Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Saturday, Ugly Saturday. Sunday, Bloody Sunday.

This past week has kinda sucked in the staying upright department. I hate even admitting this all, cause I'm a grown man and there is no reason I shouldn't be able to keep myself off of the ground, but the admissions are coming.

On Saturday, I went out with a couple of the HoCo cyclists for what was anticipated to be a 30 miler. I figured that I wouldn't even talk about this ride, but I guess I must. Before I left the house, I finagled with the front derailleur to get it to shift onto the small chain ring. After 10 minutes of playing with it, it seemed that all was good and my nine easy gears would be rejoining me on my rides.

We set out a bit after 9 and I never got a good feel about my gearing. About 6 miles in, heading uphill (what else?) I was nervous about using the small chain ring and wound up with another clip less fall. Same basic fall, as Wednesday night, same elbow and left knee spot. Pretty soon I figure I'll be down to the bone.

Back on the bike and all was well until we headed up the biggest hill so far and that's when it happened. What seemed like a dropped chain and I quickly disengaged from the pedals and kept myself upright. YEAH! Then, the bad news. Matthew rides by, asks me if I'm okay and then says "that doesn't look good." What? My chain just dropped. "No, your rear derailleur is on the ground." WHAT? I get off the bike and there it is. The whole damn chain and derailleur are on the ground. Crap! Not going anywhere now.

We're 10 miles from our start in very rural part of town. I call Deb, to no avail. Too bad I didn't have Verizon service! I try her on Matthew's phone and get through.

At that point in time, a guy that Matthew knows pulls up. Seems this guy was in a spin class that Matthew used to teach. "Do you need help?" Yeah, can you get me back to Columbia? "Sure -- I live a mile from here, let me drop my stuff and I'll be back in 5 minutes." Could this be some kind of divine intervention? Crazy, really. Matthew hadn't seen this guy in some time and had no clue that he lived near where we were. Before long, I was on my way to the bike shop. Hope to have it back in a week, good as new. So much for 30 miles, but I was safe and sound.

Sunday's original plan was to hit the B&A trail for a couple of loops -- ideally 50 relatively flat miles. That wasn't happening, so I hit the gym for an 8 am spin class followed by a kids last-day-before-school fun day. Lunch with dad at Subway followed by putt putt golf and the batting range. Matty had a mid-afternoon play date so I told Zach I'd go for a ride with him on my hybrid bike.

We hit the road and, as we were approaching our pool, he asked if he could do a lap for his own little pedal and paddle. Absolutely!

After Zach's lap, we headed out to the bikes and just before we got there, SPLAT! No, let me make it SPLAT! Who splatted? Well, that would be the coordinated one, ME! There was a section of concrete askew and I didn't see it. I went down, hard. Where did I hit? The same left elbow and the same left knee. Of the little falls of the past week, this was by far the worst. The most blood. The most pain.

The lifeguards could care less. After a minute or so, "are you okay? do you need anything?" No, you ding-a-ling, I have blood pouring out of me, but I'll be fine. We were just a couple of miles into our ride and we'd have to turn back. Zach was a real trooper. He got me a gauze pad from the lifeguard. He understood about going back home. We had no choice but to ride. The worst for me was the wind generated by the ride. It felt like sandpaper on my open elbow.

We got home and I explained to Deb what had happened. She missed the part about this me being on foot. I think she assumed I once again fell off of my bike. No, I explained, not so. The sidewalk just jumped up and tripped me. She didn't work very hard to conceal her amusement. It is a pretty nasty sight, though.

Still living though. I made it through Monday without shedding a drop of blood, so that's a good thing. Now trying for two days in a row!


Monday, August 25, 2008

We Like Mike!

It's hard to really understand Baltimore unless you're from Baltimore. Sitting in the shadows of DC and probably the least known city of the I-95 corridor Megalopolis -- DC to Boston -- we've always had a bit of an inferiority complex to DC.

Baltimoreans are brought up to hate DC sports teams. Before the Washington Wizards were the Washington Bullets, they were the Baltimore Bullets until the evil Abe Pollin relocated the team to the rich DC market. When the Colts fled Baltimore (thanks to the devil himself, Robert Irsay), we wanted nothing to do with the Redskins. We'd cheer for whoever was playing the Colts first, then whoever was playing the 'Skins. It's not personal, really, it's just in our blood.

When Edward Bennett Williams, a Washington lawyer, bought the Orioles in the late 70's, we feared the worst -- a move to the nations capital.

Our sports heroes have been good guys. Johnny Unitas, a Pittsburgh transplant who adopted Baltimore and became a favorite son. Brooks Robinson, a Little Rock native and my sports hero growing up, owned the town and still commands serious bucks at autograph sessions here. Cal Ripken, from just a few miles up I-95 calls the Baltimore area home. The people of Baltimore and the country loved them and we call them ours. But it's been a little dry in the six or so years since Cal hung up his cleats.

Now there's 23-year old Michael Phelps. When word came out just a few weeks before the Olympics that Michael had bought a place and would return to Baltimore after the Olympics, the city cheered. When Michael rang up one gold after another, we cheered louder. When Michael talked about life after the Olympics, he starts by talking about his return to Baltimore. (I'm sure I wasn't alone looking for the slightest hint of an "O" from his lips during one of the eight Star Spangled Banner played in his honor, just like you'd see at any Orioles home game.)

He talked about how he missed the city after his years in Michigan, so what's he gonna do? He's gonna buy that North Baltimore Aquatic Club with all of his new gold-medal-laden dough and make his coach the president. Now we've got a good four years to cheer for him until London in 2012, but from the sounds of it, he'll be around a lot longer. I'm pretty sure he won't have to buy a meal in this town for at least 20 or 30 years.

With the Olympics now finally over, we're looking forward to welcoming Michael back home. Local boy done good. Welcome home, Michael, the town is yours!


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rite of Passage

Finally, I've added the missing link to my bike. I now have a pair of these sporty new clip less pedals fully installed. They go great with my shiny new Diadora shoes, too.

A friend suggested that I ride around the neighborhood just practicing getting in and out of them. My biggest fear is falling, but pretty much everyone I've talked to says that you can't avoid it. It's gonna happen. The goal, then is to minimize the potential witness pool to the future carnage.

So, last night, I decided to ride with the Wednesday night HoCo Cyclists. I've done a couple of weekend rides with the group, but this is a regularly scheduled Wednesday night year-round ride. First, though I rode a couple of miles around the neighborhood, as recommended, to do little more than test the new pedals. More specifically, to get my shoes in and out of them. I could almost immediately feel the added power the they bring when pulling up on them. After a few ins and outs, with no falls, I loaded up the bike and headed out.

I was surprised by the size of the group. At least 50 riders. At the appointed time, the leader sent the A's off. A few minutes later, the B's were gone. Not knowing where I'd fit, B or C, but leaning C, I didn't want to embarrass myself too much by having to keep back of the B group, so I went C short ride. The "short" route for the night was 22 miles versus 33 for the long, hilly route.

The comfort level of the new shoes is much greater than with the old ones and the pedals work pretty well. Soon after the ride started, I began passing people and within a couple of miles, found myself riding third of fourth of the 20-25 in the C group. I was also maintaining speed in the 15-16 range fairly easily. This would definitely not be possible with the old pedals. Of course, all was well and I was thinking that maybe I'd avoid that clip less rite of passage. As you've no doubt figured out, I was wrong.

Riding to the top of a short hill following a downhill, a stop sign appeared and the few guys ahead of me were stopped, just waiting for some of us (like me) to catch up. I stopped and took my right foot out of the pedal. No problem so far. Then, time to go. There was still a few feet of incline left. Of course, I'm in a big gear, more suited to downhill. Had I downshifted, all would be well, but as soon as I tried to go, I was at a standstill and just fell right over. It felt like it was in total slow-mo. I knew it was gonna happen, and it surely did. No problem. I got up and told the three other riders obviously holding their laughter I was okay. Got back on the bike and proceed to fall over once again. OY! Not my best effort avoiding the witness pool.

Now, smart guy (me) figures out to turn around and start on the downhill. DUH! Back on the bike and riding again. A few aches, but nothing more. It wasn't until a few miles later when I went to scratch my right ankle that I came back with blood on my hand. It wasn't until I got back to the start that I saw the blood on my right knee (pictured). It wasn't until I got home that I saw the nasty welt on my chest.

It's always fun to ride new places. I was just 10 miles west of home and at least 20 miles of the ride were new to me. Just nice, picturesque, country roads, a few cornfields and it seemed at one point, more churches than houses.

I was a bit disappointed that the other riders weren't very social. At one point, riding near the front of the pack, I definitely felt like I had crashed their party. My favorite part of these group rides is the bike chatter, especially since I'm not riding with any speed demons. These guys were not talking. Maybe I need to keep hanging with them until they feel like they're crashing MY party!

For better or worse, I made it through the ride. In case you're wondering, in these parts, apparently a relatively flat 23 miles is only 1800 feet of climbing. And that was without my small chain ring that I still couldn't get working from the weekend.

Looking forward to testing out the pedals again real soon. Gotta get that chain ring fixed first.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Pedal and Paddle, Finally!

Hard to believe it's been three months since Lou, one of the Hebrew School Biking Dads told me about Pedal and Paddle. The 3rd annual event was originally supposed to happen in July, but got pushed back to yesterday.

The original plan was to bike to each of Columbia Association's 23 outdoor pools and swim a lap at each. Because of the reschedule, 8 of the pools are now closed for the season, so 15 were listed on the cue sheet. The cue sheet also showed about 42 miles of biking between the start and stop to swim.

Since the event would take about 5 hours, hydration and nourishment would be key, especially in light of Saturday's issues. Deb was planning to be at stop #10, so I had her set up with a stash of backup stuff -- a granola type bar, two cold bottles to replace mine, and a change of clothes in case I'd need it.

Then there would be the schlep. I'd need a towel and something to carry my other crap -- cell phone, keys, Power Bar stuff (somewhere just before half way, I broke out a pack of lemon Power Bar Gel Blasts. This was the best tasting carb product I've tried so far), gels, etc. I picked out one of my kids sling bags, thinking that this would be comfortable and easy to get off and on.

In preparation for the day, I had secured some triathlon shorts to be able to ride and swim without changing. I have one bike jersey that has a full zipper, rather than a half. Thinking that would be easiest to get in and out of, that was the attire for the day.

The start was scheduled for 10 and I got there just before. It quickly looked like the turnout would be small. By 10 after, there were just 5 of us and we were off.

At the first pool, we were met by just a life guard. The town was kind enough to open a couple of the pools early for us. Just 10 minutes or so into the event, a few things became apparent:

  • As slow as I am running, lap swimming redefines the word ssssslllllllooooowwwww!
  • Form is an afterthought. My swim goal is to go from one end to another without touching the bottom of the pool.
  • A lap is not a length. Go figure. I thought we'd be doing one way "laps." Ed said that's a lenght -- make it a round trip.
  • Transitions suck. With 15 stops, each having 2 transitions, the learning curve is quick. Come into the pool with everything on -- dump on a chair -- swim -- back to the chair -- dress. 15 times.
  • What I thought was a cool sling bag seemed to not want to stay in place. I must be doing something wrong.

One down, 14 to go.

Most of the pools were close together, but two were lying fairly distant from the to the others. En route to pool number 4, River Hill, a few more things came to light:

  • That friggin sling back sucks! No wonder my kids stopped using it. Every other minute, it was working its way around front, then I'd have to sling it back. What a pain.
  • Riding 38 miles of hills the day before this event. . . maybe not my brightest idea. The hills on this route are not really bad compared to others outside of the town but I was truly suffering.

After River Hill, we had a fairly long stretch to get to the next pool with one of the steepest hills. On my way up, I dropped my chain. F*#k! (Has anyone dropped a chain going down hill? Ever?) Then, I dropped it again. S&%t! Then again. F*#K-S&%T! I must have knocked something out of alignment on Saturday.

So here I am, only 4 of 15 pools in, maybe a dozen miles done and I've lost 9 gears (well really only the two or three easiest gears that I use with the small front chain ring), I'm beat, I'm waaaay last (but thanks to Bryan, I'm not alone) and I'm just thinking. Only 6 stops until Deb will be awaiting my arrival. Do I throw in the towel (literally) at our home pool? I could. I'd only have to suffer through the knowledge that I'd be wussing out 2/3 of the way through. I've done that plenty of times. The old fat me was king of the wusses. Well, now I've got nothing but time and 1/3 less gears to think. I can't stop before that or I've got a lot of walking to do.

Thankfully, the next set of pools were very close together. I'm pretty much dealing just with the pain in the butt sling bag, wet socks and trying to remember NOT to drop to the small chain ring.

Along the way, the one woman that started off with us dropped out and we pickup up a guy for a one pool ride.

We got to my home pool, Dorsey Search, at around 2. Deb was awaiting our arrival with camera in hand. My boys were very excited to see us all there.

Form? What form?

Deb had everything I had asked for -- two fresh iced bottles, change of clothes, new towel. I dumped the sling pack and put what I needed into my carry sack on the bike. I was the only one using a towel and had stopped at around the 5th pool so the sling pack was extraneous at that point. Amazing how well air drying works! She even had a bagel with peanut butter. Took one bite and we were off again.

Here we are in all our glory. From the left, me my son Zach (how'd he get in there?), Ed and Lou, the shirtless founders, and Bryan, another first timer.

From Dorsey, we had one last long ride to the next pool, then we nailed the balance in fairly short order, finishing sometime around 3:45.

After 43.1 miles on the bike and 750 yards in the pool, Ed pulled out a batch of home made chocolate chip cookies, which this formerly fat guy gladly ate.

Other than a few now seemingly minor issues, it was a really fun day. I felt really good about the whole hydration and nourishment thing, eating pretty regularly along the way. Thankfully, this wasn't a race or I'd have been hours behind the rest. That's one of the big differences, though, between bike events and running events. From what I've seen, most bike events (non-triathlon) are go at your own pace. It was very social and I'm ready to sign up for next year! Thanks, guys!


Catching Up

Finally back from vacation, trying to get into some kind of routine. Hard to believe it's mid-August and school around these parts starts NEXT MONDAY!

I won't torture with much talk about vacation since I'm still delayed on pictures from our early summer trip. In short -- we had a great time in Boston, saw a great game at Fenway, did the Fenway tour, learned a lot about the city and history, some folks we hadn't seen in a while. Sat behind many cars, trucks, etc. on the long drive up and back.

Because of all the travel for work and vacation, exercise took a back seat. I went almost 2 full weeks between any formal exercise and my body was craving some kind of activity. Even so, I signed up for classes at the gym on Thursday and Friday, but the 10 hour drive home on Wednesday was still catching up to me, so the 4:30 am wakeups were on hold.

Saturday, I finally got the bike off the wall and out for the monthly ride with the local bike club. The scheduled ride was 33 miles and I had planned to add about 15 from home to the start and back at the end. On my way to the start, I rode to the park where my old Team in Training group was running. Was good to see Jonathan and a couple of other folks. Really miss being out there with them, but my bike has taken over, for sure.

There were only seven of us riding on Saturday, so we split up into two groups -- three A riders and the rest of us B-C's. Since the area we normally ride is undergoing lots of roadwork, the leader pulled out an old ride that would take us into some new territory for most of us -- heading north into Baltimore County rather than the western Howard routes that are the norm. About half way, both Saul and I dropped our chains on the same hill. Since the other two B-C guys were regularly waiting for us at the next intersection, we sent them on and Saul and I, clearly the C's, would ride together, as we did in July.

Shortly after we separated, we realized that there were some monster hills on the route, including a few at 10%+. One downhill section started out with one of those truck warning signs with a 14% added to it. This particular hill had a 90 degree turn about 2/3 into it. Woulda been a fantastic hill, had it not been for the zigging and zagging. I was sure I'd wear my brake pads down to the metal.

Unfortunately, what goes down must go up. There were a few steep inclines, two of which required walking. I had hoped that I could handle these big hills, especially shorter ones, but I've still got plenty of work to do. The finale was a 2 mile uphill stretch at about 4%. Just a nice slow rise.

With the nastiness now behind us, we had about 10 miles back to the start. A few miles down the road, we got held up at a traffic light and both of my thighs began to cramp. I tried to massage them out quickly, but it was apparent that a simple traffic light massage would not do the trick. I pulled over into a grassy area and, with Saul's help and direction, was able to stretch out the cramps. Saul asked how much I stretch. I think I said "not much," which was really a lie -- "not at all" would be the truth. I was also low on liquids. Shoulda filled up at the start. Definitely need to work on the stretching and the hydration.

At the next light, I felt more cramps. At this point I was just about 2 miles from home and still 6 from the start. I decided to head back home. Once I arrived, I felt like nothing had happened.

In the end, 38 long and painful miles, but it felt great to be back on the bike. A good ride done.


Friday, August 8, 2008


It's 2:20 in the morning and I'm working. Pretty much been putting in crazy crazy hours over the past couple of weeks and I have a drop dead deadline in the morning, so the shit's just gotta get done. This is on top of three straight weeks of travel -- very unusual for me.

Mostly, I've been cursing Excel. I've got these spreadsheets that have a few hundred thousand formulas in them and every time you change something or go to save, the damned spreadsheet recalcs and it just freezes for 3 minutes. (If anyone knows how to turn the auto-calc off, right about now I'd pay for that advice.) So, each time I get seized, I have time to write another couple of sentences.

Some of my travel has been to New Orleans. Not exactly a location known for light eating and I've been partaking in the local cuisine -- po boys, catfish, rice and beans, steak, you name it. Not looking forward to hitting the scale in the morning. (Well, later in the morning at least.) Exercise has been pretty non-existant during the week, though I did have a great 42 mile ride on Sunday.

This weekend, we're heading north to Boston. Going to visit friends in NJ, Boston and Cape Cod on the way. The highlight of the trip will be a visit to Fenway Park on Tuesday night. Deb and the kids are all looking forward to that. I've been there and, for me, I'll take Wrigley over Fenway any day. But what the hell, it'll be fun.

This will be it for a while. Will report back after the beantown trip.