Sunday, August 12, 2012

Barker Pass: More than a Workout, It was a Mindshift

I drove up to Lake Tahoe to see my boyfriend of five years, Steve, this weekend. I was feeling lonely and depressed and Tahoe seemed, and seems, the only remedy for those feelings lately. 


The beginning of Barker Pass Road, where I parked just off Hwy 89. The rest is a steady climb until pavement becomes dirt .

I can't express the strange sort of loneliness I've been feeling lately in the Bay: it's inexpressible, in part, because there's no reason for it. I have a great job where I'm learning new skills everyday; I'm constantly writing, which is what I want to do; I train with a Master's swim team, which has an "awesome-ness factor" that I can only relate by saying I can do the butterfly stroke across the pool (even the 50 meter distance) after a year of practice with them... a fact that astounds me, still since my swimming technique before joining was more like an abstract interpretation of the sport; I ride with a group of talented and friendly cyclists who've shown me the beauty of the San Francisco Bay area and who've taught me the value of cycling; and I'm (sort of) running again. Yet, I'm sad.

Honestly, I feel as though I've accomplished nothing with my life. This mere months after a graduation from a graduate program I was all but drooling over for years, that I finally went to, loved and completed. Still. I feel as though I've done nothing. My actions: wasted. My athletics: gone.  Why on earth I feel this way, I'm still not sure of. Maybe I need therapy.

So last night when Steve and I talked about the rides he does up here, and the topic of Blackwood Canyon (Barker Pass Road) came up, Steve mentioned there's a guy up here who rides up to Barker Pass not once like most people do, but instead, four times. It sounded a bit like torture to me, because I was one of the one-time climbers. After all, the beauty of a ride that climbs a mountain is that you get to stop once you get to the top, ride down and call it a day, right?

But the idea of riding up Barker Pass doing what would more or less be long hill sprints stuck in my mind until morning. Could I ride up Barker Pass road more than once? Say, even three times?

The question is ludicrous if only because the rides I do with the Diablo Cyclists in the Bay are not only much longer, but offer more change in elevation than would doing Barker x three. However, the lovely thing about long rides is that you are not climbing the same hill over and over and the visual stimulus of a varied landscape can, at times, be enough to push you forward. And there's also that thing about progress, about seeing how far you've come.

But you lose all of that when you do a  hill-repeat type workout. You aren't covering more ground-- you're covering ground you already covered. And then there's the worry that you just won't make it up the hill you've already climbed-- maybe from not enough rest, or (more likely) not enough motivation.

The road construction and traffic up here, though, forced me off the main roads where I would normally ride to either attempt hill repeats on Barker or to ride it once and call it a day. So, despite my worries I couldn't do it, I did.

Three times up Barker Pass road.

The first time, I timed myself from the car, which I parked along Highway 89 that runs along Tahoe's West Shore. It took me 36 minutes to the top, the fastest time I'd ever clocked going up that hill, though it's been a while since I'd ridden it.

For the second and third repeats I didn't ride back to 89 since that section is mostly flat. I began my ascents at the base of the climb, so my times for the second two were much quicker. I'm (slightly) upset with myself that I didn't keep more accurate time of myself, but I gauged my effort by heart rate.... for the first two, I kept myself in the 165-174 range. On the last one, I let it all out, getting in the high 170s and finally peaking at 182 near the top where I thought I might throw up a lung since I can feel the altitude when I come up for these short weekend visits.

What can I say? I did the ride I didn't think I could do. I passed everyone else riding up the hill, sometimes seeing them on my way down only to catch them before they made it to the top.

I wonder if I could have done more repeats, even just one, up that hill.

You know, I probably could have. But that pesky voice in my head said "you can't." So I went back to the car.  I know now, however, that multiple climbs are not beyond my reach. It might even be the type of workout I should integrate into my weekly training cycle in order to become a stronger cyclist.

As for the issue of loneliness, or more aptly, lost-ness, I don't know. I guess I'll just have to keep riding until I find the answer.

For more information on the Barker Pass Road Ride, read this:

Friday, August 10, 2012

The "I" Problem

I feel really bad about my last post. First of all, who in the hell cares what I eat? Secondly, well, why am I important enough for "I"?

The second question probably needs some explaining. In the past, I've had something to write about... I was training for a race. I was doing something en route to some goal. But now, I really don't feel like I'm doing much of anything.

I swim.
I cycle.
I run (a little.)

So in the hell what???

Granted, to me it feels pretty f***ing amazing to be able to run miles (even if it's only, say, six of them) after months of not being able to even walk. But, is that amazing to anyone else? Probably not.

Maybe this is a writing problem more than it is an athletic one. Still, I'm filled with guilt and something like "self-loathing" only the feeling isn't phrased in such a PC way.

Why does anything I do matter any more? Why write about it? It's stupid to share the details of my silly, little life.

I'm not great.
I'm not overly fast.
I'm not beautiful.

In the scheme of human history, I'm one of  those nameless specs that come and go; the solitary woman who has just a lifetime and nothing more.

And yet; the way I felt today, running those six stupid miles. You'd think I was running them on red carpet or up in the clouds.


Who knows how long it took me? I mean, I do. I wear a Timex watch. In a way, though, it was timeless. It was what I've always wanted. So much in-my-body I was beyond-my-body. And maybe I just want to share that.

Go run.
Go bike.
Go swim.
Go hike or walk or play tennis or whatever it is you love.

Do it now.

Amaze yourself.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What the HECK do you Eat?

Pictured: Carrot, left. Cucumber, right. Both have been shredded by me, not pictured.
I was inspired to write this post by the meal I'm preparing tonight: Vegan Tortilla Soup. It's the first warm dinner I'll have had in a bit over two weeks.  This is partially because I have more or less decided to follow a vegetarian-ish lifestyle with absolutely no dairy products or anything that's been refined at all... and because I live in a place sans kitchen.

I realize both reasons require an explanation. Let's start with the first one.

1. I REFUSE to use the term "vegan" to describe how I eat. This is, in part, because I told a friend once I was thinking of going Vegan (meaning: I was no longer going to eat meat, dairy, or anything that had once had a pulse) and in reply I heard a long lecture about how I couldn't possibly be Vegan because I hadn't researched whether or not my clothes, the carpet in the place I rented or the glue I used on crafty handmade Christmas cards were also void of animal products.

So, no, I guess I'm not a Vegan. I lack the self-discipline or the desire to research what I've already done, where I already live and what clothes I've already worn stained and made my own in that embarrassing way that you would not ever donate them to charity, even for the tax write-off. In terms of my dietary choices, I've already done too many boo-boos to claim any sort of moral self-righteousness about my diet, aside from saying that I have one (since, by default, I eat.)  Instead, I consume mostly vegetables and fruit simply because I choose to. Call it what you like.
Laziness, perhaps.

Which leads me to the second reason: I have no kitchen.

2. OK: that's a slight exaggeration. I have a mini-fridge, a mini-sink and a big coffee maker that goes off every morning at 5:00 am. To supplement these essentials, I have purchased (or have been given): a water boiler, a steamer, an electric skillet, a hot plate (but I have no pots or pans) and two crock pots-- one from our era and the other from 1975 with a charming burnt-sienna colored interior and a whimsical floral design on the outside. I think there should be a Reality cooking show based on my living conditions, requiring contestants to live AND COOK in 300 square feet of space with only the appliances listed above to assist them and a Maine Coon cat who periodically stretches his paw up to the counter to get your attention and distract you from the precarious balancing act it is to do anything in such a small space.

There are no extras: no counter space. No dishwasher. No [sigh] oven. No large Cuisinart (yet). No sink into which a plate can fit.

But with what I've got, I'm making Vegan Tortilla Soup tonight and it's going to be amazing. (How's that for shameless self promotion?)


So maybe you're wondering what I eat on long rides and runs? Back in my running days (though those are coming back: my foot feels great after my 50 minute effort yesterday... but I'm being patient in building back my base) I didn't eat much while running. Sport gels, mostly, since solid foods made me want to become the human pinata. That might sound fun at a party, but trust me, it's not when you're on a trail, alone, running over twenty miles.

While cycling, I have sport gels, too, but I've really been trying to take "healthy" foods along with me as well. Larabars, for instance, while sugary (with their "date" base) are only composed of fruit and nuts and a healthy alternative to others out there.

But my resolve tends to fade while the miles accumulate and at mile sixty or so, I think: hot damn, those Peanut-Crunch Cliff bars taste soooooo good. 

Even better? I discovered my I'VE DIED AND GONE TO A BETTER PLACE snack on the Mt. Tam Century: Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. Yeah, I know, I'm weird. But I never buy bread (I don't eat it in my day-to-day routine) nor jelly, really with its high-fructose corn syrup that will kill you... but that half-sandwich was motivation enough for me to ride all those miles. Yes: just two slices of bad-for-you-brown-bread and the sort of peanut butter that comes from a large, plastic container and jelly the color of no extant fruit that has cancer written all over it.

I ate that.
And it was delish.


So, am I Vegan?
I'm beyond labels.
And with that, it's time to make some soup.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ride Report: Marin/Mt. Tam Century Part 1

"Which way, Jay?"
 I love riding with a group of talented, dedicated athletes.. they've taken me places I wouldn't have seen on my own and the company is priceless. 
I have to start this post with an explanation: I've since May I've been riding with the Diablo Cyclists, a club based in Walnut Creek. It was a  decision I made because all the solo rides were getting dull and also because I've been toying with the idea of trying some bike races... and to race, you have to ride with people. Hence, my decision to ride with a club. 

Me, Jay and Ward doing the Marin Century the week before the Tam Century... a training ride for Jay. For me, this is the first time in my life that I've consistently done long rides (80+ miles) each Saturday a week.

What I wasn't prepared for was the caliber of athlete I'd meet there... or the diverse range of athletic ability I'd put myself up against (or with.) One rider in particular, Jay, astounds me. Today, as I write this ride report for the Mt. Tam Century (96.97 miles at the end of the day according to my little computer), Jay rode what's known as the Mt. Tam Double which is exactly what it sounds like: twice the distance (basically riding the Marin Century + the Mt. Tam Century all in one solid go.) To help him train, another club member (an amazing rider as well) Ward, rode with him on what is known as the Marin Century last weekend so Jay would know the route in advance. I tagged along because it sounded fun. 

And it was.

And now, having ridden both centuries, I have to say I like them both; but for vastly different reasons. They day we rode Marin, it was sunny and warm with a cooling breeze that somehow nearly always was a headwind. Riding Mt. Tam (today) was in a perpetual heavy fog (save for en route to the summit of Mt. Tam when the sun broke through the fog and I removed my jacket... only to put it on again at the summit--40 miles into the ride-- and for the rest of the 96 miles and change.) But how can you dislike redwood forests and Muir Woods and Hwy 1 when there's that endless expanse of the Pacific to your left? And Point Reyes-- perhaps one of the most special places on earth. Rain, sun, snow, shine or... fog. It's really just the most beautiful place around.  It's a tie, in other words. Maybe next year I'll do the double and see if I like both legs equally when I'm forced to ride them back to back. 

Marin Century:

Ward and I in front of a one-room school house with a rather spirited painted wall.  It was colorful enough to catch our attention for a photo shoot.

The best way to describe the Marin Century is to simply state that it's 100 miles of constant climbs and descents. Jay calls them "rollers" but some of those ascents demanded more respect from my lungs and legs for that appellation. But no climb is mountain-high; and no descent is, either. You're constantly on the gears, shifting up or down depending on the terrain. In some ways, I think it's a more challenging ride simply because there are no 20 minute descents-- ever. You have a brief respite and then it's up again. 

On this ride, I discovered my strength and my weakness: simply put, I kick ass on the climbs if I keep my heart rate in the mid 170s, but suck on all downhills (probably since I had a bad accident last year on wet pavement and the scars on my right hip and upper thigh, still, to prove it.) 

Jay and I on one of many climbs (or "rollers".) Here, we're cruising through a grove of Eucalyptus Trees which provided some nice shade.

Another thing I admire: the while-ride-shot. Both Jay and Ward are able to take photos of us while riding. I find this amazing. I need both hands for steering. Notice the landscape: this is what the Marin Century (mostly) looks like. Jay asked me: "does this remind you of Nevada?" [That's where I'm from.]  And I could only say: no. Because in Marin, there's no sage or bitterbrush and the smell each plant makes when "sweating" under a summer sun.

Here I am in Fallon, California. (Are you reading, Mom? There's a Fallon in California, too!)  A quick stop for a photo-shoot of a field of abandoned (antique) gas pumps and a tractor-golf-cart thing filled with little dogs and two houses along "Yesteryear Lane." Sort of sounds like Fallon... sans Air Force Base and sagebrush. 

Stopping for a snack. I love how Jay and I are both obviously eating.  I just remember thinking how lovely the coffee tasted there... and the breadstick with pesto and basil on it. Mmmm after 60(?) or so miles.

Riding along Tomales Bay. That day, this was the coldest part of the ride... and in my opinion, the most beautiful. Again, the terrain was rolling (up and down, up and down) but I was just saturated in that ocean (OK not ocean) but definitely moist and slightly salted air.

After climbing the back side of Marshall Wall. Whew! But I did it.

Oh yeah. That's Part II. Stay tuned.

Me, trying to look like those wooden-carved Native American statues behind me. Am I as tough? Probably not.

Banana under the windshield wiper. Yeah, we roll that way.