Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Frederick v. Miami

Guest Blogger: Jeff Schalk

I’m really happy with the riding in our new city. The Watershed/Gambrill is really fun, but also impressive is the insane amount of climbing that can be found on the road. The mountain ridge of Catoctin isn’t any taller than 2000’, yet a ton of steep roads climb up to it. So, since moving here, I’ve been working on putting together a really harsh loop that would officially be the steepest road ride I’ve ever done (most climbing per distance). I’m a numbers geek, so this kind of thing appeals to me. I also like a good soul-crushing training session… if you crawl home in tears, then you had a great day at the office. After several attempts, I finally nailed a good loop: 10,200’ of climbing in 85 miles. Also, the loop never uses any road more than once, never crosses over itself and never has an out and back kind of situation – no one likes that, NO ONE.
This fall has been particularly cold, so I was very much looking forward to the warmth of Miami. I thought: “I don’t care how flat it is, it’s going to be much better to be warm for a change.” Wow, I was really really really ridiculously wrong. Riding in Florida is a lot like riding a trainer outdoors, a simulation of a simulation of the real thing. I probably could’ve put a trainer in the back of my pickup truck and had Anna drive around while I pedaled and I wouldn’t have noticed the difference. For instance, we rode out and back in the Everglades and I logged in 115 miles and 20’ of climbing (okay, that’s an exaggeration… maybe I should count the 2’ that I had to lift the bike up to get it into the back of the pickup). Also, the road did gradually bend leftish, adding a bit of technical challenge. Oh, and I saw an Alligator. But, I think I would’ve had to have seen a continuous herd of gators snapping at my heels to keep that road exciting. Yes, the Everglades are beautiful, but all the makeup in the world can’t hide an ugly face.

To sum up:
Frederick riding: _/\_/\_/\_/\__ ‘getting some!’_/\_/\_/\_/\_
Miami riding: ____________‘are you fricking kidding me?’______________

I should also mention that it was exciting to coordinate the on-bike food with the two different climates. For Frederick, I’ve been using PowerGel Bursts… holy crap! So good, they taste like candy. I want to go ride my bike just so that I get to eat candy all day. And I’m not just saying that – I’m not the type to pretend that Carob is the same as Chocolate, nor do I proclaim Vegan baked goods to be ‘just as good’ (shame on you people, SHAME on you). Then to contrast, for Miami, I used the PowerBar Smoothie flavors. Also amazing! Take a delicious tropical smoothie, harden it, smoosh it into a rectangle, and poke an umbrella into the side of the wrapper.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Straight and Flat


In effort to absorb as much Florida sunshine before we return to the harsh realities of winter, Jeff and I have logged in some pretty hefty rides since our arrival on Wednesday night.

Thursday - Key Biscayne Loop
I have done this ride more times than I am willing to admit. Quick and convenient, it offers picturesque views of the Miami skyline and also some interesting side trips such as the Key Biscayne Lighthouse. It's a good option when you're short on time, but not so much fun if you're trying to log in some big hours

Friday - Key Largo
Friday morning Jeff and I left my father's house at roughly 10am en route for Key Largo. Making our way through Homestead we eventually hopped onto Card Sound Road and followed that onto the island of Key Largo. Save for a few openings in the dense mangroves we were afforded very little in the way of ocean views. Instead, the majority of our 5.5 hour ride was rather monotonous with just over 85 feet of climbing (thanks to the toll bridge).

Saturday - Key Biscayne
Yeah, it's an old standby.

Sunday - Everglades
Sunday morning came and we both were in need of 6 more hours to satisfy our training for the week. Due to the high population density of South Florida, it is quite difficult to string together 6 hours worth of roads without putting your life in great danger. So, we decided to spend the day riding in the Everglades National Park. Leaving from the visitor's center in Homestead we headed south to Flamingo Point. Straight and flat, there was very little to distract us from the monotony of the day. Luckily, Jeff had the good fortune of seeing his first alligator in the wild and I found reprieve from boredom through the magic of my ipod. Reaching Flamingo Point we gazed out at the ocean, soaked in the scenery, acquired some more fluids, and headed back the way we came. Returning to the car with more time left on the clock, we ventured into the agricultural territory of Homestead in search of more miles. It was a long day. I was even too tired to talk ...if you can imagine that.

Logging in our last hour of riding, Jeff and I officially crossed the threshold into rest week territory. Looking back over the past week, I asked Jeff if we would rather be warm in boring terrain or cold in interesting terrain. He conceded that we would prefer the latter ...I concur.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bienvenido a Miami

Today I head down to Miami to be with my family for the holidays. (photo: our humble Christmas tree) Jeff is currently driving down with our bikes as traveling with two bikes during the holiday season quickly becomes both expensive and cumbersome ...and I'm not sure that we could fit both bike boxes into my dad's Chrysler Sebring. By the way, what is it about the Sebring that is so attractive to men in my father's age bracket? It's sensible yet a little flashy ....kind of like an automotive mullet. At any rate, Jeff and I can't wait to get down to Miami for some nice long warm rides ...even if it means being bored to tears in the Everglades.

Having the place to myself last night finally gave me the opportunity to finish Jeff's present ...and have a nice glass of wine while watching mindless TV shows on our newly discovered archaic cable outlet. I have lived without a TV for several years now ...I suppose everything in moderation. Last night I enjoyed a walk down memory lane with VH1 as they systematically identified the top 100 songs of the 1990s.

Safe travels to everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Upcoming Season

With the passing of solstice, the days are now getting slowly longer and eventually we will find ourselves at the beginning of yet another racing season. Looking forward to the upcoming season, I begin to piece together my mtb race calendar. Where to begin? Let’s first check out the USA Cycling website shall we? Once onto their site I head straight for the “mountain” tab, scroll down to “Racing Series Calendar”, select “MTB National Calendar” and this is what I get (photo at top right)

Which might be great; however most of these links either don’t work or send you to a list of 2008 rankings. Oh, I will say that the National Ultra Endurance link does work …and I love how they provide the schedule in a convenient wallet size version.

Hmmmm ….ok, let’s check out Cyclingnews. I remember Jeff referencing an article concerning the restructuring of the national mtb race circuit. After some fumbling I find the article and it does a fantastic job of outlining each of the five racing series:


1) US Pro Cross Country Tour
2) Kenda Cup East
3) Kenda Cup West
4) National Ultra Endurance
5) US MTB National Calendar
photo credit: threadless

(let us not forget Michaux and the Mid Atlantic Super Series!)

I’m still undecided as to whether or not this will improve the current state of mountain bike racing in the US. The Kenda Cup helps to level the playing field for those athletes that are unable to chase series points all over the country. This is especially important for the semi-pro and expert fields where most racers are fueling their endeavors with their own funds. Rankings at this level of racing are, more often than not, a reflection of expendable time and money rather than of actual athletic performance. Case in point, I was ranked 5th (or maybe 6th) at the national level in the expert field back in 2006; however, this was by no means an honest appraisal of how strong I was in comparison to the other ladies. A more accurate ranking might have landed me somewhere in the low 20s?

There also seems to be a good amount of overlap, which could have been avoided had there been better communication. I am currently faced with the following scheduling conflicts:

Greenbrier vs Cohutta 100
Windham vs Fools Gold

Ok, so maybe it’s just two conflicts. Not a big deal.

While the NUE series attracts more of a niche racing market, the other four series are essentially the same thing. Will the East and West coast Kenda Cup help to attract more racers or will it only serve to further dilute the current struggling population? Is it better to generalize or specialize in order to attract the much needed numbers? Is the Kenda Cup series a "bottom up" approach to improving the pro racing scene in North America? And to which series will we look for our new rising stars? The Pro Cross Country Tour or the US MTB National Calendar or will they create some sort of ambiguous hybrid? Will the current system encourage more racers to commit to a series they can actually follow, or will this complicated mélange of schedules only cause the further erosion of US mountain biking? This will be a pivotal season …hope to see you all out there!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Official Business

I come from an office of winners, where second best is not an option, and your best is only good enough if it brings home the gold medal. Here in the Planning and Assesment Branch we regularly dominate all office wide competitions and the holiday door decorating competition is no exception. In the spirit of pollution prevention we originally had planned on a leaded toy motif ...but some felt that was a little too dark for the holidays. (photo: Mike presents our plan of attack) In the end we all came together in the spirit of competition and produced a door that will most definitely crush and demoralize our competition. Good job team.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Line Dry

"Tacky yet unrefined"

Friday, December 12, 2008

DownHillary

Hillary Elgert

I not only toot my own horn ...I also like to give props to my friends. As a professional downhiller, Hillary bombs down the trails with her own unique brand of vibrant femininty and embodies the kind of elegant strength so many seek but few rarely attain. I am forever amazed and inspired.

Nick has done an amazing job of capturing her classic, rugged grace in a single image. Any sponsors looking to add another female to their Downhill roster?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Hunt

I'm tired and cranky and have run out of dollars for the vending machine ...it's time to go on an office wide hunt for holiday treats ...

nothing here










all the chocolates are gone!










my ethics training taught me that it is wrong to venture into other divisions for holiday snacks













even the communal candy jar is cashed













score!









On second thought, I don't think I'm actually in the mood for chocolate liquors. Maybe tomorrow will prove to be a better day for office goodies.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Spirit

Gwadzilla spreads a little holiday cheer
Not even Gunnar can resist cracking a smile

Tooting My Horn

Just last Friday Jeff and I headed off to the gym where we regularly go to pump the sweet iron (Jeff is forever trying to sell me tickets to his gun show). Upon our arrival I stopped by the entrance to grab the latest issue of Spokes to peruse inbetween sets of massive iron pumping. Indeed, it was quite a surprise when I was confronted by my own image. As always, it is Gwadzilla who I have to thank for the good press! For those of you who only read Spokes for the articles, be sure to check out Joel's piece on winter cycling! Lots of good winter tips!

Sadly, I think that was the last time I smiled on that ride ...it was actually a miserably cold day and the snow eventually caked around my booties, encasing my feet in a blanket of cold wet hell. But for that brief moment, I was having a fantastic time up on Black Mountain Trail in the Pisgah National Forest and my friend Joos was there to capture the image on film. Thanks again Joos!

Ride report >>>> MLK Weekend 2008

Oh! And also be sure to check out the two page article on KELLEY ACRES!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

WBL Report

Looks like the first WBL of the season had a pretty good turnout...
(photos taken from the WBL website)










And it looks like Landis must have been reading my blog ....
(Floyd Landis signing the infamous WBL guest book)







Friday, December 5, 2008

Winter Bike League





Tomorrow marks the first Official Winter Bike League ride of the year. Each winter, cyclists come from far and wide to be part of the legacy that is the WBL (winter training sprinkled with southern hospitality). With field sizes ranging from 50 -150 cyclists, the WBL draws a rather impressive crowd, evidence of which is forever recorded in the Zealot Archives. (photo credit: WBL album)

Amenities include:

1) Reliable sag wagon
2) Colorful ride reports
3) Bling Bling Awards
(are these still going on?)
4) $print Point$
(handicapped points system serves to level the score between Pro/1/2 and Cat3/4)

January 3, 2009: Ladies Day!
$print PointS for ladies only! Join the region's fastest females as they duke it out for $print point$ without male interruption ...however, husbands and boyfriends are permitted to provide lead outs (none can compare to the Winter/Shirey team).

As a former Athens resident, you might say I'm a little biased, but the WBL is truly the best winter training you can find on the East Coast. Should you find yourself in the southeast this winter, I suggest you swing by Athens.


....after working up an appetite, you might want to grab a bite at Weaver D's (inspiration for the eponymous REM album ...Automatic for the People.)

photo credit: sooz flickr album

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Idiot's Gift Guide

I have identified the following items as this year's top three most useless gifts on the cycling related market. The cyclist in your life will be touched by your complete disregard for fiscal prudence.


1) Chris King Salt & Pepper Shakers - $120









2) Campagnolo Bronze Corkscrew - $200








3) IF Solid Gold Head Badge Key Ring - $2000










Appalachian Thanksgiving


Aside from the last two days of freezing rain, our visit to North Carolina was fantastic. Not only did we ride some of the most beautiful roads and trails of the southern Appalachians, we also visited a number of Hendersonville’s finest bakeries and coffee shops. Here’s a break down of our trip:

Thursday:
Pisgah Mtb Ride – We headed up Black Mountain Trail, then hopped on Buckwheat Knob, to Bennett Gap and finally took the road back to where we parked at the ranger station. It’s about a 3 hour loop that starts out with about a 2 hr climb (give or take). The first part of the descent involves some crazy tight switch backs peppered with some pretty big drops. Jeff opted to ride back to the house in effort to log in some more hours. Oh, and plodding down Bennett Gap I managed to lose my cell phone. Fortunately someone found it the following day and left it at the Ranger Station for me. Yay! I don’t have to send out another obnoxious e-mail asking for everyone’s phone number.

Friday:
Brevard Loop …plus a little more – One of my favorite road rides in the entire world is known to some as the “Brevard Loop”. This ride typically leaves from the Ingles parking lot and heads into the heart of the Pisgah’s via route 276, hang a left on the Blue Ridge Parkway (this section is closed to traffic during the winter months), and then another left on 178 which brings you back down to 64 ….hang a left and follow 64 back into Brevard. This time we did things a little differently. This time we decided to leave from the house …which made for a pretty big day (for me anyway). Jeff gave me a 45 min head start and he still beat me to the Parkway. Damn it! Logging in about 100 miles and something around 6000 ft of climbing (I think), the final stretch home took me a little longer than usual. Definitely a ride I hope to do again in the near future ….lots of good climbing and amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Oh, and as many of you are already aware, Friday was “International Buy Nothing Day”. Sadly, I was forced to break this pact when I purchased the following items on my ride.

Saturday:
Cross Ride Abbreviated: Saturday's weather was crap. We ended up doing an out and back and then heading straight to the local bakery for some sugary carb recovery treats.

Sunday:
Sunday’s weather also sucked; however, we did manage to get a short ride in at Dupont State Forest (just 7miles down the road from the family homestead). Dupont is a unique place to ride as it is a hot spot of water falls, huge granite slabs, dirt jumps, and rooty rocky technical stuff all on a relatively small amount of land. Don’t bother trying to read the map as you will quickly become overwhelmed. Just ride with a map and don’t look at it until you’re ready to go home. We rode until we had reached the threshold of misery (soaked with freezing rain) and then headed for the gym where we did some indoor riding while watching football. Not exactly epic, but it’ll do.

Monday:
We drove home. Now that I have a male travel mate I think I need to do a comparison male/female bathroom study; Sounds like there is quite a disparity between the two.

Oh, and this is what happens when you screw up the butter to flour ratio for sugar cookies. But the gingerbread men turned out perfectly!