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. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tribute Ride: In Which Larissa was The Weak Link

It's been a long time since I last rode with a group of people who are ALL considerably faster/fitter than me. I know there are tons of crazy talented, fast cyclists in SoCal, and any given day I could get my butt thoroughly kicked by any number them, but I tend to ride alone or with Carl a lot, which artificially inflates my ego, leaving me thinking I'm untouchable. the strongest endurance rider in the land... lies :)
So it was quite the experience Sunday, to limp along behind Menso DeJong and Dominik Cinka, dying to ask them to slow down, but keeping my lips tightly sealed as to preserve the last shred of ego I had left. 

Last year around this time Menso got the insane idea to put together the most epic shuttle ride we could imaging in Sequoia National Forest. For the first edition of what he deemed 'The tribute to the greatest ride in the world' we started at 10,000ft at Sherman Pass and rode mountain bikes all the way down to 2,000ft at the end of the Kern River Trail. The route threw in a cool 13,000ft of climbing in the 95 miles of some of the best singletrack in Southern Calif. and gave us a wooping 21,000ft of descent. 

Da boys, getting ready to shred sweet trails.
This year Menso updated the route to include some seldom ridden singletrack out past Portuguese Pass west of Kernville. Like last year, Menso stashed a box of Clif products, cokes (and rum... haha) and cookies at mile 47/75 and we roped Brendan and Allie into coming out to assist with the shuttling so we wouldn't have to drive back to Sherman pass after 10 hours of riding.
Unlike last year, we made the most of the weekend by riding Camp Nelson trail the day before the Tribute Ride, and had such a good time we did it twice. If you haven't been to Camp Nelson before this trail was well worth the drive, complete with tons of tech, flow, rocks, bridges, drops, jumps, everything that makes me giggle with glee while screaming 2,000 ft down a mountain in 5 miles. We even rode THROUGH A TREE... it was awesome, go there, do it!
We all gorged ourselves on pizza in Kernville Saturday night before heading up to the pass to sleep, and before I knew it we were bundling up with every article of clothing we had at 5:45 am to start the day in 30 degree weather surrounded by dense, cold fog. 
A terrible picture of our 'camp site' in the parking lot on Sherman Pass, the coldest place to sleep in all of socal :)
 There were multiple cold related mechanicals at the start of the day (think dropper posts refusing to stay up because they are frozen type mechanical) so we got a slow start. I also somehow forgot how much harder riding at 10,000 ft is, and rather than taking it easy, I just pushed harder, assuming my body was being weak and needed to be punished. Prehaps the biggest thing I still need to learn about riding bikes is that if it hurts, maybe you should slow down. Instead I often assume I'm being weak and try to beat myself into the ground... not sure why my brain thinks that's gonna help. Anyway, what I though was a slow first leg of the ride, the 25 miles of Canell trail, resulted in multiple QOM segments, meaning the pain was from going hard, not me being slow/tired/weak.

Canell trail drops 8,500 feet in elevation,with a cool 2,000 ft ascent thrown in for good fun. Halfway down, there is a breath taking view of Lake Isabella and although I was loving every minute of the delightfully technical, fast, flowy descent I had to stop to take a quick picture. Just look at that crappy iphone pic... wish I knew how to make that a Carl quality picture!

And then it was back to shredding :) At the bottom of Canell we were all pumped on mountain bikes, leaving me wondering why we bother with road bikes at all. There is something about flying down crazy scary/rocky trails that just makes me feel alive! haha, I wish I knew how to describe the glee I feel when I'm lofting my bike off drops and over steep/terrifying rock faces. 
Anyway, we rolled into the town of Kernville, stripped off our un-necessary warm clothes (as it was now 65 degrees... much too warm for a rain jacket and wool shirt over my jersey), and hit the coffee shop in town for a quick hit of caffeine and warm scones. I normally hate stopping on bike rides, but it's finally the season to slow down, enjoy the snacks and coffee stops, and just be in the moment, and that is exactly what we did. 

Menso & Dom... sitting down on the job. 
After coffee and chain lube we rolled out of town towards Old State Rd, which took us up to the top of Just Outstanding trail. Rather than descend awesome singletrack though, we rolled across the highway towards Portuguese pass and the great unknown. The climb up Old State rd took a little over an hour, so we paused at the top to raid the stash of snacks Menso had left the day before. It was at this point that I realized all I had eaten in the first 4.5 hours of the ride was half a scone and 3 Clif bloks, I was WAY behind on nutrition. Menso had purchased those really crappy sugar cookies from Ralphs, the kind that are white hockey pucks with bright colorful frosting, and I made short work of one of those bad boys and a nutbutter filled Clif bar before we climbed up, up and away on a fire road out to what felt like oblivion.
Because the route was different from last year, and because I had been too busy with school and whatnot to read the planning emails in which the group discussed the route, the next 4 hours of my left were a complete unknown to me. As we rode away from the food stash Menso mentioned that it would take 4-5 hours to complete this part of the ride, which kinda scared the daylights out of me. 4 hours seemed like a long time, and I was hurting already. My anxiety about the state of my legs resulted in a very very quiet Larissa, which I know you don't believe is possible. But swear on my life I was quiet as a mouse as we climbed and climbed and climbed across a mountainside recently incinerated in forest fire. It was cold, and I was tired, but too proud to slow down or ask the boys to do so. The fog in the blackened skeletons of trees was spooky and unsettling, amplifying the dread I was feeling. We were only about 50 miles into what was supposed to be a 100 mile ride... and I was starting to fall apart. 

At mile 57 we reached Frog Meadow, a random camp ground out in the middle of nowhere. The entrance to the trail we were supposed had been bulldozed by loggers recently so we spent the larger part of the next 30 minutes looking for a trail we knew was there, but could not for the life of us find. When we finally gave up and decided to head back across the fire road... THERE it was! Of course, and we made short work of descending 1,500ft to the bottom, just to start the climb back out. 

The next few hours are a blur of pain for me. I remember climbing and climbing and climbing. When we got to the next trail on our route we decided to skip the 3 mile loop as we were pretty far behind on time from being lost for so long. Instead we continued up to the burn area and the fire road that had lead us out to Frog Meadow a few hours earlier. 

Menso's brilliant route planning brought us some rad singletrack on the way back, which was a welcome change to all the fire road, but what should have been 'downhill all the way home' turned into heinous hike a bike after back breaking climb in soft sand, followed by another hike. Fortunately the trail did eventually trend down hill, and we were rewarded with a beautiful ribbon of dirt etched into the side of a fire scarred mountain. At one point the boys dropped me on the descent, and the trees curled over the trail, most likely from the effects of the extreme heat in the fire, while dense cold fog wrapped around everything. It was so spooky, I've been kicking myself for days for not bringing the GoPro to capture this moment, but at least I wont soon forget it. 

As the day progressed and the sun started to descend towards the West we realized we would probably be doing some of the ride in the dark. After a second quick stop at the food stash, where Menso and Dom downed half a handle of rum in cokes (how do boys do stuff like that?!) and I sat on the ground like a hobo to inhale more nut butter filled Clif bars, we pushed on towards Just Outstanding.
JO is one of my all time favorite trails, and after all the pain and climbing, it was incredibly rewarding to tear down the flowy smooth trail. We even got tacky conditions, something I've never experienced in the Kernville area. 

After JO I was hurting pretty badly, and a 15 minute climb, followed by Wagy Ridge trail set me further back in the hurt locker, leaving me at the end of my ego, ready to ask for mercy. Sadly for me I had waited too long, as Menso informed me the 'shortcut' out on fire road was longer and had more climbing than finishing the ride. All I could do was suck it up, and continue to make steady forward progress to the end. 

Some good late afternoon Lake Isabella Views.
After half an hour riding in fading light post sunset we strapped lights to our helmets and finally arrived at the last climb which would deliver us to the final descent. Menso and Dom dropped me hard on the climb, and alone, in the dark, so tired and cracked, I fought back tears with every step. I was so over riding my bike that I walked almost the entire last climb, which took a good 10 to 15 minutes. 
And to cap off an excessive day of riding, in which the theme was 'none of what we are doing is necessary' we descended a very rutted, loose Dutch Flat trail, the same trail they use for the Keyesville Classic Down Hill race. You know what's not fun at all? Descending Dutch flat in the dark, and even more not fun is doing it when you are so cracked that you can't see straight. I don't really know how I stayed alive on the final descent, but having Dom volunteer to ride behind me helped loads, and eventually we were at the bottom, climbing into the van and devouring massive handfuls of Cheeze Its. 

This recap is already way longer than I meant for it to be, so I'm going to put this away for now and pick up where I left off another time, I had a lot of deep thoughts while I was pedaling around silently cracked, although maybe they just seemed deep because I was delusional. In any case, I'm still processing what happened to my body and brain on Sunday, but I do know that I am stoked to have friends like Dom and Menso who not only think this kind of thing is a good idea, but can kick my butt at it as well :) Thanks guys, that was one for the books!