Monday, January 15, 2018

Velosport Team Camp 2018!

There isn't much more inspiring in my book than watching a 13 year old turn himself inside out to climb a mountain as fast as he possibly can. Or to ride alongside a group of six 13-15 year olds as they absolutely gut themselves in a team time trial, leaving every drop of energy they have out on a mock race course. And most of all, to have a 12 year old girl ask if she can ride extra with you after she has already ridden 60 miles and has 15 more to go to get back to the hotel. I often find that when I show up to help out, mentor, or coach kids teams I end up feeling like I benefit from the situation more than the kids, and this weekend was no exception!
Team crazy pic.
It's become a little tradition (only 2 years running so far) for me to head to Santa Maria on MLK weekend to ride with the juniors of Team VeloSport at their team camp, and this weekend I was incredibly inspired by the work ethic, dedication and awesome attitudes of all the rad kids on this award winning development team.
This year I believe there were 55 kids from the team in attendance at camp, ranging in ages from 8 - 18 plus a huge group of super cool parents/mentors. For the kids, the weekend consisted of an individual time trail Saturday followed by skills drills in a park and seminars in the evening, and a TTT Sunday followed by a stout ride up and over Tepusquet mtn.

Highlights from the weekend included:

-Rolling through Santa Maria out to the ITT and TTT with a MASSIVE group of super fun, enthusiastic juniors

-Riding alongside one of the young jr gilrs as she slaughtered the individual time trial

-An 'em' paced adult ride to Avila Beach on Saturday afternoon that turned into a very NOT em paced suffer fest in which we may have ended up dropping some riders, talking about stopping for coffee/ice cream and never actually doing it, checking out the butterflies in Grover Beach, and HAMMERING the final stretch to Santa Maria (I'm not really sure why, but heck, it hurt so good). Also I'm pretty sure I reinforced my reputation as a terrible ride leader for not only accidentally lying about the pace, but under-estimating the length of the ride... 100 miles later... oops.

- Discovering the most amazing Mexican grocery store ever and  spending half an hour there Saturday night talking on the phone with Brendan while nomming on delicious cookies :)

- Getting to mentor a co-ed TTT team of crushers who did such a great job of putting it all out there in their team time trial. They worked so hard there was almost a crash near the end because the kids were going cross eyed. Not many people are able to push themselves that hard, let alone 13-15 year olds!
Tep... one of my new all time favorite climbs :) Just look at that road!
- Riding with the 'intermediates' (juniors anywhere from 12-16 years old) up Tepusquet mtn, then down the backside, which ended up being one of the most amazing roads I've even ridden down, think perfectly banked turns, amazing views and butter smooth pavement. The kids worked SO hard on the way up the front, it was super impressive (esp after they did the TTT that morning!), then the coaches/mentors dropped the hammer on the way up the backside... oops :)

The mentors, accidentally dropping the kiddos :)
-And another post kid ride, this time just with crusher triathlete Adam Harita, which AGAIN was supposed to be EM paced and ended up being a shred sesh due to limited day light, consisted of 100% amazing scenery/roads (how is it SO dang pretty in the Los Olivos area!?!), included a jaunt on 101 North (apparently I can't get enough hwy 101), and this time DID involve a coffee and pastry stop. The chocolate almond croissant was pretty necessary to get us back to Santa Maria as I once again underestimated the distance and we ended up with 118 miles on the day...oops... again. Rolling into the hotel parking lot after dark to eye rolling was the ridiculous icing on the cake :) Thanks Adam for playing bikes with me until past sunset, that was an AWESOME bonus ride!

And thanks team Velosport for letting me come play bikes with you guys and gals all weekend! It was an honor to be part of such an incredible organization for the weekend. The coaches, parents, team directors and volunteers who make this team/camp possible for the kids do an outstanding job. One day maybe I'll have a little shredder to race for the Velosport jr development team... I can only hope :)
PS. the girls team are brand ambassador champions! Working on their sponsor rep game :)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

SF to LA: Kicking off 2018 by knocking out goal #1 (day 2)

I wish I had pictures from Thursday night. Pictures to show how cracked I was, how utterly tired and defeated I felt, pictures of the babbling nonsense I uttered to Brendan as he wiped down my chain, lubed it and put my bike in the van. It was probably not a pretty sight. I went to sleep in the van thinking I was done. We had parked basically exactly where Brendan met me at the end of Day 1 with the In-n-out, and I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. 

Before going to sleep, somehow Brendan talked me into setting an alarm for 5am the next day, in case I woke up and wanted to ride. Miraculously, when the alarm went off I was on my feet throwing on a clean kit, the same leg warmers and Brendan's dry vest as if day 1 had never happened! Somehow I was going through the motions to start day 2 despite being so thoroughly convinced the night before that it was over and I had no desire to pedal anymore. 

Soon I was rolling through Atascadero and Santa Margarita, and then into San Luis Obispo. Since the detour took me inland the route now consisted of random side streets and some hwy 101. In the dark early morning hours it was a little sketchy to be dodging tire shreds and glass alongside 65mph traffic, but when the sun came up I didn't mind the hwy riding so much. 

In SLO I had decided to drink a real cup of coffee, since the detour and wind had already made so much of the trip miserable, I figured 'who cares how fast I do it now?' and a 10 minute stop to suck down a small cup and inhale a blueberry lemon muffin seemed like a good idea. Double bonus was the fact that my favorite coffee shop in SLO happened to be on the route and I didn't even need to look at a map, it just appeared like an omen not at all where I thought it would be.
Roads like these are why I love riding my bike :) Just south of SLO on some random country rd. 
The coffee and snack were possibly the best part of the ride (besides the scenery in Big Sur of course), and once I was rolling again everything was rainbows and butterflies and magic, just like any best day I love my bike kind of bike ride. I felt fantastic all the way to Buelton where Brendan was waiting with snacks, chain lube and water. Much of the route to Buelton was in heavy, wet fog or on Hwy 1, and the bike was starting to get filthy and squeaky. My rear brake wasn't working anymore and Brendan had to do emergency surgery on the front brake to stop it from rubbing. Once I was fed and had chargers/lights ready to go we made a plan to meet in Ventura (where I expected to be at sunset) and I was back on 101 finally headed back to the coast.

On the shoulder of the freeway, NBD. 
 Returning to the coast meant dropping back into the fog, so sadly I didn't get the sweeping views of rugged coastline I was looking forward to as I pushed down hwy 1 towards SB. Fortunately there was only a very very light headwind, so progress was much quicker than the day before and in no time I was in Santa Barbara, basking in the glory of only having 100 miles to go. You know you have a screw loose when you think ONLY 100 miles to go!

 Somehow I still felt good as I rolled along State street and then the palm tree lined bike path on the beach. My knees hurt a little, and I couldn't go fast anymore, but turning the pedals wasn't the worst thing, and again, quitting no longer seemed tempting. Santa Barbara has some great bike paths and lanes, and being in town with things to look at helped a lot, and so did the chocolate mint waffle I snacked on :)

South of SB I hopped on the bike path along the freeway, cruised to Ventura and met up with Brendan one final time, ah hour ahead of what I expected, to devour croissants filled with ham and cheese, and sugar cookies from a tin Brendan's mom gave us (I think on this ride I ate upwards of 50 cookies... they are small, but still). I figured I would get to Point Mugu at dusk and Brendan wanted to shadow me as I rode in the dark from Malibu to Santa Monica, but with the way Hwy 1 works it didn't really work out so well, and Brendan ended up driving to the Pier where I was going to finish to wait.

Of all 478 miles of this trip the traffic and roads felt safe and comfortable until the very last 15 miles. As the light left the sky, with TWO tail lights on my bike, cars on hwy 1 buzzed me over and over, as if they didn't have enough room in their TWO lanes to give me a comfortable berth. It was a little un-nerving and frustrating, but being super super tired has a way of making one not really care about anything in particular, so I kinda just tolerated the rude drivers.

Past Malibu about 8 miles from the finish I started to get emotional and reflect back on the ride. I didn't really want it to end because, then what? 10 miles felt like an eternity as well as the shortest distance ever, and how the hell did I go all this way, so much of which was on freeway, without a flat?! Well, right as I thought that I felt a squishy feeling in my rear tire. At first the timing seemed too coincidental so I figured it was in my head, but a couple seconds later I felt rim on pavement and knew that yes, after all this time, I did indeed have a flat, so close, but so far from the end.
I stopped on the side of the road (under a street light thank God) and proceeded to complete the world's slowest flat change. I'm pretty sure I was sitting on the ground at some point because squatting to access my saddlebag hurt my quads too much.
Eventually the tire had a new tube in it, and I was rolling again. Soon I hopped onto the Santa Monica beach bike path, which was pretty spooky in the foggy dark, with absolutely no one in sight. The real mystery of the ride turned up in the last 3 miles, what the hell are all those scooters doing on that bike path with no owners?!? I passed maybe 10 unattended scooters, some in the sand, others standing at attention on the path. I felt like a crazy person, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't hallucinating!

Anyway, I'm going to end this in the least exciting way possible. At mile 229 on day 2 I rolled up to Brendan on the Santa Monica pier and lifted my grimy, filthy Felt F1 over my head in victory (kinda) and disbelief. After so much desire to quit, so much misery, so much doubt and frustration it was kinda unreal to sand there at the end of the longest ride of my life, more than 2 double centuries in a row, alive and finished. It was bizarre. The world moved on around us as Brendan and I gushed for a few minutes about the whole ordeal, and then we were back in the van, eating more cookies and laughing at the hilarious texts from friends that had been pouring in all day (unbeknownst to me as I was riding and not looking at my phone).

And then we drove to the heart of LA, ate the most amazing steak fries of my life, and inhaled horchata before making the final push to Silverado.

Now I don't know how to end this, and I need to go make dinner. Over the next day or two, while I am at work teaching, or coaching the Laguna kiddos, I know some sort of resolution will come to me, but for now I'm still feeling full and happy, and incredulous. It's done. What next?

Saturday, January 6, 2018

SF to LA: Kicking off 2018 by knocking out goal #1 (day 1)

Riding through Malibu on Hwy 1, five miles from the finish of the longest two day epic bike ride of my life, just as I was reflecting on how incredible it was to have covered 473 miles, much of which was on hwy or freeway with no flats, I felt that dreaded squish in the back wheel of my bike. No joke, RIGHT as I was thinking how impressive my tires were to wistand all that abuse, RIGHT THEN I got the only flat tire of the ride. It's all about timing, right?

And I guess that's the theme of this ride and blog, because although it may seem like a success in the sense that we made it from SF to LA in 2 days, the timing could not have been worse, turning it from an attempt at the fastest coastal route ride to simply a point to point achievement. 

This whole thing started with Dave Koesel's stupid** peak to peak challenge, the 200 mile solo ride I did a few months. After accomplishing that ride with little preparation, and feeling really good at the end, I couldn't help thinking 'what next?' And the obvious leap my mind took was, ride your bike home from Christmas break! Of course! If you can ride 200 miles with 15,86 ft ascent, why not try 460.8 with 24,440ft ascent? That is the next logical option, right?

So I concocted a plan to ride south along the coastal route faster than any woman has ever done it before, but then the first wrench was thrown in my spokes, Brendan didn't support the idea. He said it was too dangerous, that he cared about me too much to let me ride through the night on a hwy, and that it was a bad idea. As much as I disagreed, he IS the brains of the family, so I had to respect his wishes. Plus he was my most logical choice of follow vehicle driver, so I kinda needed him on board.
The next cure ball came with the weather. After a full week of cold but sunny days in Bodega Bay, the forecast started showing a rain storm moving in for Weds-Friday of week 2 of winter break. I wanted to complete the ride on week days, over winter break because it's off season for tourists, and week day traffic is probably lower than weekend traffic on Hwy 1. Even over 2 days the ride would still require many hours pedaling in the dark, so we wanted as little traffic as possible, but being limited to week days meant head winds, rain and epic fog. 

Roadblock number 3 was a literal one, the landslide in Big Sur. When I get an idea, like doing Dave Koesel's twin peaks challenge, or riding from SF to LA, I have a REALLY hard time waiting to get it done. My impatience nagged and nagged, and I was convinced that the best time to do this was RIGHT NOW, ASAP! I think this also stems from a fear that if I put it off it will never happen, but regardless, I just couldn't handle waiting for the landslide to be cleared. Plus the little research I did made it seem like the rd could be closed for years. Intel from a friend who did the ride the week before was that when the guard leaves at dusk you can hike across the landslide, so that's what I planned to do. When we mapped it out it looked like I would get to the slide area at dusk, so it seemed like a good idea, at the time. 

Bad timing aspect #4 was self imposed. In the final week of 2017 I went a little bonkers and decided to ride 500 miles. I just really wanted to do some classic NorCal rides, you know my favorite loops like King Ridge, and coincidentally the miles added up to 500 in a week, a first for me. But as good as it felt to check that off the bucket list and to see all my favorite places/eat my favorite pastries, it was WAY too much riding for the week before this SF to LA thing, and my legs were already shot before I even started. 

So Thursday morning at 4am my alarm goes off, I jump out of bed in the van, throw on a kit and  next thing I know I'm rolling down the coast in SF. It was damp and dark, but surprisingly warm, so soon after the start I shed my rain jacket. Also soon after the start I started to not feel so great. My legs hurt, and my heart wasn't in it. My bike started shifting funny so I waved Brendan down (he wanted to follow me in the van while it was dark out) and had him look at the bike. Then I pushed the negative thoughts aside and tried to focus on the big picture. 

In some tunnel near SF in the dark early morning hours. I like tunnels. 
The miles didn't exactly tick by quickly, especially for the first 2 hours in the dark, but eventually the sun came up and I was riding through the beautiful towns of Half Moon Bay and Pescadero. The going was slow since the wind was coming from the south (which it NEVER DOES EXCEPT THIS ONE DAMN DAY), but I just kept telling myself the wind would probably shift, and to be grateful it wasn't raining, plus the stormy skies made for some great scenery. 
It was a struggle to get to my first stopping point to meet up with Brendan, to pound an espresso and grab a breakfast sandwich in Aptos. The wind pushed back for the entirety of the first 80 miles, and I could only tell myself lies about feeling good for so long. It would be dishonest to say I didn't feel like quitting many many times in the first 5 hours. Seeing Brendan, the caffeine and the solid food did me good though, and once I was rolling again my spirits were much higher. 

This kids is where your strawberries come from!
Outside of Aptos I rode through fields of strawberries in tight little canyons on narrow roads with great protection from the wind. But as soon as the landscape opened up closer to Monterrey the wind resumed it's assault on my progress, constantly pushing back as I pushed forward. I used the navigation setting on my Garmin to know where to go, which is great because the turn by turn directions let me take side streets to avoid the loud, busy, dangerous sections of hwy 1 into Monterrey. The back roads through the agricultural land had NO protection from the wind though, and at one point I was going so slowly it felt futile to continue. Again, I wanted to quit. I wanted Brendan to drive the van in front of me to block the wind, I wanted to hitch hike. It sucked. 
Bike path into Monterrey, so so pretty and the bluest sky I would see all day.
But eventually, slowly, I made to to Monterrey, and Carmel, and finally to the really iconic beautiful stretch of coast between Nor and Socals. 

Brendan was supposed to meet up with me somewhere on Hwy 1 about 80 miles south of Aptos, so I could refill waters, and grab an external battery for my Garmin and phone. He must have over-napped though because I rode for hours and hours without seeing the van. Every turn I came around I expected to see it in a pull out, but nope, never a giant white Sprinter. I ran out of water and shot him a text. I texted again an hour later. Nothing, no reply or sign of him. I got worried he was in a car accident, or that the van broke down. I got angry and frustrated that I had been out of water so long. I got stressed and anxious that my devices would die. And all the while I pushed into the stupidest headwind that continued to pummel me all the way down the coast. I had to push hard on every descent because the wind wanted to make every foot of progress miserable. The climbs became my only refuge as they sometimes were sheltered from the south blowing beast. 

Similar to the last photo, but the Big Sur coast is just endless stunning beauty.
Eventually I couldn't take the stress anymore, and I pulled over to ask some tourists if they had extra water. I was near tears with desperation and I could feel my power slipping away with the hours of dehydration. Thankfully the first people I asked had water to spare and I was elated to receive a whole bottle. 

 After my almost break down I rode through Big Sur towards the roadblock in Gorda in a trance like state. It was pretty and I was tired and I didn't really care about anything at all. Eventually Brendan texted me saying he was on his way, and when I was almost to the roadblock he drove past and stopped so I could grab more food and water. 

I ate half Brendan's sandwich and about 50 butter cookies while we talked about the roadblock situation. It was only 4pm, WAY too early to try to cross as the guard was said to leave at dusk. I decided to use the alternate route as not to waste an hour and a half waiting for the guard to leave, but Brendan would scope it out and come get me if the coast was clear. 

At this point I was 200 miles into the day, and our phones told us it was 50 miles to Paso Robles if I went up and over Nacimiento Ferguson road. I have NO idea how I tricked my mind into just riding up that damn hill, but somehow I was just doing it, just turning pedals and not questioning what I was doing. The climb was STUNNING, like I'm almost glad I was forced to go around stunning. When I got about 500 ft up the fog cleared to this gorgeous mountain with a narrow road carved into the side, snaking up through the clouds and trees. It just felt good going uphill so for the hour I was climbing all was right with the world. 

I got to the top just as the last light left the sky, and with no Brendan in sight (I thought he would catch me before I got to the top) and was forced to descend the wet, sketchy, steep, twisty backside of Nacimiento alone. At some point on the descent I passed a military something or other gate and stopped, kinda freaked out because it was pitch black and the fog just reflected off my lights so it was hard to see where I was going. I ate the rest of the sandwich while looking at a map, and decided my only real option was to keep riding in hopes of finding a town. Again I worried that Brendan had been in a car accident, or that the van died, but I was almost looking forward to the excuse that I had to rescue him and that's why I didn't finish. 

When I finally figured out that I was in Fort Hunter Liggett, and starting to see signs of civilization Brendan drove up and I was so so happy. I was also so so over it. I wanted to get in the van and drive home, but I stifled my constant thoughts of quitting and told myself I just had to get to the 101. Brendan drove behind me for the next 15 miles (which was mostly a gradual climb, so very very slow) and when we got to Bradley I declared that I was done with bikes and the ride and I wanted to pull the plug. 

What I found odd was that Brendan didn't really give me the option to quit. Brendan Connors, who I fully expected to say, ok, if that's how you feel, just kinda never let me have that option. Instead somehow he got me to agree to riding 15 more miles to Paso Robles while he drove to In-n-out to get us burgers and fries. I spent that 15 miles convinced that I was done, planning how I would ride mtb with Brendan in Santa Barbara the next day, and drink Black Horse coffee instead, of how comfortable that all sounded. 

When I met up with Brendan 15 miles later I gushed about how awful the day was, how windy, the detour, the suffering. I stuffed my face with fries and a cheese burger animal style and a Neapolitan shake. I swapped the wet, cold chamois for warm dry pajamas and crawled into bed with my socks on, and was instantly out like a light. 

This is already epic-ly long. I am going to bed, day 2 will have to wait for tomorrow :)

**tongue in cheek stupid, as in I loved it so much but I was really a ridiculous ride/idea. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Yo

Ok, ok, ok, I know I am incredibly behind the times, but here are a few thoughts on the new year, racing, and what we will be up to for 2018.

First of all, while riding mountain bikes with Brendan on Jan 1 in Santa Cruz, while I was floating over rough patches in a very torn up Soquel Demo forest (end of season wear and tear kinda rough) my new year's resolution came to me; Positivity.
Nature makes me remember what is important. 
You may think, wait, hold on a minute, Larissa is SO happy all the time, always smiling, so positive, how is that anything new? Well, to be perfectly honest, 2017 started out very hard for me, and the negative events that happened at the end of 2016 spilled into the beginning of last year, leaving me bitter, unsure of who I was and what path I should take forward to rebuild the bike racing career that seemed to be torn apart. And I wasn't the nicest, most positive person. When cars would buzz me on my bike ride home I would get so so angry, when I was upset I would say negative, nasty things about people I barely know, other people whose personal struggles I didn't understand, and I think I just lost touch of the happy, positive, person I used to be.
Got to ride a lap with this guy, so that made me pretty happy :)

During the descent down Flow trail, while I was starting to fixate on the braking bumps and ruts, and all the things that were 'wrong' with the trail, I kinda snapped out of it and had that moment of clarity where I realized that I was surrounded by trees and real dirt and beautiful weather. I had good health and a working body on my side, an awesome bike and time off work that allowed me to even do this ride. And when I shifted my mindset I started having so much more fun :)

Wheelie excited about 2018, big goals and exciting challenges. 
I know mindset is a spectrum, and that you can't always be happy and smiling, but I want to focus on choosing to be happy no matter what this year. I want to actively think about the good things, rather than immediately focusing on the complaints I have. I want to be uplifting, and helpful, and the person who consistently helps others feel better in 2018. So yeah, that's my new year's resolution, nothing new, but what I feel is the most important aspect of myself.

In other news, I've also realized that I am addicted to scary things. Tomorrow I am about to embark on the scariest thing I can think of, so scary I don't want to advertise what it is (to Brendan's despair) because there is a real significant chance I will fail. It's going to be hard, and painful, like all good things, but also has the potential to be beautiful and to give me that sense of accomplishment I am always chasing.

And what better way to start the new year than by doing the very thing that scares the living daylights out of you?!

More on my 2018 team and goals and all that really good stuff coming soon. For now, wish me luck on this challenge, and if you want to follow along, Brendan will be on my social media for the next 2 days filling you all in on where I am and what I am doing :)

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Most Ridiculous Day

Remember that crazy 200 mile ride I did 6 weeks ago, the solo death march from Orange County to Palomar mtn and then up through Temecula to Santiago Peak? The reason I did that ride was because SuperDave, a local legend and employee of 3T made it a goal to ride both Palomar and Santiago peaks in one day back in Sept, and the date of his attempt became sort of a big event in Orange County. 

Dec 9 was the date set aside for the ride, and despite concern about the route, a ridiculous backwards version of what I did complete with unreasonable amounts of super rough dirt roads on cross bikes, i threw caution to the wind and jumped on my bike Saturday morning to join the shenanigans.  

A very bad picture of the group at Tucker, pre-Harding.

Dave's ride started from 3T, but I rolled from home to get a few more minutes of sleep and avoid doing my bike commute on a weekend day. I met the crowd at Tucker Wildlife sanctuary in Modjeska canyon and soon the group of about 30 was climbing Harding truck trail towards Santiago peak.  

I've done this first climb on a Felt VR before (that's the adventure ready road bike I raced BWR on, remember) so the first climb at least was NBD. Sadly I am a slow learner, and despite Brendan telling me over and over that low tire pressure is better, I had aired up my tires to the upper limit the sidewall info indicated was acceptable, which was much too high for the mtb rims I was riding. My logic was that I would be on the road en route TO Harding, but I never let air out of the tires and 2/3 of the way up Harding my rear tire rolled off the rim. I was super bummed to have to put a tube in my rear tire (although in retrospect there was plenty of Orange Seal in there, I could prob have shot it with C02 and re-seated the tire), and came to grips with the fact that I was going to have to ride super conservative to not pinch flat now.  
Not long after we turned onto Main Divide to finish the ascent to Santiago Peak I felt that dreaded squish under me, looked down and realized that I have ANOTHER rear flat. Fortunately the Spandex Stampede guy was there and let me use his tube instead of digging through my saddlebag for the very hard to get second tube I had. I promised I would hit him with a fresh tube at the lunch stop, threw in tube #2 and we were off again. I was super bummed to be the girl getting all the flats, and started wondering if it was a sign I should bail and avoid getting 1,000 more flats and becoming a hassle.  

Alone, on MD, loving life.

When I reached the peak the group was taking pictures and what not, but I rolled through without stopping to get a head start, fearing I needed to be crazy conservative to avoid more flats. I spent the next hour-ish alone, expecting to get caught, literally reminding myself out loud NOT to ride fast on every downhill, which was so so so frustrating, I just wanted to bomb down the chunky, rocky roads I know so well. By the time I reached the end of the dirt I still hadn't gotten caught, and started to fear the group was ahead of me, or that they had decided to turn somewhere and take a different route. I didn't have much choice though, but to keep going, and was relieved to meet up with Collin, the SAG vehicle driver at Ortega HWY and hear that no one else had been through.  
I sat down and ate some snacks, chatted with Collin, ate more snacks, and waited. I waited so long I was able to patch the flat tube fro earlier (a thorn, not a pinch flat like we thought). After eating MORE snacks I decided to ride the route backwards to find the group. I figured sitting around was a waste of time and it was a beautiful day. About a mile back up the road I ran into the group, who apparently had so many flats they had run out of tubes and C02 and had resorted to patching tubes as more flats occurred. Although I was relieved that i wasn't the only one to get so many flats, the delay set us back more than an hour behind schedule, and over lunch the decision was made to descend Ortega and ride Grand Ave to Temecula, which is ore similar to my previous route than what had been planned.  .
The following 3 hours were pretty uneventful. The 6 of us who continued towards Palomar took turns pulling at what was to me a pretty hard pace. We Made short work of Grand Ave though, amazing how much faster it was with a group, and soon we were in Temecula headed to Hwy 79. We picked up some fresh meat in Temecula, Richard, who helped out with the pulling as our group was starting to fade. I continued to eat more calories than I was burning, and felt stoked to feel strong, fresh despite the savage pace across Grand and 7,000 ft we had already climbed.  
Hwy 79 was sketchy as heck, like expected, but we had the car behind us, alerting other vehicles that we were there, so it was a bit safer than when I rode it alone in the other direction, and we only got 1 middle finger!  

Eno, me and Sean at the beginning of the climb.
By the time we got to the base of our ascent up Palomar it was 3pm, and half the group was cracked. I ate some more un-necessary snacks and then Eno, Sean and I promptly rode away from the others up the steep, sandy climb. I knew how heinous the next 2 hours would be, so I settled into my own pace and was suprised overall that the whole thing was much less terrible than I imagined climbing it would be the two times I had descended it. The wind had stripped much of the sand off the fire road, and at a moderate pace it was hard, but not the worst thing ever, until the last mile! On the way up we were treated to an amazing sunset over the desert, and we reached the top as a bright pink/orange blaze lit the western horizon through the pine trees that crown Palomar.  

In the last mile Sean fell apart and ended up walking, but Richard caught up and joined Eno and I for the short traverse to the pavement. Our little group kept moving as it was getting colder and colder, and the sun had completely set before we got off the dirt. Since I was familiar with the route we had no trouble navigating turns and what not, and we figured the others would see our deep, narrow tire tracks (and honestly I thought these hooligans would have a map of some sort, since, you know, I didn't commit to doing this ride until the night before!), so we didn't wait at intersections. The three of us arrived at Mother's Kitchen, a little restaurant at the false summit of Palomar at 5:30ish, and were so so glad to be welcomed inside by locals setting up for their holiday party. We sat and chatted and waited and waited and waited. We discussed descending to tacos at the base of the mountain, but kept deciding to wait just a bit longer for the rest of our group. At one point Richard drove off with a nice mountain woman who offered to take him to her house where there is cell service so he could phone his wife, and we figured he was getting kidnapped and wasn't coming back.  
Eventually, after what felt like an hour, Dave and Dan showed up, and then the question was, where is Sean? Sean from Michigan who didn't have a light nor winter clothes nor a map... Sean had been between our two groups so his absence definitely meant he took a wrong turn. This development meant we had to send out a search party, which meant loading the group in cars and the thought of finishing the ride basically died at that point. At this point in the evening, with nice mountain lady off with Richard, the other local folk turned on us and kicked us out of their 'private event' forcing us to go stand outside in the cold. It was also getting more and more frigid by the minute, Palomar is above 5,000ft, so like almost real elevation, and none of us were dressed appropriately. As we struggled to load bikes and people on the two cars we had to go find him, miracle of all miracle, Sean rolled in! Somehow he had found his way to Mothers by using his cell phone flash light and dumb luck for direction. And then, another Christmas miracle, Richard returned, not kidnapped after all!  
No one had any interest in continuing to ride at this point, and despite being very bummed to have climbed so far and to not get to descend, I reluctantly agreed to drive back as well since riding in the cold and dark alone didn't seem too fun or safe. In the end though, I'm pretty pumped on that decision as the car was warm, and the dudes I had been riding with turned out to know all the guys I raced with in college, so we had a solid reminiscing sesh on the 1.5 hour drive back to Orange County.  
Overall I only got 105 miles and 13,000ft elevation gain, but it was a fun and ridiculous and eventful day doing things a bit different than my usual hammer all the time, no stopping, solo pace. Not sure I want to do too many more big ridiculous group rides, but there is a second attempt planned for March... and I don't know if I can turn down a bad idea ride :) But maybe I'll just go do it alone instead, just to prove the thing is possible in both directions! 

Living the life, one ridiculous adventure at a time :)

Monday, November 13, 2017

CTS Fig Fondo

The path to a happy life is paved with good friends, endless adventure, challenges, lots of coffee and tacos. At least for me it is. I've lost track of how many best weekends in a row I've had this fall, which is a very good thing following a best summer ever. 

This weekend's edition of adventure and pain centered around the Carmichael Training System Figueroa Mountain Gran Fondo, a 97 mile ride with a very challenging 10 mile KOM/QOM mountain climb in the first 20 miles. 
Team mates for life :)
As my school observed Veteran's day on Friday Nikki, her bf Nic and I were able to leave town Friday afternoon and kick off the weekend with the most perfect recovery paced spin along the ocean in Ventura. Then we sat in ALL THE TRAFFIC heading into Santa Barbara en route to dinner with friends in Solvang. 

Saturday morning we were up early, downed coffee and oats, and rolled out to the ride in a chilly central coast morning fog. 

The CTS office in Santa Ynez (where the fondo began and ended) always feels like home as everyone there treats you like family, and it was fun to run around saying hi to all the familiar faces before we headed to the start line. I think this is one of my favorite things about CTS as a coaching company, I feel like part of a big happy team, everyone cares about each other, coaches and athletes, it's pretty special. 

 All 600 of us riders rolled out of Santa Ynez at 8am, heading east towards Figueroa. The 'neutral' start meant us competitive types got a chance to chat with each other on the way to the impending suffering. I got to catch up with Alison Tetric, miss Gravel Queen herself, as well as a bunch of dudes who I don't remember their names (hahaha, sorry dudes, you all look alike in your kits and stuff!)

Around mile 10 we rode over some timing mats and the 'race' was on. I had never ascended Fig before so the whole climb was a mystery, one of those daunting challenges which you hear so much about, and build up a respect/fear of until the day comes that you get to see it for yourself. Menso came along for the adventure with the plan of riding with me all day rather than trying for the KOM himself. spending part of the week on the couch after our Tribute ride last week left him exactly fast enough to stay with me (well probably faster, but yeah), and to warn me a few times that we were going way too hard in the first 15 minutes based on his power numbers. I however was feeling invencible, and had a hard time reigning it in even after I was told by several dudes that it was an hour + long climb.

Few people realize that Santa Barbara county has real mountains, and Fig is the most westerly and smallest of the peaks that are accessible by cross or mountain bike from the beautiful, sleepy town. The route we took ascended for 3 miles, took us across some dirt and through three creek crossings and then shot us straight up the mountain side, to about 4,500ft in the remaining 5ish miles. The road wound around and through the mountainside, offering sweeping views to the left/west. but I saw none of it as I was solely focused on holding Menso's wheel/leaving every piece of my heart on the climb. As Menso put it, I wanted to be bleeding out my eyeballs from going so hard at the end. For most of the climb I could see Alison working hard to stay with us, about 30 seconds back. This obvi triggered my 'panic stricken' mode of racing, where I freaked out inside, talked myself out of getting to the top first and internally accepted loosing the QOM, all while continuing to gut myself to stay with the boys. Eventually Alison started to fade, and the gap got just big enough for me to relax a bit about 3km from the top, thank God because I thought I was going to puke from 10km to go all the way to the summit.

At the top I breathed a sigh of relief and rolled on towards the descent, not stopping for cookies or snacks at the aid station. We had been riding for about 2 hours but I couldn't stomach the idea of eating because I felt so sick from climbing, and maybe eating too much oatmeal before the ride. I was told that the only segment that mattered as a 'race' was the QOM, so I took my time descending, snapping a few pictures, and finally took in the incredible views of rolling central coast hills and ocean. It reminded me a lot of the views from King Ridge Road in Sonoma County, one of my favorite places in the world.

At the bottom of the descent Menso waited for me, and then we ran into my coach as we rolled into the teeny tiny wine tasting town of Los Olivos. I was told there were pastries at the rest stop, and although I didn't really want to stop, my calves were sore, and I knew I NEEDED food (even though I still didn't WANT any). Sadly we had mistaken 'pace groups' for pastries, a very very disappointing reality.

So we decided to wait until the next group was planning to roll out in order to have other riders to draft off of and work with for the 60 miles that remained of the day. Our group was decently large, about 15 guys and me, and eventually Menso got everyone to rotate and work together rather than attack the front over and over. I was already pretty shelled by the climb and the yo-yoing of the group, but because I didn't think the overall mattered I vacillated between doing work (rotating in the paceline with the guys), and sitting on the back recovering.

The cool thing about gran fondos is that average, non-racing cyclists get to ride alongside professionals, and I think that's part of why they are so popular in the US. It also means that you aren't necessarily always riding with people who a) know who you are, and b) know how to ride in a group. The consequence of a) was that a guy said something to the effect of 'nice work sweetie' to me, which I found very offensive, and b) I was destroying myself every time I went to the front because the goober who pulled off before me wouldn't fricken' slow down and drop back. So this situation made for an interesting 30 miles of flying through country roads under giant old oak trees and through beautiful vineyards.

At some point we picked up Alison who had passed us when we were all stopped looking for pastries. I was stoked because I had hoped to Fondo with her, but was mildly offended when she claimed she 'wasn't trying to get the QOM' on Fig... suuuurrrreeee. Anyway, that's just how us cyclists are, we can't always play our cards, ego and stuff gets in the way and you have to pretend you were sick, or on a recovery day, or had a loose cassette, haha.

So all these randos, Alison, Menso and me rolled on and on, and at mile 65 a short, steep climb started which had all the dudes and Alison out of the saddle sprinting full boar up the hill. I didn't really understand what was going on, as I thought it wasn't a race anymore, and after a minute or two of thinking everyone would regroup I realized that I was going to get dropped by the group, and decided to try and stay with them. Sadly, it was too little too late, as I was never able to close the 20 second gap they all got on me and the back end of the group, and I rolled over the top both shell shocked and weary from having to try and close a gap I was dumb enough to let form. After that I just decided to keep my HR in check and finish the fondo at my own speed, not trying to stay with any yahoos or anything. I rode alone for a while until an aid station reunited me with the dudes I would finish the day with. At said aid station I forced down 1 pretzel and half a coke, and grabbed a bunch of gels for 'later' (but I was too dumb to actually eat them).

We rode and talked and climbed to the finish, in what I would call the most perfect Fondo pace ever. I took pictures, and looked around, and enjoyed the sensations of the warm sun on my back and sting in my legs as I climbed the final hills.

At the finish we made a bee line for the lunch, and devoured as much chili, tacos and corn bread as my stomach would allow. Apparently Menso burned north of 6,000 calories on the day, and my Strava said I knocked out 4,200, or about 20 tacos, haha :) The rest of the day was like a party, talking to other CTS athletes, some non-coached yahoos (Nic...) and coaches. There was indeed a podium, and I learned at the podium that there was an overall award after all (guess I shouldn't have started Fondo-ing) but I was happy to claim the QOM and two beers for my efforts.

Overall it was an outstanding day. I can't say enough good things about my coach, CTS, and the Fig Fondo, all of which embodied the best of SoCal cycling to me. I am lucky, proud, stoked, and humbled to be part of this organization. I even got to meet Olympian and multi time Giro Rosa winner Mara Abbot after the ride, how freaking cool is that!?

This was the last 'event' I had on the calendar for 2017. Wouldn't have wanted such a fun filled, intense, long, challenging season to end in any other way. Thanks friends, for making it the best day full of laughs, and CTS for making me the athlete I am.
Me, Nikki, Nic and Menso, 4 happy mountain bikers 'wasting time' on road bikes :) 

We rounded out the weekend with nonstop food, bikes and fun, Sat. night I ate the most amazing tacos and churros with Menso and his wife, followed by two intense games of Settlers of Catan (in which Menso did not win).

And Sunday some local pro-fondoers, gave me a road bike tour of fancy places which blew my mind, and in which I popped my first 'successful' road bike wheelie (haha, it lasted one pedal stroke... I got my wheel 2 inches off the ground). We followed that up with a coffee ride with Menso and Jacquline on the tandem + Nikki and Nic which resulted in more laugh-till-I-can't-pedal moments, and somehow more hunger than when the day stared. A final stop at a line-out-the-door Mexican place for MORE amazing tacos in SB, and Ancho Chili Mocahs in Ventura on the road capped off what surely was the best weekend of fall for me. I'm ready to do some hard core resting, and the memories made this year will keep me going until it's time to start training for sure.  

Larzy out.