Thursday, February 02, 2012

Single, newly sexy

The Susitna 100 is just over two weeks away now: Cue the phantom pains. On Wednesday afternoon, I was carrying two big boxes of Beat's Iditarod drop-bag supplies when the weight of the top box shifted, I lunged to catch it, and slammed my pinkie toe into the couch leg, hard. I dropped to the ground, moaned, punched the couch, swore a bit. I convinced myself I broke my toe. It felt like I broke my toe. Before the white shock of pain even began to subside, my mind started racing: "&$@! Now I'll have to DNS Susitna. I wonder if I can ride my bike instead? But what if I have to get off and push? Maybe I can get one of those walking casts. But how will I keep my toes warm in a walking cast? %$@! frostbite foot. $&@! stupid clumsy couch box toe ow ow ow."

My pinkie toe wasn't broken. It did take a long time for the pain to mellow to an acceptable dull ache. I had been planning to go for a run after my errands, and even waited an extra hour until I didn't have the time to wait any longer. I popped a couple Advil and set out on my not-broken-but-still-achy toe for a 6.5-mile trail run. My toe was fine for the run, but as soon as I started downhill, my knee started to act up. It was the same problem I was having during my 50K race on Saturday — some kind of connective tissue that runs along my leg behind the outer edge of my right knee incurs a mild electric shock type of pain when my right leg hits the ground. It's not a bad pain but it's disconcerting. Even after I slow my stride substantially, the knee still feels weak, almost rubbery, as though there's less support for the joint. I call it wonky knee. I'm not terribly worried about it because there's essentially no downhill running in Sustina. Also, there's still plenty of time to recover in the next two weeks, and I can certainly lay off running until then. But the wonky knee was just concerning enough that I scheduled an appointment with Beat's massage therapist in hopes that he can set me straight. (The guy is very good.) Ah, pre-race phantom pains and panic.

On a more positive note, Beat's makeover of the Karate Monkey is complete. He's gone all-out since he figured out the singlespeed 29'er was his favorite bike in our stable. Just today, a new set of wheels arrived from Mike Curiak, the wheelmaster in Grand Junction, Colo. Beat also received new tires, a new chainring, a 21-tooth cog and bright blue chain. Before this, he installed a brand new Reba XX fork, RaceFace stem, blue handlebars, Chris King headset, Ergon grips, and a set of Formula K24 brakes that I received as a birthday gift a couple years ago before I owned a bike "nice" enough for such brakes. Now the only original part on this bike is the crank, and of course the frame. I think it's fair to say this is no longer my Tour Divide bike. In fact, it's not even really my bike anymore.

She does look good with her light new wheels. Beat is blessed (cursed?) with a deeper understanding of how things work, and thus has a strong appreciation for quality products and equal distaste for poorly made products. Since meeting him, I've been introduced to a whole new level of gear understanding. Personally, I've always been resistant to gear-mindedness. I have no issues with gear appreciation, even obsession; I can understand why people get excited about these things. It's just that the bike itself doesn't capture my imagination on the same level as the simple act of riding a bike. When my own bikes were plagued with mechanicals, I would invariably complain to my friends that "I don't even like bikes. I just love to ride them."

People who know me, know that I'll basically ride anything. My main (only?) criteria in a bike is that it works, and continues to work no matter how much I abuse and neglect it. I was proud of my generic, heavy, $79 wheel set that I bought used on eBay and rode untold thousands of miles all over the western half of the continent. But at the same time, being introduced to the finer details of quality has helped me see the world of gear in a new light. "Wow, this hub purrs like a kitten." The new wheel set is light and beautiful, and from everything I've heard, capable and strong. I'll never reach Beat's level of appreciation, but at least now I can say (and actually mean it) that, yeah, quality gear is awesome. It means that not only can I enjoy riding my bikes, but I can ride better and feel more comfortable in the process. Although I do feel more guilty about the neglect part ...

The Karate Monkey still holds on to remnants of her old life, the scars of the hard roads she won before all the bling. I'm kinda proud of the rust spots, too, which is why I don't buff them out. (Also, I am lazy and neglectful of my bikes.) With all this great new stuff, it will be hard to resist taking her out tomorrow afternoon for a ride. Yes, a long hill climb on a singlespeed. That is probably exactly what my wonky knee needs.