Wednesday, September 24, 2014

So Long, and Thanks for the Memories...

Goodbye Oklahoma.  It's been interesting.

Lots of studying, lots of cycling, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, some falling down, a few allegedly violent encounters with indigenous wildlife.  Thankfully, no sharks or bears, and only a couple skunks to contend with.

Armadillos are hilarious.  I still don't swim very well.

Now it's off to new adventures and new lands.

So long, and thanks for the memories.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A (Biased) Review of the Denver B-Cycle Bike Share Program

I need a basket for my bike.

Char and I have been chatting up bike shares and bike advocacy for years and finally got the chance to put our money (and lives) where our big mouths were.

With her cousin’s wedding in Denver over Labor Day weekend we contrived a scheme that would allow us to: try out the bike share program, get some saddle time in over the long weekend, scare the living snot out of her parents, experience Denver biking at its finest, and arrive late to the wedding in true hipster style.

In the end, we were both successful and survived all of the above.

The Denver B-Cycle bike share program is fairly straightforward and mirrors most other bike share programs. Stations are located across the city, with many clustered in high usage areas. Kiosks can take a membership card or credit card to check out a bike if you are a first time user or already possess a membership account. For a one-time use it’s $8 for a 24-hour period. The first half hour of every ride is free with a $1 charge for the next half hour, and $4 for every half hour after that.

Plan Number 1: Grab some bikes from the B-Cycle station just across from our hotel and take one of the streets with dedicated bike lanes the three and a half miles to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Leave at 5pm and it would put us at the wedding a half hour early with plenty of time to spare. But the B-Cycle NOW mobile app showed that station was out of bikes.

Plan Number 2: We headed over two blocks to another station along our route to pull two bikes from that station, head down another street, hopefully with enough bike lanes to protect us from the heavy afternoon traffic leaving the Taste of Colorado festival downtown. We managed to pull one bike from the station before the kiosk froze and we spent almost 15 minutes trying to get someone on the customer service line to help us. The exasperated and helpless voice on the other end of the line tried to explain how the kiosks were all wirelessly connected to the cell towers and there was nothing he could do to fix any particular station if it wasn’t connecting on its own.

Plan Number 3: We hightailed it three blocks down the street to another B-Cycle station, this one hidden behind metal barricades inside the Taste of Colorado festival. Thankfully, Char and I each now had a shiny red behemoth in hand, it was only half past five, and we were on our way.

Of course, it was too late to circle back around to the beautifully painted and protected bike lanes, so we hightailed it up the hill and turned onto 17th street. No bike lanes, heavy traffic and we’re decked out in our best hipster/wedding finery. For the most part the cars gave us enough space to avoid riding in the gutter, though at times the traffic flow was a little quicker than I would have liked. However, the drivers reacted to our hand signals, let us merge or switch lanes as necessary, and those alone were new experiences for me. There weren’t very many strange looks from passersby, something that I’m quite used to when riding a bike unless I’m in the middle of an organized race/ride or in a bicycle hub like Durango.  Mostly, we just cruised along as fast as possible, worried that we’d be late to the wedding, and had almost no problems along the route. The B-Cycle station at the Museum was easy to find and there was plenty of room to turn our bikes in. We arrived just in time to find our seats, a little out of breath and a-glow with a layer of perspiration. Not too disheveled, but definitely rocking a semi-hipster look for the wedding.

A quick review of the bikes is in order. They were very heavy, but not nearly as heavy as I had read about in other reviews of other cities’ programs. Pedaling up hill was no problem and the two lowest gears (out of three total) were more than enough to get moving and to conquer most decent grades. The highest gear was enough to cruise along comfortably, but once we got moving into heavier traffic I was spinning as fast as I could and praying for another couple rings to slide into. The handlebars were pretty wide and each start felt wobbly until the momentum steadied everything out. I regretted not bringing any straps to blouse my pants and worried they would get caught in something, but managed to keep everything unstuck the entire ride.

Even the Squatch approves!
But most important of all was the basket! Just the right size to throw my jacket in for later with room left over for a briefcase, bag of groceries and a six-pack if needed. Never before had the lack of a bike basket in my own life ever been more apparent, nor the need to immediately find a way to have one installed on my commuter.

The ride home was fairly quiet. After we dried off the seats from the late evening rain we pedaled away to applause from other departing wedding revelers. The streets were mostly empty and we were free to comfortably spin along. There’s just not much traffic at 11pm on a Sunday night, even in downtown Denver. We started with our jackets on but soon warmed up enough to remove them and, you guessed it, toss them into the waiting basket! I must have one of my very own!

The station by the hotel had empty slots and we cruised the last few blocks along a protected bike lane, masters of our own little bike-sized road. Along the way to and from the museum there were plenty of other bikes of all shapes and sizes, with a similar variety of riders, heading in every direction. Along some streets we saw blatant dangerous and unlawful behavior from some cyclists (salmoning against traffic, ignoring street signs and lights, no helmets, etc.) but for the most part they seemed to blend right into the flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The signs of both locals and tourists using the bike share were everywhere, and we passed many riders heading in opposite directions on similar bright red machines, waving and laughing.

While the delay and frustration in dealing with the broken kiosk was extremely annoying, in the end it didn’t take much time to find another working station and retrieve a bike. We were also charged a second $8 fee during the kiosk confusion (and offered a refund by the confused and harried customer service rep) and a single $1 charge while we were dragging one bike around while looking for one for Char to ride. Unless you’re already running late, careful planning and preparation would seem enough mitigation against most unforeseen issues. However, I must caveat that we only rented bikes one day, on a Sunday afternoon/evening, and rode them twice, to and from one destination. There’s plenty of room to delve more deeply into the world of bike commuting in Denver, but for a single holiday weekend the Denver B-Cycle bike share program made for quite an adventure for two amateur cyclist out-of-towners.

And now I must go shopping for a basket for my own bike (and, of course, one for Charla).

Making Denver B-Cycle look good!
This is serious business.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

No Rest for the Weary (or Wicked)

For the first time in over 6 months I have no future!

Sounds depressing, but it’s actually quite a relief.

Let me explain. I always have a project to work towards; some bike ride, a road race, a specific PT test, triathlon, marathon, you name it. It shapes all my workouts, meal plans, and stress levels for the months leading up to it. I eat, sleep, and train for it. After I survived the Body vs. Earth sprint triathlon last week I had nothing else planned to follow it. For the first time in months, I’m free.

And it feels great!

My body was ready to quit at the end. The last week saw my final CCC APFT (a final physical fitness assessment as part of the Army course I’m in Oklahoma to take), a double workout the next day that included Cross-Fit torture and an intense soccer game, a hard 5km run on Friday, and the cold and rainy triathlon on Saturday.  This was less than two weeks since the Hotter ‘n Hell 100 mile bike ride that I had also been building up to all summer. Once it was all said and done I fell into a deep coma on both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. It also didn’t help that I had finally completed all the academic requirements for both my Army school and grad course of the last half a year.

Sports trainers and coaches tell you all the time to get enough rest. But sometimes it’s hard for those of us that need something to work towards to keep us motivated. There are just so many exciting things to do that keep me going that I always have to have something on my calendar. And that keeps me from ever truly taking the time off to recover and reset my whole system. 

I also have my annual personal requirement: 1 marathon + 1 triathlon + 1 standard century ride.  I checked off the marathon twice at the beginning of the year, and then the last two over the last few weeks.  So I also don't feel the personal obligation to myself for the rest of the year.

So, here goes my first break in a long time with nothing on the horizon that will drive my training (also might be without my road bike for four months while traveling, so that won’t help much). Will I be able to keep motivated, will I get fat and lazy? Or will I have the time to fine tune my overall health, build a solid foundation of strength and cardio during the wintertime, and posture myself for more adventures in the spring and summer of next year?

No clue.  Guess we’ll just have to see.

Yup, time to take a break.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Body vs Earth Sprint Triathlon, Earth Wins.

It should have been called the Swim with Bare Feet, Swim with Two Wheels, Swim with Shoes.

We woke up to pouring rain, we swam in it, biked in it, ran in it, and cheered everyone else on in it.

Char and I arrived early, in the pouring rain and pitch black sky, to prep.  I was cold and soaked before it was even time to don my first ever swim cap (it came in the race packet) and head down to the beach for the mass start.  My teeth were chattering, either from the cold or nerves, or both.  Thankfully, Char had to work early, so she was there as my coach and support team.

For my first open water swim, this one was a doozy.  The first 50 meters or so were fine.  A little bumping, a little frothy, watching the kelp wave along under the water.  As soon as we got into the deep stuff, the 30 mile an hour gusts kicked up the chop and it was all I could do to keep my head above water.  I could feel tiny water gremlins pulling at my legs and singing songs that in ages past lulled unsuspecting sailors to their deaths.  I might have finished with three or four folks behind me.  But I didn't ever have to ask for help from the lifeguards in the kayaks and I will count this one as a success.

The stuff of my nightmares.
There were, thankfully, no sharks.  That I could see, anyways.

The bike started out well.  The roads were slick as ice, but the tailwind was incredible on the way out.  Which means, well, you know, the way back was not so nice.  After I just managed to not kill myself on any tight turns, bumpy low-water crossings, and puddle covered potholes, it was time to fight for my life against an arctic wind replete with tiny gremlin snipers hiding in the trees firing ice bullets at my lips.  Seriously, it hurt, a lot!

I managed to fly past just about everyone that came into view, including a large number of people on fancy road bikes with aero bars.  Just because your bike and kit make you look fast, doesn't mean you are fast.  There's always some homely, hairy 'squatch like me ready to fly past you like you're standing still.  Just not in the water.

My second transition was as smooth as the first, with Charla's amazing support and coaching, and I was off into the run portion.

About a quarter mile down the road the course turned up into a rolling grassy knoll.  Over the top and the course became a nightmare of rocks, slick and sucking mud, grass covering mud and rocks, and more tiny gremlins with little sticks trying to poke you off balance.  Seriously, what's with the gremlins everywhere?

The course was definitely not a fast one, it was straight verticals up the sides of rocky, muddy slopes, then back down the other side before climbing again.  I passed more people than I can count again, each one cursing my name under their breath.  Maybe they brought forth the gremlins, I don't know.

At one of the 10,000 hilltops the course summited, each about the height of Base Camp One on Mt. Everest, there was a water point.  The kind gentlemen in the soaked t-shirt asked me politely if I would like some water as he held out a styrofoam cup.  I looked up and down and all around.  I was the meat in a water sandwich and had been for almost 90 minutes.  I declined.

When the trail finally tumbled back out on the road for the final sprint to the finish line, I was alone and cruised into the finish line one hour and forty-seven minutes after it had all started.  I didn't even feel tired right then but about four hours later would collapse into a coma on my warm, soft couch with a cat sleeping on my chest and a dog huffing into my arm.

My first open water, trail run, windy, freezing, soaked, sprint triathlon?  Done.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Do Sasquatch Float?

(and what's the plural of Sasquatch anyways?)

My constant struggle to survive being fully immersed in a body of water that's trying to kill me is legendary, and I always find myself coming back to the same story origin.

A few years back I decided to teach myself to swim.  Well, at least to drown with a little more dignity while crossing a small body of water no more than 50 meters across.  (50 yards for you that are still stuck in the stone age and eat bugs off each other)

Then, two years ago, I signed up for my first triathlon, spent all summer training, and finished second to last in the swim portion.

In the year that followed, I spent countless hours in the pool, to the sincere resentment of those that have to fish out all the animal hair, refining my technique and desperately trying not to actually kill myself.

Using an annual sprint triathlon as a measuring tool, I managed to finish in the middle of the slow pack last year.  Then something terrible happened.  I moved to Oklahoma for a professional course, started working on a graduate program in addition to the daily class load, and forgot completely about trying to swim.  For the last six months my furry paws have not touched the inside of a pool.

With my annual self-imposed sprint triathlon coming up this weekend I was in a panic to know if I would even survive.  It doesn't help that it's my first open water swim.  Are there sharks in Oklahoma?

To the rescue--the four day weekend trip to the wife's cousin's wedding in Denver.

We splurged, booked a room in the Hyatt Regency in downtown, and made full use of the saltwater lap pool in the fitness lounge.  So awesome!

The first dip in the pool, other than the initial, excruciating shock of cold water, was devoid of the panic and sense of certain doom that used to accompany a dip in the pool after extended absence.  I slowly did my full workout, roughly 600 meters (~600 yards, neanderthals!), with plenty of stopping to check my pulse and make sure I didn't need CPR.

The second dip, I took off with my stopwatch running.  10 minutes and 57 seconds later, head throbbing, lungs burning, I finished a cool 500 meters. (~500 yards, picking up what I'm putting down, yet?)  Faster than I used to swim the 400 meter. (~400 yards, cretans!)  And I was swimming over a mile above sea level after 6 months down on the plains.

I suppose I should thank the school house instructors that have been dragging us out for a weekly "this is not Cross Fit" Cross Fit session they dub the Filthy Fifty.  And I should also thank the sadistic classmates that thought the Mountain Athlete program, and the requisite million leg blasters that go with it, would be a "nice little break from the routine."  Apparently, along with my own tortuous cycling program, my full body strength and cardio are making up for a lack of water time and I'm feeling pretty confident about the Body vs. Earth Triathlon this weekend.

So, to answer the question, do Sasquatch float?  No, definitely not.  But, when there are sharks in the water, don't get in our way!

We're gonna need a bigger boat!