Friday, March 2, 2012

Leap of Faith

Leap Year, Mercian, Snow
That extra day given to us by the leap year stirred up a storm of trouble. After a remarkably mild winter, we got snow on the last day of February and first day of March. Then overnight the temperature fell and this morning the roads are snow-encrusted still. Frustrating for someone who had a carefully crafted training plan for a difficult century ride at the end of the month. If this weather continues for the next couple of weeks, what then?

All kinds of thoughts are now racing through my mind: "I shouldn't have taken time off over the winter... I should have ridden on those days when it rained, 'cause at least it wasn't snowing... I should be riding on the trainer more... There is no way I will be ready at this rate..." Advice from others is so diverse that it's only making me anxious with uncertainty. Some seem confident that I can do the ride, others seem equally certain that I cannot. And that's just among those who know me in person. 

But pottering around my neighbourhood in the snow on a day I'd hoped to put in 50 miles, I realised that I need to let all of these worries go and just do the trip no matter what, ready or not. 

I am not downplaying the importance of training. I am also not ignoring the fact that proper training can make the difference between being able to complete a challenging ride and not. But in the past, being worried about this has kept me from doing a lot of things on the bike that in retrospect I wish I'd done sooner.

It took me two and a half years to work up the nerve to try a century. I got as far as 65 mile rides pretty easily, but just couldn't take that last step. I read articles about it, listened to advice, and the timing never seemed right. Then one day I just did it. The timing was not any more right than any other time, and I hadn't trained in the weeks leading up to it at all. But I took it easy and rode those 100 miles. 

I waited two years to join the local paceline rides, because I didn't feel ready. And it's true, I wasn't ready two years ago. But when I did finally get up the courage to try them, I wasn't ready either! I showed up, felt completely out of place, and struggled like I'd never struggled on a ride before. But I did it, and it changed me as a cyclist. I wish I'd tried it sooner, even if that meant failure.

It seems to me that we can't know where we stand unless we allow ourselves to experience failure, or come close to failure. Maybe the real benefit of the trip to Death Valley is that it will teach me about my limitations. Whether I get enough training or not, I will just have to deal with it instead of backing out or putting it off as I've done so many times before.

68 comments:

  1. Christopher FotosMarch 2, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    Just do it. Yes.

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    1. I agree 110%! You can do this Velouria,you're more ready than you think :)

      The Disabled Cyclist

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  2. I think you will have enough time to train between now and your ride in April. Just get out there every chance you get. Vary your intensity, rest, repeat. The weather here in Boston is getting warmer, you have time.

    On longer rides I've had great success with a product called Nuun. It's an electrolyte replacement that disolves in your water bottle(it's very portable). Temps in Death Valley in April will be in the 90's. Be prepared, ride at your own pace.

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    1. Unfortunately it is in March. Hell's Gate Hundred is on March 31st, and CorpsCamp starts on March 27th. So I have a couple of weeks left basically.

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  3. Wow. One winter I camped and visited Death Valley. It was awesome. I had perfect weather and I know it can vary quite a bit. But if one of two things go right I hope you too will get that amazed sensation. "The Artist Pallet" is indescribably amazing. The ride? You'll knock that one out easily.

    Good luck.

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  4. "The best way out is always through." - Robert Frost

    The ultimate distance you'll cover remains to be seen, but the journey beckons. You will have a wonderful trip, and rides, in Death Valley, of that I am certain.

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  5. Would it be possible to go out to DV a week early and have a kind of private hell week? I'm thinking that while it might kill me, you're probably resilient enough to benefit from such a regimen.

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    1. That's kind of what I'll be doing. I am flying to LA and will get a couple of rides in with the AdventureCorps people, then ride with them to Death Valley to do both CorpsCamp and Hell's Gate Hundred. But I'm not sure whether that will help or just exhaust me completely before the ride.

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    2. ride with them to Death Valley?!!

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    3. I meant as a passenger in a car, sorry : ) Definitely will not be cycling from LA to Death Valley.

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    4. That is too little training, better to ride from Boston to Death Valley, by the time you get there you will be in good shape.

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    5. V, if I may, for that plan to go well, you will NEED to get in plenty of additional training as far beforehand as possible.

      If it were me, I'd try to maximize workouts in the first two weeks in March--distance AND interval training--then take a week off before you begin riding out west.

      If you can't ride, you could do rowing or treadmill, or exercise bikes--boring perhaps, but essential.

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  6. Nice post. But FYI it's puttering around, not "pottering."

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    1. Actually it can be both/either.

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    2. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pottering

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    3. This is sounding a little like the potato, potahto lyric. But let's don't call the whole thing off.

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    4. Spent too long in England I think

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  7. I live in Winnipeg, so the "If this weather continues, what then?" question brought a smile to my face. If we waited for the right weather, we'd be - well - waiting...

    Cyclechick may offer insight: http://winnipegcyclechick.com/?p=4009

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    1. Winnipeg Cycle Chick is awesome. I ride for transportation year-round, but I do not feel comfortable doing fast road rides when there is snow, ice or slush on the road. It just isn't in me, and I'd rather arrive in Death Valley undertrained than not be able to go at all due to a broken shoulder.

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  8. Just don't worry about how fast you do it, and you'll be fine. Death Valley's too beautiful to hurry through anyway.

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  9. I don't know you, but based on the accounts of your cycling exploits on this blog, I think you can do it. The distance will be no problem. If you've done a century on an upright city bike in street clothes, you can certainly do 100 on a road bike. The only thing I think could be problematic is the climbing. It looks like about 4600 feet over about 10 miles? Thinking back to my days in the Boston area, I can't recall anything that would even begin to approximate that experience (correct me if I'm wrong). So a sustained climb like that might be new to you. With good fitness and nice low gearing, you should be ok if you take it easy. In the meantime, I would maybe see if you could take a weekend trip out to western Mass or somewhere else a bit more mountainous to get a little practice doing longer sustained climbs.

    Don't stress about having taken a break this winter. Cycling is supposed to be fun. Don't force it.

    But really, you'll do fine. Charge it, have fun.

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    1. Mt Wachusett ski area has a vertical drop of about 1000 feet. The state park road to the crest must be another couple of hundred feet. It's about fifty miles from Somerville. So, I'm thinking a century with three or four ascents of Mt Wachusett at the midpoint.

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    2. The Hell's Gate Hundred climb is about 15 miles at a fairly consistent 5% grade. There is nothing like that here, and I have only done shorter, steeper climbs so far.

      A trip to Mt Wachusett sounds good, though not sure whether it's doable before I leave for CA.

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  10. Great attitude!

    If the Hell's Gate Hundred is the ultimate goal then just don't over do it at the camp.

    I am confident that you can complete the hundred.

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  11. I would suggest that you are overconstraining yourself. A lot of the advice above is good -- you need to lay in the miles -- not necessarily fast miles -- and ask yourself what it would take to make that happen. Mix it up with some hard short climbs on whatever part of Arlington Heights is snow/ice free, you will get a big boost.

    So, not comfy in the snow/slush? You could get a loan of some studded snow tires, that helps (you need a bike that takes 700x37 or 26x2 -- and you'll get extra exercise pushing those studs. It's not Lovely Biking. Definitely you'd get a blog post out of it. I've got spares, both sizes.). Not comfy in traffic with snow/slush? It's 16 miles 1-way DavisSq to Concord, two RTs is 64, 3 is 96 (not sure how much it snowed in Bedford and beyond, and they may not plow, so you may need to do more laps, shorter distance. But the route exists.

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    1. It's not about getting to Davis Sq in traffic, but about doing fast rides in Lexington and beyond. I guess knowing myself, I am fairly certain that I will go down if I hit a patch of ice on a downhill or on a turn, studded tires or not, so I just don't feel it's worth it. On days like this I am trying to do laps around the neighbourhood on my fixed gear at 12mph, and that's about as much as I can handle.

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    2. Studded tires actually work. Give them a try sometime. I'm a total klutz, but in the five years I lived in Milwaukee, I didn't go down once on the ice and snow.

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    3. I am curious what kind of cycling you did on them. Upright bike or drop bars? Transportation or fast road rides? I think this makes a big difference. I never stopped cycling for transportation over the weeks I took a break. But I don't feel that did anything for me.

      I believe that studded tires work and I plan to try them some day. I just don't think this is the right time.

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    4. It's weird that you make such a huge distinction between riding for transportation and road cycling. If you've been riding your upright bike through the winter, surely that's something. You aren't going as fast, but the weight makes up for it.

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    5. I make the distinction based purely on personal experience. YMMV and that is fine by me. But in my experience, the notion (popular in some cycling circles) that riding around on a heavy loop frame makes you so strong that you can compete with roadies is a myth. I would not go so far as to say that riding an upright bike 5 miles a day does nothing for me. But relatively speaking, it does very little. While the bike is heavy, the riding position does not engage the right muscles, and in particular my abdominal and arm muscles atrophy pretty quickly when I stop riding my roadbike. It's just not the same for me, not at all.

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    6. I had them on two bikes. I had big 26" Nokians on an old Stumpjumper mountain bike with Albatross bars for bad conditions and skinny 32mm Nokians (measured closer to 30mm) on an older Trek 400 road bike. I spent 90% of the winter riding the latter. That bike started out with drops but then I switched to moustache bars to accomodate wearing mittens (cold fingers). I would take long, semi-fast rides on the Trek. Sure, the tires slowed me down a bit, but it was worth it for my peace of mind when there was ice on the roads, and pushing around those tires made me feel strong when Spring came around.

      I recently moved back home to Southern California, so it's all a moot point now!

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    7. Veloria, I think you are spot on about the difference between riding an upright city bike and a road bike. It's great that you are able to feel the different muscle working, and are aware of getting stronger &weaker depending on your position and which bike you ride.

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    8. Bryan - That is very encouraging to know. Next winter I will make a point of trying it. Moving toSouth California... never thought I'd say this, but on days like today that doesn't sound so bad...

      Dan - My musculature was so underdeveloped when I started roadcycling, that the changes I experiences were extremely noticeable. Especially when I gained abdominal muscles, for the first time in my life, as a result of riding with dropbars. It was like whoa, suddenly my stomach was flat and the bike did it to me without my even trying to work out that area. Cool!

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  12. Just take it easy. You will get enough training with time. You doesn´t have to make it all at the first try. We did tours at 20,40,64,90,115,130,150 km before we took a 200 km. After 5 of those we made a SR serie. When you get started you just have to go out in the rain or snow...

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  13. Being your own worst enemy is one thing. Skipping an entire month of training when an epic ride is on the horizon is just bad planning.

    There are two ways to approach this kind of ride: do your good faith training or emphasize the experience and make liberal use of the sag vehicles.

    Let your fears go, but pay attention to what your body is telling you. It will feel different than in Boston, guaranteed.

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    1. It wasn't a matter of planning. In the end of Jan I started to see black ice on the roads, and at that point I just wasn't comfortable riding anymore. I did plan to ride on the trainer constantly during those off weeks, but it's clear that I lack discipline for that.

      The Hell's Gate Hundred is timed badly for those living in cold climates, precisely because it gives no time to train on the road. In fact this winter is better than most, and normally there is no way I'd be roadcycling through December, January, end of February and early March.

      I knew all of this when I accepted the invitation to Death Valley of course and decided to give it a try anyway. We'll see about making use of the sag vehicle. Sure, it's a possibility. But like I said, worrying about that too much has kept me from doing way too many rides as it is. Something always happens to prevent me from training as much as I would like, the time is never right.

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    2. If I lived next door to you I'd go: hmm. January 1st. Better stay on the road bike. But you were ice skating. Got to build with future weather changes in mind.

      The salient numbers are, for those who have misread the info: 100 miles. 8500 ft. of climbing.

      BTW, worry is good. Overcoming it is better.

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    3. Oh I am sure you'd go! But I think our bicycle handling skills are incomparable. Early Jan I was still riding BTW. I din't take that much time off, maybe 3.5 weeks.

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    4. Ha! As your next-door-neighbor coach, every day I'd raise my bushy eyebrows at that.

      "Miserable weather we're having. How're the trainer sessions going?"

      "Cosmopolitans."

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  14. I can almost hear the little buds of self-confidence peeking up through the ground like a crocus fooled by a mild winter.

    You'll be fine.

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  15. And don't forget Teddy Roosevelt's "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." And just be kind to yourself!
    Jim Duncan

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  16. You can do it. Just take it one mile at a time.

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  17. My two cents: Riding 100 miles is not that big a deal. (Though nothing to sneeze at either.) I think what makes it a big deal is doing it with external pressures of time, weather, competition, etc... don't let the fun principal get ridden rough shod in the process.

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  18. I know a good handful of boyfriend/girlfriend sagas, or comedies, involving bicycles and mountain passes. And please, I would never inflict these incidents on any friend of mine.

    But there is a certain type of middle aged boyfriend who decides that when his gf is having trouble sustaining or feigning interest in our wonderful sport, the solution is a trip to the mountains. The girlfriend is mostly thinking free vacation.

    Did I mention these stories begin in Chicago where a big hill is 50 feet? And 1% is perceived as a grade?

    So off we go to Independence Pass or Alpe d'Huez or Passo Pordoi. Training has meant some desultory 25 or 30 mile rides at 15mph. Boyfriend is not much of a coach or mechanic and the bikes are always overgeared. Boyfriend supplies the 34x27 that he is comfortable with.

    In every case the young lady makes it to the top. Some refuse to saddle up for the trip down. Various hilarity ensues. But they all make it to the top. Now that I'm counting them six out of six have made it to the top. And we are talking about women in their 40s and at least one who was definitely ahem 49. None of them by any measure a bike rider. Just trim and healthy and willing.

    Climbing mountains is difficult. It's not impossible.
    You only go up the pass once on the HGH ride. The ascent # is one half the total elevation change #. The problematic part of this ride is really the descents. Get coached. Your host is a great coach.

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  19. I love the photo.

    I've been following your blog almost from the time you began it. That's nearly three years. You have come so far--mentally as well as in physical distance--as a cyclist in that time. In fact, I'd say that you've learned and progressed more than I did during my first three years as a cyclist!

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  20. And what about just going and enjoying the scenery. That's enough of a reason to travel west. Don't put put too much emphasis on training. We can't control the weather here in New England.

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  21. Progressed yes, but perhaps succumbed as well. When you first started this blog bicycling was purely for pleasure and the aesthetics of it all; but now it's stressing you out. You now feel guilty if you don't ride and obligated to push yourself when you do. Don't let cycling become a source of stress! Here's my advice as a 46 year old enthusiast who makes a point of riding slow every now and then. Do the Death Valley ride, try to survive it, and then come home, take a week or so off and then ride slowly along your favorite, most scenic route.

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    1. Nah. I am generally neurotic and stress out about everything if I'm not careful. In the early days of this blog I stressed out about paint colour and the shape of handlebars. Overall, I am enjoying riding fast and picking up bike handling skills, otherwise I would not do it. The challenge is part of the fun.

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    2. That's good. I agree that some challenge is good. I tried a brevet before I was ready for it. After 60 miles of hills I was toast and had to call my wife for a ride.

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  22. I once trained for the bike leg of a triathlon when I had a broken wrist, it was in plaster, so I did my training on the stationary bike, it worked fine and I was happy with my time in the race. This event looks gruelling but maybe it is just the name of it. I think dealing with the heat will be one of your biggest challenges, but it looks like a great event to be in, good luck!

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  23. *thumbs up* Great post!

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  24. Why not just show up and ride 50 miles?

    Are you going for the scenery, to enjoy yourself, or are you going to try and prove something? If so, what exactly are you trying to prove? That you can ride 100 miles in the desert with a lot of support? If that is the case, it is even more of an accomplishment if you do it without much training.

    Is this some kind of competition? If it is, the odds are stacked against you. If it is hot when you are there, the temperature change is going to be a killer.

    In my experience the hard part about riding a long way isn't the physical output, but the discomfort of being on the bike: sore hands, back etc. You better hope the bike fits you just right. You could always get off the bike once an hour for five minutes, if you don't treat it as some kind of race.

    Chris Kostman is a competitive athlete, people like him naturally push themselves to goals, and race against others. I think he is telling you to enjoy the scenery. Are you a competitive athlete, or are you someone who likes to ride a bicycle?

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  25. Not everything is a competition really, there is always someone better. At the camp you are going to, a lot of people will probably be better than you. The best people at that camp could probably go to a harder camp and there they would be the worst. Ride hard but at a level that your body can handle. Biking until you barf or cramp will give you a worse time at the finish line than if you had taken it a little bit easier.

    You are comparing yourself against different riders today compared to two years ago. Use the camp to get good training tips to improve the way you want to improve.
    Do remember to rest the last few days and fill your body with energy. Don't go out and ride a century in bad weather, pneumonia will have you cancelling the trip alltogether. Do some intervalls on the trainer instead.
    BTW I hope I don't come down as condecending, it just sounds like such a fun trip and I'd hate to see you miss it.

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  26. It's really too bad that some people here insist on being the "expert critic" of EVERYTHING. Well ... actually it's really just one person.

    Why come to THIS blog and be the negative force in the comments? Go sit in on the roadie forums and point fingers there, where it's pretty much the norm. If that person is such an expert, then maybe they should be writing their own blog about their own epic rides and flawless training plans. It would sure be better than spending so much time here putting everyone and everything down.

    So you got a late start training for something you hadn't even planned on doing ... so what? At least you're actually doing it instead of criticizing others for their "bad planning". Can't he just be happy for you and supportive, instead of trying to tell you how bad it's going to be?

    And to tell you in the comments of a previous post that you would likely get an injury is just mean-spirited ... as though attempting to plant seeds of doubt and fear. Perhaps he is jealous that you're going to such a cool event, while he's home eating too much ground beef.

    It isn't about how fast you ride ... or how far you ride ... or how well you climb ... it's not even about whether you finish the whole thing. It's about what you experience while you do it and what you bring back from it. It's an event you'll remember forever, in a place that's like nowhere else in the world, and it's AWESOME that you're taking advantage of the opportunity to do it. I hope you have a wonderful time, and I'm quite confident the people there will welcome you and thoroughly enjoy your participation, with no concern of your "performance" or "lack of training".

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    1. and it is about the way you think about what you are doing and describe elaborately the twists and turn of events to your blog readers. I for one can't wait to read about your big ride. Good luck and you will know what to do in every situation.

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    2. So. Clueless. You won't even remember this blog in 10 years.

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    3. Okay enough please. I think concerns re injury and insufficient training are valid, even if not expressed in the nicest tone possible.

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    4. "I hope u have a lovely time, with the wind beneath your sails, landscapes vast and timeless, senses open to new possibilities. Such as seeing a road runner outside of a Bugs Bunny cartoon."

      Now back to digging ditches whilst reading Rilke.

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  27. Back when I could decide on Tuesday to do a Double Century on Saturday and be confident of being functional on Monday I still worried and stressed about stuff. But I loved riding my bike and was usually glad I did whatever it was. Looking back, I wish I had been more committed to racing and done that cross country tour I talked myself out of. I usually talked myself out of stuff with the "what if it's too hard" angle.

    Now I'm older and still stressing and worrying and reluctant to try some things that are important to me. I'm starting to have some knee problems for the first time in my life and I've got tendonitis in my ankle ever since doing a 'cross race on a single speed MTB last fall on a whim. I had a great time, managed to not be dead last and realized I still REALLY miss racing.

    So I installed the HVAC in a friends new bike shop in exchange for a closeout 2011 Specialized 'Cross bike. There's enough low-key races around here that I won't have to travel to get in a half dozen races if I want and I think I'll go stink up a couple of Mountainbike races again this summer as well to be ready for when 'cross season starts in Sept. I'm not going to win anything but I'll try hard and maybe I'll find a couple of people like me to get racy with and talk smack to every week. My daughters want to try a little racing too and I hope we can get into a rhythm of riding together.

    My bikes are always trying to lure me into stuff and with the exception of a few really memorable crashes(some of which I really don't remember at all), it's all been good stuff. I should probably just say "yes" to whatever they come up with and stop fretting.

    I hope you smash this ride but if you don't I'll still be jealous and scheming about doing something like it since you made it look so tempting.

    Spindizzy

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  28. Velouria wrote:

    "The Hell's Gate Hundred is timed badly for those living in cold climates, precisely because it gives no time to train on the road. In fact this winter is better than most, and normally there is no way I'd be roadcycling through December, January, end of February and early March."

    I'm sure at this point it has to do with your blog business, but flying across country to ride a hundred miles...Enjoy it while you can; I doubt it will be feasible for most in 20 years or so.


    Ride local.
    Organize a Lovely Bicycle 50-miler.
    Ride to D2R2, do the full ride, and ride back home.

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    1. That is one way to look at it, sure. But then no one would travel and see landscapes beyond their own. A big reason I want to go is because I've never been to that part of the country, not just to ride 100 miles obviously. Most participants in the Death Valley ride are not local and are there for the same reason.

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    2. Well I certainly don't think that twenty years is going to change the part of you that likes adventure and is a little bit obsessive about whatever you are doing.

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    3. "A big reason I want to go is because I've never been to that part of the country, not just to ride 100 miles obviously."

      Actually, it's not that obvious from your post, which doesn't mention sightseeing in Death Valley:

      "Maybe the real benefit of the trip to Death Valley is that it will teach me about my limitations."

      To anon 8:42--my point about 20 years was that, by that time, the cost of jet fuel will be prohibitive and there won't be much left of airlines as public transportation. The earth and it's resources have limitations, too. Unfortunately, the last couple of generations of citizens in developed countries have burned up way more than our share, to the detriment of future generations, who will struggle with limited resources and the severe consequences of the fossil fuel age.

      I think it's great you are facing down this personal century challenge, and I hate to be a wet blanket, but despite what many people say, I do believe our individual actions are important. I'm just putting out an idea--promote local rides with local riders as an alternative some time. Do a Lonely Lake ride dressed in winter gear in July, then go to the local cafe and look at slides of Death Valley.

      Meanwhile, ride your bike a lot. Spin easy for an hour or two with a few sprints the day before the big day. Drink, eat and sleep lots, too. Have fun!

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  29. You should definitely go! Even a spectacular failure will give us, your readers, a good story to read :)
    A good expeience to pass onto others :)
    Can't wait for the article. Your ride stories are always nice - i remember those from Austria, good stuff.
    Fritzescu

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  30. Don't ask yourself if you should have been riding during the earlier winter. I did, hit a patch of black ice, went down, and now have a plate holding my clavicle together. It's just part of life, but by the time I'm cleared to ride again, I will have been off the roads for 8-10 weeks.

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    1. Oh God. So sorry to hear about your injury. And yes, that is exactly the sort of thing I am afraid of.

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    2. Hope you recover fully.

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