Friday, October 31, 2014

Learning to run again

 After the third and hopefully final knee-flexing session with my doctor today, I was given the go-ahead to start running again, as well as encouragement to "ween" myself from dependency on a rigid brace while riding bikes. Lots of miles in the saddle and very few on foot have disrupted the balance, and I've noticed old overuse nags that I haven't felt in years — hints of patellar and Achilles tendonitis. I either have to reduce the cycling miles or slowly increase the foot miles. I'd planned on walking after the appointment, but after the encouraging assessment, decided to leave the trekking poles in the car and try a slow jog. Four miles on a flat gravel path at an average of 12 minutes per mile, and the knee felt surprisingly strong. I would probably be more excited about that, except for the rest of it felt discouragingly tough for a four-mile, 48-minute jog. It's going to be a long road back. It always is.

On Wednesday I rode in the Headlands with Leah. I'm actually feeling pretty strong on the bike right now — that came back fast. We enjoyed a mellow spin in the fading evening light, then went for Burmese food in the Richmond district. As we were enjoying our tea leaf salad, the streets outside erupted into mild chaos, with screaming, honking, loud bangs, even fireworks. Before this evening, I had no clue that the World Series was happening, or that the Giants were playing, but they apparently had just won and the usual mayhem and car fires were about to begin. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know about the World Series. I browse the New York Times site every morning, keep up with Bay Area media to an admittedly lesser extent, and have baseball fans as friends, and yet I missed this. It's evidence of how insular my world has become, and how I should probably pay more attention to what's going on locally besides extreme drought and eye-rolling political antics. I'm not against professional team sports; they simply aren't interesting to me, and it's gotten to the point of inattention where I've lost track of even major events like the Superbowl. But it is good to know when the streets of San Francisco might erupt into riots, just in case I'm out for a Headlands bike ride that evening. At least the trails were nice and empty.

In other news, my blog turns nine years old this week. Can you believe it? Nine! A cursory glance at the Blogger overview reveals that amounts to 1,796 posts, 21,874 comments, and 4,141,958 visits lo these many years. This is a small (yet obese) blog with a limited scope, but it continues to be a fun, relaxing project, and I enjoy having the record of nine years' worth of adventures. I am nearing completion of my book project that has involved poring over every post from year one of this blog, and that's been an interesting rehash as well. Many times I find myself thinking, "Was I ever so young?" ... which is a little embarrassing considering I'm still writing about virtually the same subjects on the same platform. But I value all of the connections this blog created over the years, the new friends and new ideas. I appreciate those who continue to check in even during the typical life lulls, like now.

On that note, I've also returned to my Iditarod 2014 race report and am considering starting to post that next week (contingent on continuing to make good progress on my book project.) I held off for so long because ... life ... and also because I had this conceptual idea that I wanted to spend more time hashing out, but it's proving to be difficult. A straight narrative might be the best way to go for now, just to make sure I get it all down before the memories start to fade. I can return to my original idea in future Iditarod adventures, which I plan to continue this coming March. So look for that. In the meantime, buy Tim's book! ;)

I am trying to put together a ~300-mile bikepacking loop around the Santa Cruz mountains, and was hoping to scout some trails on the northern part of the Peninsula this weekend. Beat scrutinized my route and announced it contained a large amount of hike-a-bike and some possibly illegal trails. So perhaps it's back to square one. If any readers know of good routes in Half Moon Bay, Montara, and Pacifica, I'd appreciate some direction for good touring (emphasis on touring) trails. Apparently I routed my tour through 30-percent-grade segments with names like "Cave Hike-A-Bike," "911 DH," and "XXX DH."

Speaking of blog connections, I recently learned that a woman who I knew while I lived in Alaska has been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer that spread to her liver. She used to keep a blog called "Karen Travels" and lived in Anchorage for a few years. She is a single mother to a two-year-old son and she is younger than I am, facing an extremely difficult battle. She has been on my mind frequently this week, even before she sent me an e-mail asking if I wouldn't mind sharing her fundraising page. "I am hoping I have at least a few good years, I am not done adventuring, and I want to take him out on some adventures too!" she wrote. Karen hopefully will have more great adventures. Her fundraising page, "Karen Kicking Cancer," is at this link.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ridin' the range once more

As soon as I figured out that turning pedals no longer aggravates my knee during or after bike rides, this renewed sense of health opened the floodgate of suppressed cycling mania. Strava tells me I rode 172 miles with 22,150 feet of climbing this week. I realize that's not defensible given I'm trying to rehab an injury, not push its outer limits. But none of it seemed like much at the time. I did a little ride here, a routine ride there, and joined a friendly day trip on Sunday. Just like that, 18 hours on a bike. Where does the time go? 

 It's funny to contrast a big cycling week with my current walking efforts. Today I was carrying my trekking poles across the access bridge at Rancho when a man who was having professional photos taken with his wife and young son turned to me and said, "You going skiing?"

"Skiing?" I was confused.

"Yeah, skiing. What are those for?"

"Oh, these? These are walking sticks. For walking with a hurt knee. I use them so I don't lose my balance and fall."

"How far you walking?"

"Three miles. Maybe four."

"Damn!" he said. "Four miles on a hurt knee. You know there are mountain lions out there. Don't think you can outrun them."

"I know. I'm here a lot. I've never seen a mountain lion."

"Is that right? I like walking, getting started with walking. And you know what, someday I'm going to walk ten miles, and you will too!" He grinned and then the photographer waved to get his attention again. I didn't really have any idea what he was stream-of-consciousness rambling about, only that he seemed genuinely enthusiastic at this stranger's plan to walk four miles.

On my way up the hill, two runners who I recognized gave me a wave and a thumbs up. Another who I didn't recognize waved and said, "You do good for that knee." I felt like a fraud. I mean, occasional stumbles and tight sensations in my knee remind me that I need to pay attention to balance and ease my way very slowly back into running. So I continue to gimp along my usual running trails in an effort to work my way back to full mobility. This is the smart thing I'm doing. This was today.

This was yesterday —

 In the four years I've known him, Beat and I have only embarked on a select few long rides together (the long ride qualifier meaning six to eight hours, or more.) Back in Montana we'd make up hybrid bike-run adventures that sometimes involved him carrying my bike up a mountain. There was the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow in Utah, three times. Liehann and I dragged him along for at least one trip during our training block this past spring. These long ride opportunities are rare and cherished.

 Now that he has tough bike races on the agenda — not "just" the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow — he promises there will be a lot more saddle time in his future. He's even on the hunt for a useable saddle, which is not an simple acquisition for him. He's searching for something that's comfortable while not creating disconcerting numbness up front. Right now he's settled on a saddle that only achieves the latter. I consider it my superpower that I can sit on pretty much any saddle on not wear chamois and have no pain or chafing, at least for day-length rides. I am Iron Butt. But I can not sit on the saddle that Beat uses. It's a diabolical torture device. I flat-out refuse to use that saddle for any length of time, because there's no benefit in it for me. I really don't know how he puts up with it, but the saddle issue may partly explain why, up until now, he has mostly avoided long rides.

We planned an 80-mile loop of trails, fire roads, and some pavement connectors through Big Basin Redwoods and the surrounding drainages. Liehann was thrilled that we were finally embarking on a long ride again, and in celebration he went to Safeway and bought up half of their deli case. Among the items he pulled out of his backpack during our lunch stop were a massive brownie, a half-pound block of cheese, and a full 8-ounce container of chipolte mayonnaise. I'm so out of "long ride" mode that Beat and I didn't have anything in the house to bring on the ride. We had to make do with squished old Luna Bars that have been buried deep in backpacks for far too long, and Target brand fruit snacks. Liehann was sympathetic and shared one of his rolls and cheese. Beat also took advantage of his gallon-sized Ziploc bag full of sausages, exclaiming, "I can never eat like this when I'm running!" I can't really eat like that when I'm biking, either, so instead I ate an old package of separated almond butter that had the consistency and taste of wet cement.

 The afternoon drifted away as we plunged into the enchanted forest of Gazos Creek, skidded wildly on chunk gravel that was newly laid over a steep logging road, fought a fierce north wind along the grassy hills of the coast, and returned to climb into the mountains again. On this entire route there is only one reliable water stop, at mile 50. I nearly went into panic when we arrived at the campground to a sign that said "Closed Due to Drought." This past summer I was burned a couple of times by trailside pumps that I expected to produce water, but were dry. I thought this campground source was a sure thing, so the sign came as a special disappointment with 30 miles left to ride and an empty water bladder. Happily, we coaxed the spigot to give up a few liters before it began to gurgle and sputter. With water bladders full once more, we rolled into the moist, chilled air and thick shade of Portola Redwoods forest — the kind of place where you can almost pretend that the entire state of California isn't shriveling up from lack of precipitation.

 Liehann and I promised Beat that the mile-60 climb out of Pescadero, with its slippery dead leaves and 15-percent grades, would be especially fun. The hour-long climb did not disappoint. Beat lamented the state of his backside, but he didn't complain. I was buzzed on endorphins and having an immense amount of quiet fun — quiet because I had my own physical issues and no relatable reason to be enjoying this punishing climb as much as I was. But I was. Two months is not a long period of time, but it is long enough to renew appreciation for the wonderful freedom of simple motion.

 We continued on trail to the top of Black Mountain as the sun slipped beneath the Pacific-outlined horizon. Beat was incredulous that we'd were spending more than nine hours wrapping up this bike ride. He said it felt harder and more tiring than a mountainous 50K. Even though my own legs were aching with lactic acid surges and nagging aches in now-undertrained joints, I disagreed. Two months can be a long time to spend away from a bike, but it's not enough to interrupt intrinsic flow, the uncomplicated joy of moving and breathing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Learning to walk (and fly) again

It's been a relatively productive week ... a couple of articles finished, newspapers out, interviews conducted, a few thousand words added to the book project, a second week of tedious indoor strength-training and knee rehab exercises completed (next week starts balance. Eek.) And I started walking again. This feels like a big step in recovery. While I did go for a few walks in Utah two weeks ago, these walks are now goal-oriented and pain-free, with fewer tentative steps and unproductive knee-locking. They aren't the most exciting workouts. My id just wants to run, and knows it would be so easy to start. I'm just so close, with my shoes and my trekking poles on a real trail. It takes a big lasso from the super-ego to reel it in. I Strava'd my walks just for #proof (that I may need to show Beat) that I didn't cheat and jog a little, and then named my Strava activities after lyrics from the Foo Fighters' "Walk:"

Learning to walk again
I believe I've waited long enough
Where do I begin?

After all of the walking and push-ups and shoulder presses, I thought I deserved a treat for the week, so on Wednesday I decided to embark on my first mountain bike ride in two months. I was so excited. Not only would I finally put some wheels (well, non-skinny wheels) to dirt, but they'd be brand new wheels.

Last month, Beat purchased a new mountain bike, a Lenz Behemoth with an XO group, 1x11 drivetrain. It's a sweet bike. I admit to not being terribly supportive of him making this purcase. Beat has this thing with bikes. Some people might call it "light hoarding." Even though he is a runner, he strongly adheres to the n+1 formula of bike ownership. "It's more fun to buy bikes than it is to ride them," he tells me. I used to enthusiastically support this, but then bikes began to take over our small apartment, and the living room turned into a bike shop, and there was drivetrain grease smeared on the refrigerator. So I unloaded some of my bikes. Now I own two bikes, and Beat owns nine or fourteen. I continue to complain about overcrowding, and then quietly reap all the benefits by riding Beat's bikes on a regular basis, arguably more than he does.

And to be entirely honest, I was thrilled about my chance to finally take the Lenz out for a test drive. It was late afternoon, around 4 p.m., by the time I set out, and my sluggish legs balked at having to propel such a heavy beast after a month of pure rest and a couple of weeks on the uber-light Specialized S-Works Roubaix (which also belongs to Beat.) By the time I neared the top of Black Mountain, every part of my body was annoyed at all of this hard effort business, and I nearly turned around early, but then thought, "Nope, gotta test out the Lenz."

Black Mountain is a place I visit frequently, and yet it retains a unique presence — this kind of quiet tranquility, with the golden sunlight reflecting on the Pacific Ocean and coastal fog pouring over the lower ridges to the west. A Zen place. I never grow tired of it.

Boosted by Black Mountain love, I jumped back on the Lenz and proceeded to float down Stevens Creek Canyon in the fading evening light. It's a beautiful feeling to recapture after many weeks away— flowing down a familiar trail, leaning into curves, lightly launching off water bars, squinting out the rocks against the harsh glare of the setting sun. I cranked up the short, steep rises as best I could in the saddle, and coasted through a tunnel of trees, breathing chilled air and listening to the whir of tires and crackle of leaves. A truly beautiful experience.

When I came home and plugged my GPS data into Strava, I saw an interesting statistic — my fastest time ever for the "Stevens Canyon Super D" — an eight-mile dirt segment from the gate on Montebello Road to the gate on Stevens Canyon Road that is mostly descending on singletrack, but also includes about 1,000 feet of climbing. This fastest time included my Black Mountain lingering and selfie indulgence (I meant to take a better selfie that showed more of the bike, but couldn't find a good angle.) I enjoy using Strava — not for its comparisons to others, which I don't find all that inspiring or interesting — but for its years' worth of stored data of my own efforts that I can effortlessly compare to myself.

Back in August 2011 — August 11 to be precise — I crashed my mountain bike while descending Stevens Creek Canyon and sustained a large wound in my right elbow. Without trying to be too graphic, what happened is a thin rock stabbed into my elbow and spooned out a sizeable chunk of flesh, which was promptly replaced with a small handful of bacteria-ridden dirt and pebbles. This crash was a large, negative turning point in my mountain bike hobby — not because it was a major injury, which it wasn't, but because it was so intensely painful, for days and even weeks later, that it left a permanent gouge on my memory, and in turn my confidence. My mountain biking has been notably worse ever since. And Strava is there to prove it — eight of my "top ten" times in this segment of trail that I've ridden many dozens of times happened before August 11, 2011.

Until Wednesday:

And really, it's Beat's Lenz that should get all the credit. That bike floats like a hovercraft, over everything. It's truly amazing.

But in necessary confidence-rebuilding of this learning-to-walk-again stage, it helps to believe that maybe I'm finally recovering from the psychological trauma imparted by the elbow-mangling incident that long preceded my current injury.

A couple of other notes:

• Beat and I signed up for the Backyard Fat Pursuit, Jay Petervary's 200-kilometer snow bike race in Island Park, Idaho, in January. This event was not on my radar, but when I was feeling bummed out about not being chosen in the White Mountains 100 lottery, a couple of different friends urged me to consider it. These friends are planning to be there, and since Beat and I are missing out on Frog Hollow this year, it seemed reasonable to move our annual endurance bike party north. It will also be a fine opportunity to test out some gear for bike touring in Alaska in March. Have you ever considered riding a fat bike for 120 miles in the Rocky Mountains in the winter? You should come!

• I created a books page for my blog, with full descriptions of my books, links where they're for sale online, and links to reviews. If you're a reader of this blog, I urge you to check it out. Every book sale helps, and goes a long way in supporting this blog and — hopefully quite soon — more books. Link here.

• While I was Google mining links for the books page, I came across a book review for "Ghost Trails" that I appreciated from a blog called the Dusty Musette. It's not overly praising, but it's a review that made me think, "Wow, he gets it" — and it's always gratifying as a writer to realize a mutual connection with a reader, even for a book that I wrote six years ago.

• Thanks for reading!