Friday, February 26, 2010

Solvang, California Days 3 & 4, Vineyards and Chris Carmichael

The weather turned on the third day and it started raining. I needed a lighter day and the hour-long recovery ride fit just perfectly. Rather than waste the day I made contact with the brother of a dear KS friend who works in valley managing vineyards. We met for an incredible lunch and then went around the Santa Rita Valley sampling some of the finest grapes that the land can offer. Surrounded by so much wine I just couldn't resist snapping a shot.
The fourth day was the big day for me. A ride without serious mountain climbs but with serious distance. We chose a route through the vineyards and down to the sea. Then we turned north and shadowed Vandenberg AFB and up and over Harris Grade before heading off to Santa Maria.

The way back was through some of the most beautiful canyon roads that I have ever seen. With blue skies above, the lush green of springtime California is eyepopping. Carmichael Training Systems has a camp in this valley and we've come across them a couple times, so it was nothing odd to see a lone CTS rider in the valley in front of us. We caught him at the base of a climb and struck up a conversation. We introduced ourselves and he introduced himself simply as "Chris" leaving it to us to realize that it was in fact Chris Carmichael.

We rode with him back into Los Olivos and then down into Solvang. It was a great time and we talked about everything. He was very pleasant and unpretentious and took his turn at the front of the paceline just like us all. Definitely the kind of guy that I'd love to have on my rides all the time.

Later that evening we headed up to San Luis Obispo to meet with the folks at Highroad. We had a great dinner and shared some incredible laughs under the stars. Just standing in the office of HTC Columbia was impressive. The office is a converted garage filled with leader's jerseys from every imaginable major race in the world. Being in such a room was like being in a miniature cycling museum.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Solvang Day Two: Into the Wild

After 7 hours and 8500 vertical feet of riding we thought we'd keep it easier today. So instead of two mountains we set off to conquer the 4500 feet of Figueroa Mtn. The sunshine of the previous day had given way to grey and overcast but the temperature was still in the 60s. It's always amazing to me how different 60 degrees feels in places that lack the humidity of D.C. because it was definitely a touch chilly at the start. Upon setting out on this march you cross a series of serene vineyards and horse farms. Nothing to hint to you of the mountain top monolith that awaits you. "Fig" as the locals call it, was a beast. We went up from what I guess would be the back side where the pavement was worse and where the road again gave way to dirt.

There appears to be a bunch of impromptu shooting ranges dotting the California forest. By impromptu I mean, two guys, a glock and some paper targets set up in front of a hillside. One of these was tossed in about 4 km into the climb which made for a pleasant distraction. Somewhere about 3 km from the top I began to crack and crack hard. I find it really heartwarming, and disheartening at times, when the road is painted with mile-to-go markers. I try to think to myself that someone was kind enough to think that it would help me focus, but there is always the ever present thought that if I find that person I will likely smack them around for the hours of conscious pain that they have brought upon me.
On the way back down we came across pastures of cows. As we rode by them I was reminded of the commercials about good cheese and happy cows coming from California. At this point we had been riding for about 3 hours and despite eating shot blok after shot blok I was still running pretty much on empty. My training partners out here swears by jelly beans (the cheap ones) and rides with a pocket full of them. Since he rode me off his wheel like I was standing still I imagine it would work. I'm definitely not above that, it's just at this point in time a cheeseburger was just what the doctor ordered.

The descent was perfect. Much better than the descents the day before. Wider and more open roads allowed us all to get up some decent speed. I've grown so accustomed to the descents back in Virginia that the California ones with their hundreds of switch backs are a pleasant distraction and a definite challenge. The weather isn't looking good for day 3 so we may just switch up the plans for a little vineyard touring.

Solvang, California: Training Camp Day One

I was fed up with the endless snow, cold and dullness of the mid-Atlantic this winter. So I got on a plane and came out to southern California to ride without thick gloves, without knickers, without 9 layers of clothes. Two days in and it's been great. My legs are exhausted, my body is cracking and I'm just getting warmed up.

The first day we set out on a path from where we were staying in Los Olivos down Refugio Rd and over to the coast. Before the base of the climb over the coastal mountains we came across a 60-year old man on a mountain bike. After we told him our route he asked if we had cross tires on our bikes. He kept warning that the road was closed and that it was all dirt on the way up. That gave us no pause.

About five miles in to the climb it became paved again right at the summit. Prior to that it was a mountain bike course. Most of our time was spent picking through the wet rocks. Thankfully and painfully our way was being led by a pro mountain biker. At the top we paused for a few minutes to dress for the descent and eat some food. The 60-year old came up the same path at the time and said that we must all be pros because we chose the best lines through the rocks. I didn't have the strength to tell him that it was just survival instinct for me.

The mud climb paid off in a great view of the Pacific Ocean and the channel islands beyond. The decent was gnarly and technical. I rode the breaks because the longest straight stretch was about 200 meters long. It dumped us off on the 101 right along the beach. We rode tempo into Goleta before turning our attention upwards over the San Marco pass.

San Marco pass gave way to Painted Cave Rd which 3000 feet above the nearby ocean started to cap out with these indian cave drawings. By this point in time I had been climbing for about 45 minutes. Despite standing there staring at the sign for about 5 minutes I have no idea what it said. At the top of the climb we came across a small community. In the driveway of one of these houses was a hippy holding his dog in his hands. As we passed by him he commented to the people standing next to him that "they say the path to peace lies through suffering." An unpleasant thought directed at him crossed through my mind at that point in time.
We rode along the ridge line above Santa Barbara for a while looking for a way down and then came upon this road. The one thing about google maps is that they don't distinguish between paved roads and their less paved counterparts; or in this case a road that really didn't exist at all. At the top of this road was a makeshift shooting range while at the bottom was trailer park. We road down 7.2 miles along what was in reality a horse path (complete with hoove marks) which at times had more grass on it than dirt. After reaching the bottom we decided to make a straight line for homebase.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

When the World is White

Credit first goes to U2 for giving me inspiration for this post. It's snowing outside and I'm getting increasingly annoyed by the lack of opportunity to ride outdoors. I'm also annoyed by DC's complete inability to clear streets. I can understand the difficulty they are having but the pace of cleanup in the area is making the nation's capital the laughing stock of the nation . . . for more reasons than normal

It seems like most of my long riding is done when the weather is cold and this year most of that riding has been done will there is snow on the ground. Here are a couple pictures taken from recent rides, complete with snow.

What seems like an eternity ago I was able to go outside and ride my bike. I took this picture of the clothes that I wore on a day when the temperature was just above 20 degrees (and not the strange Euro 20 degrees which is really 60 degrees). In the summer I can get dressed in about 5 minutes and be out the door. In the winter it takes about 15 minutes. I miss summer.

During my recent individual training camp I discovered a new route from Marshall, VA which took me up and over Skyline Dr before descending back into the valley around Luray. For some reason the road was closed to cars that day so I had 30 miles of perfect open road with 3000 feet of climbing to myself. The 3400 feet up to Hogback Overlook is the highest that I've climbed on the east coast. About a year ago I climbed the 7000 feet up to the top of Mt. Mingus in northern Arizona, that's still my personal record (it was also snow covered).

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to live where I do. On a recent week day ride I found myself at this point and snapped a quick picture. While it looks like a great pastoral image that could be taken anywhere in Loudoun County or beyond into West Virginia, it's actually taken in D.C. This was from Rock Creek Park and only about a 15-minute ride from this point back to my office in downtown.

Back to riding the trainer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The last math class I took was freshman year of college. I hated math. I bought an Srm and suddenly I love statistics. Five days of hard riding in the first training camp of the year are now in the books. Here are some statistics from that camp.

Total Number of Miles: 340 miles. Distance from D.C. to Pittsburgh, PA: 241 miles

Total Time on the Bike: 20 hours 19 minutes

Number of States Involved: 3-- Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia plus D.C. (Statehood Now)

Number of Civil War battlefields traversed: 4-- South Mountain, Antietam, Loudoun Heights and 2nd Manassas (the outskirts). Total number of American casualties at Antietam: 22,719 (single bloodiest day in American history).

Number of Mountains Climbed: 3-- South Mountain, Skyline Drive and Sugarloaf. Total Elevation Gain: 19,741 feet. Heighest point in the US: Mount McKinley-- 20,320 feet.

Total Calories Burned: 12,420 calories. Calories in a McDonald's Big Mac: 590 calories.

Total Number of Heart Beats: 162,246. My normal resting heart rate: 48 bpm.

Now for a rest day and then back to the normal life.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


It's not often that in the course of any set of events that you get to hit the reset button and effectively send things back to the beginning. However, recently for me I was afforded that opportunity and I am trying to take full advantage of it. My work detail ended and before heading back to my full time job I decided to cash in on a little leave. I know, planning a cycling vacation in VA in January is not ideal but it's not called "use or lose" leave for nothing.

I'm taking a cyclin-cation right now. It's been three good days of riding with two more to go. It's an opportunity to focus on riding and relaxing and shaking off 6 months of hard workdays. Also, it's an opporutnity to start something new. I'm starting a new project that I will carry through the remainder of the season.

I've run across a lot of strange things in my days on the bike. Odd things that most people don't see like strange signs, passionistic nuns, roadside porn and on and on. These oddies are the byproduct of being in places that people don't often go and also being focused more on the journey rather than the destination. My project this year is to put together a photo album of those odd encounters and the great company that I keep while riding and racing my bike. There is no specific theme or goal. It's just a collection of pictures about the miles as they tick over and over. In the end it's just a story about a story.

I'll post pictures here from time to time; and if you see anything out there that is noteworthy let me know and I'll go find it too.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


It's natural that everyone experiences a setback, eventually. The key is how to deal with those setbacks when you come across them. The holiday season presents a set of challenges to training just as it does to all other aspects of life. There are new and different demands on time, changes in schedules and additional stress. However, despite what I often times say, life is more than just the aggregate of miles that I ride. Therefore, it is more aptly put that between family, friends and frivolity; the holiday seasons presents a series of pleasant challenges.

Adam and I planned out our approach to this time of year very well. Unfortunately nature didn't agree with our approach and dumped 20 inches of snow on the mid-Atlantic. Washington, D.C. is terrible with snow removal when there are only a couple centimeters on the ground. So when there was almost two feet of snow I had to resign myself to the fact that the streets wouldn't be cleared enough to keep putting in the intense efforts that we had planned on. Then DC was hit was an epic cold snap that has made everyone's desire to even go outside small.

We've ramped things back up over the week and will continue to do so in the coming week, especially with a small vacation from work next week. However, it's clear that I lost something as a result of mother nature's recent onslaught of cold weather and snow. Now it's time to gather the chips and get back to basics. My work detail is ending this week and I am scheduled to return to a more balanced life. A lot of changes are on their way and I'm heading back out into the world.

Setbacks in the end are just an opportunity to get back to what was working.