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.


  1. You've got your flow on again.....welcome back to the bike. ;)

  2. A NINE hour bike ride. I love reading your reports, and am VERY happy you're back on the bike again and sharing with us. Obviously I am a vastly different sort of rider than you (or Beat). The thought of NINE hours on my bike gives me chills (and not in a good way). I think I'd be crippled (from an old Navy neck injury back when I was 20 yrs old). I love to ride, but anything after 5 hours and I'm really wanting to be done.

    And, uhm...hope this doesn't sound odd...but I'm in awe of your Iron butt! (NOT THAT WAY! I don't want Beat to punch me when we meet someday!) Over the years I think of the long rides you've done, including the Stagecoach 400, ITI, and lest we forget the TD (or was that the Great Divide? I still get those two confused)....your ability to stay on the bike for seemingly un- believable amounts of time, and then to get up an do it AGAIN the next day...and the next day...I'd fling my bike off a cliff after the 2nd LONG day I'm afraid and take a bus home. You are the poster-child of turning suffering into a good thing!

  3. If Beat doesn't know about this already, tell him he might consider determining the width between his sitz bones in order to figure out the saddle width that might be most comfortable for him. Both Specialized and Trek have a device that measures this, known as the "Ass-O-Meter:"
    My husband was riding a saddle that was too narrow for him; when he figured out his sitz bone measurement, and changed saddles accordingly, it made all the difference for improving comfort.

  4. I did this once, to no effect, which isn't to say it was a bad exercise per se. My main issue is with numbness - finding a saddle that effectively removes that has yielded only the ISM saddles so far - even perfectly comfortable saddles cause issues in certain situations otherwise. That said, The ISM seems a tad narrow, and I ordered a different ISM one. Other than that they do work absolutely perfectly. They are also quite firmly padded and many people report having to deal with an extended adjustment period to them. You do end up sitting more specifically on your sitbones with less support otherwise, so I'm not surprised they're initially less comfortable.
    Another option would be the Selle SMP line which are fairly similar in the channel, however there are about two dozen models, and they're all extraordinarily expensive, and dealers are rare. But there's one not too far.
    The other problem with the assometer is that the measurement isn't exactly correct if you're looking for the maximum relief of numbness - depends on many factors. You don't actually normally sit on those sitbones, and the forward shape of the saddle matters a lot.

    To be fair I went from low saddle time to a lot all of the sudden. So really ... no huge surprise.

    1. Sounds like you've thoroughly researched this. I thought you probably knew about the assometer but figured it was worth mentioning just in case... You're right that the assometer doesn't really address numbness issues.

  5. Those ISM Adamo saddles worked wonders for me too...

  6. I'm definitely on Team Bike Saddle hater as you know. I also think men's bicycle saddles are as you say, instruments of torture for women, and that bike saddle design in general is just plain stupid. Sounds like you've fixed your own saddle pain issues, or maybe they just went away? I remember you saying you feared your Iron Butt had gone away a while back.

    I can see from the pics that some adjustments to posture and pedaling style would be helpful; it's annoying but technique does count more than you'd think. Not as big a deal on MTB because of all the weight adjustments and on/off saddle stuff, but long rides on the road are gonna hurt unless your pedal technique is good and I can see some issues there in the pics.

    I got some good help from Victor at Bicycle Lab:

    I really wanted to try one of those Moon Saddle bike seats but the sample never showed up so I'm not much help there.

    1. Good tips. Thanks.

      Whenever I go for more than a few weeks without riding a bike (such as my current stint), I tend to feel minor sit-bone-concentrated pain that goes away quickly. I suppose I complain about it during these times — like one of those people who rarely gets sick and comes down with a very mild cold. (Which, consequently, is also something I do. Friends have teased me for getting "man colds," which just means I whine more than justified when I actually do get sick.)

      During Stagecoach 400 I developed a terrible and nasty all-around infection from unwashed chamois. This is the incident that turned me off to chamois in general. I still use chamois of course but will never again on a multi-day tour, unless I'm confident I can wash it every single day. Running shorts and tights don't have nearly the same "dirty diaper" effect that bypasses even my best efforts to keep that region clean and dry.

      During the Freedom Challenge I contracted a saddle sore (my first) from wearing running tights (no chamois) and lots of bouncing on long sections of rocky jeep tracks. From everything I've read about saddle sores, this was actually not a typical saddle sore but rather a blister — with all of the same properties as the blisters I get on my feet. When it broke open, it became mildly infected and resulted in a lot of whining. My friend Liehann no longer believes me when I say I have an iron butt. He also couldn't overstep riding partner boundaries to help me tape it, but I did an okay job myself and this helped a lot in the pain department. Just like a foot blister.

      That basically constitutes my history of saddle pain over the past nine years. I do consider myself lucky.

  7. P.S. If I were a dude, I would probably never ride a bike ever, because, well, I just don't see how they do it. Same with riding horses. Seems weird to me that sidesaddle was developed for women to ride, when it makes way more sense for guys to ride that way. People say that guy anatomy is simpler and I guess it's true?


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