Sunday, May 10, 2015

How a little spark can turn into a roaring fire

Photo copyright Jason Baker, 2015

I remember the first time I heard about the Nordonia Duathlon, in 2006.

Leslie, a co-worker at the time (and a triathlete) asked me if I was interested in signing up. I had never heard of this race, even though it was practically in my backyard. The bike course followed roads I used all the time. But her invitation caught me off guard, and I couldn't have been more mortified. Hell no, I thought - run 2.5 miles, ride 10 miles, and then run another 2.5 miles? I can't do that. At the time, I was a barely-competitive cyclist, a sometimes runner, and, frankly, a big chicken.

Instead, I stood at the corner of my street, which was along that year's course, to cheer on those who weren't so inhibited. I shouted encouragement at Leslie chugging up that hill on her flashy new road bike. There were a handful of pro-looking competitors draped over their TT bars, sleek bodies flying past me. But there were also a lot of other competitors who looked like they pulled their creaky old mountain bikes out of the garage and dusted off the cobwebs just that morning. How were they able to overcome their inhibitions and just do this thing? That's when I started questioning my self-doubt. That's when I knew I would do the race the following year.

And race I did, for the first time, in 2007. And I did the race again the following year, and every year ever since (except for last year when I had a conflict with my Race Across America commitment).

I started to really like the challenge of duathlon. I worked at increasing my running speed. Through my training in time trialing on the bike, I increased my cycling power and speed. And then I worked to put them both together to find the perfect balance of how hard I could run without killing my legs for the bike, and how hard I could ride without killing my legs to be able to run again. And I even started working on my transitions, although I will admit that my transitions leave something to be desired (even though my more accomplished multisport friends have offered to help me with these).

And now it's 2015:

Yesterday's race was my best time yet, and I was pleased to be the first female over the finish line (and with a couple of my best friends - both highly motivated this year, too - not far behind me).

In early June, I will be competing in the Duathlon National Championships in St. Paul, MN. Angie will be there with me, and we will be competing for the opportunity to race at the Duathlon World Championships later this year.

Almost a decade ago, I was that person watching from the sidelines, too afraid to try. Something about the Nordonia race made duathlon accessible to someone like me, someone who had never considered this sport and didn't think herself capable of doing it.

The Nordonia Duathlon got me wondering 'what if?'. And that was all I needed to start this amazing journey.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My commitment to serve wild places...

One of my favorite things to do when I visit a National Park is to become a Junior Ranger. It's a lot of fun, really, and anybody can do it (it's not just for kids). You have to meet certain requirements, mostly having to do with learning the natural history of the park, the plants and animals that are found there, and the environmental factors that define the area, such as water availability or wind erosion.

Once you meet the criteria, a real Ranger swears you in and hands you your Jr. Ranger patch, which you can then wear with pride forever. The swearing-in includes your commitment to protect all National Parks.

So, as part of my commitment to the National Parks and all places wild, I'm using this post to ask my like-minded friends to put a stop to some recent political nonsense.

Senate Amendment 838, introduced by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to "allow states to take over, transfer and sell public, federal lands, including National Forests, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas", passed the Senate vote 51-49, with all Democrats voting against and all but 3 Republicans voting FOR the measure.

You can read the details of this mostly symbolic (message: Republican senators are more interested in profiting from public lands than they are in preserving them) measure here:

And you can see how your Senator voted by clicking here:

I won't presume that you agree with me about the land preservation thing, but I hope you do. And if you do, I ask that you make a simple call to your state Senators to express your opinion on how they voted.

Thanks for letting me rant. Thanks, especially, for getting involved - especially if you agree that this measure is ridiculously short-sighted and wrong for this country.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

An unattained goal = more motivation to try again

Knowing what the wind is like out in the California desert, I reluctantly checked a weather report to see what was in store. Tomorrow's wind forecast: a steady 10 - 20 mph, with gusting 30+. Dammit.

Tomorrow was our planned ride to Rhyolite, certainly the longest ride of our week, and the most challenging. Even on a windless day.

I had recruited Angie, Tad, and Tim to come along. The rest of the group would climb to Hell's Gate and then turn around. The 4 of us would continue on through Daylight Pass, another 2000 ft above Hell's Gate, and then dip down into Nevada and to the strange and wonderful little ghost town of Rhyolite before returning up and over the pass for a 75-mile round-trip. 

As with all rides in Death Valley, the underlying and unspoken disclaimer is always 'Subject to Change'. Conditions here change in a hurry, and on an unsupported ride bad decisions can turn into really bad days. 

We left from Furnace Creek super early so as to get to Rhyolite by mid-morning. The rolling Highway 190 gave way to the Beatty Cutoff, and that's where the fun began. This is a delicious 8%, 10-mile climb -  on a good day. On a day with a steady headwind, though, when the pace barely reaches 7 mph and you've used up all your gears, it starts to feel less like a challenge and more like a death march.

Angie and I didn't talk much up the Beatty Cutoff. But at some point, I asked her if we could consider maybe just going to Daylight Pass, and then seeing how we felt at that point. 

(The truth is, I was ready to make Hell's Gate my turnaround point, but I knew Angie was looking forward to Rhyolite, and if she wanted to continue than I would  suck it up).

When we finally got to Hell's Gate, the wind was fierce. Tad was close behind, and Tim somewhere behind him. Tim will admit that he's not the fastest climber. On the other hand, Tim is the most persistent rider I know, and as a 5-time 508 finisher, he is no stranger to adverse conditions. We would wait for him to arrive at Hell's Gate before continuing on.

I think at this point, Angie was done with climbing, too. And neither of us was all too thrilled with having to make the descent into the valley with that vicious cross wind. But neither of us was willing to call it quits. And Tad was OK with any decision we made.

And then Tim summited and made the decision for all of us, stating that he felt that continuing on under these conditions wouldn't be well advised. Or something to that effect.

Which just means one thing: we will be back next year, and we will ride to Rhyolite. We will pick our day, and watch the wind reports, and carry enough fuel and hydration. Our legs will be screaming for the opportunity to do this climb again - and then to keep going. We will ride to Rhyolite. And then we'll take some great pictures, fly back down into the Valley, have a cold beer (or two) at Furnace Creek, and we'll bask in our own pride of accomplishment.

Why am I so confident that this will happen? Because when you can visualize a goal so clearly you can taste the beer at the end, it's in the bag.

See you next spring, Death Valley.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Finding my way back

Photo (c) Greyson Quarles

As with any visit to a vacation destination,  I try to bring a piece of the experience back home so I can savor the trip a little longer. Having an altered perspective is what makes travel so necessary, in my opinion.

This time, though, I left something behind in Death Valley. I left my mojo.

I didn't realize it was missing until I got back home and met a teammate/friend for a ride. I figured that, with all those hundreds of training miles and thousands of feet of climbing, I would be more than ready to jump right in to the new season.

I was wrong. We rode the bike course for an upcoming local duathlon, a race I had competed in for years, and have always placed high. Now I was struggling to hang on to my friend's wheel, gasping like an asthmatic up an insignificant climb. My riding partner was encouraging and patient, noting that I was probably tired from last week, not used to the cold weather, blah blah blah.

Honestly, I was caught off guard. What the hell had I been doing all off-season if not suffering in the Pain Cave?

So now I'm back to what feels like square one. And the first thing that I need to figure out is this: what do I plan to do this year that warrants the suffering?

Of course, I've been thinking about this a LOT, but those thoughts will be fodder for later posts. One thing for sure, though, is this: this will not be more of the same as last year, or the year before that. I have precious little motivation for goals I have already attained and races that I've never been too fond of in the first place. And don't get me started - at least not yet - about the change in racer attitude I've noticed over the years.

For now, it's back on the trainer while I unfold a new map, the one that will take me to where I need to be right now.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wind happens

This won't be a ride report, I promise - but today was a pretty cool ride.

The plan was to ride from Furnace Creek (191 feet below sea level) to Hell's Gate (2400 ft above sea level), and then on to Rhyolite, NV, over Daylight Pass (4300 ft). A long, steady climb from CA 190 via Beatty cutoff,  with a delicious descent back to FC Ranch.

But, of course, Mother Nature doesn't ask your permission before she changes your plans.

We headed out into a steady 10 - 20 mph wind, with predicted gusts of 30+. All of those gusts happened during the climb up Beatty Cutoff - the 10 miles of 8% average ascent.

By the time we got to Hell's Gate, we all decided we'd had enough of her shenanigans. The winds were whippy, the corkscrew up through Daylight Pass was another 4 miles or so of in-your-face slogging, and we were all looking forward to that wind-assisted descent back into the Valley (in which Heather would reach a ridiculous speed of 50.8 mph).

We learned our lessons here over the years. We learned the hard way. We don't mess with the winds. We may alter our plans. But days like this make for the best memories.

The Three Amigas with our usual pose at Hell's Gate!

Our crew just before leaving for Hell's Gate

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Caught up in this desert whirlwind!

It's been non-stop action since we arrived in Death Valley on Saturday afternoon. 

We start our days early, pick a direction, ride through miles of jaw-dropping landscapes, tuck into the slipstream of a friend to cut down on the headwind drag (there is always a headwind out here somewhere), grind it out to the top of the climbs and scream down the descents like we have wings.

Later, after we've Recoverite'd and recovered wrong, we may go back out to run through a canyon, hike to distant sand dunes, marvel at how stunt kites look like living things dancing in the sky under the expertise of their masters. We bask in the blazing hot afternoon sun, seeking shade.

Our small group likes to hang out together in the evening, gathering on the green lawn of the Furnace Creek oasis, devouring pizza and talking smack until the sun dips below the Panamints and the stars become the brightest things you've ever seen in any night sky.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Survival is a helluva lot more compelling than Strava

By noon, it's 90 degrees and the winds are starting to feel like something more than a gentle breeze. The desert pulls the moisture from everywhere it can find it, including you. Back home, an 'easy' 35 mile ride may not require more than a bottle or two of water, but here, you have to be careful.

We rode out to Badwater Basin, out-an-back on rolling hills to the lowest point in the US. We left just after sunrise, and by the time we got back (in time for pancakes at the 49er Cafe) the day had settled in.

Later in the afternoon, under welcome cloud cover, we would ride out again, this time doing the challenging but luscious "Artist's Drive"loop (one of our faves, with it's own nickname, if you're a regular reader of this blog).

At the breakfast table, Georganna (who is supporting our rides all while training for her next ultra-endurance running event) told us how she couldn't resist running on gravel side roads here in the park. They just lured her to explore. I scolded her, telling her that we would NEVER find her if something happened: no cell service, no water, far off the beaten path, in a place that is thousands of acres of desolation.

And that's when it struck me why I love this place so much, and why I feel it's necessary to come out here to ride. It's all about survival out here, about self-sufficiency and conservation of energy. It's a welcome and preferred escape from those artificial Strava segments, hammerhead group rides, Facebook brags about mileage and extreme and 'epic'. My definition of 'epic' is quite different, I suspect.

And so we are off again today, picking another direction to ride in this land of few roads and many climbs. And we will push ourselves, pace ourselves, take on challenges that we can't get anywhere else.

We will be epic.