STP prep

According to an email I received from the folks at the Cascade Bicycle Club, it’s almost time for a big bike ride I’ve alluded to in a few blog posts. That bike ride happens to be the Seattle to Portland ride, often known as STP. It’s a 206-mile ride in which 10,000 awesome, possibly insane people ride bicycles from Seattle to — you guessed it — Portland. According to my work Outlook calendar and the messages with friends, yes, the trip is rapidly approaching. Never mind the fact that I’m under-trained — how about all the prep for the actual event?! Let’s see here…

Pre-ride:

  1. Unpack from July 4 weekend shenanigans. Do laundry. Pack a lot of bags.
  2. Do all the normal pre-trip stuff, such as stopping the mail, watering the plant, paying the bills, taking out the trash, running the dishwasher, unplugging some appliances.
  3. Drive to Seattle. This was a mild decision-making circus of its own, which at one point involved a refundable Amtrak ticket and a friend driving one way. But the decision was finally made that I would drive north for many hours on Thursday, with a stop/stay in Portland for one night.
  4. Oh, right, find a place to stay in Portland on Thursday night.
  5. Meet up with a friend in Portland on Friday morning.
  6. Drive from Portland to Seattle, meet up with Michaela, go to ride check-in.
  7. Eat early dinner.
  8. Charge Garmin and phone.
  9. Don’t oversleep, because we want to start early Saturday, since it’s supposed to get hot and we’ll be riding for a Very Long Time.

Ride Day 1:

  1. Liberally apply sunscreen and chamois cream.
  2. Put on shorts, sports bra, jersey, gloves, helmet, sunglasses, socks, bike shoes. If needed, wear arm and knee warmers.
  3. Fill two water bottles with Gu Roctane and water.
  4. Fill jersey pockets with 10 gels, two more packets of Gu Roctane drink, phone (in ziplock bag), ID/credit card/cash (also in a ziplock bag), sunscreen, travel-sized chamois cream.
  5. Top off air in tires, and make sure my travel pump is securely in place. Make sure my bike bag contains two spare tubes, tire levers and multi-tool.
  6. Fasten race bib to jersey and number to bike/helmet/wherever it’s supposed to go so they let me into the military base along the route.
  7. Drop two nights’ bags at the start line, making sure my phone/Garmin chargers are in the first night’s bag.
  8. Actually start riding after all of this.
  9. Eat a Gu gel every 10 miles, most of them non-caffeinated. Yes, this sounds insane to some people, but it works for me and solid food does not. (I get light-headed, apparently because my body is too busy digesting food, rather than sending blood to my head.) Eat some fruit at the rest stops.
  10. Get through two bottles of Gu Roctane by mile 50, preferably with additional water by then, too.
  11. Keep drinking. Use the port-a-potties to encourage myself to drink (TMI?).
  12. Reapply sunscreen. And chamois cream (maybe TMI, but it’s also something important).
  13. Stop somewhere around mile 100, get night bag from a truck, find our hotel.
  14. Probably discover that I didn’t pack something. Since we do not have a car and are tired, oh well!
  15. Eat dinner.
  16. Charge Garmin and phone.

Ride Day 2:

  1. Wake up and ask myself why I thought it was a good idea to get back on my bike for a repeat of yesterday.
  2. Repeat steps 1-6 and steps 8-12 from Day 1.
  3. At some point, reach a low point and throw a hissy fit, which I will feel terribly about for a long time afterward.
  4. Arrive in Portland. Promptly take a terrible finish-line photo and post it to every possible social media outlet.
  5. Drop bike off at a truck, in exchange for my bags and some food.
  6. Make our way to the hotel, probably via Uber or cab.
  7. Find an alcoholic beverage. And food.
  8. Sleep.

Post ride:

  1. Return to the finish line Monday morning, to board a bus that takes us back to Seattle.
  2. Get off the bus three hours later, retrieve bikes, and thank Michaela profusely for having a bike rack that holds two bikes, and for buying parking so we don’t have to ride a few miles with all of our stuff.
  3. Do laundry. Oh, blessed laundry. (I love doing laundry. Yes, I am weird.)
  4. Actually do NOT get on the bike.
  5. Remember that I have another rapidly disappearing countdown, which requires that I go for a run.

And that only takes me through the first five days of the epic adventure that has become “STP and beyond.” The next part of the trip ranges from what will hopefully be my first jet ski adventure to the sadness of finally seeing my fire-ravaged hometown. (Who there wants to put me up for a night, too?)

I’m already tired after writing all this.

Posted in Bicycling | 3 Comments

Tuesday Time-Waster: 70-year-old runner beats the clock

A 70-year-old woman became a legend this weekend when she barely beat the 30-hour cutoff time at the prestigious Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Yes, she’s 70. In fact, she’s almost 71. Yes, that’s 100 miles. In fact, it’s also 18,000 feet of climbing and 22,000 feet of descending. Gunhild Swanson’s endeavor was so remarkable that, when word reached the finish line of an elderly woman trying to finish, winner Rob Krar made his way to the last aid station and ran/walked the last 1.2 miles with her — while wearing flip-flops.

Here is a photo gallery, including Rob Krar (in the cowboy hat), taken by someone accompanying Swanson:

And here’s an interview with her after the race, where she explains a few remarkable things. First, she took a wrong turn and added three miles to her run. Second, she ran seven-minute pace around the high school track to the finish line in order to beat the clock — and that’s after 103 miles! Third — oh, just watch the video; it’s worth nine minutes of your Tuesday morning.

Special congratulations to Desiree, who has dreamed of and fought for this finish line. It’s kind of cool to be able to say “I ran the New York City Marathon with a Western States finisher!”

And congratulations to Billy Yang, who does a lot for the running community but this time got to be on the receiving end a bit.

Posted in Running, Tuesday Time-Waster | Leave a comment

Grace in South Carolina

After a white man went into a mostly black church’s Bible study meeting, talked to the dozen people for an hour and then opened fire on them because of their race, grace was not something anyone expected. But family members of the nine victims gracefully said they forgive the shooter. They went to court to face the accused killer, but they did not scream and rage, as they had every right to do as human beings. I don’t know how they found the strength, but their grace rose above all.

Today, President Barack Obama gave a eulogy for the church’s slain reverend. The entire thing lasted 40 minutes, and Obama ended by singing “Amazing Grace,” with the attendees joining in after the first verse. He then listed each victim’s name as the organ kept playing. While making his way back to his seat, he shook hands and hugged people who were so awed to meet the President of the United States. And then he went to the reverend’s wife and two daughters, giving each one a hug. The grace is worth watching:

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Biking in Kona

Of all the various things I’ve done in Hawaii, biking has never been one of them. Put on spandex and climb on a bike rather than sit on a beach or hike around a volcano? Nahhhh, no thanks. But last month, I learned that it’s actually a lot more pleasant than I’d expected, and the logistics were also easier than I feared. So, if you’re planning a trip to the Big Island and feel like getting a taste of what those crazy Ironman people do, read on. Or just scroll down for the pictures; you know who you are.

A bit of history: I think this can all be blamed on marathons. You see, more than once, I found myself looking at my training schedule and seeing “14 miles” on the plan for a Saturday when I would be in Hawaii. Running in humidity sucks. Running in blazing sun sucks. But I did it — more than once. Then I ran a marathon in Hawaii, because I am an idiot.

And you know what? Compared to running a marathon in Hawaii, other things don’t seem so crazy. Bicycling, for instance, would offer a breeze because I’d be going faster! OK, so maybe this is just my way of justifying the craziness because I’m signed up for a big, scary ride in July and didn’t want to go for a whole week without riding a bike. I briefly pondered gyms and whether their bikes would be terrible, and then I concluded that I’d rather run another marathon in Hawaii than spend several hours on an unknown gym bike. And that says a LOT, because I have no plans to run another marathon in Hawaii.

Enough rambling. I fired up the Google machine, along with the Yelp machine, and found that Bike Works Kona has lots of rental bikes, as well as solid reviews.  They even have online rental reservations — that actually work! I telephoned them just because you can never be too sure about Hawaii (things there run on “island time”), and they sounded just fine. I made a reservation online, promptly got an email confirmation, and then got a reminder one week before my rental date. A month later, I’ve had no spam. I also haven’t been paid for all of this awesome advertising that will be seen by millions upon millions of blog readers.

I got to the bike shop on a Friday afternoon, and it took me a while to find it because it was up a steep drive behind some other buildings. I can’t speak to their Waikoloa location (which I hear doesn’t have as much selection of extra stuff), but this shop had a LOT of options. They’re ready for Type A triathletes who are stressed out and focused on Ironman training — I had brought my own gel, drink and chamois cream, but this place had every brand and flavor I use, plus a ton of other products. They also sell their bottles at half price to people renting bikes, so I got an insulated bottle for $7.50, mayyyybe because it perfectly matches my bike, has a nice top and says “Kona” on it…

My bike was parked near the counter, waiting for me. I had brought my measurements, so they set the bike up to match them as closely as they could, put my pedals on it, found a helmet that fit me, gave me a tool bag, took an imprint of my credit card as insurance but did not actually charge it (that was nice — no $2,000 charge sitting there until I returned the bike), and I was on my way out the door. I pedaled around the parking lot, but it was just fine so I didn’t need adjustments they also offered for free.

Their rates are in 24-hour periods, so I originally had the idea of riding Friday afternoon for 25ish miles, then riding longer Saturday morning. Well, it was hot, so I lazily nixed that idea and instead went to happy hour, where I happened to chat for awhile with two guys who recognized me from the bike shop — as it goes in my world.

Saturday morning, I was up before dawn and driving downtown. I parked in the Target parking lot near the highway, and before long I was heading north.

I had researched routes, but honestly, I knew from the beginning what I wanted to do: ride the Ironman route. The marathon I ran covered just about all of the ground that the athletes do in their marathon, so now I could experience their bike route. Plus, it’s straight out on a highway that has very wide shoulders, and is undoubtedly the safest place on the island to ride. This hideous website has some other ideas, and you can find more on your route-planning site of choice.

Looking back up the road -- in the path of world champions.

I got to Waikoloa 24 miles later, where I refilled my water and reapplied sunscreen. Then I headed back. I had entertained the idea of riding all the way to Hawi, where the Ironman racers turn around, for a full 100 miles. But the rental bike’s seat was not ideal (should have brought my own), and I wasn’t too keen on the idea of being 50 miles away from Kona on my first-ever ride there. I did have two spare tubes with me (and luckily didn’t need either one), but I also didn’t know when the wind would pick up; whenever it did, that could be a rough crosswind.

To my pleasant surprise, the ride back was faster. There was no crosswind, and I passed a couple cyclists — who then passed me when I stopped at a “scenic overview” for an obligatory picture.

My view for dozens of miles.

Since I didn’t want to end up with only 48 miles, I detoured down into the Energy Lab, where the Ironman marathon goes and where my marathon had not — now I could do that part of the course! While there, I had a whole conversation with a grieving recent widower who’s a cyclist from Portland. Again, that is normal in my world.

Beach at the Energy Lab

I finally got back to the car, and realized that I had parked near a fast food place. Hello, easily accessible bathroom in which to change and wipe all the bugs off me! Then I returned the bike to the shop, got iced 100% Kona coffee, and felt like a million bucks. (Side note: if coffee says it’s “Kona coffee” but doesn’t give the percentage, it means they used a small amount of rejected Kona beans. You’re better off getting something else. Coffee plantation tours in Kona are really cool, and I highly recommend them.)

Now that I’ve done the “rent a bike in Kona” thing, will I do it again? Absolutely! Honestly, if you’re a cyclist or triathlete who’s thinking of flying your bike to Kona for training, take a look at the options Kona Bike Works offers. Their fees are cheaper than the airline bike baggage fees, and then you don’t have to deal with a giant bike box. Next time, depending on my training/running/life/Hawaii schedule, I’ll probably rent a bike for two days, because it doesn’t cost much more. And maybe I’ll try the hills…

But for now, I’ll just leave a sunset photo. Because you can’t go to Hawaii and not see the sun set over the ocean.

Posted in Bicycling | 3 Comments

Tuesday Time-Waster: Stuffed penguin exhibit

In a little gallery around the corner from one of my sisters, 450 stuffed penguins are on display in an interactive exhibit.

Yes, interactive stuffed penguins. Yes, 450 of them. I did not typo. You apparently walk into this room and make movements, and all of these penguins swivel as you move. They’re essentially doing The Wave, only without beach balls and not at a baseball game where people are trying to watch the game. Here, click this picture to see what I’m talking about:

Click to see the penguins move!

Is that not the MOST AMAZING THING EVER?! OK, so I might be a bit biased because I am a big fan of penguins. But, really, isn’t that cool???

What’s killing me is that this exhibit is, quite literally, around the corner from my sister’s apartment but it’s only running through July 1. I currently have plans to be there this fall, a mere four months too late. Sad panda! Or penguin.

If you’re interested, here’s the museum, here’s info about the penguin exhibit, and here is the blog post where I heard about the penguin exhibit.

Posted in Tuesday Time-Waster | 1 Comment

Tuesday Time-Waster: Skydiving into an ultramarathon

As someone who’s a fan of both running and skydiving, the SkyDive Ultra has been on my radar since the idea was first born three years ago. It’s exactly what it sounds like: You jump out of an airplane 2.5 miles above the earth, land, and then you run a whole bunch of miles — ranging from 6.2 to 100 miles, including “normal” distances like a marathon.

I doubt I’ll ever actually travel to southern Florida to do this event, but it’s a fun idea. I’ve only skydived once because it’s expensive, but I absolutely loved it and was on this awesome, electrified cloud nine for hours. (Side note: I didn’t tell my mom that I was doing it so she wouldn’t worry, and I highly recommend the shock factor of calling your loved ones and saying, “Guess what! I just jumped out of an airplane!”) I’ve also only run one ultra, but I’ve run 15 other marathons, so I guess you could say I’m not opposed to them. I really wonder what it would be like to skydive and then start running with that incredible high. Something tells me I’d start out running two minutes per mile faster than my marathon pace due to the skydiving exuberance, I’d hold that pace for five minutes, and then I’d spend the rest of the race suffering from it.

Anyway, it’s a small, new race that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s been successful enough for the past two years that registration is open for next January’s third-annual race. The race director himself wrote a recap of it: As I suspected, most participants were local, but some were not and some had some really cool stories of what brought them to the race. I also found this race report; Mr. “Cheaply Seeking Fitness” did have a higher than average heart rate during the race due to the skydiving, which doesn’t surprise me.

If you’re not into running or skydiving, I suppose this wasn’t much of a Tuesday Time-Waster. But maybe those links will make you feel more normal in comparison?

Posted in Running, Tuesday Time-Waster | Leave a comment

Tuesday Time-Waster: cute food

Did you ever play with your food when you were a kid? Oh, admit it; you did. I used to play with my toast. I vaguely remember making it into chairs and tables, rather than monsters, but maybe you did this:

But what I mostly remember is the first day I didn’t play with my toast. I must have been about 4  or 5 years old, and I have this distinct memory of realizing my toast had just vanished SO quickly because I’d simply eaten it, rather than playing with it. I was so sad that my toast was gone. Ah, the pangs of growing up.

At any rate, today’s fun time-waster is Instagram user Little Nummies’ feed. The above and below photos are from that site, but the whole stream of photos is just too cute.

How cute is this?!

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Notes from a sugar-free week

I recently went off sugar for a week. Clarification: I abstained from foods that contained added sugar; naturally occurring sugar was fine. I posted a rambling preface here, and I think one line is more true than ever: “I’m going off sugar as a personal experiment, not as an indictment against sugar itself. Like with most things in life, I do not think sugar itself is bad; it just should not be used in excess.” I also went off alcohol, since I figured it was one less “bad” thing I would substitute in place of sugar. That wasn’t bad at all, but I now know that crackers and chips will magically appear as substitutes…

It was an interesting week, and I think I’m just going to list some of my observations in no particular order.

  1. Sugar is added to so many things! Pasta sauce. Mayonnaise. Taco seasoning. Jerky. Bread. Those little single-serve containers of coffee creamer. “Plain” instant oatmeal. Any peanut butter that says “no stir.” Salad dressing.
  2. Endurance exercise is hard when you can’t eat solid foods while doing it. A four-hour bike ride was just not possible; I need sports drink and gels because I can’t eat solid food on the bike without feeling dizzy and weak (something about digestion slowing my blood flow, apparently).
  3. The first day was fine. The second day, I got really angry in the afternoon — so angry that I even flipped off a driver in bad traffic.
  4. Plain oats for breakfast aren’t so bad once you just start eating them every morning. I put half a cup of quick oats in a bowl with some water, microwaved it, and added a giant spoonful of crunchy “just peanuts, please and thank you” peanut butter. It actually kept me full for awhile, and it’s now a regular breakfast-at-work for me.
  5. Sourdough bread is a lifesaver. No sugar! Smash avocado, spread it on the bread, sprinkle with salt — bam, lunch or breakfast is done and delicious.
  6. I really do not eat enough vegetables. At all.
  7. I ate at home more, and actually cooked. It was the only way to make sure I wasn’t accidentally eating sugar.
  8. My celebratory post-sugar-fast meal was a big chicken salad sandwich from Mr. Pickles. It was on a sourdough roll so the sugar content was probably quite low, but it contained mayonnaise and I had no idea what they’d done when cooking/prepping the chicken.
  9. That meal came with a chocolate chip cookie, which sounded amazing. When I actually ate it, though, it was disappointing. It seems that a week may have been enough time to wean myself off cookies.
  10. Related: Two weeks later, I’ve mostly gone back to normal life. But I have not bought cookies, candy or ice cream.
  11. I missed sugar a lot more than I missed alcohol.
  12. It seemed that I was more tired.
  13. I discovered one giant loophole that defeated the “eat healthier food” purpose: Cheez-Its and tortilla chips do not contain sugar.
  14. I think I lost two pounds. I have a feeling that number could have been higher if I hadn’t eaten so many Cheez-Its.
  15. Going to a Giants baseball game when you’re off sugar is a big disappointment. I just didn’t eat anything there, because I doubt any of the ballpark’s delicious food was sugar-free.
Posted in 36 Things | 2 Comments

Wine County Century ride report

“I made it up that hill. Oh my god, I did it. I’m actually going to finish!”

After 92 miles of cycling and 4,000 feet of climbing, I crested the top of the last big hill on a May afternoon. I gasped for air as my cadence increased down the backside of Chalk Hill (and maybe also gasping as I realized I knew that the word “cadence” meant “how fast I’m pedaling”). I had dreaded that hill for months, worrying that it would crush my spirits because it came so far into the ride. I feared that I would stop halfway up, that I might crash if I couldn’t unclip from my pedals in time, and that I would have to be picked up in a crew van and driven to a medical tent at the finish line. I rarely cuss, but when I reached the top of that hill, whispered expletives flew: “I f***ing did it. Holy sh*t. I god-d**n did it. I’m going to finish a century ride.”

May 2 was redemption in several ways. In October, I bailed out of a century ride. This year, I spent a serious amount of money on a road bike and committed to a century ride with my friends Michaela and Arvan. My training was the bare minimum but there would be no backing out this time, and now that it’s over, I admit that I was more than a little worried. However, I was also determined — I really wanted to chase down this goal.

OK, enough rambling. Now I’m going to write about Saturday’s Wine Country Century in a bit more orderly fashion. If you want the short version: I finished in 7 hours and 3 minutes, and it’s a good thing because Michaela and I are signed up for a ride that’s, um, twice as long.

I drove up to Santa Rosa on Friday afternoon, which is never a good time to drive through the Bay Area. It took me 2 hours, 35 minutes to drive 86 miles — that’s a whopping average speed of 33 mph, despite being on freeways. When I finally arrived, I was hungry and angry. Michaela stuck a Kona Brewing beer in my hand, because she is a very wise and good friend. We were staying with friends Thai and Josh, and their 4-month-old baby also calmed me down. Things were starting to look up.

See all those traffic warning signs? I was in them. All of them.

Cuteness helps ease traffic PTSD. Not pictured: beer.

We drove to the ride check-in so we wouldn’t have to deal with that in the morning, and that’s where things took another good turn: I was given bib number 5050. My first reaction: “It should be 5150″ (California’s legal code for crazy). My second reaction: “Oh look, it’s my odds of finishing!” Funny enough, even though I enjoy number games, I never thought of the “50+50=100, the number of miles I will conquer” idea. A MUCH more hardcore numbers nerd pointed that out, and I must say that it’s much more optimistic. Dinner was at BJ’s Brewing, with a personal deep dish pizza and a beer. All was well in my world.

"Look! My odds of finishing!"

On Saturday morning I woke up before the alarm. It was very similar to a marathon morning, only with padded shorts. We drove to the ride start, parked with no troubles at all, topped off the air in our tires, put our race numbers on our bikes, fastened our helmets, and got some guy to take a picture. And then we were on our way.

This is how Michaela, Layla and Arvan ride 100 miles.

The air was chilly and the sky was completely overcast to the point of being slightly misty. I recently used an REI coupon to buy some new sunglasses whose lenses automatically go from clear to dark, depending on the light. They’re one of my better $60 purchases in the past year, and I was so glad I could see in that gray light. We were surrounded by fellow riders, and Arvan was already in excellent form: “To our right, we have a vineyard. To our left, we also have a vineyard,” he said in his best tour guide voice.

We got through a couple stoplights and around mile 3 I ate my first gel. For those who don’t care about this stuff, I’ll get all the nutrition jabber out of the way in this paragraph so you can skip ahead. I have a terrible time with solid foods on the bike, and the only thing I’ve been able to guess is that my slow-moving blood just can’t be tied up digesting food in my stomach, or else there isn’t enough blood to get to my head and keep me from getting dizzy. However, my stomach itself is rock solid and I don’t mind Gu gels that have 100 calories each, and Gu Roctane drink that has 240 calories per bottle. I buy lemon lime gels (no caffeine) by the 24-pack box with my Marathon Maniacs discount at runningwarehouse.com, and I get Roctane drink either there or on sale at nashbar.com. I intersperse a few caramel macchiato and salted caramel gels (with caffeine) for the occasional extra boost and change of flavor. On Saturday, I successfully ate a gel every 10 miles without fail, for a total of NINE GELS. I drank 3.5 bottles (24 ounces each) of Gu Roctane. I also ate about six strawberries total at the aid stations, and because the lunch stop was longer, I risked a slice of turkey lunch meat, half a slice of cheese, and some pickle slices. My fueling was a success.

Terrible scenery, huh?

The first hill started around mile 16 and went to around mile 19.5. (Here’s a map of the course. For some reason, the organizers’ page isn’t working anymore.) My friend Deanne recently moved and her new house is steps away from the course. She was excited to wake up early and come outside and cheer for me, which is pretty amazing and I’m not sure what I’ve done to have such a good friend in my corner for a dozen years now. Even her husband, who works nights and is NOT a morning person, insisted that she wake him up. Knowing she would be there is what made me less fearful of the climb. The funny thing is, I was riding up the hill in a line of cyclists going a bit slower than I would have, so when I reached the top I still had several gears left. I reached the top and began flying down, but realized the long downhill might send me sailing past Deanne. But I did see her, and somehow waved while braking without falling over.

You guys, Deanne had made a sign! And she’d even put pictures of Michaela, Arvan and me on that sign! Poor Arvan with his zero percent body fat was shivering in the cold, so once we took some pictures, we hit the road again. Between seeing Deanne and her sign, and the long downhill, I was basically high as a kite. We rolled into the first rest stop five miles later, where Arvan’s shivering may have registered on the Richter Scale.

If you do not have a Deanne on your side, you're missing out.

Then we had the Green Valley Road climb, which I hadn’t really heard about until our friend Josh was talking about it Friday night. He said it was the toughest hill for him when he did this ride a few years ago. And Michaela said she’d never ridden all the way up it without walking. I wasn’t sure what to think until I reached it, and before I knew it I was at the top. I stopped to catch my breath and wait for Michaela and Arvan (they are smart and pace themselves up hills, while I charge up them until my lungs collapse). There were a whole bunch of hardcore riders who’d also stopped there, and I wasn’t gasping any more than the rest of them. For the first time in my brief cycling life, I actually felt that I might be able to do this. I didn’t have too long to think about it, though, because Arvan and Michaela arrived — and Michaela had ridden up the whole thing without walking. We were all checking off small victories.

Michaela!

Arvan!

The ride had 2,500 cyclists between the 120-mile, 100-mile, 62-mile and 35-mile routes. I hoped I wouldn’t see anybody crash or get hurt, but what I wasn’t expecting was to see an oncoming SUV nearly rear-end a car in front of it. Instead, the SUV went careening off the side of the road, down a steep embankment, and somehow landed upright next to a vineyard. It was going so fast that it kept driving on the narrow strip of dirt beside the vines. A girl just in front of me diddn’t even understood what happened, so we chatted in shock for a few minutes. Then we came to the next rest stop, which was a nice chance to get my heart rate back down to normal. I’m so glad that SUV didn’t hit the car and send it flying into us.

Lunch view. (Sadly, I didn't take any pictures of the vineyards along the ride.)

The lunch stop was at mile 72, and by then my neck was screaming at me. Since we were going to take our time there, I took the opportunity to lay flat on my back and try to relax my neck. It didn’t do a lot of good, but I also reapplied sunscreen and finally took off my arm warmers (the weather had been fantastic). Mom, I’m pleased to report that I did not get sunburnt!

I have no idea why those men are wearing those outfits.

After the lunch stop, Michaela’s hip was hurting and so was my neck. That’s when I thought about a buddy of mine, Virginia. She’s been going through chemotherapy treatment for something like 18 months, and her latest scans showed that she needs an even more aggressive form of chemo. In March, her husband Hal was diagnosed with cancer. Virginia is one of the hardest-charging people I’ve ever met, and I told myself, “Riding 100 miles and having some neck pain is nothing compared to the double-whammy cancer fights Virginia has on her hands. I GET to do this, I CHOSE to do this, and I’m surrounded by all this gorgeous scenery.”

I hadn’t looked at the route map very closely, other than to know where the dreaded hills were. The rest stop locations were definitely an afterthought, since I was really only using them to refill my water bottles. I thought the lunch stop at mile 72 was the last aid station of the day. But at mile 82, when I had been a bad friend and ridden away from Michaela and then stopped to wait for her, a guy told me there was a rest stop two miles ahead that was stocked with Coke and ice. Cold soda suddenly sounded like the best thing on earth, and I told Michaela when she came zipping along. She was surprised, too, and I vowed that if the guy was wrong and there was no rest stop with Coke, I would actually backtrack the miles just to hunt him down and knock him off his bike. Believe me, I was serious.

Luckily for that guy, there really was an aid station at mile 84. And they had cups to fill with ice and Coke. I drank a cup, and I swear that it tasted better than any $300 meal in a five-star restaurant can ever taste.

What a rest stop entrance looks like.

And then came Chalk Hill. The hill I’d dreaded for months. The hill that I feared would crush my dreams. By then the crowds of riders were very thin and sparse. But when I reached the hill, I immediately passed about half a dozen riders. “Uh oh, I’m charging up this hill way too fast,” I thought to myself. I kept going, and it was honestly longer than I had hoped and how others had made it out to be. But it did come to an end before I did, and I really can’t quite describe that feeling of accomplishment. That’s when those rare whisper-gasped expletives came out, and that’s when I knew for the first time all day that I really was going to finish the ride.

In December 2008, I reached mile 23 of my first marathon. I still distinctly remember being on a highway in Tucson, Arizona and thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m actually going to run a marathon.” Until then, I hadn’t known if I could really do it. Seven-plus years later, I recognized that feeling once again: I, the person who had excuse notes to get out of PE classes and was always picked last in games at recess, was going to finish a crazy athletic event.

We entered the Santa Rosa city limits and were greeted by nice roads and bike lanes. “Well, these roads are about 97 miles too late,” I said. The ride route was absolutely gorgeous, with countless green vineyards everywhere, but the roads of Napa and Sonoma counties leave a lot to be desired. At one point, I found myself braking down a straight hill just because the bumpy road was so jarring.

At mile 99, we reached the finish line. I believe we cussed again. There was NO WAY I could end this ride at mile 99. I had come to ride 100 miles and, dammit, I was going to ride 100 miles. Michaela’s watch registered 99.2 miles (she switch-backed up a hill, while hard-headed Layla charged straight up). So, around the parking lot we rode. “This is so dumb right now,” Michaela said, and I just started laughing, because it was so true.

Finally, 100 miles appeared on my watch. I hit the “stop” button. I had finally done what I failed to do in October. This was revenge, and it felt so good. Thai and baby Oliver were at the finish line. So was Greg, whose cycling and ultra-running feats make mine look like 5k’s. I tell you, friendly faces at a finish line are the best things ever. I got some food, and that first bite of potato salad was simply amazing — it wasn’t sweet gel or sports drink!

Victory

Recovery was easier than most of my marathons, although I was more tired. The next day, walking upstairs was very tiring, but it was a lot easier than walking downstairs after a marathon. Sunday evening, though, I got chilled despite it being 72 degrees in my apartment. I went to sleep with all the blankets, then awoke around midnight completely drenched in sweat. I wondered if I was getting sick, but that never happened; I guess my body was just trying to regulate itself after all those hours on the bike. I had low energy and needed more sleep over the next few nights, but it wasn’t bad, really.

I still wanted to get back on my bike, which is a very good thing — Michaela and I MAY possibly have signed ourselves up for a little ride in July…. It MAY be 203 miles in two days from Seattle to Portland, and it MAY have 10,000 riders… And that’s why I can now say that I had a lot more hinging on this century ride than I told people. If I failed, that bigger ride would be in serious jeopardy and my spirits would be crushed. But I succeeded, and I’m now back out on my bike. Seattle, I’m coming for you.

I do have one post script. As I type this 10 days later, Hal is now home in hospice care. My little bike ride certainly couldn’t stop his cancer from spreading. But I’m so glad I got on my phone after the ride, opened up the Facebook app, told my friends I’d conquered the ride, and said, “Virginia and Hal, this was for you.” We all need to live life as well and as fully as we can, or else it’s an injustice to those who cannot.

Posted in 36 Things, Bicycling | 10 Comments

36 new dinner recipes in 2015: 1-6

One of my 36 goals for this year is to try three dozen new dinner recipes. So I opened a couple recipes I’d bookmarked, went shopping — and then realized when I got home that I didn’t have the main ingredient. But I have to eat, and a goal is a goal. Here is the first batch of recipes I’ve tried:

  1. This “spaghetti squash lasagna with broccolini,” which I made with broccoli because I didn’t see “broccolini” at the store. I have no idea what that is and if it made a difference (yes, I could google), but I thought the meal was delicious. I could see adding a little ground beef or sausage to it, and I wonder if chopped spinach would be good. Thanks to Kimra for the recipe tip!
  2. Lemon pepper pork chops were a failure: The sauce flavor was good, but they were so tough that I could barely chew them, even after cutting them into very small bites with a steak knife. Fortunately, I had halved the recipe and the pork chops were cheap, so I didn’t throw out too much food. (Served with canned green beans and non-instant long grain rice. I’m not a good cook, but I don’t have problems cooking rice, so there’s that.)
  3. Roasted chicken and potatoes were easy and fool-proof! Thanks, Michaela, for the recipe! I was reminded that I’m not a fan of drumsticks  because there’s so much inedible stuff to eat around) but I’ll definitely try this again. Next time, I’ll make more of the sauce, and I think red potatoes would be a nice flavor.
  4. Bacon and roasted cauliflower in one recipe?! Sign me up! This charred cauliflower carbonara was delicious, though I apparently did something slightly wrong because it was dry. Maybe because I used the pre-shredded Kraft parmesan cheese? I used the bucatini pasta that the recipe called for, learning in the process that it’s spaghetti noodles with a hole in them, but I don’t see why regular spaghetti or angel hair pasta wouldn’t work just as well. This one took awhile and I would have gone nuts from waiting around, but I talked to one of my sisters the entire time I cooked it, which was an excellent way to do things.
  5. Avocado plus spaghetti squash plus cheese?! Sign me up! I found this recipe, which also includes an egg that (mostly) bakes in it. The egg kind of ruined the whole thing for me, because I don’t like runny yolks. I tried baking the other half more, but that made the top of the egg rubbery and I still had runny yolk. This similar recipe says the key to non-runny yolk is to break the egg on top of the squash, rather than making a well in the squash. That wouldn’t have worked for me, though, because my squash was already full before the egg was added. That second recipe also eliminates the cheese, which is healthier and dairy-free, but the cheesy version was already bland for me so this one would be even more so.
  6. If you slather hummus on chicken breasts and then bake them, it works! Who knew?! I followed this recipe, since I liked the idea of adding some veggies to roast at the same time (though I didn’t use onion, because I never do). I used three chicken breasts instead of four, which was no big deal. I could have added more veggies, and even though I only used the juice of one lemon, I would have preferred less.

If you have any not-too-complicated recipes that you feel like sharing, I’d love suggestions!

Posted in 36 Things | 3 Comments