Sunday, June 28, 2009

When the moon is in the Seventh House

And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars

From Age of Aquarius by the 5th Dimension

These lyrics kept running through my head during my ride on Saturday morning. It was one of those seemingly all too rare times when everything aligned just right to provide a perfect ride for how I was feeling at the time.

The week after Lumberjack I had only ridden lightly or not at all due to fatigue, heat and/or thunderstorms. Saturday morning was cool and clear and I decided to take out the singlespeed bike after changing the gearing to provide a better ratio for training.

The beauty of a singespeed is also it's detraction. If you want to go faster you pedal faster; if you come to a hill you pedal harder. Sometimes you can't pedal fast enough when going downhill and are limited to how fast your can pedal on the flats for a comfortable distance. On some ride a singlespeed is easier because you don't always have a harder gear so are forced to relax and just let it flow.

I headed out to the local trails and then the back roads and rail trails while soaking up the cool air and scenery. My legs were working in tandem with my heart rate and both were operating better than I thought they would. I headed over to watch part of the Stony Creek marathon mountain bike race.

Riders were coming through from their first laps and many of the bikes had a fair amount of mud attached to them. Some riders were also muddy from where they had apparently fallen somewhere out on the course. The promoter had elected to use a section of trail that had been wet for some time and was known to be muddy. Last year this same race cut out most of the section in somewhat similar conditions. I'm not sure why the whole section was used this time but I imagine their will be some work required to fix the damage created by the racers.

Usually when I watch a race I feel some regret at not being a participant but this time I had no regrets about not entering. I watched most of my Cannondale Midwest team members come through and then rode on toward home.

Today I was back out for a couple of hours but a little later in the day and the Zen like feeling was gone. Partially due to the warmer weather and also I was feeling a little fatigue from yesterday. But overall it was another good ride with an eye toward Tuesday's race at Lake Orion High School, weather permitting. Then the Boyne marathon in two weeks if possible.

The racing season is flying by and the new bikes will soon be announced. I have been receiving some inside scoops from our Cannondale rep attending the dealer show in UT but until things are officially announced we will just have to wait and see what is in store for 2010.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lumberjack 100

The 5th year of the Lumberjack 100 is in the books and I am pleased to be able to report that this year I at least finished the race. If my body worked as well as my Scalpel I would have won instead of finishing seventh in my class. I am very pleased with the bike and the modification of running the slightly larger 650b wheel up front.

Robin, Shari and I left Thursday evening and spent the night at their cottage on Higgins Lake. The next morning we headed up to the race site so that we could arrive early enough to get a prime spot on the course for our pit. Having a good spot makes the lap transitions a lot faster. Shari is a pro at this by now.

After staking our claim we headed over to our rental house, or chalet, that I had reserved. I found the place on the internet and the cost was similar to what we paid last year for a hotel. The chalet had three bedrooms and slept 10. It included 1.5 baths and even had a basement with a garage door where we could bring in our bikes to work on them. In the winter I guess the place is popular for snowmobilers.

We had a bunch of people from the Cycletherapy team coming up to share the place with us so the cost per night was very cheap. It was nice to have a whole house to move around in. The fact that it was only about 4.5 miles from the race was even better. After settling in on Friday I rode over to the race and did a small portion of the course.

Race day morning we got up early to get ready and get over to the race site so we could get a parking spot to unload all of our gear. The heavy overnight rain had pretty much soaked into the sandy soil which was perfect; the day before parts of the course were like riding on a beach. The rain had also left the air very humid, not so great.

My strategy this year was to just finish; I was not too confident in my preparation for this race (almost none) so I wanted to try starting out slow for once. I always say this and then go out too hard, causing me to really slow down by the end of the race.

Once the race started we had about a two mile stretch of blacktop before turning into the trail. I was content to just sit in the middle of the group and take my time. Throughout the first lap I pretty much stayed in whatever group I found myself in and didn't really try to pass. I monitored my heart rate to keep from going too hard. Many times I had to resist the urge to press as I kept thinking I could go faster than I was.

At the end of the first 25 mile lap I was actually having fun and ready to go out for the second lap. I was able to make this lap little faster than the first as there wasn't as much traffic in front of me but I still had to force myself to slow down. I could start to feel a little fatigue at the end of the lap but a third lap was never a doubt.

On the third lap I would start to feel some cramps in my legs as we were now in the middle of the day and the temperature had risen. Fortunately most of the course in in the woods and well shaded. I did walk a hill or two that I had previously ridden on the first two laps. My lap time had slowed to where it equaled the first lap.

I didn't allow myself much time in the pits before heading out for my fourth, and final lap. At this point I was definitely feeling the effort but I was confident I would at least finish. The heat was starting to make me a little dizzy at times and I had to walk a few more hills than before, pausing to let myself cool down. I was so glad to get up the final hill knowing that the last two or three miles were pretty much downhill or level.

I crossed the line with a slower time than two years ago but at least I finished. I didn't think I was even in the top ten, knowing the other competitors in the race. I was surprised that I still ended up seventh but a long way out of first. Every year the 100 milers are attracting more people and better competition. But that's the way national races should be; not just showing up and placing because you finished. It also means I have a lot of work to do if I want to get on the podium again.

It was still a great weekend with good friends and a great trail system. The full suspension bike helped to mitigate any back problems or other discomforts caused by the long time on the bike and bumpy course. I'm not sure what the next race is except we do have another race at Lake Orion High School on June 30.

Thanks again to Robin and Shari for another outstanding race support.

Our primo spot on the course

Our rental chalet for the weekend

The back, complete with deck and gas grill

The living room, plenty of room for everyone to watch satellite TV.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In the woods

It seems like I spend a lot of time in the woods. Mountain biking is my main hobby and most of my riding is done on trails that wind their way through old growth timber. I have always liked being outdoors and was lucky enough to grow up in a rural area where I could walk out my back door and go for miles through the fields, woods and rivers. At one time I even wanted to become a forest ranger.

Our house was on a 5 acre lot but it was surrounded by empty fields that backed up to the forest and the same across the street. Even as a kid I was into building trails for my mini-bike and then dirt bikes. Some things never change.

But now I have traded the motor for pedals but still love to build trails out in the woods. I have worked on most of the major trails in my immediate area, either helping lay out or install new sections or simply maintaining the existing ones. These trails include Bald Mountain, Addison Oaks, Stony Creek, Bloomer, Pontiac Lake, and Maybury. When I first got involved with the Michigan Mountain Biking Association(MMBA)I was all over the area working at the trail days. Now days I pretty much stick closer to home.

I am fortunate to have the Lake Orion High School property within a half mile from my house and that the school property is a great piece of real estate for mountain biking. The multiple elevation changes on their meadows and woods has allowed me to build quite a few sections of singletrack and to tie them all together and also access the Bald Mountain trails. The school grounds crew has been super supportive of my efforts and assisted in so many ways to help put the trails in.

This past weekend I pretty much finished up another section of trail that while not being lengthy, will provide a few neat features but took a lot of work on a couple of sections. The best part about these trails is when other people ride them and are amazed at the trails they never knew existed. As a bonus it gives me a great workout, both while building them and then as an almost private training grounds.

Those that have ridden all the sections know that my trails can give you a good technical tree avoidance as well as cardio workout due to all the climbing. The terrain does not allow for many climbs to be rolled into; it's more descend, turn, and climb. But that is what makes the most difference in racing, climbing and the ability to hold sustained efforts. The latter I still need to work on but with a ready made course less than a five minute ride from my house I can easily get in the practice.

Hopefully some of these workouts have helped me get ready for the Lumberjack 100 this weekend. I didn't fare well there last year as I pulled out after 50 miles as I didn't seem to have any energy. This will be my fourth year in a row for this race and my field looks tougher than ever. There are 32 men registered in my class; I think that is the biggest field for my group in any of the 100's I have done. I know of at least ten that could be contenders for top honors. The forecast for rain may play a factor in who survives until the end.

I am traveling with my usual pit crew of Robin and Shari. We will spend Thursday night at their cabin on Higgins Lake and then head up to the race site Friday morning. The best pit sites fill up early so we will stake our claim and then head over to our rental chalet. This place will be new to us but it is a three bedroom house that we will be sharing with some other racers that we know. The place has satellite TV, AC, gas grill, kitchen, etc. And the best part is the cost is about the same as one tiny hotel room yet this is closer to the race. Hopefully this will be a place we will want to return to every year.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Snow in June?

Although snow in June not unheard of in Michigan, this is just the fallout from the line of trees that runs along the driveway. When the wind blows it does look like it's snowing. The trees can cause quite a mess in the spring and fall since they have little leaves that are hard to pick up. The branches are also full of thorns.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

È quasi ufficiale

That is Italian for "it's almost official". After numerous delays and much conjecture, it looks like the Supreme Court has refused the motion to delay the Chrysler emergence from bankruptcy. Fiat will become the major player in how we do business from now on.

I imagine that we will be put to warp speed to get the plants and systems up and running. It will be interesting to see what happens to our management structure in the coming months. Fiat Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne, and soon to be head of Chrysler as well, has some different ideas of how management should operate compared with how we have been doing business. I expect we will see an exodus within the upper corporate ranks, either by request or by choice.

For now at least we have a glimmer of a future and can get back to the task of making cars and trucks. And of course greeting the arrival of the Fiat employees that we have been preparing office space for over the last few months. And while I can stop scouring the ads, I will still keep the link handy, just in case.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Motorized trail hazard

I am lucky to be writing this update today. Yesterday while out riding at Bald Mountain I was going through a slight downhill section that is very fast and came around a corner to see a park utility vehicle coming right at me, also travelling at a good clip. The vehicle, or gator as they are called, took up almost all of the trail, especially as the trail is partly overgrown right now.

I hit the brakes hard while pulling off to the right as much as I could, all the while hoping that there wasn't anything sticking up or out of the brush that I was forced into. We passed each other with inches to spare and their eyes were probably as wide as mine. The gator never really slowed down and I kept going at a slightly slower pace but my heart rate remained up for a while. I can only imagine the damage a collision with that thing would have caused. The poor bike!

I was out testing the latest change to my Scalpel. I was not satisfied with the way it handled with the 29" wheel up front. The taller front end made short, steep climbs more difficult as well as quick transitions in the corners. It was great in the straight line or downhills.

I had borrowed a 26" wheel to put on there and the bike felt a lot better but of course that is what it is designed to use. I still had the problem of a low bar to seat relationship due to the geometry of the bike but I found out that Cannondale makes a longer steerer tube. I had one of those shipped to me and now the bars and seat are relatively close in height.

Tuesday I picked up my new 650b front wheel to try on the Scalpel. This wheel size is measured at 27.5", or half way between a 26" and a 29" wheel. The size has been around for a long time but over the last couple of year it has started to make inroads in the mountain biking community. It provides some benefits of both of the other sizes but is still limited in tire selection.

I have a Stan's NoTubes 355 rim on the Lefty hub and the Pacenti Quasi-Moto tire on it for now. Schwalbe is our tire sponsor but I couldn't get their 650b tire. After two rides I am very pleased with both the bike handling and the tire. The larger wheel has slowed the handling a bit so that it feels fairly similar to the 29" bikes I have and the wheel rolls over some of the small things better. Climbing does not seem to be a problem either. I plan on doing some long rides this weekend on this bike to determine if it is the bike I will use for the Lumberjack or stick with the 29'er.