Friday, October 31, 2014

Ride Younger and Don't Act Your Age: Bad Ass Birthday Ride

October is always a rainy month, but this year has been exceptionally so. We've had about two inches of rain over just the last 36 hours. On my birthday morning, it was still raining heavily. Some people like to celebrate their birthday by "riding their age" in miles on their road bike. I prefer doing something a little more challenging, although riding on the road in today's deluge would have certainly been more than challenging, and perhaps a little masochistic!

I came up with a plan of riding my age in minutes of hard effort on the mountain bike. Given the mud and rain, I guess I could say that today's entire ride was hard, but I counted only the minutes where I was going hard physically. Going hard, but not very fast, is the best way to describe it. Because of the conditions, I decided to stay on the south side of Grand Ridge, as the north side and Duthie don't drain nearly as well. I expected today to be a solo odyssey, but I did see one trail runner. Dressed in pink, her smile told me that she was having as good a time as I was.

So the ride was almost a pure up-down-up-down-up-down kind of thing. It was either raining or "training" (previous rain shaken from the trees) for the entire ride, and the forest canopy was so dense I couldn't differentiate between the two.

Cycling has proven to be an incredible Fountain of Youth for me. Over the years, I have done a really good job of ignoring the calendar and my chronological age. It's been more difficult this year, because I have finally allowed some shock to creep in about my age. But I am riding "younger" than I ever have, and I block any thought of my real age out of my mind when I am on the bike. I am the leanest I have ever been, my fitness level is very high, and I am climbing faster on the bike than I ever have before. Most importantly, riding a bike still makes me feel just a little bit like a kid.

While I have a love-hate view of Strava, I do have to admit that it is good for several things that are very important to me. Most critically, I can compare today's me with last year's me on the same timed segments. Assuming I made a fairly consistent effort, I get a relative idea of my fitness between then and now.

In addition, with the Strava leaderboards, I don't have to risk life and limb in a race or sketchy group ride to get a feel for how I am doing compared to a universe of local riders. It's possible to see how you compare to everyone, or just the people you follow, or those in the same clubs. With a premium membership, one can also compare their times with different weight classes and age groups.

I take a look at the full leaderboards, and almost never even think to look at the age group leaderboards. After all, riding age is what counts to me, and I seem to have done pretty well at decoupling that from my actual age.

Of course it is not if, but when, I will slow down significantly on the bike. I'll fight that as long as I can, by eating well and riding smarter. Hell, I'll just ride harder if need be to keep up with last year's me:)

When the day comes that I start to look at the Strava age groups for signs of success (or an excuse for lack thereof), I will have thrown in the towel. Perhaps that day will come when I simply can no longer do well within the general universe of riders, or when I reach a certain chronological age number that I can no longer ignore.

In any case, even if I have to resort to taking a peek at the age group boards, I will still be trying to ride as young as I can. My real riding goal is to keep my riding age around 50-75% of my chronological age. Of course that is subjective, and I am the only person doing the evaluation, but I'll be honest with myself.

The importance of how strong I am on the bike will naturally diminish as I age. If all else, fails, I'll just revel in feeling a little bit like a kid when I am on the bike. After all, that is the true Fountain of Youth that riding a bike can provide.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Two Car or Not Two Car: That is the Question

Today, Tracy and I did something we have never done before. We went for a day drive simply to drive, including a visit to Camano Island, one of the rare places in the state of Washington we had not been to. We had no end destination in mind. We didn’t drive to go hiking or snowshoeing somewhere, or to shop at a Factory Outlet Mall!

We racked up 208 miles, first taking the highway to Marysville, and then driving the full loop of Camano. We stopped for a nice lunch in Stanwood, and then we went driving home on back roads that I knew from cycling to be quiet, twisty, and hilly. We took Burn road from Arlington to Granite Falls. To get to Sultan from Granite Falls, we took Menzel Lake Road, Lake Roesinger Road, Woods Creek, Old Pipeline, and Reinert Road. From Sultan to Monroe, we used Ben Howard Road. I can highly recommend all of these roads as being fantastic for driving or cycling, although there are no shoulders. I can’t comment about weekend traffic, but during a weekday there is very light traffic through this area.

What might the impetus for the drive have been?

We spent a good part of New Year’s Eve buying a new Subaru Forester Touring model with a safety package called the Eyesight Driver Assist Program. This was our first car purchase since we bought a new Forester in 2004. We now have two cars in the garage for the first time since May of 2001.

Of course, we didn’t “need” a new car at all, as our Forester is still in perfect condition and only has 85,000 miles on it. We barely have much use for even one car, let alone two! I didn’t really grasp why we needed a new car, but Tracy had always had ten years in her mind as a logical replacement time, and she drives the car 90% of the time. She just felt like she wanted to get a new car, and the safety enhancements in the redesigned 2014 Forester were the icing on the cake.

The choice to get another Forester was pretty easy, as the Forester suits our outdoors lifestyle perfectly; the one we already own has been a great car. We didn’t have any interest in something super fancy, although the Touring version of the Forester comes loaded with a lot of luxury features in addition to the safety stuff. Actually, the major reason we bought the top finish level Touring model was that the Eyesight option package was not available on the less expensive models.

We certainly don’t need a larger SUV, and we never thought about buying a regular passenger car. The fact that the 2014 Forester is Motor Trend’s SUV of the year and Consumer Reports top rated and highest recommended small SUV didn’t hurt either.

We could have opted for the higher horsepower Forester XT, which also can be ordered in a Touring version. Tracy has zero interest in more horsepower, and as previously mentioned, she is the one using the car most of the time. Besides, the XT wheels looked really ugly to us, and that just wouldn’t work! We never seriously considered the XT, and that got me to thinking about cars in general, and how I use and view them these days.

I was very fortunate to be able to “retire” from the investment business at a pretty young age:

I met Tracy in 1998, and I moved to the Seattle area on 1/1/2000. Moving to Downtown Seattle in 2001 provided the perfect scenario to test a one car strategy. I sold my remaining sports car, which had already become superfluous due to sporadic use.

At the time, Tracy drove to her full time job over on the Eastside, but since moving to the Seattle area, I have never been a commuter. We don’t have kids to haul around. On weeknights and weekends, the car remained in the garage unless we went to the mountains or have a social event outside of downtown. We walked everywhere, and I had a fixed gear single speed bike I used for both fun and errand running.

The thought of adding a second car never entered our minds when we left Downtown Seattle after almost ten years and moved to central Olde Town Issaquah. I sold the single speed, but we still walk to the town center from our house on Squak Mountain, and run errands on our bikes to the Farmers Market and a few other places. One of the major location requirements for the house was that it had to be a ten minute or less walk to town. I now ride a mountain bike in addition to riding on the road, but I ride to the local trails. We live a quarter mile from a hiking trailhead on Squak, and I still love to walk as much as ever. I walk for both pleasure and to run errands, and I hope to continue doing that (as well as cycling!) until I am a very, very old man.

Tracy is now a part time education consultant, and normally uses her car two days a week for work, except in the summer. I can use the car most other days, but I find I rarely do so. Often I will think of a destination cycling trip I would need to use the car for, consider the planning and traffic involved, and wind up just riding out of my garage.

For me, the “pleasure” of driving is gone, and it is now more of a burden…although I must admit I had a blast today on our drive in the new car. We don’t have the fantastic deserted mountain roads that I drove in Colorado, and we live in a wet climate, so there isn’t much of a reason to have a special sports car or sports bike. I’d spend more time cleaning it than riding or driving!

Cars are meant to be used for transportation, and of course that is always going to be their primary use. In my twenties and early thirties, I also drove for pleasure and sport. I lived in Denver, and had a job that required me to travel throughout the Rocky Mountain West. Rather than take puddle jumpers, I explored just about every possible paved road using high performance cars, including two Porsches. I was something of a “professional speeder,” but in those days the Rockies were full of wide open prairie roads, great mountain and canyon roads, and very few law enforcement officers. It was a great place to drive fast before traffic became overwhelming.

As I got older, I still used cars for transportation, work, and convenience. I owned two cars most of the time when I was single, normally a sports car for fun and a more utilitarian car I used just to get around. I also often had a sport bike motorcycle as well! At some point, I started to notice that instead of a convenience, cars were starting to become an inconvenience, especially two of them.

Not owning two cars for the past 12+ years has very rarely been an inconvenience with our lifestyle. In fact, not having a second car has felt less inconvenient than maintaining two cars would have been. Now that we have two cars in the garage, we have decided to take a little time to evaluate whether we want to keep or sell the old Forester. The potential lack of use is a real factor.

Since 2001, I am not sure if I could recall more than a few times when not having my own car inconvenienced me. Yes, it does mean that I sometimes ride with friends when we leave town on a cycling expedition, but it doesn’t happen often enough that I think I have been a PITA. Even if I consider “elective” times I would have driven, not having a second car just has not been an issue.

The “cost” of keeping the second Forester would not be very high, and it’s not like we have any specific plans for the amount the car would likely sell for. If we keep the car, we would likely keep it indefinitely, and I doubt it would cost much to maintain a car that we would rarely use. What is probably more significant is the psychological “cost” of keeping the car while it mostly just takes up space in our garage.

As I said, our pleasure drive today was the first that Tracy and I have ever done together. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember a single drive just for the sake of a drive after I moved away from Denver in 1994. When I was growing up, we always had two cars. My father loved cars, and every year we would trade the car that was two years old in for a new car. Every Sunday my parents would take my sister and me for a drive. Suzy and I looked forward to this treat. It was a pure pleasure drive that always involved a stop at a Dairy Queen. For many years, I drove cars for pleasure. But when I moved to Dallas where I lived for six years before coming to Seattle, driving for pleasure ceased. There isn’t a whole lot of reason to get in a car and explore the Texas countryside, and you have to search far and wide for the curvy and hilly roads on which to use a sports car.

While I had always thought any second car, would be a fun car, if I ever do get another sports car, it wouldn’t be a new one. I’d be looking for a rare 1967 Porsche 911S. There would be no air bags or air conditioning, and the windows would be crank powered. Or maybe I should get one of these, especially if horsepower were important, as either option would have more horsepower than our new car:

I doubt I would use a 911S or sport bike more than once or twice a month, which is likely about the same as I would drive the old Forester. I am left to wonder whether there is a perfect equation that will help us determine if keeping the old car is worth it for very occasional use, or if it would be more of a burden just taking up space in the garage.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014: Starting Where I Finished…

Climbing on my bike. I kicked off the year by racking up 3228’ of the “up stuff” on a mountain bike ride from home over to Duthie, around the cross country circuit, and then back over Grand Ridge to High Point. I had 66,368’ of climbing last month, which made December my biggest climbing month of 2013. I have now climbed over 500,000’ for seven years in a row, and 2013 was the first year I broke through the 700k barrier, finishing with 706,466’. I do love going uphill. What goes up must come down, and I love going downhill as well, although not to the same extent.

Normally on major holidays I like to ride my road bike on the blissfully deserted highways and byways. But just like on Christmas Day, I felt the foggy New Year’s Day weather was better tailored to riding the mountain bike. As I expected, the trails were a lot more crowded on a relative basis than the roads would have been. Not that sharing the trails with quite a few people was a burden at all.

The trails were in super shape, I felt great, and I rode very well. Winter is never a time for going fast on the MTB anyway, and certainly not with crowded trails, so I decided to focus on something else. My goal for the ride became greeting every person I met with a unique salutation. Instead of simply saying, “Happy New Year,” or “Have a great one,” blah, blah, blah, I cooked up something different to say to every single person or group I encountered. Of course, most of the time I did start with “Happy New Year,” but otherwise I went with whatever struck me at the moment. It was a lot of fun to say things like, “You will be in the sun at the top,” or to a child at Duthie, “That is a cool looking helmet,” or, “Those are very handsome dogs,” or, “This beats watching football!” In any case, the most fun part for me was coming up with something different every time.

Today’s project on the trail reminded of several times I have used a similar tactic to distract me from being really fatigued. Saturday June 9th in 2007 was the fifth and crux stage of a cycling tour I was on. The tour was following the spine of the Pyrenees Mountains. We were using the Raid Pyrenees route (plus some bonus climbs) from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean. The fifth stage was particularly arduous, starting in Bagneres-de-Luchon, and ascending the Col de Peyresourde, the Col d’ Aspin (for which one of our cats is named), and then the mighty Col du Tourmalet. From the top of the Tourmalet, it was pretty much all downhill to Argeles-Gazost, the pretty ski village where we would be spending the night. I say mostly downhill…unless you added the optional HC climb to the ski station of Hautacam. This climb was immortalized in 2000 when Lance Armstrong stormed up it in an EPO powered rage and rode into the yellow jersey, just as Bjarne Riis had done when he demoralized and cracked the entire peloton in the 1996 Tour de France. Adding Hautacam to the already steep (no pun intended) agenda for the day brought the total mileage to 91, with 14,000’ of climbing. Of the 17 riders on the trip, I was one of only three who tackled Hautacam.

The turn for Hautacam came precariously close to the day’s final destination, where food and a cozy room awaited me. On top of that, it was an up and back unsupported climb. There was no compelling reason to make that right turn and head up towards the sky again. At this point, I was riding solo, but there was never any doubt in my mind the entire day that I was going up that sucker. Well, maybe a shred of doubt as I crested the Tourmalet in the rain.

It was 3600’ of climbing at an average grade of 7% to the official top, but damn it anyway, I decided to add 200’ of additional very steep climbing up to the upper parking lot that was at the top of the bunny slope rope tow! Sometimes I wonder just what it is that makes me do these things, especially when there is not another soul around.

I was already deep in the Hurt Locker when I started up Hautacam, and about halfway up I was having serious doubts as to whether I wanted to continue. When you start wondering what the point is of what you are presently doing, you know you are starting to pop! At that stage of the climb, I started to see signs festooned with the image of a cyclist announcing the gradient for the next kilometer. These signs are common and normally entertaining on many of the famous European climbs, but it was pure torture to see the 8%, 9%, and then 10+% numbers on the steeper second half of the climb. To change my focus and outlook, I decided that every time I went by one of those signs for the next kilometer I would think of some really special moment I’d enjoyed with Tracy, who is now my wife. Kilometer by kilometer, the thought might have been something sweet that she did for me, or a fun trip we had taken together. The thoughts in my head helped to click off the kilometers, and before I knew it I was done with the climb.

Another time I was reminded of on today’s ride was my ascent of the Stelvio on Tuesday, June 17th of 2008. I was on a nearly three week cycling trip of a lifetime with my friend Tim W. Tim’s wife was accompanying us and essentially driving sag support for us. Sweet! The Stelvio remains the single greatest climb that I have ever done, and it was an almost mystical experience that day. We started the 16 mile/6000’ vertical gain/7.1% average grade climb in a drizzle, but that didn’t last long. Soon we were in a steady downpour, and by the time we reached the top of the col at over 9000’, it was snowing. Perhaps the arduous conditions and the lack of traffic on a rainy Monday helped to make the Stelvio the most incredible climbing experience I have had. In any case, it was a hard climb. No, make that a VERY hard climb. Day after day of 10,000’+ of climbing might have had a little to do with that, but even on a good day, the Stelvio is a monumental piece of riding. Just ask the pros who ride the Giro.

It was a stunning climb, but nevertheless, at some point, I knew I had to dig deep and find some kind of bonus motivation to keep me going. The Stelvio is made all the more special because it has 48 numbered switchbacks that zigzag back and forth up a very steep face of the mountain:

Switchback #48 is low on the climb. In general, the higher you go, the closer the switchbacks get. There was a lot of distance between #48 and #47, and it gave me plenty of time to devise a strategy to make the climb more enjoyable (survivable?). On the Stelvio, I tried to reconstruct each year of my life that corresponded with the number of the switchback. As the climb got harder as I rode higher, it became more and more difficult to fill up each kilometer with specific memories, but I gave it my best effort, and it really did help. It was an odd situation in that I wanted the experience of the climb to go on forever, but it was a hard climb and I needed to take my mind off of that as I also focused on enjoying the moment and my surroundings. At around age 5 I gave up, and just focused on the matter at hand.

Today I wasn’t trying to distract myself from any unpleasant sensation. I was simply sharing how much I enjoy riding my bike with everyone I encountered. It was fun being creative, and hopefully as a sidelight, I added a little positive vibe to the image of mountain biking. So once again, I found myself starting the New Year where I left off the previous year…on my bike.