Saturday, April 07, 2012

Getting to know you

Somewhere along the way, my mind inevitably promises my body more rest, but how could I not take this bike out for rides? Its rhythm is intoxicating — the soothing purr of the freewheel, the smooth ratcheting of the shifters, the crackle of new tires on gravel. It's a well-tuned machine with an imperfect engine; the biomechanics are still off somehow. Two-hour rides feel more like four, but I still managed to crank out 75 miles in three days with my new Moots, oh, and 8,600 feet of climbing. Not because I needed to, but, well, because I needed to.

Sort of like meeting someone new, and staying up all night talking on the phone even though you have to work early in the morning. Yeah, it's like that.

Today we set out to find the secret road out of town. Several highways thread down the mountains and valleys south of here. But I wanted to find a road no one knew about, that even Google Maps called questionable in its existence, but if it did exist, would release me near Bear Creek Redwoods and open the way for adventure south. Beat is racing in Santa Barbara next weekend, and I thought instead of joining him for the drive, I could meet him there with the Moots. Not that I believe it's prudent or wise to put in a 350+ mile fast tour at this point in time — yet it beckons all the same. Maybe it's just the hypnotic chant of the spinning parts on the perfect machine: "You want to ride to Santa Barbara. You want to ride to Santa Barbara."

We turned onto the super secret road, which, like most secondary roads around here, cut straight up the mountain on a fifteen percent grade. I learned that the Moots' granny gear is a notch higher than my Element, which I decided is a good thing because it will give my lazy legs the boost they need out of this slump. A cold wind whistled down the canyon and chilled my sweat-soaked forehead, lactic acid filled my quads, and still I needed to pedal harder to maintain forward motion. I hit one dead end and, undeterred, tried another fork. A mile later, another dead end, and a trail with a sign prohibiting bicycles. One more try ended in a closed gate and ominous "Beware of Dogs" no-trespassing signs. Alas, the super secret road was, as it probably should be, a dead end.

"There are still plenty of scenic routes out of town," I thought, even as my legs gave off a vibe of sad puppy dog eyes and a subtle wimper. "Oh, don't feel so reluctant, it's not that hard," I tried to reason. "Why do we even worry about overtraining? What's the point of training for adventure if it means missing a great adventure? Every night in the Tour Divide, we were so much more pathetic than this, and every day we got up and did the same thing all over again. In the end, was it really that bad? In the end, wasn't it worth it?"

The legs seemed unmoved by my speech. "Is that you talking, or the bike?" The Moots just purred serenely, revealing nothing. 
Thursday, April 05, 2012

Introducing ...

... The newest member of the family, the Moots MootoX YBB! It's a 29" titanium soft-tail whose purpose in this world is to be ridden lots and lots, preferably for days on end, and yet be so comfortable and light that it's almost like it's not even there — like riding on a cloud, or running blindingly fast without pain. The MootoX is my dream bike, but I never deserved it. I still don't, and yet, here it is, thanks to Beat and a little discussion we had a few months ago.

Jill: "I want to ride the Stagecoach 400 and do more bikepacking trips this summer, but the Element isn't really the right bike for long overnight rides. I think I'm going to have to put gears back on the Karate Monkey."

Beat: (Who has adopted the Karate Monkey and showered her with singlespeed love.): "No, don't do that. You need a new bike."

I do think I have too many bikes. I'm starting to catch up to my friend Sierra in sheer bicycle proliferation. And yet the prospect of a high-quality titanium 29er to ride and ride to my heart's content was too tempting to resist. The Moots has been two months in the making. I was enamored with the idea of a soft tail (the YBB stands for "Why Be Beat" — beat meaning "sore.") But we had to special order it because they don't make this frame in a small 16" size, so they custom-designed a women's specific frame of sorts. Moots is a small company based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and their attention to detail is stunning. I expect that even if I dish out the worst of my own custom brand of Jill abuse, this frame will last a long time.

I took the Moots on its maiden voyage, a two-hour ride on Black Mountain, this evening. It's amazing how easily a new bike can scrub away symptoms of burnout. I rode my fixed-gear commuter to Google in the afternoon, and that entire ride was an unpalatable ball of blah. But the spin up Black Mountain was exceedingly enjoyable, with the rich evening light saturating the hillsides, and the Moots disappearing beneath feathery strokes. The frame has a similar geometry to my Karate Monkey, and the guys at Palo Alto Bicycles took all of my measurements to build it specifically for me. Needless to say, I've never had a bike that fit me so well. My Rocky Mountain Element and I have always had a good working relationship, but I admit I haven't been able to connect with that bike on the same level. It's tough to explain, but I feel like I can tell when bike can just become an extension of my own body, and I can ride it for hours without feeling pressure or impact from the bike. The Karate Monkey has this quality to some degree. I believe the Moots will be even better.

Here's a few photos of the components. They're all just snapshots captured quickly during my test rides. I feel like I could shoot more artful photos of the bike if I tried, but for now these will have to do:

The wheels were built by Mike C. at Most endurance riders know this is the only way to go with 29" wheels, and I'm excited to see how a good set of light wheels can improve my riding in long-distance events. The drivetrain is 2x10 with Shimano XT crank and rear derailleur. I went with Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes, mainly because I can fix them myself in the middle of nowhere. I've enjoyed using lighter hydraulic brakes on my Element, but I become exceedingly frustrated whenever they develop issues. I'd rather just have something I can adjust and replace myself. Most of the parts were chosen with this in mind — durability and simplicity. The blue platform pedals are one of the fun blue accents. I just prefer platform pedals for distance riding — the main reason is comfort — and it's unlikely anyone is ever going to talk me out of them. Believe me, many have tried.

The fork is a Reba RLT. I have a good track record with Rebas so I'm staying the course.

This is the concession made in the custom design for a small-person frame (harrumph. I'm 5'7") It maintains lower standover height while allowing enough room for the 1.125" suspension mechanism. I had worried it might come out looking strange, but it actually looks cool — and I also love the built- in "handle," which will be great for carrying the bike through the many bike-carrying situations I am sure to encounter.

The rear suspension — cushy without being bouncy. Perfect for my favorite type of riding.

More blue accents on the cables.

Beat said I should take a picture of the brake levers because they're so awesomely space-age. Avid speed dial ultimate — adjustable and smooth. Luxurious. The grips are Ergon Enduro — a longtime favorite.

I foresee a bright future of adventures for Moots and me.
Monday, April 02, 2012

Labeling myself

Shadowing a coyote on the Bella Vista Trail
Recovery is predictably going slow for me this week. I am experiencing some late-season burnout, which is funny because this is early season for most everyone else in North America. Beat is already talking about plans for next winter and I can't even wrap my head around it, so I've stayed uncomfortably in denial. The truth is, when I think about racing hard or grueling epics next winter, it makes me want to withdraw from UTMB and spend my whole summer laying on the beach, writing a novel, and drinking iced coffee. For me to survive UTMB I am really going to have to be "on" during what is typically a tough season for me, the hot summer. Beat is good at being "on" all of the time; he's generally either at full throttle or zero, which is how he recovers. I am not good at zero, so I spent this week taking it easy on mellow runs and rides. I really need to get outside most every day for my mental health and productivity. But I admit even the five-mile runs have been taxing. I am coming around, though.

Feeling like a slug brought me back to this ad I encountered a couple weeks ago. It's an somewhat outdated (2010?) campaign from Pearl Izumi to sell shoes to road runners, but it's controversial message sparked a debate around a few runner blogs on the InterWebs recently:

Usually I have almost no reaction to advertising. It's a shallow form of communication that I don't connect with at all, but for some reason I had a strongly negative reaction to this ad. I should have just chuckled, "Oh, ha ha, slow losers, Pearl Izumi doesn't want you." Instead, I felt like I was back in seventh grade wearing the new Guess jeans I just bought with my babysitting money and having a group of more stylish girls accuse me of sewing the label on a fake pair of jeans. It was an interesting knee-jerk reaction to this ad, actually. Why did I think Pearl Izumi was bullying me? For starters, I don't even run marathons. In fact, it's actually one of my goals to get through life without running an official road marathon. But if I ever did run a marathon, it would probably be in a non-serious manner, on a lark, and I probably would "mosey" across the finish line because there's no way my hips and knees would stand for 26 miles of pavement pounding. So why was I so offended? Why did I care?

I think it comes down to my seventh-grade Guess jeans incident, and the mistake of trying to wear labels. I've proudly flown my cyclist flag ever since I managed to ride a borrowed mountain bike all the way to the top of Salt Lake City's Mill Creek Canyon and back without tipping over or walking the bike (full disclosure: all pavement.) But I've been reluctant to wear the label of "runner." I've been serious about the sport of trail running for 18 months now, I'm building up a decent resume on Ultrasignup, and I'm currently preparing to at least participate in one of the more prestigious ultramarathons in the world, UTMB. During my stay at the Windy Gap checkpoint in the White Mountains 100, I was telling my friend Dea about the Susitna 100 and my plans for UTMB when she said, "Oh, so are you more of a runner now?" I shook my head. "No, I'm still a more of a cyclist. I'm definitely not a runner." I laughed at what I thought was a great joke, but Dea just looked confused.

Why won't I call myself a runner? Maybe because I don't want the "real runners" to point and laugh at me. It's middle-school silly, and yet I'm insecure about it all the same. Even in my "on foot" pursuits, my end goal isn't running for the sake of running, but to efficiently traverse large swaths of "real" terrain — mountains and deserts, streams and snow. Ultimately I'd love to have the fitness, skill, and strength to take on long wilderness trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail, or even trail-less traverses such as Alaska's Brooks Range, in a fast and efficient manner. This effectively makes me a "hiker," and yet I enjoy going out and running as fast as I can in my local, hilly 50K races (full disclosure: not all that fast.) I also spend more time riding bicycles than I do running, even when training for 100-mile ultramarathons. So what am I? A part-time-running cyclist? A fast hiker who likes to use wheels? A mountain biker who occasionally leaves the bike at home?

In coming up with a label for myself, I listed some of my strengths:

1. I am good at plodding along for hours, days, even weeks on end.
2. I am good at adapting to my surroundings and making use of what's available in changing environments.
3. I am good at being self-sufficient.
4. I am patient.
5. I am stubborn.
6. I basically have one speed but I can hold it almost indefinitely.
7. I am great at carrying extra weight. My Iditarod bike weighed 70-plus pounds, my Tour Divide bike 50-60. I can pack 10 extra pounds without blinking an eye and generally do on even the smallest training runs. My indifference to extra weight has made me an incurable packrat.
8. I can thrive in a wide range of weather conditions.
9. My body seems willing to slavishly follow the unreasonable demands of my mind.
10. I am strong.

When I compile these all together, I picture this:

A mule. I'm totally a mule. Not in the drug-ferrying sense, but in the beast-of-burden, combo runner-cyclist, stubborn-as-all-get-out sense. And yes, I totally used Photoshop to make a mash-up of a mule riding a Rocky Mountain Element. It only took 15 minutes, but it does serve as an example of what happens to my creative productivity when I am not spending enough quality time outside. I hope to get out for another five-mile jog (and I purposely use the word jog) this afternoon to spark better work productivity this evening ...

Proud to be a Jogger. And an Animal. I am Mule. 

But really, if you had to place a label, how would you define yourself? It's not an easy question to answer.