Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Welcome to the next to last installment of my latest challenge. Over the past few months, thanks to your generous donations, I’ve raised over $7,200 to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma in honor of my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin, who passed away from leukemia last August, and my friend Stacy Bowman, who is a leukemia survivor. I’m close to my $7,500 goal with a week and a half to go until the Death Ride – a one day, 130 mile ride, climbing 15,000 feet, over 5 mountain passes.

If you're interested in sponsoring me or learning what it's all about, check out my fundraising site at Steve's Team in Training Page Steve's Team in Training Page.

In my last update I wrote about the grueling challenges that our coaches had cooked up for us. One would have thought that they had exhausted their list of torturous routes. We were wrong. Have you ever said, “It can’t get any worse.” Only to find that things can, and do, get much worse. This is one of those times. They told us last week that this last Saturday we’d be doing the “Vertical Challenge”. As the week wore on, the temperature started to climb and what was to be a challenging ride became…

Hell on Wheels
The forecasted high for this last Saturday was an unpleasant 103 degrees in the shade. The team was a little concerned about the riding conditions. The plan was to ride 102 miles and climb 11,000 feet. Seeing the dilemma, the coaches decided to alter the route to a pleasant 90 mile ride with 8000 feet of climbing. And since they actually ride the route with us, (remember they’re sadists, not masochists), they wisely recruited more SAG support. SAG support, for those new to this cycling thing, stands for Support and Gear. These are volunteers that are stationed at points along the route and they provide food and water to keep the team going or, in this case, upright.

The ride started pleasantly, much like the Titanic’s maiden voyage, with the temperature at 78 degrees. We started climbing Mines Road just south of Livermore. Oh by the way, did I mention it was 6:40am. By 8:15 at the first SAG stop, the temperature was 84. By the time we got to SAG stop three at mile 40, at the base of Mt. Hamilton at 10:10, the temperature was in the 90s with no intention of going lower. Now the fun begins.

For those of you that have not been to the back side of Mt. Hamilton, this is likely the most desolate part of the Bay Area. Known as the San Antonio Valley, no one goes there, and for good reason. This is a sun-baked section of rolling farmland. You’ll find a few ponds that are usually dry by mid-summer, some rocky ridges, and very little shade. The only wildlife I saw were vultures that reluctantly abandoned their roadkill feast when we rolled by. The brown menace (squirrels) didn’t show themselves because they’re too smart to go out in this heat.

So there I was, about to climb 2000 feet in about 5 miles. For those scoring at home, that’s over a 7% grade -- typically regarded as steep by most motorists. As I started up I noticed two things, one that it all of a sudden got much hotter and two, my heart rate decided to climb faster than the temperature. As I climbed through the sun scorched landscape certain things caught my eye – the oil in the asphalt was starting to liquefy. There were patches and bubbles of oil that I made a note of to avoid on the way back down. There are also several hairpin turns where the road gets considerably steeper. After an hour and two minutes and having expended over 1000 Calories I made it to the SAG stop at the top of the mountain. The fast thin riders were already there. I took some consolation that they didn’t look any better than I did. (except for the fact that they actually look like cyclists) After two cokes, water, an otter pop, and a sandwich, I headed back down to the valley that earlier in the morning was at 90 degrees. After a slow descent and an emergency stop to shake a bee out of my helmet, I made it to the bottom of Mt. Hamilton. I noted the temperature - 103.

The road through the San Antonio valley has a couple of substantial climbs with several sections of the road edged by a rocky canyon wall. The combination of direct sun, little breeze and reflected heat from road and rocks made for a blistering combination. The temperature on my bike computer is saying it’s over 110 degrees. At one point it recorded a high temperature of 121. And that’s when the leg cramps started.

Most people’s experience with leg cramps usually happen when they’re relaxing at home or sound asleep. Your muscles involuntarily, and painfully I might add, contract. Usually people try to “walk it off” hoping to stretch the muscle and relieve the pain. Since I’d have to be a Chinese acrobat to walk around on my bike, there’s only one thing to do – gut it out. Cramps are caused by a lack of electrolytes, which get depleted when your body sweats. Cyclists take electrolyte tablets to counter this depletion. However, if your body is sweating an extraordinary amount, it’s hard to replenish them fast enough. I don’t have to be a doctor to know that 110 degree heat likely promotes excessive sweating. I made a conscious effort to drink more fluids and take more electrolytes.

I rolled into the rest stop at mile 65, which looked like the heat stroke victims unit at a Day on the Green concert (Lollapalooza for the younger audience, Woodstock for the old folks). Everybody, including the SAG volunteers, was feeling the heat. The temperature on a gauge in the shade at the SAG stop said it was over 100.

I rolled out of that stop and braced myself for two long, slow, and hot climbs. At a snail’s pace I made it over the two climbs. Thanks to the alert roving SAG people who cooled me down with cold water when they found me sitting in the shade on the side of the road. I made it to the last stop with 15 miles to go. I sat for 20 minutes with a cold wet towel over my head. Finally I was ready to end this ordeal. With minimal energy and some abatement from the leg cramps I slogged it back to the cars.

I figured I drank 8 - 24oz bottles of water, 5 sodas, two Red Bulls, and an otter pop. That’s over 2 gallons of liquid! My clothing and skin was so salt encrusted I looked like a human pretzel

Three riders had to be SAGed back to the cars. Under normal circumstances they’d have been fine. Thankfully, the SAG folks were there to help us through. If this doesn’t make us ready for the Death Ride, I don’t know what will.

Stay Tuned – Next up, the Death Ride
You don’t want to miss the thrilling conclusion of this challenge. Look for the next and final update to come after the Death Ride. The ride is on July 8th in Markleeville. Will the Clydesdale ride to victory or will he be dropped at the side of the road like about half the people that attempt the Death Ride? Can we find humor in such a grueling endeavor? Will all this training be undone by a squirrel with a grudge?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Welcome to another installment of my latest challenge. . For those of you new to receiving these updates – here's the deal: I've taken on the challenge of completing an epic endurance event with the purpose of raising money to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma. I decided to take up this challenge in honor of my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin, who passed away from leukemia last August, and my friend Stacy Bowman, who is a leukemia survivor. My goal is to raise $7,500 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma society through the Team in Training program. My personal challenge is to complete the Tour of the California Alps, also known as the Death Ride – a one day, 130 mile ride, climbing 15,000 feet, over 5 mountain passes.

If you're interested in sponsoring me or learning what it's all about, check out my fundraising site at Steve's Team in Training Page Steve's Team in Training Page

A Near Death Experience
Since the last time I wrote, I have discovered new levels of pain and excitement. In a 19 day period I rode 560 miles and climbed over 52,000 feet. On Memorial Day I rode up Mt. Diablo three times, the following weekend I rode the Sierra Century followed the next day by riding the America’s Most Beautiful Bike ride century around Lake Tahoe, the following weekend we went to High Altitude camp and endured two days of pain, finally capped off by riding Mt. Diablo over three times. And of course the answer to the obvious question is, “Yes, my butt is sore.” Some of the more memorable experiences were riding to the top of Ebbett’s pass at 8723’ and having snow banks piled over my head on both sides of the road, passing a frozen lake, descending at 47 miles an hour and have a high-speed wobble develop in the rear wheel. A high speed wobble is like your bike getting the shakes. If the bike were an animate object it would be telling me “Aaaiiee! Get off me clydesdale we’re going too fast.” There’s nothing that raises your heart rate quite like blazing down the road and having your bike tell you, “I’m trying to shake you loose.” A trip to the bike shop to tighten some spokes should shut the bike up.

Scott’s Big Ride
The most memorable ride was the one around Lake Tahoe. I promised my friend Scott Leatherman that if he signed up for Team in Training that I would do the ride with him. Scott signed up to do his first century with TnT. The ride they prepared him for was America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride (AMBBR). After riding a very hilly century the day before, I rolled out with him at 7:00am on Sunday morning. The weather was great and the views of Lake Tahoe were spectacular. Since this a national TnT event, there were 3000 riders from all over the country. Additionally there are thousands of supporters along the sides of the road for the whole ride cheering you on. There’s nothing quite like having fans. I started out by smiling and waving at the cheering throngs and transitioned to getting “high fives” from people along the route. Had I been out there longer, I would have started giving hugs and kisses. Though I suspect the supporters did not want to touch a big, sweaty, cyclist.

Scott is not the type of guy you usually see on a bike. He used to be a football lineman in college. In other words, he’s un-svelte. He thinks I’m thin – ha! Scott made it the entire 101 miles and climbed over 4000 feet. Given the particularly strong gravity that day, that was pretty impressive. He literally worked harder than 95% of the other riders out there.

On the last climb up Spooner Summit, a 5 mile climb, Scott would tell me to ride ahead and wait for him at the top. I’d go ahead to the next rise in the road and wait there. As I waited there the most irritating thing happened. As I’m standing there, first time century riders would be going up the hill and they’d tell *me* things like “It’s the last hill. You can make it don’t give up.” At first, I’d smile and say I’m fine. Scott would come rolling up, I’d ride with him a while and go on the next rise. Again, while I was waiting at the next rise people would tell me that I should just keep trying. Now I’m annoyed. I get it, I don’t look like a cyclist. That doesn’t mean it’s my first time here. At least I got some consolation. Generally at the rest stops you talk to the other cyclists and they ask if this is your first century ride. I’d respond with, “Actually, no, I rode one yesterday too.” The stunned looks were priceless.

On Fundraising
I’m near the $7000 mark. If you want to make a donation, here’s your last chance. We need to have our collections done by June 23rd. Thanks to all of you that have been supporters. If you’re still on the fence, it’s for a good cause.

Watch Out for that Food
Every long-time road cyclist has a story about someone throwing food at them. Typically, they’re burritos or sodas. A friend of mine said he had a hamburger hit him square in the chest. Usually the culprits throw the food at you from their fast moving cars. Leaving you no chance to catch them or, ideally, return the favor. My son has the best story of such an incident; and since he doesn’t have his own blog, I’ll tell it here.

My son, his friend and his friend’s younger brother were on their bikes heading along a busy road to the store. A white car with four guys in it passed them. As they passed, someone threw a burrito at them, hitting the younger brother. Further down the road, they spotted the white car in waiting at an intersection for a left turn light. My son and the older brother thought since there were four guys to their two and a half, and that they had a car vs. their bikes, it was best to let the issue drop. Of course, they neglected to tell the younger brother this. So, as they passed the stopped car, the younger brother took his water bottle, which contained red Gatorade, and sprayed it through the open windows of the car containing four, now very wet and angry, guys. A fact that my son and the older brother didn’t realize until they heard the yelling and the tire squealing as the car was trying to accelerate out of the left turn lane. I’m sure at this point, several thoughts went through their heads about chastising the younger brother, but the immediate need for self-preservation did not give them an opportunity to ponder them. Fortunately, they were near the shopping center parking lot. They took off into the parking lot with the white car in hot pursuit. They jumped islands and maneuvered through the parking spaces; eventually cutting behind a car that was backing from a parking stall. The car blocked the way for the white car. Despite the white car’s insistent honking, they were able to make a narrow escape. I don’t recommend this tactic as a practice. However, it certainly gives the rest of us some satisfaction that someone got their comeuppance.

Stay tuned for the next update
Next time I’ll have completed several more hundred mile rides. With the temperature increasing, it should be loads of fun. In the meantime, check out the blog and tell your friends and neighbors to sponsor me.