seeing home thru different eyes

I grew up in a small town in northern California - Fairfield. It was basically a small, Norman Rockwell type town whose existence centered around an Air Force base. Fairfield sits on the edge of the Bay Area and only a short drive from Napa.I just heard the “ooohs” and “aaahs” of my wine drinking friends. Napa. The Mother Ship is calling you home....But I have a secret. Napa has not always been what it is now. Sure there was always wine, but there was also a mental institution. And a ramshackle downtown full of hippies and white trash. Those beautiful victorian B&B’s you see now? Not what I saw in the seventies! In the 80’s Napa was where we went to: Dance, at the only New Wave club in the area; Buy pot (see hippy note above) and Drink, because none of the bars carded. There was also a sneaky back way home to Fairfield where said debauchery could continue into the wee hours on a deserted country road in my 68 VW bug. No cops in sight. I promise this has to do with bikes. Promise. I went home for a visit last weekend and my sister and I took a drive out to the wine country. Napa...Sonoma and then Santa Rosa - to NorCal Cylcery. Originally the plan was to drive out to King Ridge Road (google it!), but we never made it. It was a gorgeous drive fueled by 7 eleven slurpees and roadside stand cherries. As I drove my little rental car though, I saw these towns I knew like the back of my hand thru new eyes and I MISSED MY BIKE. Like literally missed it. Like the lover I had left behind. I wanted to be out of the car and riding the countryside. Stopping at wineries and eating over priced antipasti from “Napa Style”. And then came the kicker. That “deserted debaucherous back road to Fairfield” is hwy 121. I saw the bike route sign and wanted to cry. As we climbed into and out of the valley, twisting and turning, I almost wept. I pictured the exhilarating descents and challenging climbs. I even texted my bike hubby - George Vargas - some of you know him :) and told him we HAD to ride this road. No longer was this hicksville, but the perfect ride. Next time I am taking my bike.

free yourself from technology....

Keeping things charged has never been my strong suit. Phones, ipods, my Garmin. I can’t tell you how many times I have set out for a ride only to find that one or more of those is flashing “low battery” at me. At some point my dear husband even began plugging my phone into the dock - probably because he was sick of me swearing at the top of my lungs when I discovered that red warning.My Garmin is a piece of technology that I tend not to think of. For one - that sucker stays charged FOREVER. Seriously, though my general lack of skill on the bike would contradict it, I spend a lot of time in the saddle. 6 days a week with two of those being long rides. A couple weeks back I downloaded the info off my Garmin (which happened to coincide with the need for a charge. The last time it had been downloaded was January 18th. You can tell I put stock in those numbers lol) Do I have a miracle Garmin? Perhaps. But I get about 2 weeks out of it. ANYHOW - when I went out for my long ride last weekend the Garmin was dead. I was planning on climbing as much as I could and would like to see how I was going. Fully kitted out there was no way that I was going to wait 30 mins for a charge, so I hit the road anyways. And had the best ride I had had in a long time. My climbing felt SO strong. I have no idea how fast I went or where my heart rate was but the thing I noticed was that I had FUN. On hills!!!! I stopped obsessing about hitting my max HR, and what my speed was but rode according to how I felt. Pushed myself when I could and hit a nice tempo. This makes me think back to when I was a spin instructor. I taught for 8 years in the dark with the techno blasting. Last year we got new bikes. Those bikes had computers on them and all of a sudden people wanted the lights on so they could see the computers. They freaked out if their computers weren’t working. All of a sudden teaching wasn’t much fun for either of us. Technology had sucked the joy out of the room. Fast forward to now and I realize that I have done the same thing with my own riding. I LOVE riding my bike, but when did it become about training and not for the love of the road. I’m never going to win anything for my skills except 7th place trophies on STRAVA. Yes, they gave me a little trophy for 7th place. Really I just want to ride for the joy of it. I’m taking the Garmin along, but from now on it’s going in my jersey pocket. I just hope I don’t wash it.

annnddd...she’s back!

Hello people! So no - I haven’t stopped riding - just writing. You know how it goes when life gets in the way! But I am back and planning on being back with a vengeance. The theme of today’s column is getting back in the saddle (literally and figuratively) after injury. I dealt with a chronic neuroma in my foot for 6 months. I was still able to ride, but with pain on every pedal stroke. I finally get that healed and go to Yosemite for the first time. After hiking all over the place, I step in a hole on my way to the car and get a high sprain in my leg. MOST PAINFUL THING EVER. And then....I crashed. A runner turned right into my path and we both went down. The only good thing about that was that when my bike flew off, it flew into her thus protecting its precious machinery. I call that Karma. And please note that running in sweats with PINK written across the booty should not be allowed. Hopefully, they were soiled with chain grease.So-all that has passed. I am healed and riding 6 days a week again. On weight watchers AGAIN. And prepping for the Levi’s Gran Fondo again. I signed up for the century this year. Sweet baby Jesus, what was I thinking? Stay tuned for the hilarity that will ensue.

All Hail King Levi!

I had the pleasure of participating in the King Ridge Gran Fondo a couple weeks ago. Being a Nor Cal girl living in the SoCal world, as much as I adore where I live, there is nowhere more beautiful in my mind than the bay area and north along the coast. I have been training to complete the Death Valley Century at the end of October. Unfortunately I had to abandon that training. My health problems reared their ugly head again this summer and after demands from doctors and much pleading from my husband I have decided to withdraw. I am not the kind of girl to DNF. I know that I would push my body beyond my limits to reach that finish line, and that would just not be wise.But I didn’t want to waste 8 months of training. I was regularly riding 50+ miles on the weekend and knew I could easily complete a metric. I happened upon the Levi Leipheimer King Ridge Gran Fondo. But this King Ridge Gran Fondo wasn’t just any metric for me. It was climby. Very climby. And I am not a climber. I knew I could do the mileage but those hills might be the death of me. I remember driving the Bohemian Highway and the 101 in the back of a station wagon as a kid. Dad was a BIG Sunday drive kind of guy. I can still remember my mom screaming “SLOW DOWN KEN!” as Dad took those hilly hairpin curves. Would I dare attempt those on skinny tires? You bet. I cheated a little installing a new SRAM Rival WiFli 11-32 cassette and rear derailleur on my Cervelo to help with the climbing. And climbed every hill around here I could in the three weeks left before the ride. But nothing prepared me for what was ahead. After driving up from SoCal and checking into a fleabag hotel in Rohnert Park (I like to think of it as part of the experience, but I may have contracted scurvy), packet pickup was ahead. Seeing the signage for the race and all my fellow riders was amazing. The race organization was impeccable and I had my packet, had wandered around and was out of there in 20 mins. It was time to hit the Russian River Brewery for some carbs and food. If there is one thing cyclists love its beer and that place was packed full of racers. The race started at 8am the next morning. You stage yourself on the honor system and by the time my group wound our way out amongst the 7500 riders it was almost 840. The sense of excitement and joy to do this race was in no way dampened for anyone and we took off into rural Sonoma county. Winding thru the beautiful farmland and wineries was exquisite. I realized at the end of the race I had never turned my music on, between the comaraderie of fellow riders and SO MANY local residents that turned out with cowbells and signs to cheer on riders, there was no need for distraction.

Just a couple pics above I snapped from that stage of the race.... And then the climbing hills began. 6% for 2 miles, 8% for a mile, rolling hills, steep downhills with hairpin turns. It was challenging and exhilarating, but so worth the effort. I can’t tell you how many times stronger riders passed me cheering me on -and sometimes offering a push - My avg speed there was 5-8 mph. I was losing some of the time I had made on the flats but I just kept plugging away. After the Bohemian Highway we came out of the hills on the gradual downhill towards the coast. It got misty and foggy and was everything I hoped it would be. Winding along the 101 on a 2ft shoulder with the sea cliff next to me and a crosswind blowing sounds bad, but it was SO GOOD. It was a little scary at points on the curves and I almost lost it once but I made it to the rest stop before what would be my nemesis: Coleman Valley Road. Pulling into the last rest top, there were busses and trucks. Lots of them. People encouraging that if you weren’t able to make it up Coleman to drop out. That this would be your last chance. THIS was not a good sign. I figured it was time to get some food and get back on my bike before I lost my nerve. As I left, Levi and crew pulled into the SAG stop. He had ridden about 40 more miles than me at that point, but whatever! After a pleasant, CHP aided left turn across the 101 Coleman Valley Road rose in front of me. A one lane country path covered in gravel, cattle grates and potholes. This was a ROAD? And it just kept going and getting steeper and steeper. I slowed to 3.4mph. Who knew you could ride that slow and stay upright? But I plugged away. Rode with the Team in training folks and gladly accepted the push from one of their mentors. I could finally see the top and was ecstatic. That was horrible, but doable. Where were the 22% grades? Where was the road? And then I looked left. The hill looked like a wall to me. Literally. About that time, some of the first century riders started to pass me. I took a break at the bottom of that hill and wanted to cry. This was like nothing I had ever done before. I had missed my bus. I had to get out of this mess on my own two feet. I got back on my bike, got a running start up the hill courtesy of a turn out and pushed with all my might, only to stop dead in my tracks. I could not cycle up this hill. Physically could not do it. I gathered my ego and got off and started to walk. It took me 74 mins at 2.4 MPH to push my bike up that hill, but I did it and have no problem with it. Of course there were many of us walking. Even still some of those century riders still said “Nice job! Don’t give up!” I guess even the strongest athletes can relate to facing your greatest challenge. Finally I reached the top and hit the water station. My plastic cleats were trashed and I could barely clip in, but I made quick adjustments and started riding. I had time to make up. I started riding all out thru inland Coleman Valley, rolling hill after rolling hill. Trying to stay above 16mph. Along the way, I heard horns behind me and moved to the right. All of a sudden a group of riders in Red and black were next to me and the lead rider looked over and said “Good Job!”. It was Levi! That made my whole day. I finished the ride in just over 7 hours total time. My goal was 6.5 hours. I am in no way disappointed with my efforts. I enjoyed the race so much I plan on going back next year, hopefully to hit the full 100 miles. My observations about the race.... - Organization was impeccable. I cant say that enough. Plenty of people and marshalls along the way to help if you needed it not to mention local firefighters and law enforcement helping to keep riders safe. - The course was fantastic. Thought I did find the final miles along the river trail a little mind numbing. - Nutrition along the course was great with plenty of food options, water and porta potties. Even with sinks! - The festival at the race finish was great with great complimentary food (paella!) and enough booths to occupy friends and families. Once of the most amazing thing was access to a hot shower. It was fantastic to clean up and enjoy the festival out of spandex. The awards presentations was even fun. Professional cyclists out to support Levi. Not to mention Patrick Dempsey. He’s easy on the eyes. - There were LOTS of women participating. This may be a nor cal thing, but I was tickled pink. I hardly ever see the ladies riding here. - The town of Santa Rosa was a great host! In closing, I can’t say when I have enjoyed riding my bike so much. Everything about the experience - even my failure on Coleman Valley Road - was monumental. All Hail King Levi! See you in 2012!

I am Athena - goddess of war! oh...wait....

I didn’t actually hear the term “Athena” in the cycling world until about 6 months ago. My coach (and friend) George Vargas said something about being in the Athena category. Not wanting to show my ignorance I thought - powerful sprinter? WTF is he talking about? And then I googled it. Great. There is a whole category for fat lady roadies. Awesome. I was mildly thankful I wasn’t named after a horse! (sorry boys)Now, I knew this world of cycling was weight centric. Anything where you pull your ass up mountains on two wheels I suppose should be. But I never let my size sidetrack me from what I wanted to do. When George told me he wanted me to be down at 150 pounds for the century I am training for, I thought he must be crazy. I am 5’11. I haven’t weighed 150 pounds since the sixth grade when I was 4 inches shorter. He also wanted me report my weight to him on a DAILY basis. Um, no. I am not ashamed of my size. My fighting weight is 165 Thats high school, size 8 god- it-would-be-awesome-to-be-there-again weight. But I haven’t been there in a long time. At 29 years old in the span of 14 months I gained over 130 pounds. I knew something was seriously wrong. I was sick, but no doctor was able to find why. My blood tests were normal. Medically I read “normal” but I definitely was not. I blame HMO medical and inexperienced doctors for letting it go on so long. But eventually I was diagnosed with stage 3 thyroid cancer and autoimmune disease that had essentially rendered my thyroid completely useless for god knows how long. Surgery and radiation and steroids led to another 20 pounds and I found myself on my 30th birthday in remission, but at 330 pounds. HOLY CRAP. At that point, I decided it had to go. I joined weight watchers and started working out every day, focusing on indoor cycling. It took me 15 months of HARD WORK, but I got down to 175 and was ecstatic. I held that for 7 years. Became a spin instructor. No - I was not skinny, but I was happy with my size. Then over a period of 4 months, I started gaining weight. I felt bad and I knew something was wrong. I had come out of remission. This time my wonderful doctor told me “If you want a cure - you need to go to the mayo clinic”. So I did. Surgery and treatments later, I am not in remission but my cancer is under control. BUT- I still haven’t lost my “cancer weight”. And it’s been 3 years. I am happy and healthy. In two years I rode 11k miles. I run, I teach and I eat well. I cut out 99% of my processed food and eat what roams or comes out of the land only. But somehow, I just cant seem to lose this fifty pounds. I know that my health and medication don’t help, but really it is about the motivation to live on brown rice and chicken. To give up my biweekly lattes and pastry. Everytime I get on my bike, I feel like I OWN my athena title. I wear a kit (albeit an XL one) and I am not ashamed. But I am self-conscious of how it affects my abilities on that bike. And for that reason alone, I hope I find my motivation soon :).

It’s not a matter of if, but when...

Watching the USA Pro Cycling Challenge tonight I was witness to a horrible crash wherein one of the riders broke both hands, broke his jaw and worst of all “denuded” his chin. That means he left his chin on the road folks. His face looked like hamburger. He had to be airlifted out and will be fine eventually but OY.Things like this remind me just how dangerous cycling is. True, he was racing at high speeds, but even still, bike accidents happen like this everyday. Collarbones are broken, road rash is acquired but yet we heal, and get back on the bike as soon as we are able. That little accident pictured above happened when I was clipped by another rider. My bike went one way and I went into the car stopped next to me. Unfortunately my gears held on to me for dear life and left me with that perfect cassette mark and a cool scar. I was mostly worried about the state of my bike, as any cyclist should be :) I have had two small accidents, been hit by a minivan and gotten tangled in my pedals on numerous occasions. None of these have caused more than scrapes or bruises, so I have been lucky. But still - I know its only a matter of time. In the meantime I wear my helmet & road ID and hope for the best.

Where are the ladies?

I choose this as my first “real” blog post as this is something that has bugged me for 3 years since I started cycling: Why is it that when I am out on the road I see so few women participating in this sport? Seriously - I can ride 20 miles on PCH and literally not see another woman on a road bike. Pink cruisers with baskets for sure (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but participating in the sport of road cycling itself?This is male centric sport to be sure. It’s NOT easy. Its grueling work dragging your ass up hills, dodging traffic and getting covered in dirt that has to be scraped off at the end of a ride. But many sports are that way. Running isn’t exactly child’s play, yet you see women doing that all the time. Is it the clothes? The funny padded pants that girls are going to worry make their booties look big? The unforgiving spandex? The cycling industry has made some in-roads to encourage women to participate, but I can literally count TWO women that work in the local bike shops I frequent in my area. And neither of them wrenches (that would be code for working on the mechanical aspects of bikes). Though there are exceptions to the rule - bike shops are not always the friendliest places in the world for girls. I can not tell you how many times I have been spoken down to at a bike shop. But ladies....please - GET OUT THERE. It is glorious to ride a bike on the open road and ride it FAST. Think your booty looks big in spandex? Nobody is looking. Intimidated by the guys in the bike shop? Earn their respect! Ask questions, learn to change your own tires and grip tape. Learn which shops are girl friendly and go there. Often. Get to know them. You will be surprised when you are welcomed into the world with open arms. A couple weeks ago I got a flat tire out on PCH, I can only tell you that at least half a dozen guys stopped to ask if they could help. This was not about me being a girl, but about them helping their fellow rider. Not one of them looked at me in spandex and kept going. Or mocked me for forgetting tire irons. Instead we talked about bikes and favorite routes as they worked to help me get back on the road. If nothing else motivates you - think of this: It’s a great way to meet guys. And they look SEXY in spandex! :) Here are a few of my favorite spots for girly cycling stuff.... BUT your local bike shops!

Let’s start at the very beginning...

Struggling with how to start this blog - the BFF says “why did you decide to start riding?”. So obvious! But such a loaded question. Fitness, weight loss, stress relief - all the usual reasons. But there was one more thing: I have been teaching indoor cycling or “spinning” for 7 years. The kind people at 24 Hour Fitness gave me drills to teach my students, ways to make them “feel” as though they were outside on a real bike instead of in a sweaty room on a bike going no where. The problem was, I always felt like a bit of a fraud. Sure I knew how to ride a bike (1976 on a Schwinn with a banana boat seat and no helmet!) but I didn’t know how to ride a REAL bike. Well at least not one with more than 3 gears that I couldn’t ride with a solo cup of alcohol in one hand.Thus began my adventures in the great outdoors on two wheels. After saving for 6 months (a decent road bike is surprisingly expensive) I found my bike. Thats her pictured above right after I bought her: a Specialized Dolce Elite. However - in the search for my bike one thing became apparent: Cycling was a man’s world and they didn’t really want girls in the club house. There are a brave group of women who do this, but our numbers are few. Its like a secret club. So - I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert. Not at all! But I hope that what I have learned in the past two years of riding I hope will help and inspire (and maybe even entertain) you. I am not a “typical athlete” and have had many physical challenges along the way, but I ADORE cycling. The feeling of being on that bike is the best in the world. And if what I have to tell can inspire just one person, that makes it all the better.