not Seattle has everything I want. But then, no city will ever be completely perfect for me or any other individual. I'm over New York, so I figured I'd probably get an idea very quickly as to whether or not Seattle would work for me, and so far it's very appealing.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Messing around in Seattle

Most of my readers already know I'm in Seattle for the month. If you didn't... Now you do. I got in yesterday morning after the usual crappy United flight. United has committed some additional sins against human dignity in air travel. They now give you only one free checked bag. The second bag is $50, and overweight bags are $100. They've switched their fleet to Airbus planes, with their less-reclining seats. They try to talk their travelers into spending extra money for two more inches of legroom when they send the "confirm online" e-mail. And they even ding you $2 for having a skycap check your bag from outside the terminal instead of choking up the lines inside that are already long and choked. I totally fail to understand this last.

So I got into the airport a little early, met my friend, and we went to pick up my rental car. It's a Dodge Caliber. These things suck. It's a five-door with incredibly poor visibility, kind of on par with a box truck except that trucks have bigger mirrors. Supposedly it's got incredibly cool folding seats, but I haven't played with that yet. It's basically Dodge's more expensive answer to the Honda Fit, down to being front wheel drive (and feeling it) and having drum brakes on the rear wheels. Anyway, it's not like I'm going to have the car for that long, and when I'm shopping for a real one I'll try for a Subaru.

After that was lunch with friends and a pilgrimage out to a park that not only has a velodrome but has some freestanding climbing walls and a spire. They should change the name from "Marrymore Park" to "Andrew Park." My friend taught me how to use the ATC device I've had kicking around with my climbing gear since February, so that was cool. It was kind of embarrassing to only know how to use the automatic, cam-locking, idiot-proof(ish) but non-versatile device that my gym in NY uses.

The pre-dinner conversation was something along the lines of "we should ride bikes to the park" "Andrew doesn't have a bike" "we still have your old hybrid kicking around." Following that, my friends made the mistake of letting me and my multi-tool attack the aforementioned hybrid. I didn't get too crazy about performance tuning, but I thought the riding position was completely unacceptable and turned it into this.

I only did a couple of things to the bike. I lowered the stem all the way, then adjusted the angle to 90 degrees (it wouldn't go smaller, unfortunately.) Then I took everything off the handlebars and flipped them over - they're on the bike upside down now. If they were riser bars before, I guess one might call them dropper bars now? Or faller bars? In any case, the riding position is slightly lower than on my mountain bike and feels longer, but I think it's not because I had to put the saddle as far back on its rails as it can go and I still feel like I'm sitting too far back on it, so I think the top tube's too short for me. I also through on my venerable Time ATACs, so it's got clipless pedals. The trip there and back was quite amusing - this bike is definitely the silliest non-Burning Man bike modification I've ever done. It does ride better, though.

After dinner, we went to the park. The park in question is a beach on Puget Sound. There were lots of people there, even though it was fairly cold, and some people were practicing on a slackline, kind of like a tightrope but without the tight. Riding over on the hybrid was funny. It's got a sprint speed kind of like a real bike, but I had to lean back because it's got a garbage suspension fork on the front that can soak up energy. Its cruising speed, however, is much slower.

This morning I rode further into Seattle with my friend and had breakfast before she had to work. I figured it would be good to get started semi-early in the morning and there's also the whole jetlag thing. I'm glad I modified the hybrid because trying to do that ride in an upright position would have been pretty unpleasant. After that, I rode around for a while.

Seattle has a mountain bike park under I-5 that I wanted to look at. I even tried to ride parts of it, but I had a lot of trouble with the 40mm tires on the bike. For comparison, my mountain bike has 54mm tires with a large tread mounted on wider rims than the hybrid, so the whole system can run at a much lower pressure without pinch-flatting or wallowing, and the contact patch is much bigger. It's also a much lighter bike, and while I recently discovered that the suspension fork hasn't been functioning correctly, even when it only half-works, it's superior to the one on the hybrid. I decided that I didn't need to kill myself, so I left. It's a cool park, though - lots of stuff isn't finished, but they have a neat switchbacking section that would give a rider excellent low-speed stability and a great pedal-up if they practiced on it some, lots of log rides, a couple of teeter-totters, and a small hanging bridge. I couldn't get the hybrid through any of this stuff, but I'm promising myself that I'll revisit it on a real mountain bike at some point.

Next I rode north across one of the bridges and poked around the University of Washington. It's a more urban feeling campus than UC Berkeley, and not all that attractive. The surrounding neighborhood is nice, though. Most of what I've seen of Seattle, at least north of the canal, seems to be a lot like Berkeley - densely packed houses, narrow streets, lots of traffic calming devices. The main drags are nice, though. They seem to have mainly local stores - there's some character. After that, I found my way home along the bike path that runs the length of the canal, with a stop for coffee (served in a real mug) along the way. It's really nice here. As best as I can figure out on Google Earth, I did 15.2 miles. But that involves some guessing about turns.

My friends insist on the importance of using fenders here, and the one who commuted all winter says he actually wore out a set of rims too. So between that and the hills, I think that if I move I'll leave Skank in New York and put together a light touring-based commuter here. I think it would be really cool to do a disc front/cantilever rear braking system to reduce wear, at least on the front rim, and have full fenders and a rear rack. The distances involved here seem to be longer, and the streets are long enough to get a decent flow going, so it would be cool to get the load back off my back and into panniers. Also I haven't built up a load-carrying bike in a while.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

30 Miles in One Speed

So I've had time to do a little short of 30 miles of commuting on the new setup. It definitely works better than it did as a ten-speed, five-speed, or its brief period as a 7-speed-but-not-really. The biggest thing I notice is not having to think about shifting. I suppose I didn't have to in the first place, but there's something about a multi-speed bike that makes me feel obliged to use the gears. So if I was coming into an intersection, I'd go down a gear to facilitate accelerating out of it, and then I'd have to shift up again somewhere between the timing line and the next crosswalk. I'd already started doing that a little less with this bike just because the shifting system wasn't very good, but now it's not there at all.

Sometime after I cross the intersection and haven't had to fight with the shifter, it occurs to me that the bike now accelerates much, much faster. I think the biggest improvement to the acceleration is probably just that the derailleur was pretty badly gunked up, so it had to have been generating a lot of friction. But it can't hurt that the whole bike's a little bit lighter now. Certainly it feels a lot lighter in its acceleration and general handling. I notice a more direct feeling when I start pedaling, and I suspect that the lighter feeling of the bike in general is to do with that, although the rear derailleur certainly weighed a lot.

The big disadvantage to the new setup is hills. This bike has never been that good on hills, I think because of the friction generated by the rear derailleur and that it seems to be a fairly heavy bike in general, and it's a lot worse now that I can't give myself some mechanical advantage. The ratio is have is about 5:2 (actually 52 teeth on the chainwheel and 20 on the freewheel, for people who really want to know) which is a pretty high gear, so it doesn't take much resistance before I have to stand up and really push into the pedals. That applies to starting from a dead stop as well - since I geared the bike to perform best cruising at high speed, starting is a bit difficult. What it comes down to is that the bike has two gears: sprinting and soft-pedaling. On a hill, of course, there is no soft-pedaling, which leaves either charging or going into the anaerobic zone. I have to admit that I do run out of steam before I hit the top of the arc crossing the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridge and I don't necessarily have enough uphill sprints in me to ride all the uphills traveling uptown if I hit the lights wrong, but I stand by my gearing choice. With 22 teeth, I sometimes got too fast to pedal smoothly.

So far, I have to say that I really like my commuter as a single-speed. It has a much more aggressive feel and I think my speeds are a lot higher because it's tuned to be best at about 18 mph. The handling's quicker, the bike feels more agile, and it's more fun. Because of the necessity of sprinting more, I suspect that it's also going to make my speeds creep up on my better bikes. I think a single-speed layout's not for everybody - it really requires an athletic style of riding. It reminds me of switching from a soft, intermediate ski to something bigger, stiffer and heavier - this bike really needs to be pushed in order to ride well, but it gives back much more when I do than it did when it had all the components I've thrown out over the year or so that I've owned it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

More tinkering

When I took my newly singlespeed bike for its first ride as a singlespeed yesterday, I had a pretty major problem. It dropped the chain. A lot. Especially if I stood up and hammered or swung the frame. Since the bike's a singlespeed, that's a required move to accelerate rapidly from a stop, so just riding more smoothly was not an acceptable solution. At first I thought the tension might be too low, so I tried riding a larger sprocket on the freewheel cluster, and then removing a link and riding the sprocket I actually like. While this helped a little, it didn't actually solve the problem. I was considering buying a chain tensioner, as these are specifically designed to aid in conversions like mine, but they all attach to a derailleur hanger, and Skank doesn't actually have one. The original derailleur attached to the rear axel and a hole next to the dropout.

This is yesterday's first configuration, using the 20 tooth sprocket and a 3/32 road chain, shortened to have no slack. The smaller hole immediately above the adjusting nut on the quick release skewer was the one used to prevent inadvertent rotation of the derailleur; the other is for mounting a rack or fenders.

Further research suggested that by changing to a cog actually intended for singlespeed use, I might fix the problem. The hyperdrive cluster I was using is designed to shift well, and when used with a derailleur it's a huge improvement over previous systems. However, without a derailleur it still performs as designed - it shifts - but without a derailleur to pick up slack and maintain tension, the chain drops. It turns out that BMX hubs use the same threading as road hubs, which means that a BMX singlespeed freewheel will go onto a road hub with no adapters, etc. required.

On my way to work this morning, I stopped at Gotham Bikes to see if they had a BMX freewheel - I figure this is a really common part, and since I don't have the tool to remove a freewheel, ordering everything for the next phase of the conversion online would probably be more expensive than letting them take care of it. They had the part, but only for a 1/8" chain, the standard singlespeed size, usually used on BMX and track bikes as well as many urban singlespeed rigs and probably cruisers. D'oh! Anyway, I figured that the bike's not working very well for me as it is - I want to be able to accelerate rapidly - so I went ahead and bought a new chain too.

This is the new freewheel, and the new chain.

Finally, here's the new iteration of the drivetrain. The only original parts left are the bottom bracket, crankset and pedals (not including toeclips, which I had the shop throw in when I bought the bike.)

I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the black and silver finish on the chain, or how clean this setup is. The gear ratio is 52/20. According to the gear ratio calculator on Sheldon Brown's web site, this means 69.6 gear inches, whatever that means, or 18.6 mph if I spin at 90 rpm. Which means that my cruising speed on the flats is terrifying by casual cyclist standards and not half bad by mine. If I get strong enough riding this way, I might get an 18-tooth cog, which would bring my speed to over 20mph; I'm concerned that any larger and I wouldn't have the torque to accelerate effectively or cruise comfortably.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Williamsburg kids will think I'm cool now.

So I've been meaning to give my beater bike, "Skank," a tuneup for a while now. I even bought it a new chain, which I never got around to installing... Until today. I also got some new bar tape. I was about to clean the rear derailleur when I noticed that it has an insane amount of play - like a whole gear's worth. Which explains the ghost shifting I thought was just me having a hard time with the old-school friction shifter. So I went on a bit of a tear removing parts.

Here's everything I took off. In the picture are the chainguard and small chainring from the front (I removed the front derailleur months ago,) the rear derailleur, the old chain, which was badly stretched and the old bar tape and plugs.

The new, beautifully simple drivetrain.

And finally, the finished product. It's not going to feel quite as good to blaze past the hipsters now that I've got something "cool" and not antedeluvian, but whatever. I wasn't about to pay money for a new derailleur for this bike.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

So un-metal I had to have it

There are a number of things I like. Two of them are cycling and heavy metal. If they seem like very different interests, it's because they are - I think that road cycling is one of the most un-metal things you can do. When I watch parts of the Tour de France on OLN and they have guitar-solo sounding music on the little intro and teaser bits in between the commercials and race footage, I can't help smiling. No matter what the music is, it's still men in tights. And none of them are Freddy Mercury.

I was buying some cycling stuff online, and one of those Google ads on the right-hand side of the confirmation page I got in my e-mail was for cycling jerseys. I'd been having a frustrating time trying to find something for intermediate weather, so I followed it and found, among other things, Metallica cycling jerseys.

I didn't buy it right then. I tried to resist. But the more the day wore on, the more I knew I had to have one. So I bought one.

Now when I pass yuppies on $8000 bikes, I'll be wearing lightning bolts. So they can feel less bad. I've refused to wear brand names or teams for a long time. But this is Metallica.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I am so a scientician, and so can you.

So my brother turned me onto FoldIt not too long ago. It's a game that allows the player to fold real proteins and scores them based on stability. A number of different things go into protein stability and how the protein is folded effects all these. At its core, it's a whole bunch of complex chemistry that I haven't thought about since High School. In my high school chemistry class, we didn't cover anything more complicated than crystalline structures based on a single type of molecule, so the whole protein thing is way more complicated than what I've studied.

Anyway, there are big, powerful computers that are devoted to this sort of thing, but it's still a time-consuming and expensive process. The project that released FoldIt has a theory that if they can better understand human problem-solving strategies, which are intuitive for us, they can program computers to emulate some of them and solve protein-folding problems more effectively. They also think humans might beat computers to the solutions of some proteins using this program.

Most of the users, at least those that talk about themselves, are in math or science fields. I think there aren't too many biologists, because it's too much like what a lot of them spent a summer doing at some point during their education, but the point is that most of the people playing with this thing have some background. My background is theatre. The program represents degrees of stability and other pieces of information mainly with color-coding, and with a couple of other graphics. Their web site explains it better.

So now for the ego portion of the blog. I was up way too late last night playing with one of the proteins. Something to do with lipids. I managed to get all the way to 7th place, out of a few hundred players. I think that 98th percentile, give or take, is pretty good for not having a clue what I'm doing. I pretty much just have visual cues to go on, and some recollection of the material that this is supposed to represent, from the tiny bit of organic chemistry covered at the tail end of my class in high school. As of now, I'm in 11th, with 9,117 points. For context, most puzzles will go to scores in the mid-8000s just by telling the computer to shake the sidechains and then wiggle the backbone. Basically, telling it to automatically find the lowest-energy state of the sidechains, which is time-consuming but relatively easy, and then mess with the configuration of the backbone. While it sounds like this is allowing the computer to solve the whole puzzle automatically, it doesn't really make any positive or creative choices.

I think it's interesting because it puts a complex scientific pursuit in the context of being a puzzle game, with competitive scoring on the internet. While I don't think it would hurt to include a bit more of the science, it's interesting to me that such a simulation could be represented in such an accessible way.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Broken old stuff, broken new stuff

So I have my new computer back today, and so far it seems fixed. For example, it boots. It's still incredibly frustrating, but at least I found my blank CD-Rs, so it shouldn't be as much of a pain to transfer files as it was last time. For whatever reason I couldn't make peer-to-peer wired networking work. Probably too much security software I don't like enough to learn to use. Of course, to offset the whole working computer thing, I broke my commute bike today.

The commute bike problem was basically the other shoe dropping - last summer I discovered that the rims on the bike are so old they can't accept new tires, even ones designed for its size rim. This was after a chunk tore out of the front tire. I built a wheel from parts using a newer rim that can accept new tires, which was a nice project, and stuck a new front tire on. I figured I'd put off building a rear wheel until the rear tire died, which happened today. I thought I'd fixed a flat I had in it this afternoon, but when I went to a bike shop and used a floor pump to bring the pressure up to where I like it, the tire wouldn't stay seated. I noticed in removing the old tube that it was stuck to the tire, so I think that perhaps the old tube was helping hold everything together by being stuck to the tire and rim. Anyway, the bike's at a random shop in midtown getting a new rear wheel. It's going to be a real Frankenbike now - original front hub, new 27" front rim and new spokes, and a new 700c rear wheel. By process of elimination, it'll eventually be a cheap but modern bicycle.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Art and Cruelty

I bumped into some commentary recently concerning the work of an artist named Guillermo Vargas Habacuc. The installation in question was a dog that was tied to a wall in an art gallery and allowed to starve to death. Unsurprisingly, this has created a ton of polemic on the 'net, especially since he's been selected to represent Costa Rica in the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras 2008. This is especially interesting to me because of a show I saw about a month ago at El Museo del Barrio. The show, "Art ≠ Vida" was of recordings of performance art done in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking America. Much of the art required the destruction of found objects and even the lives of animals - one piece involved burning dozens of chickens to death.

With the exception of a film of a piano being destroyed, the more extreme pieces were just recorded in photographs. I found that I was not at all bothered by the destruction of found mattresses, chairs, etc. - these were all mass-produced things that I would throw out without a second thought if they'd worn out beyond being useful to me or salable to someone else. The destruction of the piano bothered me. Even a piano that's cheap as pianos go requires many hours of labor by a skilled person to create, and I guess I believe that when something is built by a person who puts care into their work, it's imbued with a soul. That gives it a little extra value, and means that it deserves respect beyond its monetary value.

While for me the destruction of the piano and especially the slaughter of the chickens moved the art beyond some sort of line, that didn't make the pieces cease to be art. In judging them, the question of whether or not that destruction and murder is justified becomes a part of understanding the piece as a work of art. It also raises the question of whether it's ever justified to commit such acts in the furtherance of art. Certainly the nature of what was destroyed made the art a much stronger expression of the anguish I believe the pieces were meant to show. Most of the art from the show, while it was meant to cover the period from 1960-2000, seemed to be from the '70s, a period during which a lot of the countries represented were becoming military dictatorships with oppressive and frequently murderous policies toward citizens seen as dissenters. One of the questions I had to ask myself was how an artist could possibly express what was happening around him in such an environment. If human lives are being destroyed around me, could I possibly express something meaningful with standard artistic media? If I don't believe that I could, I don't believe I can hold another artist to that standard. At the same time, destroying something with a greater value, such as a piano or a living creature, is immoral in itself. At the same time, by living in an oppressive regime and not overthrowing it, all citizens become complicit in their policies - can the artist express this without being a sinner?

All these questions, though, are somewhat beside the point. While I haven't been able to find any good information on the installation with the dog, what I have been able to find suggests that it's about the large population of stray dogs in San Jose, the artist's home town. I've also bumped into records different places suggesting at least three different things the artist has said to justify the death of the dog. In all his statements, he says he's trying to draw attention the tens of thousands of dogs wandering the streets, but he begins by saying that the dog was so sick it was refusing food, and dying anyway, and eventually says that yes, he killed the dog. Regardless, the dog was being denied food while it was in the gallery, so if it was healthy enough to eat it no longer had the option. Most of the web pages I have seen condemn the work and say that it isn't art. While I certainly question whether or not the creation of the piece justifies the killing of the dog, I think that the post-modern movement has ended any way of separating things that are art from things that aren't. Ultimately, I don't think that this piece of art is justified. While it creates notoriety for the artist, I don't think it supports the point he claims to be making, and I don't think it really does anything that a series of photographs doesn't. Part of why I believe this is that I don't think that the death of a dog has the magnitude that the death of a person does, so I'm not nearly as bothered by dogs starving to death in San Jose as I am by people being imprisoned, tortured and killed for suspicion of harboring the wrong political views. While, to me, the situation of people being murdered by their government is one of indescribable evil, requiring the artist to commit an indescribable act, if Habacuc is to be believed, he's just trying to raise awareness concerning a public health problem.

Is it art? Yeah. Is it justified or effective? I'm disinclined to think so.