Monday, February 08, 2016

Heat maps

February rolled around and it occurred to me that I only had two more weeks — just two weeks! — to finish up gear and food prep and cram in a big training block before the taper/constant low-level panic period commences ahead of the ITI. My main goal after Feb. 15 is to avoid even a whisper of respiratory illness, so I'm hoping a sharp taper, less time exposed to air pollution and rising pollen counts, and maybe all the Vitamin C will be enough to keep me healthy. Time will tell. I'm convinced if I head into Anchorage with even an allergy sniffle, I'm hosed.

That opened the first two weeks of February to spend some quality time with bikes, fortifying my endurance and testing my breathing capacity at hard efforts — at least, as hard as efforts can be in the friendly conditions of this climate in which I currently live. I really hoped to get out and find some cold temperatures during this time, but a trip wasn't feasible within driving range (even Yosemite and Donner Pass had forecasts for temperatures in the 50s and 60s this past weekend.) Also, shortly after I recovered from my Colorado cold, Beat caught a full-blown flu. He had a fever of 102 and was sick for most of the week, so traveling anywhere was out.

As I mulled a schedule, I realized that this two weeks is just about it for my adventures in the Bay Area. Sure, I'll get out for short rides until the end of the month, and I'll likely be back to visit a few times after we move to Colorado in April. But I'll be in Alaska for all of March and wrapped up with the move and work catch-up in April, so for long outings in California — this might be it. It's always bittersweet to generate all this excitement for something new, only to be reminded of everything you need to leave behind.

On Saturday I chose a route that was all about climbing as many steep hills as I could on the Eriksen, but for Sunday's ride, I just wanted to cover ground. A century is good for that, and Sunday seemed like an ideal day for a road outing — sunny, 65 to 70 degrees, and a Super Bowl vortex pulling a lot of the weekend traffic toward Santa Clara. It was one of those idyllic Sunday mornings that I remember imagining for my future when I was a child — dozens of people cycling and walking along the neighborhood streets, green grass and blooming flowers, a bright blue sky and sunshine cutting through frosty air. The scene left me beaming as I pedaled along roads I normally avoid because they're part of the crowded suburbs, and continued as I made my escape into the redwood-forested mountains and down to the sparkling coast. I've lived within pedaling distance of the Pacific for five years, and I don't visit nearly often enough. When I gaze out over that yawning blue horizon, my jaw still drops, every time. It's just so big.

I turned away from the coast on Bonny Doon Road, with the sun beating down in the late afternoon. I was nearly out of drinking water and licking salt off my lips as I crawled up the steep pavement. I thought my reward for this climb would be a chance to ride through a landscape I'd never before visited, but as I neared the crest of the road, I recognized these sandstone cliffs. I'd been here before. I took a short rest beneath a cedar grove and scoured my memory for when that might have been. Another road century? Maybe in the spring of 2014, when I was training for the Freedom Challenge? More happy memories flooded my thoughts, along with a tinge of sadness for the farewells. Would I ever return here, to the sand hills above Santa Cruz?

I'd told Beat the ride would take about eight hours, but I tend to overestimate my abilities, well, most of the time. With 10,000 feet of climbing and occasionally fierce coastal cross-winds — and fatigue from a 7-hour Saturday ride to follow up a big week — the route beat me down and I fought the climb up Zeyante Creek as the sun went down. Just as I reached Skyline Road, I encountered a long line of stopped cars. A sedan had careened off the narrow road and slid 100 feet down an embankment, and crews were blocking both sides of the road to pull it out. A cop gave me the okay to slip past, and after that, the road was utterly empty. For the next twelve miles I encountered only two cars, heard only the fierce wind howling through the redwoods, and saw only an ocean of city lights sparkling in the Santa Clara Valley below, where the Super Bowl was happening. It was a rare hour of utter solitude, eerie and invigorating. There's nowhere I would rather be, even after Beat called me to inform me I was missing a wonderful dinner with friends (I was nearly two hours late.)

There's so much in the Bay Area that I'm going to miss.

On Sunday night, I went on Strava to see all the places I've visited in the region, and which ones I managed to miss in five years of residency. Strava has these great heat maps that mark every ride I've ever uploaded. The heavily frequented routes are burned in red, the less frequented ones in shades of blue. Although I've been on Strava since 2010, I didn't use it regularly until 2013, so my heat maps miss a few spots, but it's fun representative of ground covered:


This is what my "running" heat map looks like in Southcentral Alaska:


The Alps:


And Boulder:


It's fun to look at adventures as squiggles on a map and consider all the places to fill them in. So many possibilities. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

ITI training, week 16

 Monday: Afternoon: Road bike, 1:35, 17.4 miles, 2,298 feet climbing. Late evening: Weight lifting at the gym. Easy pace up Montebello Road. Would have liked to get in a longer ride, but I picked up a last-minute freelance assignment, and you don't turn down those! It was pretty late by the time I shuffled over to the gym — 3 sets, 12 exercises, 10-12 reps (I'm increasing weights and I don't always make it to 12 reps, especially on the third set.) I enjoy how I feel after a good gym session — buzzed and relaxed at the same time.

Tuesday: Rest. Flew out to Boulder in the morning, worked during day.

Wednesday: Hike, 1:31, 4.3 miles, 2,325 feet climbing. Beat and I hiked up Green Mountain during his lunch hour. It was a warm day (58 degrees), and much of the trail was coated in wet, hard ice. Trail conditions improved as we climbed, but even our microspikes skidded out from time to time. My sinuses were stuffed up, which I thought might be a reaction to the altitude, but as it turned out I had caught a cold.

Thursday: Run(ish), 1:53, 7.8 miles, 1,740 feet climbing. I jogged from the hotel to the top of Mount Sanitas and back. While running, the sun felt downright hot even though it was supposedly 28 degrees when I walked outside at 8 a.m. (It would hit 62 later in the day.) I suppose that's altitude for you. This was probably the worst day for my cold, but I felt disproportionally terrible. Selfie to confirm being roughed up after a mere hour. I got a bloody nose shortly after taking this photo, and became dizzy and had to sit down for a minute after that. Not sure what gives — Mount Sanitas is under 7,000 feet. But it's apparent I suck quite badly at altitude right now. I only hope I can turn this around when I move to Boulder in a couple of months.

Friday: Trail run(ish), 1:20, 5.5 miles, 1,370 feet climbing. I only had 90 minutes to spare on this day, so I returned to Mount Sanitas, then descended the Lion's Lair trail and horrible muddy icy mess down Sunshine Canyon. I felt quite a bit better than I did on Thursday.

Saturday: Hike, 1:57, 5.3 miles, 2,036 feet climbing. Beat and I bushwhacked up to South Boulder Peak, and then I followed the trail over Bear Peak to Bison Road (Beat found another shwhack route after Bear Peak.) We were now sleeping at 7,100 feet, and my sinuses were still clogged. So more wind-sucking.

Sunday: Hike, 1:56, 6.3 miles, 1,145 feet climbing. We did a slow walk around the perimeter of our property, and then 4 miles of slow running at Walker Ranch. By this point I'd again become mildly distressed about my fitness, and the razor-thin margin for conditions where I can actually feel good and perform well. Clearly altitude knocks me down. I haven't yet managed another cold-weather breathing test since mid-January. My window to do this rapidly closing. It was warm in Colorado, and now a high pressure ridge is settling over California. I suppose I can assume that if cold temperatures are one of my asthma triggers, I will figure this out quickly in Alaska.

Total: 10:15, 17.4 miles ride, 29.2 miles run, 10,914 feet climbing. My struggle seems to be an issue of oxygen uptake, and rapidly decreasing performance in the presence of any obstructions — such as sinus congestion — or altitude. I've been reading a few more studies that deal in overtraining and adrenal fatigue. I do continue to consider potential residual effects from the Tour Divide and improper recovery. Still, decreases in VO2 max are not usually recorded in overtrained athletes, and reports of shortness of breath tend to fall under all activities — even walking around the house — which is not my condition. There's also the consideration that I'm not experiencing a single other symptom of overtraining. When I'm breathing well, I feel healthy and energetic. My resting heart rate, appetite, and sleep are normal. Still, of course I can't rule anything out. I've been using an Arnuity inhaler for two weeks now, and if my symptoms are a result of asthma, this should start working soon. Anyway, I'm just doing some thinking out loud over a rather pathetic week of training. Just four weeks until the ITI and I'm kind of a mess, but at least I'm approaching acceptance. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

A backyard for adventures

On Friday, Beat closed on a house in a quiet mountain neighborhood located in the hills above Boulder, on the western side of the Flatirons. Home-ownership is something Beat has wanted for a few years now, but it wasn't practical or desirable in the Bay Area, where $2 million affords a 180-square-foot shack on purportedly desirable land. Beat's wish for privacy, space, and a much better man cave than our bike-crowded two-bedroom apartment was part of the impetus for leaving the Silicon Valley. We spent many relaxing evenings daydreaming while scrolling through real estate listings in Alaska and Switzerland, but practicality pushed us toward Boulder, Colorado, where Beat could continue to work for Google.

After only a weekend of house hunting before Christmas, we stumbled upon this place that was unbelievably perfect for us. Located at 7,100 feet elevation, it's 25 minutes by car to the center of town, 12 cycling miles, and 7 or 8 running miles. It was built and previously owned by an interesting British couple who styled it with a number of unique features, such as hand-carved railings and 300-year-old fortress doors from India. Although they're quite fit for people in their 80s, the couple was starting to feel the strain of mountain living, and decided to move closer to their children and families in Houston. But they didn't want to sell their place to just anyone, and Beat happened to come along with the right attitude at the right time. We've since heard the stories about a number of potential buyers with whom it didn't quite work out over the past year, but for us this happened at whirlwind pace.

Beat's work transfer isn't until April, so we have a couple of months before the big move. But we had a short time to check out the grounds over the weekend. I'm still in shock over the series of events. Back in November I was skeptical that we'd leave the Silicon Valley within the next few years, and by January, Beat had purchased an expansive mountain property in Colorado. It's a lot to take on compared to apartment living in California. I picture myself taking up landscape painting and vegetable gardening as new hobbies ... and housework, of course. It feels overwhelming at times, but it's exciting for me as well. I entered my 30s living out of my car in Alaska, so I can appreciate both semi-nomadic living and the opportunity to settle down and explore.

Beat is especially excited about the potential for human-powered commutes to work. The bike commute involves a winding mountain road that's very popular with road cyclists. On foot, Beat could utilize number of trails through the mountains, hitting a few peaks along the way if he's feeling ambitious (the most direct route is less than five miles to the edge of town, descending 2,500 feet on a singletrack trail after a short climb on a gravel road.) I'd also plan to head into town this way on occasion — writing at coffee shops for a bit of stimulation and human interaction. But the Costco runs are going to require the Subaru. (Beat says I should buy a bike trailer to haul groceries up the mountain. I suppose if I want to get strong, that's one way ...)

On Saturday we set out to find the most direct route to South Boulder Peak, an 8,500-foot summit that looks like it's practically in the back yard. There was some burr-coated bushwhacking and slogs up 45-degree slopes to reach the ridge, where rotten snow conditions caused us both to roll ankles and wrench knees in hidden rock hollows. 

I'll admit off-trail 'shwhacking is not my favorite activity, but using that method, it's only 1.75 miles from home to the summit of South Boulder Peak. I don't see myself doing this a lot.



Sunday morning views. 

The garage.

Looking west. On a clearer day I think it's possible to see some of the larger peaks along the Continental Divide.

Watching the weather come in. The forecast for the mountains called for 12-24 inches of snow, starting Sunday night. We were scheduled to fly out of Denver at 8 p.m., so we just missed the storm and potential to be stuck up here for several more days. Darn.

The property sits on 35 acres of land, so in the morning we set out with a GPS to walk the perimeter. It's a long, thin strip of land, but I had no concept of just how much space 35 acres encompassed, because it just kept going and going. Along the way we found a few small bouldering spots. Another potential new hobby?

The wood pile. Beat has already purchased a used chainsaw and a splitting maul. He's excited about becoming a mountain man this spring.

More not-bad views.

Our busy street, with Green Mountain in the background.

Beat's property is bordered on two sides by city park property.

More bouldering opportunities.

A small creek cuts through the land. Although we did some zig-zagging, we walked 2.2 miles to circle the property. It's a surprisingly large space, and rugged. Lots of steep slopes, gullies, and rocky outcroppings, but there is some useable space. The previous homeowner even passed on a permit to build a small office building, but Beat is more interested in erecting solar panels.

After our perimeter walk we went for a short run on the Walker Ranch loop — which is bike-legal and seems like a potentially great trail for mountain biking in the summer. I imagine going for long gravel grinders on mountain roads, combining them with hikes in the Indian Peaks wilderness, heading east and exploring the prairie ... so many possibilities. First I'll have to hope for some changes in my asthma and acclimation, because my fitness up here is relatively terrible. Really. I'm winded almost all of the time and had a pathetic week of training while I was in Colorado. Still, it's a beautiful place to walk along slowly, wheezing and smiling.