Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

This past weekend Nikki Peterson and I were able to sneak away to St George for a few days to pre-ride the True Grit NUE course and have a little girls weekend in the desert. I looked forward to this trip for weeks, to the idea of riding my brains out on crazy fun, technical, rocky trails, drinking afternoon coffee sitting next to the van looking out at gorgeous views of red rocks, yoga in the warm sun, and maybe even sneaking in some reading. 
Sadly both Nikki and I came down with the flu a week before we planned to leave, and even though we were both still coughing and blowing our noses, it was the only 3 day weekend I had to make the trek out to Utah before the race. We decided to still go, but focus on taking it easy/getting a lot of sleep all weekend. Although the weekend didn't go exactly how I envisioned, I'm pretty pumped to report that I did in fact take it easy (despite having so much time I COULD ride, if you know me at all, you know this is a big deal) and that I came home healthier than when we left! I'm oddly proud right now that I used so much self control, although it was very very very hard, and didn't ride myself into the ground. 

Some highlights of the trip included:

Getting to sneak in a 3 hour shred in Idylwild before picking up Nikki on Friday. If you live in SoCal the trails in Idylwild are totally worth the drive, plus there is a seemingly endless amount of riding there. On my ride I accidentally found the jump trail, got lost at least 3 times, saw approximately 0 other people (until I got back to the van) and was blown away yet again by how much fun the Edict is. 

Friday night we slept in a Walmart parking lot in Mesquite, NV, you know because we are classy like that. One of my favorite aspects of #vanlife is being able to pull over and go to sleep on a whim, and since we were prioritizing sleep, Mesquite is where that happened! The cherry on top was being able to run in and grab almond milk in the morning for our coffee!

Saturday we got a late start, but still rode the first half of the race course together. There were TONS of other mountain bikers EVERYWHERE, mostly families with young kids which I thought was pretty much the best thing ever! 
Nikki and I getting our minds blown by the super cool rock features on the course!

We stopped to session a lot of technical features, tricky lines and fun descents, so the 30 mile ride took more than 3 hours. When we got back to the van we basically sat right down in the dirt and inhaled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

And then, since we didn't start the first ride until 11am, I basically had to jump right back on my bike to sneak in an afternoon ride before sunset. On my second ride of the day I hit the remainder of the course, plus a little extra credit, and flexed the self control muscle by NOT riding ALL THE TRAILS like I wanted to (It was hard, I mean come on, one was called 'suicidal tendencies', how could you NOT want to ride that!?
Perma-smile in the desert! So much cool scenery to distract you when you are trying to shred! 
On my Sat afternoon ride I met the Utah state high school shredder Truman and his dad after we played a little cat and mouse on the last loop of the race course. It was super fun charging down Barrel Roll with Truman hot on my wheel, and then chatting with them after about racing, Leadville and True Grit. The next day Nikki and I got to meet Isabelle, Truman's sister who is a sophomore in high school and is also racing True Grit. I admire these kids so much, to have the drive to do something so challenging as high schoolers, that is pretty freaking cool! AND they are wicked fast XC racers too!

Sunday I got to have a little van life moment drinking Badsea coffee and eating previously frozen Greek yogurt with granola since the van fridge is too efficient and froze all the food we brought. It's the simple things, like good coffee, home made granola and a book in the early morning that make me happiest.

When Nikki woke up she had to 'milk' the frozen Almond mike carton... it was pretty funny, like squeezing milk from almonds.

We threw down another lap of Zen trail on Sunday morning to dial some lines, and then rode some more of the course down the back side of the zen trail area. When we were riding Zen we ran into quite a few cool people, and my suspicion was confirmed that people from Utah are the nicest. 
Matching in our Boom Baby kits :) It's almost like we are team mates again!
 And Sunday afternoon I snuck in another afternoon ride at Gooseberry Mesa, somewhere I've always wanted to ride but never had the chance to before. The trails around the mesa are amazing, so many tricky, sneaky lines with constant power moves to climb seemingly impossible rock faces that have sand paper grip.
Mind being blown AGAIN!
 There are endlessly awesome views from the mesa as well, so I had to stop like 20 timed to take it in and snap some pictures, especially of all the cliffs. The trails require you to follow white dots as most of the route is across, over, up and through huge rock slabs, and it was pretty cool how my bran figured out about an hour in that everywhere the white dots let was ride-able. I would look ahead, think 'no freaking way', try it and be surprised every time that my tires gripped the rock enough to make it work. Such a cool feeling, and another trail network I highly recommend riding if you are in Southern Utah.
ALL THE ROCKS!!! Loved traversing this rad, unique landscape. 

Cliffs for days. 
 And I may have gotten a bit carried away, tried to ride more than was possible given the number of hours of daylight, and had to hitch hike to town. I'm proud to say that I didn't push it past what was healthy though, getting in that car and admitting defeat was hard :) Thanks to the nice people who drove my bike and I to Hurricane to meet Nikki.
The view at the end of the day as I rushed to end the ride before dark. 
 And instead of riding until my legs fell off I opted for hot chocolate with Nikki, a winter (errr, any time of year) bike trip requirement.

We woke up to snow on Monday morning, like flurries outside the van window, so after some hemming and hawing by me (since I was DYING to ride one more time in St George) we choose to be smart and start the drive home early.

I've been really lucky in the past four years of bike race related travel. Yeah, I've had a bike not show up in Brazil for a race, and I'e gotten sick on the road, but these little hiccups just make me more grateful for all the times everything has gone right, and I've gotten to ride to my heart's content. Stoked we still got to sneak away, ride some great trails, and focus on resting/getting healthy for the season to come. And super grateful for Nikki, who put up with my constant need/drive to ride more bikes, but who also helped keep me focused on rest and taking care of my body. We made the best out of what we had, and that was some pretty sweet lemonade!

Last coffee stop in Vegas and my first ever lavender latte... OMG delicious! 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Rock Cobbler Race Recap: AKA that time I learned about Valve Stems

Every year in mid-February I see all the posts and hear all the excitement from the people who raced the Rock Cobbler, and every year I think, darn, I missed it again! Well not THIS year, because I finally made it out to Bakersfiled to see what all the hype was about, and holy crap was it worth the drive!

Saturday started with a warm croissant, eggs, bacon and coffee in the van. It's February, and let's be honest, one of the things I like most about the races I do now is that I don't have to stress about every single decision like what to eat for breakfast. Are they serving eggs and bacon? Then yes, that's what I'll eat, it's not going to make or break me (XC be damned).

The 'really hard ride bordering on a race' started at the humane hour of 8:30am with a neutral roll out for 11 miles, much of which was on a bike path. Like I pretty much always aim to do, I pushed my way to the very front and inhaled moped fumes for the entirety of the roll out so I wouldn't get caught in the shenanigans in the pack (of which I heard there were plenty). I was nice and high on 2-stroke exhaust when the horn blew to start the race, and by the first dirt section I was still near the front. Unfortunately I wasn't near-enough the front because a few dudes running the first uphill in front of me caused a gap to open to the lead group of 20. As a result I spent exactly the first 1/2 of the 'race' within one and a half minutes of that group, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, trying in vain to make connection, until the sidewall tear disaster.
Just LOOK at that rad snake of riders! How cool is this image! I stole it from Derek Smith.
Basically this event consisted of equal parts road, and fire-road plus one insanely long, twisty luge-esque trail that snaked up a slot canyon blowing my mind the whole way. The fire road pitched up and down, sometimes manically throwing people off their bikes left and right and weeding out the riders around me until there was a select group of 5ish of us. Then the guys all stopped at an aid station and I kept rolling, right through some dude dressed like a taco's house! No joke, one minute I was on a dirt road, the next I was rolling through the back yard of Taco man, right past his pool, into his living room, out the front door, base heavy music pounding the whole time, pool party in full swing.

Eventually I caught some guys and the dudes who had stopped caught me, and another nice group formed, this time about 8 strong, and including my once hero Yuir. We struggled to pace line effectively, the two guys on mountain bikes got in the way, then out, then back in the way, and after much flailing we all just gave up and let Neil Shirley pull the whole group. Or maybe he got tired of armature hour and decided the front was less annoying than watching us try to be roadies.
Hey look, it's Yuri! Everyone's favorite draft! And my idol when I was a baby racer :)
Also from Derek Smith
Then THAT group stopped at the aid station located at the base of the 'long' climb, and I was alone again. As we approached the 'long' climb I caught a glimpse of the lead group and as riders began to pop off the back of the 20-something strong front of the race I acquired carrots to chase, or as I like to think of them wounded deer to hunt. I spent the entirety of the 'long' climb (all of like 20 minutes, yeah, not long) hunting down dudes, one by one rolling up to them, passing them with a huge smile, and riding off. It was awesome.

At the end of the climb there was a crazy steep dirt pitch and I took extra enjoyment out of passing two guys on that section, only to be passed back by them flying down the descent on the other side. Everyone told me before this thing that there would be ruts that could swallow me whole on this descent, so I was extra cautious... only to find there were NO LARISSA SWALLOWING RUTS! WHY DID YOU LIE TO ME EVERYONE?!

And then, just after I survived the very much not dangerous descent, in a stretch of field where there really was no trail, but course markings, my rear tire scraped a rock, and bam, I was riding the rim. The sidewall tear was the least of my worries though, because worse than getting a flat (I had a pretty big gap to 2nd place) was the fact that I had tightened the nut that holds on the valve core death grip tight on Thursday night with pliers, thinking that's how you get it to seal when setting up tubeless tires. WRONG! Death grip tight with pliers really just means you can't UNTIGHTEN it with your fingers when the time comes to throw a tube in the rim because you have a flat on race day. Poop. SO I begged a few dudes passing to try and untighten (hey, they all asked if I needed anything!) and when that didn't pan out, after wasting TONS of time trying in vain to get the damn nut off, I tried to plug the tear. I went through a few CO2's in the process, but thought I had the situation sorted out when reigning Rock Cobbler champ Amanda rolled by. Slightly panicked and shaky I threw all my stuff into the saddlebag and jumped on my bike in pursuit. Sadly, the situation wasn't sorted, and less than 5 minutes later, when I had just caught up to Amanda, I was riding the rim again and S.O.L. Fortunately I soon ran into a dude in a truck who happened to have pliers, I got the valve core out, tube in, inflated, back on my bike.
Just a picture, you know, because too many words. 
Not sure if I mentioned yet that I woke up Saturday sick as a dog, sore throat, head ache, congestion... and made the call to do the ride because hell, I was already in Bakersfield and the illness was 'just in my head' (haha, yeah, I'm an idiot). Anyway, after the second stop I decided the race was over and that I should just ride to survive the rest of the way back. There were moments when I got a glimmer of hope and started to chase, but then I made a wrong turn, or hit a huge sand pit and decided I didn't care anymore. The highlight of the remainder of the ride was the epic 'run up' where race organizers had us scramble up this crazy long 55% grade dirt hill. I fell on my knees at one point because it was so steep I could barely walk, it was freaking awesome! haha.

The last ten miles consisted of a dirt/sand wash littered with homeless camps, shopping carts, you know, Bakersfield things. I got lost at one point and ended up in a homeless dude's front yard, sorry dude. And then I hiked through these brambles and got all these sticky thorny things in my socks... it was an adventure that last 10 miles. The finish line came right around the time that I thought I could bear no more suffering/sand, and I rolled through feeling equal parts relief and disappointment that I hadn't won. Nevertheless, there was awesome 23 cheese mac-n-cheese back at the brewery waiting form me, plus super tasty pulled pork, and cold soda that felt like heaven on my throat.
O yeah, and there was a twinkie cake. Did I mention twinkies are still gross?
I am getting tired of writing now, haha, probably shouldn't say stuff like that, but I just need to say that SamBarn (the race promoters) do such an amazing job at every race I've been to. These guys obviously love putting on races because they love making us suffer/laugh/have a good time. I think everyone and their mother should go to a SamBarn race in their lifetime, guaranteed to have a good time, and a story to tell afterwards.

And that's my story from RockCobbler. If you weren't there, don't miss it next year, it's worth that drive to Bakersfield :)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Life Lately: Lessons from my Students Edition

I haven't written anything IN FOREVER, and really that makes my hear sad. You all know that I'm just really stupid busy right now with work, coaching, training, trying to renovate a bathroom and just doing all the normal life stuff like laundry that never seems to end. To be clear though, I LOVE being so busy. Yes it gets exhausting and I rarely have 10 minutes to read a book or reply to FB messages (sorry anyone who has tried to get a hold of me that way!), but I am horrible when I don't have a lot going on, like nothing gets done horrible. Why is it that I am so much more efficient/productive when my plate is too-full?

Anyway, I have A LOT I need to catch up on here, about sponsors for this year, my race situation for 2018, and about racing this past weekend, so look for more consistent posts in the  coming weeks! For now though, a quick update and some 'deep' thoughts as I lay in bed sick as a dog on a Monday (be forewarned, this may be excessive congestion meds talking...)

On Friday in my 'algebra support' class, a class for students not historically successful in math to give them an extra boost in Algebra 1, a student said to his peer "you know, you bring these problems on yourself" and I thought to myself, Jesus, you are so, so wise. (The whole topic of starting to see so many different forms of intelligence in my lower performing students is basically a novel waiting to be written, but this job of educating 9th graders is fascinating, and completely overwhelming in it's beauty sometimes).

Anyway, Jesus was more right than he knows, and I have been thinking about that eavesdropped conversation all weekend. On Friday around noon I could tell I was getting a sore throat. I hoped it was from the super ridiculously dry climate in socal, but deep down I could tell it was a head cold coming on. I had already signed up to 'race' a gravel event on Saturday in Bakersfield (a WHOLE blog post on it's own because it was one hell of an amazing event) and the weekend's plans also included a monster ride on Mt. Pinos on Sunday with friends, so getting sick was pretty much not an option.

Cue the deep thoughts on life I am currently pondering. So who I am, what makes me Larissa Connors, besides smiling a lot and being kinda obnoxiously loud, is that I really really love to push myself to the limit. Obvi this is why I love racing bikes, and why the ultra endurance stuff seems so fitting for me. But the problem is that sometimes don't know when to stop and raise the white flag, to  take a knee and give it a rest.

Who could pass up riding with these rad shredders?
Since the illness was just in my head/throat I opted to drive to Bakersfiled Friday night, go to bed early and hope that 9 hours of sleep would cure me. It didn't. But by that point I was already there, the idea of suffering for 5 hours with all the coolest kids in Socal was too tempting... I was out there pushing pedals despite that little nagging voice in my head saying 'is this really the right thing to do?'

Sunday was  the same situation, woke up feeling not too great, did half the ride with the guys, pushed that nagging voice that kept whispering 'bad idea' out of my mind.

I felt pretty miserable, but the scenery plus the two girl scout cookies Menso gave me after the 20 minute hike a bike made me a pretty content kid on Sunday. 

I bring these problems on myself. Being so sick right now is obviously a result of not resting this weekend when the cold was little and manageable and just needed time off, in bed. It seems obvious that the right thing to do would have been to take the weekend off and NOT pushed myself. It sometimes seems like this is a lesson I am forever trying to learn, and constantly failing at, BUT if I didn't have this ridiculously addictive personality, would I still be me? Like isn't this drive to push myself to the limit what makes me who I am? I know life is about finding balance and trying, failing, trying again, so maybe this is just my life long struggle. But, yes, Jesus, I admit, I bring these problems on myself. Once again (because I have said this many many times before, and I will most likely say it again many times before I die), I will try to do better, ride less, sleep more, do a little better job listening to my body.

Here is a pretty picture from Mt Pinos trail on Sat night to break up all the text :)
And most importantly, sorry coach, for not doing the best job listening to you. I'm hoping that you stick around because you know my addictive personality plus your guidance wins races. I will always be fighting this battle to reign it in, but I appreciate more than you know how patient you are with me. I will try to do better, that's life in a nutshell, right?

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.