Saturday, November 26, 2011

Horsing Around About Lost

I'm going to rant a bit. There's a number of things that I really don't like and I probably have many more pet peeves than the average person. Flatting at checkpoint number two just kind of got the ball rolling for me. I have been looking forward to this Tri-States Gran Fondo for over a year, ever since I decided not to do this ride last year, and from checkpoint number two at Veyo Pies to checkpoint number three at some obscure park in Ivins, Utah, I keep getting smacked around by things I don't like. Physically it is mostly the wind and cold. Mentally it is other things. The kind of things that sap the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke.

On the way up the hill, out of Veyo and up and around the Veyo Volcano, I notice that my body has spent too much time off the bike in the cold wind while fixing my flat. My legs have cooled down and I have lost my mojo for the ride. Unfortunately, chugging uphill is never a good way to get the mojo back, at least for me anyway. It feels like I'm starting this big ride over, except now I'm a little tired and small hints of fatigue and stiffness are making themselves known at the contact points around the saddle, bar and pedals.

I hate wind. And hate is not too strong a word. Nothing can siphon the joy and enthusiasm out of a good ride on the bike like wind can. And from checkpoint number two to checkpoint number three, the wind is going to be blowing strong and blowing cold. All the way up and around the Veyo Volcano and all the way down to the stoplight in Ivins, the wind will be right in my face, unyielding in it's resistance against my efforts to make progress and make up time. It's blowing a little bit of the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke.

Fighting this cold headwind up and around the Veyo Volcano, I get passed by a guy on a bike with a squeaky chain. Squeaky chains drive me nuts. Can cyclists not hear that? So squeaky chain rider passes me going up the hill making some annoying small talk on the way by. OK. I grunt something back, not much for conversation under effort with a cold headwind up a hill. Squeaky chain rider gets up the road a ways and stops and leans on a highway marker. Is he waiting for me? I go past. Squeaky chain rider keeps leaning on the highway marker. Maybe he's waiting for his riding buddies and was just having a little fun catching me on this hill. No problem, but still annoying.

I'm still working my way up and around the Veyo Volcano in the windy cold and I hear squeaky chain rider behind me again. Again, he passes me, this time asking me: "you OK?" What? Do I not look OK? I grunt something again when I really want to say "can you not hear your chain squeaking? Have you not heard of the Principle of Silence and Rule #65. Have you not heard of lube? Why are you bugging me? Get lost." Squeaky chain rider gets up the road a ways and stops and leans on a highway marker. I go past. Squeaky chain rider keeps leaning on the highway marker catching his breath. Squeaky chain rider is sucking a little bit more joy and enthusiasm out of my pedal stroke.

Squeak. Pass. Lean. Squeak. Pass. Lean. Squeak. Pass. Lean. All the way up and around the Veyo Volcano in this cold wind while I'm trying to find my mojo again. Squeak. Pass. Lean. And, of course, the inane chit chat to go along with it. Finally, I can't stand it anymore and it's either stop and rip him off his bike and throw him into traffic or shift down the cogs, stand and drop his annoying squeaky chain rider squeak pass lean. So I burn another match against the cold headwind and explode up the last mile of the hill the next time I hear squeaky chain rider coming up behind me. Even though I stop at the top to don my rain jacket and windstopper beanie for a little protection from the wind and cold on the way down, I never see him again.

Once up and over the hill around the Veyo Volcano, I'm suppose to be able to bomb down this descent all the way past Snow Canyon State Park down to the stoplight in Ivins where I need to make a right turn. As I'm fighting with this cold headwind trying to "bomb" down this hill, it dawns on me that after that right turn I'm really not too clear on where to go after that to get to checkpoint number three. I realize this downhill "bomb" is another fizzling dud that is going to require much more pedaling effort than it really should require and that is sapping a little bit more joy and enthusiasm out of my pedal stroke.

As the cold wind seems to be doing everything it can to resist my efforts to descend 1622 feet over 12 miles of State Highway 18 down to the stoplight in Ivins, I pass by the entrance to Snow Canyon State Park. I can briefly see the beauty that I'm going to be missing by having this Gran Fondo not be routed through the State Park, and I wonder why the local and state folks with the permits didn't want us to roll through there. That annoys me too, plus not going through Snow Canyon adds about 10 or so extra windy cold and not too scenic because their running through town with traffic miles to the ride.

It's hard to get going too fast because the wind is just blowing way too hard and pushing me all over the road. The shoulder is OK, wide in some spots and narrow in others, but it's none too clean and I can't afford another flat, so I'm trying to use as much of the road as I can. My rain jacket is flapping so hard in the cold wind that I can't hear the numerous vehicles approaching fast from behind. I look down at my computer off and on and I see signs of hope. 28 mph - 32 mph - 42 mph - 37 mph - 25 mph - 34 mph - 47 mph - 27 mph, but the effort required to churn that out feels like a ride uphill not down.

Still, I'm getting passed by the highway traffic like I'm standing still. And close. I can see a bike path off to my right a ways off the road, and I wonder if these speed crazed motorists are mad, thinking I don't belong on the road, that I have no business being there, and should instead be over on the MUT, spinning a cadence of 35 and chugging along at 8 mph while dodging the fat people from The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge and the friendly senior citizens with their 20 foot long dog leashes that are walking there putting the multi in multi-use. Why are they passing so close? Are they trying to teach me a lesson? It's sucking me faster down the hill and all over the road and it's sucking more of the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke.

I finally get to the stoplight in Ivins and make the right hand turn. Lots of traffic, minimal shoulder, still cold, tons of wind, more uphill and once again a bike path to my right. It seems like that last 12 miles of descent felt like three times as many pushing the headwind and it has ground me down a little bit. I also have no idea where I'm going now, or how to get to checkpoint number three, but I can see some riders up the road a piece and I decide to shadow their lead and stop when it looks convenient to quickly take off my rain jacket and windstopper beanie.

I'm looking for a place to stop that isn't a driveway or has a good shoulder or seems convenient so I can take off my gear that's done its job on the descent and is now creating a lot of sweat under the uphill effort into a headwind. The road has tipped up again and I have no idea how far it is to checkpoint number three, or how to get there, so when I stop I want to look at the queue sheet. I feel like a weather vane though, because no matter which direction I pedal it always seems like I'm pointing into the wind. What I thought would now be a tailwind, isn't, and it's blowing hard making pedaling uphill even more of a grind than it otherwise would be as I try to follow the other cyclists up the road. I know if I stop to take off my beanie and rain jacket now, I'm going to lose them here in the city and that is sapping a little more joy and enthusiasm out of my pedal stroke.

After grinding uphill against the wind for a while more, I see a couple of cyclists up ahead pulled over by a honey bucket on the side of the road. I stop and remove my rain jacket and windstopper beanie putting them back into my jersey pockets. I have worked up a lot of sweat from wearing them and now the cold wind is working quickly to evaporate that moisture and that's making the rest of my body as cold as my face as I try to dig out my queue sheet and find out how to get to checkpoint number three. It seems I'm looking for a round-a-bout and I'm suppose to exit left when I get to it and find some confusing North and East or West and South grid number of a street and find a park there somewhere in Ivins, but I'm almost more confused than I was before stopping after trying to sort out the queue sheet.

The silly Utah grid system for streets is fine, but only if you have a point of reference. And what the heck is E 400 N? I can handle E or N, but not both on the same street. Maps are a good thing and I wish I had one now. I can read a map. I used to teach others how to read maps in the Marine Corps. I can put an artillery shell the size of a Volkswagen on a target the size of a quarter from 20 miles away just by looking at a map. I love maps. But apparently I can't read directions very well or understand what I do read on my queue sheet, because the confusion of not really being clear on where I am going is really messing with my enthusiasm and sapping the joy out of my pedal stroke.

The two fellows at the honey bucket have been quickly caught and passed. They are obviously struggling, churning in the small ring, going up the hill in the wind and the cold, one more than the other, and the other guy I was shadowing up ahead is now long gone. Basically, I'm lost. The course was marked yesterday, unfortunately before the massive rain storm last night and now because of that, the course is no longer marked. I stop again in the wind to review the queue sheet. The more I try to understand it, the less I understand it and the two struggling stragglers catch up and stop in the wind too. They are wondering if I know where I'm going and I tell them not really but I'm looking for a round-a-bout and I'm going to exit left and probably have to stop again to decipher the queue sheet some more.

We move out uphill against the wind and I quickly leave them behind again. I do notice that Ivins is a beautiful little town and think that perhaps I would enjoy it more if I wasn't so frustrated by the wind and not knowing where I was going. I stop again. Still no round-a-bout. Maybe I was wrong. Crap. The doubt is seeping into my muscles, wearing me down as much as the cold and the wind as I'm trying to decode the queue sheet one more time. The two struggling stragglers don't catch back on this time and I push off into the windy cold again, up the hill, right before they arrive. After a bit I see what looks like it could be a round-a-bout up ahead and it creates a little hope and a little trust in my sense of progress as I approach.

What a beautiful round-a-bout. Wow. I'm approaching up the hill in the wind and cold while admiring the red rocks and the landscaping and the sculptures of horses and Indians and I guess this is about the best looking biggest roundest tallest round-a-bout I think I've ever seen. Cool. I'm impressed and mesmerized as I swoop around the round-a-bout's roundness instinctively heading for the left exit as I continue to admire Edward Hlavka's larger than life-size sculptures of the old West and right when I'm about to exit left from the round-a-bout I quit my rubber-necking and look back ahead to the corner and notice that the road suddenly ends right in front of my wheel and turns to dirt and gravel.

Whoops. Can't be right. I mean left. Right? I brake in the dirt and rocks and potholes and turn around in the sand and rocks to head back into the round-a-bout. Somehow I don't think this is what the queue sheet meant when it said to exit left at the roundabout. I see the struggling stragglers approaching the round-a-bout from down the road and I wonder if they wonder what the heck I'm doing as I work my way around the round-a-bout again, dodging traffic and exit straight, not left, at the round-a-bout, counter to the queue sheet instructions.

I pull off the road to consult the queue sheet yet again, this time, being passed by the struggling stragglers and confirm that it said to exit left at the round-a-bout. Left right? Right. I decide to continue on straight, not left, and pass these two fellows again as I continue up the hill after the round-a-bout. I wonder if I'm annoying them? On my left there is either desert or residential streets and on my right there is either residential streets or desert and I continue on in the wind and cold wondering where the heck I am, where the heck is checkpoint number three and all the while my frustration and the wind and the cold is siphoning the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke.

I hate being lost. I hate not having a map. I hate riding slow in the wind and the cold and stopping all the time while I'm trying to figure out where I am going. I studied the course map before this Tri-States Gran Fondo enough to have it practically memorized and burned on my retinas, and the instructions on the queue sheet seem to be running counter to what was on the course map in my head. My frustration is mounting as I know the sun is sinking lower and I'm riding slower than I should be trying to second guess where I'm going and how to get to checkpoint number three at some obscure park in Ivins.

I finally come upon another, much smaller, much less scenic, much less round round-a-bout, go around and find a paved road to exit left on hoping that this is the right way to go. Eventually I make another wrong turn and a few more brief stops to consult the confusion that is on the queue sheet as I try to decipher the multi directional grid system in Ivins and finally get passed by another rider who looks like he might know where he's headed so I decide to shadow him, hopefully on into checkpoint number three. Being lost has exhausted me more than the wind or the cold or the hills. I feel drained and mentally exhausted and I'm hungry and looking forward to a little break and something to eat.

Up ahead I finally see a tiny park tucked up back and behind some ball fields off to the right of the road and it is packed. The cold wind is carrying the delicious smell of grilling burgers down the road to me as I approach. I pull into checkpoint number three and it is crowded and filled with cyclists. The burgers charring on the grill smell fantastic and my hungry moves instantly to famished as I anticipate eating one. Or two. My stomach is growling and my mouth is watering. Bikes are leaning and laying everywhere around the only pavilion at checkpoint number three and for that briefest of moments I think the char-grilled burgers are for me. For us. The cyclists. Right? Upon closer inspection that pavilion is occupied by a huge wedding reception barbecue.

Oh. Wrong. The char-grilled burgers are not for me. Not for us. Not the cyclists. It's been a long time since my Deuces Wild Special Breakfast when I last ate any real food and the delicious smells from the barbecue are a tantalizing reminder of just how famished I have become. It's getting to be late afternoon and all I've eaten since my pre-dawn breakfast is two chocolate chip granola bars, my deep dish chocolate chip cookie, a teriyaki beef stick and two bottles of horrible watered down cough syrup tasting Hammer carbohydrate electrolyte concoction. As I lean my bike on a little spindly tree in the cold wind, being bathed by the smoke wafting from the char-grill, my stomach growls loudly again as I walk over to the little checkpoint table to fill my bidons and grab another chocolate chip granola bar.

I wipe the drool off my chin, trying to ignore the insistent rumblings in my stomach and pretend the chocolate chip granola bar is the big juicy char-grilled burger with all the fixings that I am smelling. Riders are filtering in and out as I get all my checkpoint number three business done while pretending the wind isn't cold and push my bike back out to the parking lot by the ball fields. It definitely feels like I've ridden 72 miles and climbed over 5500 feet of elevation gain so far on this big ride, and the preceding 22 miles or so that it took me to go from my flat tire at Veyo Pies which was checkpoint number two to this obscure park in Ivins which is checkpoint number three has really taken its toll on me.

I look at the setting sun, scooting down in its low November arc and wonder for the first time if I can make it to the finish in Mesquite on time before sunset. I know its going to be a huge push for me, starting with the cold and a huge headwind and the grind back to the top of Utah Hill 12 miles away and about 1700 feet of elevation gain up the road ahead. So when I'm all set, I push off to race the sunset in the cold headwind and start making my way back to my family waiting for me at the finish in Mesquite.

I'm thinking about all the little nagging pet peeves that I've ran into over the last 22 miles or so - flatting, climbing, squeaky chain rider, no map, annoying chit chat, slow wind beaten descents, heavy traffic passing close, MUTs, the sinking sun, The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge, a diabolical queue sheet, even more diabolical headwinds, the multi in multi-use, routing through the city instead of Snow Canyon State Park, dirty shoulders on State Highway 18, dirt roads exiting round-a-bouts on the left, watered down cough syrup tasting Hammer carbohydrate electrolyte drinks, the inaccurate course map, sweating under the rain jacket, getting lost, getting juked by some smoking hot char-grilled juicy burgers and multiple stops to waste time pondering the course - and how it's all been siphoning the joy and enthusiasm out of my pedal stroke.

After a bit, I turn right, back onto Old Highway 91 and head uphill through the Shivwits Indian Reservation pushing this cold gusting wind to the u-turn left that we had all been warned not to miss this morning. This time I need to veer left when I get there and continue up the hill against this cold headwind to the top of Utah Hill which is now going to be checkpoint number four. I think about all of the joy and enthusiasm that has been sapped from my pedal stroke over the last couple hours by getting smacked around by all the little things that I don't like - beaten up by my little pet peeves.

I glance at the sinking sun again, noticing that it is starting to cloud up more and get even colder and I feel the wind blowing even harder now and I think about what I am doing here and how I am feeling and I realize that I feel great. I am ready to go. I am strong. And I smile. I smile because I am happy to be on the bike. I smile because I am happy to be  pushing uphill against the windy cold through mile 75. I smile because I am looking forward to 2000 plus more feet of elevation gain. I smile because I am  looking forward to more climbing and suffering and sweating in the cold wind. I smile because I am looking forward to hammering it home for another 37 miles.

I smile bigger. I smile bigger because I am loving this. I smile bigger because I'm getting beat up by the wind and the cold. I smile bigger because I'm getting beat up by my pet peeves that have been nagging me along today. I smile bigger because I'm getting smacked around by the little things that were siphoning the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke. I smile bigger because this is better than almost anything else I could be doing right now. I smile bigger and bend my arms perfectly and smooth my round circles of pedal strokes. I smile bigger as I look down at my cassette because I'm tired. I look back up the hill in the wind and cold and glance back up at the sinking sun. I smile bigger because a bad day cycling is better than a good day doing almost anything else.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How To Fix A Flat

When I get back to checkpoint number two at Veyo Pies, walking my bike by the saddle and finishing my teriyaki beef stick, I notice the volunteers have moved the table again. I lean my bike up against the cable spool table next to the plastic patio chair with the seagull poop all over it and remove my seat bag from my seat rails in the windy cold. Then I think "what the heck am I doing?" I have everything I need without even opening my seat bag and I'm not going to embarrass myself by pulling out, or even thinking about using tire levers in view of other cyclists. I hope the volunteers have a pump and I'll be all set. I would hate to ride the last 50 plus miles of the Tri-States Gran Fondo with a figal of CO2 shot in my tube. That would suck. Besides, last time I used one, my tube blew up right when I clipped in and exerted my 79 plus kilos on the rear wheel.

I remove my full fingered gloves and right away my bare fingers acknowledge the cold wind. I'm happy now with my decision to bring an extra spare tube and pull it out of my left jersey pocket from under my chocolate chip granola bars and my windstopper beanie. I round up a floor pump from the well prepared volunteers and get to work on my flat in the windy cold. I pull up the rear brake's quick release and shift the chain down the cassette to the second to the smallest cog and yank open the quick release and give it a couple of spins. I pop the rear wheel out of the dropouts with a gentle tap on the top of the wheel and pull it out and off, working the cassette away from the slack chain.

I lay my bike carefully on top of the cable spool table, drive side up, and sit down in the seagull poop covered plastic patio chair and turn the wheel in my hands trying to find the puncture. My hands are getting really cold really fast. There are a couple of small cuts in the tread and what looks like what could be a small puncture in the tire at about 10 o'clock in relation to the stem, but I find nothing in the tire on the outside. I unscrew the presta valve and release the remaining air from the tube as I work my way around the tire both squeezing out the remaining air and releasing the bead.

I push with my thumbs about 6 inches apart opposite the stem and quickly pop the tire off the rim. In seconds the tire is off the drive side of the rim and I remove the tube. I pop the tube on the floor pump and give it a couple of pumps and try to spot or hear the leak. It's too windy to really hear anything except the wind, but I continue my inspection around the tube, trying to listen or feel on my cheek any escaping air. All I can feel is the wind and the cold pushing on my face and fingers, so I'm not sure if there is a puncture or if the stem has a leak. I set aside the sagging tube and quickly inspect the inside of my tire.

I see nothing amiss inside the casing, so I run my cold bare fingers around the inside of my tire multiple times trying to find anything that will cause another problem. I find nothing. I unscrew the presta valve on my extra spare tube and push it in with my tongue as I blow a little air into the tube to ease installation. I close the presta valve and push it down into the rim and quickly work it around the wheel and into the tire. My fingers are now very cold and I set the bead around the valve and work the tire back onto the drive side of the rim. Opposite the valve, I quickly pop the tire fully on the rim with two last pushes with my cold thumbs and pinch my way around the tire to make sure that the extra spare tube won't be pinched when inflated.

I get up out of the plastic patio chair, hoping that the seagull poop stayed on the chair instead of getting on my bibs, lean the wheel against the chair, hook up the pump and inflate the tube to 110 psi. I tighten the presta valve and wonder how many times I'm going to use this tube as my spare. I think this is time number four, and I turn the wheel in my hands and again try to listen for any leaks, but again it's too windy to hear anything but the wind, so I set the tire back against the plastic patio chair and pull my bike down from the cable spool table.

I work my cassette onto my chain and slip the wheel back into the dropouts making sure the tire is centered. I spin the quick release and close it checking the rear wheel for fit and push down the quick release on the rear brake. My hands are freezing now and I velcro my seatbag back onto my seat rails and I'm glad things seem to be back in order and I can get underway again. I pull my granola bar out from under my bib on the top of my right thigh and eat it quickly as I return the floor pump to the volunteer. I throw the tube in the trash along with the teriyaki beef stick and granola bar wrappers and look forward to getting back to pedalling the rest of this Tri-States Gran Fondo and warming up again.

Checkpoint number two is now pretty much empty again as some more riders are filtering in to get their deep dish cookies from Veyo Pies. I pull on my full fingered gloves and am grateful for the protection from the windy cold. It's time to work my way up and around the Veyo Volcano so I grab my bike and wheel it out of the Veyo Pies parking lot to the road where I stow away my coffee shop covers, clip in and push off again. I don't see any riders up the road ahead of me, and again work my way toward the big dip that is the city limit as I find the right cog on the cassette. The wind is cold and it has turned into a stiff headwind just as I was anticipating. It's gusting hard against my effort as I look down at my computer and see that I've lost 14 minutes since walking back to checkpoint number two at Veyo Pies on this timed event that isn't a race.

Friday, November 18, 2011

80 mg/dL & 0 psi

Just like any time I ride uphill, there is that moment when it's done, and then after a bit, my body gets back to normal operations on the bike and then the fight starts. There is always a little war between my mind and my body and it is a war of words. The mind thinks the body could have - should have - pushed things a little bit harder and given a little bit more. The body fights back knowing that there is only so much oxygen the pulmonary and circulatory system can process and that there is only so much lactic acid the muscles can deal with at any given time. The mind is curious however, and there's always that little bit of doubt and disbelief. The mind wonders if the body was holding something back by not giving an all-out effort. The body reminds the mind that the mind is the bodies commander and the body can only give what the mind allows.

The body always wins but the mind always wonders if we could have dug a little bit deeper and done a little bit more, and my mind is wondering that right now as I'm pedaling in the cold wind less than a mile from my deep dish chocolate chip cookie waiting for me at Veyo Pies which is checkpoint number two. At the top of the hill after the slow sign at the end of climb number two, Old Highway 91 has one last right turn and then it's a straight shot to the intersection of State Highway 18 in the center of town were The Original Veyo Pies & Bakery has stood in the shadow of the Veyo Volcano for the last 26 years. I can see my stop and I'm ready to be there.

I hear what sounds like a rattlesnake, but metallic. I glance over to my left and see a little piece of metal flashing nailed to a utility pole by the road that is getting whipped by the cold wind. It's making so much noise that it seems like it was designed to be that way, but it's just an incidental testament to the ferocity of this cold wind that has been battling my effort for most of this ride. Right now it feels more like a tailwind and I'm grateful for that as it pushes me into town.

I arrive at checkpoint two and am surprised that few cyclists are there. There's a table set up with the deep dish chocolate chip cookies, or deep dish peanut butter cookies if you like, some water jugs, Hammer products and other edible odds and ends. It's easy to spot the volunteers. They're the ones shivering in the huge winter coats that keep moving the table around trying to keep it in the sunlight in an effort to try and be just a little bit warmer. I spot the little pickup with the checkpoint supplies in the back and ask the volunteers if they mind if I lean my bike there. I find a plastic patio chair by the cable spool table, but it's covered with dried up seagull poop so I talk to the volunteer again and make sure it's OK to use the tailgate of the supply pickup during my time off the bike.

They don't mind, so I wedge my rear tire into the wheel well between the metal and the tire, trying not to have a repeat of the lack of respectacle that occurred at checkpoint one. I get my coffee shop covers out of my left jersey pocket and cover my Speedplay cleats. I've pedaled almost halfway through this Tri-States Gran Fondo with the cold and the wind and the elevation gain. I've spent a lot of time in the wind off the front of my peloton of one and my body is telling me that it has processed some carbs and it might be a good idea to check things out.  It's time to check my blood glucose and I need a little space to go through this little ritual.

On a bike, it's very difficult to tell when you're just worn out from the climbing and the wind and the cold and when your blood glucose is dangerously low so I pull off my windproof full fingered gloves and put them on the tailgate. The wind is whipping and I really start to feel the cold. I grab the Ziploc bag out from my middle jersey pocket, open it and work my case out from where it's wedged in there with my Windows phone. I unzip the case and pull out my glucose meter and the lancet. I slide out the vial of test strips, open it and try to shake just one out without spilling the others everywhere. I slip the test strip into the meter, grab the lancet, pull back the spring mechanism, place the business end on my middle fingertip and press the button. Click.

I've poked my fingers probably 15,000 times or more, and it doesn't hurt much except when it does, but it always causes that little flinch, both in your finger and in your mind. I always pick the middle finger on a ride, because it's the one that stops bleeding the easiest and I don't like blood on my bar tape. When your fingers are a little cold, it hurts more and my fingers are starting to get cold in the wind. I grab the meter and hold the strip up to the drop of blood that was reluctantly squeezed from my finger tip and listen for the tone from my meter that indicates the strip has soaked up enough blood to get a measurement, but I can't hear it because it's way too windy.

It's working though, and I wait a few seconds for the tone that indicates mission accomplished, but I can't hear that either so I just watch the screen waiting for the reading. After a moment, there it is: 80 mg/dL. That tells me that I'm OK, but it's 20 mg/dL lower than I ever want it to be when I'm riding any kind of real distance on my bike. Anything lower than 80 mg/dL on any normal day, doing any normal activity is what the medical community thinks is the start of a "low" and a "low" is one of the most dangerous things a person with diabetes can face, and one of the main reasons people with diabetes, like myself, have to get a Doctor to tell the State every year that they think I'm OK to have a driver's license and enjoy my driving privileges.

On a 112 mile Gran Fondo with 7500 feet of elevation gain in the wind and the cold, I'm thinking that 80 mg/dL is much lower than I care to be. I pack all my stuff back in the packet, zip it up and put it back in my Ziploc bag with my Windows phone and my Novolog Flexpen. I need to check out this deep dish chocolate chip cookie and try to estimate how many carbs it contains. Normally I would need to inject a unit of insulin for every 14 carbohydrates I ingest, but with a blood glucose reading of 80 mg/dL, I'm hoping to not need a shot here in the windy cold at checkpoint number two and I'm relieved when the deep dish chocolate chip cookie is smaller than I imagined.

I figure about 45, maybe 50 carbs for the cookie, so I grab one and start eating it. YUM. While it may be smaller than expected, it packs a huge punch of flavor and really turns out to be the treat I was expecting. When I'm done, I visit the heated restroom, which really provides the contrast needed to fully realize how windy and cold it really is, while I finalize my plan on how to get my body fueled up for the rest of the ride. I figure a chocolate chip granola bar, at 19 carbs, a bidon full of some kind of Hammer carbohydrate electrolyte mix that tastes horribly like extremely watered down cough syrup and a teriyaki beef stick should be plenty to keep me on the rivet until checkpoint number three where I figure I'll need another chocolate chip granola bar to get me back up the backside of Utah Hill.

So checkpoint two equals almost 70 carbs and normally that would mean injecting 5 units of insulin, but I forgo the insulin figuring the wind and the miles and the cold will work even better as the volunteers are busy moving the table again. I know there's a bit of a climb leaving Veyo circling up and around the Veyo Volcano, so I leave the windstopper beanie in the jersey pocket, make sure everything is packed back up and ready to roll. I get out a granola bar and open the package most of the way and stuff it up under my bib shorts on the top of my right thigh. I want to grab it at the top of the hill and eat it quick as I start my way down to Snow Canyon on State Road 18.

By this time, the checkpoint is full of riders and bikes are laying everwhere and leaning on any vertical surface. I get one of the teriyaki beef sticks and pinch and pull the wrapper open and peel it down to where it's flapping around in the wind with about three inches of the stick covered. I put that between my teeth as I pull on the windproof full fingered gloves, grab my bike and wheel it out of the Veyo Pies parking lot to the road where I stow away my coffee shop covers, clip in and push off.

I grab the teriyaki beef stick and take a bite as I work up to speed, heading out of town toward the climb around the Veyo Volcano after the big dip that is the city limit. I take another bite as I'm shifting down the cassette and I'm almost at the dip before the climb when I notice something doesn't feel right. The road is much rougher than it seems it should be. I look down and study the road. Seems pretty normal. I look down and check my rear tire. Abnormal.

It's losing air. It's going flat so I brake quickly and get off the bike. With my teriyaki beef stick in one hand, I take a bite and pinch my rear tire with my other hand. Crap. Flat. I look around the road for someplace to sit and safely change my tube as cars, trucks and cyclist go zooming by at high rates of speed. I look back up the road to Veyo Pies about a half mile distant and decide to walk my bike back up there and use the plastic patio chair with the dried up seagull poop all over it by the cable spool table to change my tube.

I get the coffee shop covers out of my left jersey pocket, cover the Speedplays, turn the bike around and start walking back up the hill pushing the bike as I continue to eat the teriyaki beef stick. I am frustrated because this is going to cost me time that I had not planned to spend. But, what can you do? Just like my body needed carbs so it could continue on and get me back to my family at the finish, my tire needs some air to get me back their too, so it's back up the hill in my coffee shop covers, one hand on the saddle and one hand on the teriyaki beef stick, as I walk the bike back to Veyo Pies which is checkpoint number two. Again.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mom's Mom's Brownies

I grew up eating these brownies and I know that brownies are highly individual and everyone has their own opinion of what is good in a brownie and a lot of people really like really fudgey brownies, but these brownies are NOT fudgey and these brownies are my favorite of all time. Might even be my favorite treat of all time. It might be because for the past 30 years or so I have been searching for a brownie that would or could be a close approximation of what I remember having as a child. I never found it. Let me mention too that I really dislike fudgey brownies and rest assured, these brownies are not fudgey.

Since I mentioned these brownies, I have gotten some requests to share the recipe, so I figured I would do so here even though brownies have nothing to do with my cycling or improving my cycling performance. Brownies are probably something that I and other cyclists might do well to avoid. But, just like I have problems with moderation, I also have problems with self-discipline, especially when it comes to food. And so what. Let me set the stage.

These are CAKE brownies. They have a mouth feel like nothing I have ever consumed and they melt in your mouth in a special way that nothing else can. These are the only cake brownies I have ever eaten. I have tired, as I mentioned, for the last 30 years to find something similar, but every brownie I have put into my mouth is too fudgey for my tastebuds. I felt bad for my wife, who makes AWESOME treats, even brownies, but I have always been honest with her and let her know that her brownies, while fantastically good, were never quite what I was longing for.

This year on my birthday recently I went for a long hilly ride on a cold and windy day and when I returned, my wife surprised me with the brownies I had been searching and longing for for 30 years. She and the kids had prepared them for my birthday treat. I was floored. I also stand corrected, because when I dug up the old recipe card to note the recipe here, I saw that the recipe card was titled:

"Mom's Basic Brownies (For 13 X 9 Pan)"

The card was written in my Mom's younger handwriting. I can tell because as she aged her handwriting improved to the point of being perfect cursive. Judging from this handwriting, I would guess that she wrote on this old recipe card well before I was born. Since it was HER Mom's recipe, that means this old recipe could be almost 100 years old. I find that pretty cool. So here it is: my Mom's Mom's Brownies (and I quote)

Recipe: Mom's Basic Brownies (For 13 X 9 Pan)


1 and 1/3 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter
4 squares Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate
2 cups sugar
4 eggs well beaten
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp vanilla


Set oven at 350 degrees - Bake for 25 minutes
Sift flour once. Measure, add baking powder and salt and sift again.
Melt chocolate and butter over hot water.
Add sugar gradually to eggs, beating well.
Add chocolate mixture and blend.
Add flour and mix well.
Stir in nuts and vanilla,
Pour in pan!

Awesome is all I can say. And, thanks to my wife for finding this old recipe card and making these for my birthday this year. Let me know if you enjoy this type of brownie as much as I do. Thanks.


At the bridge, I take off my rain jacket. It has done it's job and kept me pretty warm on the cold windy descent down Utah Hill from checkpoint one. I zip, fold and stuff it in my right jersey pocket with my Mandarin Orange Gu and my teriyaki beef sticks that are permanently stuck in the u-fold shape. It looks like most of the riders behind me have made the u-turn left at the bottom of the hill that we were all warned about and now its time to make my way up Old Highway 91 past Gunlock Reservoir, through Gunlock, past the SLOW sign and up the hill to the deep dish chocolate chip cookie waiting for me at Veyo Pies, which is check point number two. Basically that's going to be about 18 more miles with only 1600 or so feet of elevation gain. I feel good, but I decide to leave my windstopper beanie on under my helmet because it's still pretty cold and the wind is whipping around pretty hard.

I know that good basketball players have to quickly forget the last missed shot, or they'll never make another one, so as I shed my rain jacket, I also try to mentally shed the disappointment I feel about my slower than I wanted to go 7.5 mile descent down Utah Hill and try to shake off that frustration in the cold wind. There are hills coming up and more descents as well, so I start looking forward to them and try to quickly forget about getting Jimmered by the wind for the last 15 or so minutes out of the how many ever I am going to spend getting through this Tri-States Gran Fondo.

I start pedaling in the wind again up this rolling and ramp filled Old Highway 91 as it wanders up this beautiful valley toward Gunlock Reservoir and realize that I'm really starting to look forward to my deep dish chocolate chip cookie that is waiting for me at Veyo Pies. It's the special treat provided by Planet Ultra, the Tri-States Gran Fondo's organizer. It's always amazing to me that it's the little things, like that, that are what make me happy. The small stuff - the small gestures of a little bit of extra. A few kind words or something more than is expected. That kind of stuff. Lagniappe.

On my last birthday my wife surprised me by making some from-scratch brownies from my Mom's old recipe, and I don't remember exactly, but it was probably 30 or more years since I have tasted them. There is not another brownie like them, and as they melted in my mouth, that little gesture from my wife was so appreciated - so unduplicable - so surprising - so a little bit of extra - and so wonderful. It made me feel as loved as I can feel loved. It was wonderful. It is something I will never forget. Lagniappe.

So I ride on up the rollers and ramps, getting whipped by the wind, thinking about other little things about my wife. How she accepts me for who I am and doesn't try to change me. How she lets me ride even when I know she would rather me be spending my time with her and the kids. I like how she always asks "how long are you going to be this time?" I like how she agreed to let me build this new(er) bike even though money was tighter than tight so that I could go on rides like this ride and I like when she tells me "you NEED to go for a ride today." Lagniappe.

I wonder how it is that she seems to be becoming more like me as we age together. Or like a puzzle, I wonder if maybe I'm becoming more like her as that would probably be the better deal. We are different in a lot of ways but as the years go by we are becoming a lot more the same. I think about how we have the same values, even if mine are rougher around the edges than hers. I remember the way she touched my hand as she gave me the parking validation that day at the University of Utah thirteen years ago. That day I became her Minute Maid Man and we haven't looked back since. Lagniappe for sure.

I remember the time she dressed up as Santa Claus for Christmas in New Mexico so I could take some staged "candid" pictures of Santa leaving my Sister's house after leaving presents on Christmas Eve. Then we staged some reindeer tracks and reindeer poop out on the snow in the yard so we could prove that Santa Claus is real for another year or two for our three older kids who, while wanting to, didn't quite believe anymore. Then we sat down and ate Santa's cookies and drank Santa's milk before going to bed for a few hours prior to the kids waking up surprised. That was a great Christmas. Lagniappe for the kids.

I remember the countdown calendar she made for the kids so they could countdown the days until Daddy came home from traveling all over the country for weeks at a time trying to make a descent living. I remember the gingerbread houses she makes with the kids, the crafts, the gifts and all the thoughtfulness. If I were a cup, my wife would be like pouring a full cup of water into a full cup of water. She gives so much and asks so little in return and I wonder if I am guilty of not even giving that little that she does ask. I wonder if I put enough or as much effort into being a good father, husband and friend as I do into being a better cyclist? Thank goodness my wife is not a dripping faucet. That is lagniappe for me.

How do I put the V-meter on that? How do I know if I'm pushing myself on that as hard as I can? There should be a power meter for my marriage and my family and my kids so I can train as hard at those things as I do on my bikes. Or harder maybe, because sometimes my mind can't push my body as hard as my mind knows that it needs to on the bike and I end a ride knowing that I have given it less than my best effort. There should be a way to measure my performance in my life away from cycling. Or maybe there is. Maybe the measurement is what I get back from them. That is certainly quantifiable as well as qualifiable and I'm thinking now that I get back much more than I deserve because I seem to get back much more than I feel I put into it, just like on the bike. A little bit of extra undeserved. Again, lagniappe.

I know there's a bit of a ramp rolling up from the bottom of the dam to Gunlock Reservoir and I got faked out a few miles back in the wind and the cold, but now I see it up ahead and shift down a few cogs to stand and stretch my legs and back before the rise. As the road tips up, I sit back down and shift back up and settle into an easy cadence as I pedal up the hill. As I'm cresting the rise I see the lake and the Gunlock State Park sign and roll past admiring the scenery. Then I turn around and go back, thinking I better get a picture of something on this Gran Fondo and besides, I need to take off the windstopper beanie now because climb number two is just up the road a bit on the way to my lagniappe - my deep dish chocolate chip cookie waiting for me at Veyo Pies which is checkpoint number two.

I carefully park my bike against a rock near the sign, wary of another puff-of-wind mishap, and take a quick photo of my bike in repose by the lake with my Windows phone. While it's still very windy, it is warming up a little bit and the day is actually turning quite sunny right now. I'm about to stuff my windstopper beanie in my left jersey pocket with my spare tube and two chocolate chip granola bars, leaving room for my coffee shop covers that are now protecting my Speedplay cleats as I crunch around in the gravel and dirt. A little peloton of two cyclists wheel by and one asks if everything is OK. I answer "yes, just taking a picture" as he nods his head and they continue down the road.

Then he turns around and comes back and offers to take a picture of me with my bike by the lake and I take him up on that. Then I take a couple pictures of him and his bike with his camera. Little gestures that means a lot. More small stuff that really matters. A little bit of something extra. Here are two men with timing chips glued to the top of their helmets taking a moment out of the ride to do something kind for each other. It's slowing both of us down on this timed event that isn't a race, and we are both OK with that. How odd is that lagniappe? I'm thinking about that when another little peloton of four wheel up with the same idea, so I stay and take pictures of them as the other rider jets off to chase back on to his peloton of two with his buddy on the way to their deep dish chocolate chip cookies waiting for them at Veyo Pies.

I get everything packed back up into my jersey pockets and get underway in the wind again, making my way by the lake and eventually into the town of Gunlock. I come up a little riser, smelling the horses before I can see them and wonder what they think of all these cyclists riding by in the wind on their way through town. Gunlock is a nice little place and seems quite peaceful and quiet with the Autumn leaves blowing off the trees. I pass an old firetruck and glance at the flames on my top tube where the red turns to black and think that it would make a cool picture opportunity, but decide not to stop, and soon make my way past the town pond too. Before I get to the pond, I spot the road tipping up at what will be the start of climb number two out of three proper climbs on this Tri-States Gran Fondo, and I don't know it yet, but I'm about to encounter more lagniappe. I keep pedaling on in the wind heading up the road to my deep dish chocolate chip cookie waiting for me at Veyo Pies which is checkpoint number two. No, I don't know it yet, but I'm about to encounter the SLOW sign.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Trouble With Tribbles

My chin is about an inch from my stem. I am well back on my seat with my feet at 3 and 9 o'clock on the pedals with my torso as flat as I can get it. My knees are tucked to within a centimeter of the top tube and my elbows are tucked in too as tight as I can get them while maintaining the perfect 90 degree or steeper bend. I can barely get my neck bent up far enough to see over my sunglasses as I watch for major road imperfections that I need to avoid and my eyes are watering like crazy. My rain jacket is noisily flapping a bit but it is doing it's job and keeping the cold wind from grinding at my core and arms so I can maintain some semblance of warmth as I blast this 7.5 mile downhill after the personal disaster for me that was checkpoint one.

I could stick my tongue out and lick my computer but decide instead to glance down at it quickly and check my speed. What the heck? 28 mph? I thought my blast felt slow. I normally judge a hill and how steep and hard it is to climb by how fast I can descend that same hill and while I haven't yet had a chance to ascend this hill that will eventually become climb number three of three proper climbs on this Tri-States Gran Fondo, when I see 28 mph in my full-on aero tuck suddenly I think I'm in store for a quite underwhelming ascent when I finally come back around to here and start this climb number three at mile 78.

But before I get to mile 78 and have to ascend this climb number three of roughly 1440 feet in roughly 7.5 miles, I first have to glide down it here at mile 28 and it is unfortunately going much slower than I had anticipated. The wind is whipping me like crazy and I can't really get a fix on from what specific direction it's really coming from, but it feels mostly like a brutally cold headwind. I was expecting a tailwind and I know the wind has picked up considerably from this morning's start but this is ridiculous.

The sun is climbing slowly and it has warmed up a little from the frosty breath cold of this morning's start, but still, it's a darn chilly day and now this wind is whipping like crazy. It is blasting at me in fierce cold gusts and pushing my bike and me all over the road on my way down this hill. Honestly, I was expecting to be gliding down easily around 35 to 40 mph or more based on the average 7% grade and not having to pedal at all, but rather, having the luxury of soft pedaling to keep my knees warmed up and loose. But no, it is not to be, so unfortunately I start pedaling on the 11 tooth cog and it is all I can do to hit a reasonable cadence in this wind and still my speed feels slow.

I love to descend. Even more, I love to descend fast. Way down deep inside of my quiet expectations for this Tri-States Gran Fondo, I was hoping to hit 50 or 55 mph on the downhills that I expected to encounter along the 112 miles and 7500 feet of descent that went along with the pain and suffering I felt I was going to endure with the 7500 feet of climbing. I glance down quickly again and instead suffer the fizzling disappointment of seeing 30ish mph on the computer.

This chilly wind is killing my fun. This wind is pushing me all over the road. This wind is strong and cold and gusting hard as I'm winding my way down the backside of Utah Hill on my way to the u-turn left at the bottom that we have all been warned not to miss. I look at the little clumps of bunch grass along the road's shoulder and it looks like it's bowing down to the road toward my bike and paying us homage. It reminds me of the Tribbles on Star Trek introduced to the crew on the Enterprise through Uhura who was given one by a galactic trader named Cyrano Jones. And  then the trouble with Tribbles ensued.

The bunch grass looks like Tribbles as the wind bows it over and it's everywhere along both sides of the road as I struggle downhill against this cold hammering wind. This wind reminds me of Captain Koloth and his First Officer Korax who were the Klingons causing all the trouble for the Enterprise crew along with the Tribbles. This Koloth/Korax Klingon wind is spoiling my downhill fun, forcing me to pedal and spend energy on what I thought was going to be a free ride and fun at a high rate of speed.

I feel like I'm Captain Kirk calling Scotty down in the engine room asking for more of something to reach a higher warp speed as I get blown over to the left then the right and then the left again. This wind is really fierce and hard and cold. I pass a number of riders coasting down the same hill, up on the hoods and taking it easy against the wind and the cold. "I'm giving it all she's got Captain" I say to myself in my best Scotty accent and I wonder how hard or easy or what it's going to be like when I get back here at mile 78 and work my way back up this hill full of Tribbles.

Will the wind die down? If it doesn't, it's going to be one heck of a headwind all the way back here from Veyo Pies and all the way back up this hill and all the way back to the finish in Mesquite. I get blown back to the left, the bottom of my wheels with their tiny one inch contact patches making the move first, tipping my bike precariously in the opposite direction that it is moving. Then the rest of my bike follows still tipped in the wrong direction as I try to carve precise corner apexes to aid my downhill slow high speed effort. I look down quickly at my computer again and realize that this downhill blast, this slow high speed effort has turned out a lot less blast and a lot less fast than I had hoped. That, I guess, is the trouble with Tribbles.

I know I'm getting to the bottom of Utah Hill as the cold wind continues shoving and bullying me around the road so I start to keep an eye out for that u-turn left that we've all been warned not to miss. A little further down the hill, I decide to straighten up, getting back on the hoods. In spite of my best efforts, the knees have cooled down a bit and gotten a little stiff too along with the neck from straining to crane up and see down the road.

The salty tears from my watering eyes have dried on the side of my cheeks and I find the u-turn left and brake long and hard to make the turn. I wonder how many, if any, riders will miss this u-turn left that we all were warned not to miss as I gently glide slowly through the u-turn and begin the push to my deep dish chocolate chip cookie waiting for me at Veyo Pies and checkpoint number two about 18 or so more miles up the road.

I glance up the hill I just descended when I get around the u-turn left and balance what I see with the speed I was able to accomplish on the way down and measure that against the wind I felt pushing and shoving me all over the road and I wonder just how hard will climb number three out of three proper climbs on this Tri-States Gran Fondo really be once I push my way through the wind back here to mile 78 and begin this climb. I scroll through my computer - top speed of 37ish mph - not too fast going down a hill.

Of course the wind was a factor and I felt like it was fighting me the whole way down and I wonder how much of how slow was due to the wind and how much of how slow was due to the hill's not going to be much of an ascent when it turns into climb number three at mile 78. Still an average 7 percent grade for roughly 7.5 miles is a climb and I know how I am on most climbs and there's still climb number two about 18 miles up the road and the wind and the cold to push my way back through the whole way in, but you know what? I am feeling good right now. I am feeling strong.

I glance back up the hill again as it disappears from view wondering how hard climb number three is really going to be at mile 78 as I make my way toward the bridge crossing the creek just up ahead. I decide to stop after the bridge and remove my rain jacket and windstopper beanie before the road starts pushing uphill again.

I remember all the bunch grass all bent over and flailing around all over the hill coming down and feel the wind gusting around right now like it's trying to figure out which direction to blow from so that it can torment me even more and I think again about the trouble with Tribbles. But, so what, I'm feeling good right now. I'm feeling strong right now and as I wonder about climb number three of three proper climbs at mile 78 on this Tri-States Gran Fondo, I hear the words of Scotty in his best Scotty accent: and I'm thinking this hill "will be no tribble at all..."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Peloton Of One

The Tri-States Gran Fondo started inauspiciously enough with a simple warning about not missing the u-turn left at the bottom of Utah Hill on the other side of checkpoint one and a ready set go. I pushed forward at about mid-pack and clipped in quickly and started pedaling. It was very very cold and everyone started out at a pretty reasonable pace and stayed together for a while which caught me off guard. Since everyone on this big ride had a timing chip glued to the top of their helmet I thought many would take off at a blistering pace right away but instead everyone was on a pretty steady low-key chug that let the ramps and rollers sort out the riders in the cold.

I can't remember how many ramps and rollers there were before what I considered the first proper climb of this timed event that wasn't a race but there were enough that I remember thinking "boy these little ramps are going to be hell on the legs during the last eleven miles to the finish" and I wondered if it was going to warm up any because it was still really very cold. Normally I would have stood and powered up rollers like these in the big ring but I didn't know quite what to expect from climbing 7500 feet over 112 miles so I thought I would use the small ring like everybody else pedaling around me and save some gas for later.

The first ramp was only about a half mile from the start and it turned out to be a pretty good push uphill to start heading out of town. I was watching the riders around me through the clouds of everyones' breath and noticed that most everybody had a pretty smooth pedal stroke and seemed to be a pretty smooth bike handler. I also noticed that everyone on this ride was riding with someone else and over the course of the rollers and ramps into Beaver Dam little pelotons were forming up and down the road and some were passing me and I was passing some others. The fast riders were off the front in their smooth fast pacelines and all the little pelotons of friends and spouses and riding buddies were forming up from there.

I had noticed before the start that everyone had a road bike and all these road bike riders seemed to know someone else that was there. I didn't see any panniers or fenders or hybrids or flat bars or mountain bikes or recumbents or any other oddities that in my mind always seem out of place on a ride like a Gran Fondo but always seem to be there in number anyway. I didn't see anybody I knew either. Along with the nice road bikes everyone seemed to have grundles of nice riding gear too. I saw stuff that I didn't even know existed and was surprised at how bundled up everyone seemed to be. I was freezing cold and all goose fleshed in my Tour de Donut jersey waiting to get going, but I figured once underway it was almost all uphill for 27 miles to checkpoint one and the 3255 feet of climbing during those 27 miles was sure to warm me up.

Crossing under the highway into Beaver Dam I realize that I am and have been riding alone the entire way. I had had a few riders on my wheel here and there over the last ten miles but they had all either dropped off or moved ahead and dropped me and now I am and have been pedaling alone with the road and the cold. I pass the Dam Store and the Dam Deli and Dam Jam and cross the bridge heading up. The elevation at the start in Mesquite was 1662 feet above sea level which is the lowest elevation I have ever ridden my bike at and when I hit mile 11 I know that I have climbed almost 500 feet of the 3255 feet of climbing that ends at checkpoint one up on top of Utah Hill.

The road tips up from here for another 2779 feet of climbing over the next 16 miles and in this cold air I don't think that's such a bad thing. The sun has been working it's way up into the sky and I have been very pleasantly surprised by the lack of wind. It seems my pace is just enough to outrun any tailwind as I work my way up this grade that starts easy enough at 2% then quickly moves to 3% past the water-only stop that I skip then 4% before locking in at 5% for the last 10 miles up to my first planned break at checkpoint one. I feel like I'm riding out of a shallow cereal bowl and there is no relief on this climb from the upward push. It's what I call a long slog.

Not really too painful just one painful and fast enough that it really would be nice to have a few riding buddies here with me to help break the wind and grind the pace. But I'm a peloton of one chugging along up this 5% grade and now I wonder if the temperature is going to warm up much more as I slog my way up this seemingly never ending hill. It's still quite cold and the desert smells great like only a desert in winter can after a hard rain the night before. I can smell the sagebrush and the bunch grass and the Josuha trees and the dirt and the tumble weeds and with no one to talk to that crisp beautiful smell of the desert rushing in and out of my nostrils is bringing back a flood of memories.

It smells like Junior High again and that little field trip where my 7th grade science class walked down the road four blocks to an undeveloped plot of land by I-15 in North Las Vegas to look at desert plants. I remember my teacher, Mr. Gates, having us take some leaves off a plant that I don't remember the name of and rub them briskly in our palms. They smelled strong and pungent and he explained that the Indians who used to live here would crush up these leaves and put them under their armpits and on the soles of their feet for their "medicinal properties" and how they were then able to run super long distances and accomplish other super human feats without feeling any pain.

I can smell that plant right now as I am slogging up this 5% grade but I don't remember what it looked like and I can't remember the name. I can smell it though just as if I was rubbing it on my palms right now and I wonder if any of these other riders in their little pelotons know about the Indians. I notice the Josuha trees are getting thicker now and larger and closer to the road. None are in bloom as it's the wrong time of year and they will only bloom after a freeze. I wonder if they got their freeze last year or last night or whether that will come deeper into this coming winter? It's still very cold but the sun is crawling higher in it's low November arc and I try to determine whether it's the temperature or my metabolism that is reluctantly creeping up a little.

It smells like Junior High again and walking the half mile to Jim Bridger Junior High School in North Las Vegas because we lived in the Vegas Chalet Motel for six months while we waited for base housing. It smells like feeling alone and being the new kid and being different than everyone else with whiter skin and shorter hair and different clothes and bigger ears and a cleft lip. It smells like making the swim team and liking social studies. It smells like learning how to get beat up by the gangs in the school bathroom because I was the new kid and in there alone and different than everybody else.  It smells like Star Wars and Whataburger and Baskin Robbins and Bootlegger Pizza.

It smells like little league baseball and riding my bmx bike everywhere and bunny hopping and doing cross-ups and knocking over neighboors' garbage cans with berm-shots that would launch them out into the street spilling their trash everywhere. It smells like Webco Mag Wheels and Ashtabula forks and grease and ball bearings. It smells like learning how to spit right and how to do push ups and earning money from mowing neighboors' yards. It smells like air shows and the USAF Thunderbirds and learning how to skateboard. It smells like winter in the desert and throwing rocks at the frozen puddles of water while waiting for the school bus.

It smells like learning how to ride a road bike and how to shift gears and pedaling for miles out on the frontage road with my dad. It smells like learning about responsibility and figuring out that school might be important and it smells like getting my road bike stolen along with my sisters. It smells like a big dusty city with lots of neon and glass and metal and cement that has been heated up way too hot way too many times by the super hot and super dry desert air in the summer and it smells like having had enough and doing a good job of fighting back and finally being left alone.

I pass the one guy I've seen with the clunky pedal stroke riding with the guy on the Calfee with the frame pump mounted on the seat stay who's riding with the only guy with hairy legs, because he's the only guy that doesn't have his legs covered, who seems to be riding his wife's purple Specialized something or other and I keep passing riders that keep stopping and hopping off into the desert to find a ditch or a bush or a Joshua tree or a post or something that can give them a little tiny bit of privacy. I pass the guys in the Team Mort kits who always seem to struggle going uphill and I remember passing other Team Mort kits on many other long rides this year - always while going uphill and I wonder who is Team Mort, why Team Mort is even slower than I am going up hills and whether or not these are those same guys.

It's odd because I've climbed a lot of hills on my bike and this is probably the first time I've ever climbed a hill on my bike and don't look back or down to see how far and high up I have pedaled. I'm in a trance pedaling in smooth circles, elbows bent perfectly, sweat dripping off my nose looking up the hill waiting for checkpoint one to show up. This feels like a long never ending climb for 16 miles up a slip and slide, not because it's slippery even though things are still very cold and the road is damp in places, but because it's a constant grade with minimal curves and a mind numbing perceived lack of progress. For some reason I don't want to look back and down the hill so I keep looking up for the summit that never seems to materialize grinding away in my peloton of one at this steady 5% grade smelling the sagebrush and remembering Junior High.

At some point the Joshua trees start to thin out and the terrain starts to change even though the grade stays pretty constant at 5%. The road starts to curve a little bit more and the desert starts to smell different almost like it's a little bit colder and I notice that a little breeze is picking up. I pedal up past a cross on the left side of the road and wonder what the story is behind that. Somebody cares about what happened here because it looks well tended way out and up here in the middle of nowhere and I decide that now I do want to look back and get a different perspective on this climb so I glance over my left shoulder and look back down the 12 or so miles I have ridden up this hill so far.

I see riders behind me spread out in their little pelotons for miles pedalling up the cereal bowl climb on the slip and slide slope to the top of Utah Hill. I look back up wishing I could find the summit and only see more little pelotons stretched out in front of me looking up wishing they could find the summit too. The wind gets a little stronger and the road starts to curve more and it looks like the grade is changing pitch, almost like small downhills. I'm out of the cereal bowl now and the summit has to be close. I decide to stop pedaling for a moment and coast on one of the little downhills my mind is telling me I am seeing and I almost come to an immediate stop. Apparently the change in pitch isn't very downhill after all but only an optical illusion that finds me now looking more insistently and expectantly for checkpoint one and the summit of Utah Hill.

Check point one keeps not showing up as I look up the road around the corners and bends that are now winding through the scraggly hills here in the Beaver Dam Mountains. I can't see any little pelotons up in front of me any more and I'm running out of water. Even though it's still cold I'm now quite warm and sweaty and I can feel the wind getting colder and stronger still and efficiently evaporating away the moisture on my skin underneath my Tour de Donut jersey and off my face as it escapes from my windstopper beanie out from under my helmet. I pass some ruins and I can't tell if they are Indian ruins or cowboy ruins or what kind of ruins they might have been at one time or another or how long they've been ruined but they look lonely and weather beaten and I realize that that is exactly the same way that I feel right now getting whipped by the wind all by myself up here in this cold middle of nowhere in my peloton of one.

Off to my right I pass a hole in the rock wall by the roadside. It's a man made hole and I notice more man made residue of some things that look like they were important to somebody at some time in the past but I can't really tell what it all is. I imagine that the hole in the rock wall is THE pain cave - that dark and lonely place that every cyclist has heard about - and I imagine some Indians inside rubbing the leaves of the plant I can't remember the name of but I can still smell in the palms of their hands and applying their "medicinal properties" to the soles of their feet and rubbing it under their armpits before emerging to accomplish some super human feats of daring do in the middle of winter.

Startled, I hear a couple of rifle shots and quickly spot the camouflaged movement of two hunters skirting counterclockwise around a hill up ahead on the left above the road, one up high near the summit and one down lower about mid way up the hill. I hope they're not shooting at the little pelotons up the road and yelling "hurry up!" down at the cyclists sprinting helter-skelter up the hill to get out of the way of bullets. I wonder what they're hunting for out here in this cold middle of nowhere because I didn't think there was much wildlife up here with the exception of desert bighorn sheep and the threatened desert tortoise. I wonder what they are shooting at and I hope it's not me.

I pedal on in the now windy cold and I know I'm getting close to the summit of Utah hill and checkpoint one because it's sure starting to feel like I've ridden up 3255 feet of elevation gain already, pushing all my own wind bearing all my own cold and setting all my own pace in my peloton of one for all of those miles it should have taken to get here already. It certainly feels like I've done a really good job of working up at least 27 miles worth of restroom break and my water bottles are empty just as planned. I shift down the cassette three cogs and stand up again to pedal a bit and finally see the top of an E-Z-UP instant shelter peaking up over the top of the road where it goes up over the hill to where I can't see the road anymore. It feels good to know that I'm almost there to checkpoint one, up the road in the wind and cold about a half mile as the road starts to look like it is starting to level out again as it gets closer and closer to the summit.

I sit back down and shift back up the cassette and pedal quietly toward the summit as I take stock and decide that I feel pretty darn good and can certainly skip checking my blood glucose at this stop. I decide I'm just going to fill my water bottles, filling one with water and one with what ever Hammer electrolyte and carbohydrate concoction they have that sounds palatable and probably just eat a chocolate chip granola bar while taking my quick turn in the honey bucket and throw on my rain jacket and go. It's going to be a quick strike - in and out with military precision. No riding buddies to wait for and no idle chit chat to slow me down and no time for the cold and wind to sap the life out of my enthusiasm for going really fast downhill.

I decide to shift back onto the big ring because after this quick stop at checkpoint one it's all downhill for 7 miles to the u-turn left that we've all been warned not to miss and I think It'll be a smart move to just be able to clip in and start hammering down the hill in the big ring as I click down the cogs on the cassette. Besides I think it's embarrassing, for me and my bike, to be standing around at a stop with our chain slunk on the small ring. I'm already looking forward to the downhill as I'm chugging through the cold up the hill for the last quarter mile to checkpoint one as the road keeps slacking a bit more. I expect to make up some time on the downhill because I am a fast descender on a fast bike that loves to fly downhill using the whole lane.

I push my lever over with my full fingered gloves and hold it there briefly waiting for the chain to catch the pins and ramps and jump up on the big dog and jump it does - right off the chain ring. I've Schlecked my chain right off and suddenly gravity ceases to exist in the little space of the world right around my feet and pedals as resistance evaporates and the chain entangles around the crank arm trying to find a way back onto the the ring where the laws of physics can reign supreme again.

"No problem, I'll just work it back on there" I think as I work the pedal forward and back and forward trying to help the chain figure out a way to find purchase back on the ring but it won't make the jump and what I thought was the slackest part of the hill so far here about a quarter mile from checkpoint one doesn't turn out to be slack enough to allow inertia to sustain my momentum and 8 mph evaporates in a couple clumsy jerks from the pedals on my crank arms and there I go toppling over gracefully on the drive side of my bike still clipped into my Speedplays and landing hard on the shoulder of the road.

I don't think there's anything more embarrassing than toppling over on your sleek road bike still clipped into your pedals in view of other cyclists. It's bad enough when you're alone and worse still when witnessed by non-cyclists but when observed engaging in this ultimate display of cycling awkwardness by other cyclist you have achieved the highest level of shame and embarrassment possible on a road bike. I struggle to bounce right back up quickly and immediately but find I can't because my Speedplays simply won't let go of either of my cleats so I slow down to go faster and finally get unclipped and work my way up off the shoulder of the road.

Immediately I look behind me down the hill and am relived that no one is in sight. I quickly look up the less than a quarter mile of road to checkpoint one at the summit of Utah Hill and thankfully it seems that no one has noticed my acrobatics or if they have they're being kind and pretending that they didn't. I take a few seconds to turn my chain back on the ring in the wind and cold and re-Velcro one of the straps on the seatbag that jarred loose and swing my leg over the top tube as I check myself out. My right wrist hurts so now it matches my left wrist both in the pain I'm feeling and the reason for it.

I hit my right hip pretty good so I'm sure that will turn tender and I'll have a big raspberry there tomorrow but there are no rips stains or tears so I'm glad I'm a robust and healthy 175 pounds instead of the 155 pound mountain goat I was going to try to get to before this Tri-States Gran Fondo. If had been able to become one of those gaunt twiggy little cyclists that I was trying to become for this ride I would probably have to abandon right now with a broken collar bone and a fractured wrist.

I clip back in and stand to pedal up the hill for my quarter mile ride of shame in the big ring to checkpoint one at the summit of Utah Hill. I am so humiliated by my clumsy display of cycling inability that I want to vomit and I notice that I took a little chunk out of my handlebar tape right where it folds into the inside of the bar at the end cap. It's a little tiny piece about the size of a grain of rice and that hurts worse than laying on the side of the road in the cold still clipped in and hoping nothing broke and that no one noticed. I get to the checkpoint and stop and unclip and dismount and lean my bike carefully along with other bikes against one of the trucks that are there to block the wind and the cold for the volunteers working the checkpoint.

I pull out my water bottles and get one filled with water and am standing there in the windy cold relieved that no one is saying anything to me about laying on the side of the road or how stupid I looked trying to hop up immediately while still clipped in. I'm trying to figure out which Hammer electrolyte and carbohydrate mix sounds like it might help me make it to my deep dish chocolate chip cookie that's waiting for me at Veyo Pies which is checkpoint number two another 27 miles or so down the road and another 1600 feet of elevation gain or so after the u-turn left that we've all been warned to not miss.

I notice that it's getting really windy and it's still very cold and I start eating my chocolate chip granola bar to save time while I decide on the second bidon and I realize how grateful I am that today I am riding alone in this wind and cold. I am grateful that I am a peloton of one. I am so happy that I don't have any riding buddies here today that got to witness what just happened. I am happy that my lack of skill on the bike will not have to live in their minds for the rest of time. I am glad I am alone pushing my own wind and pacing my own pace and climbing my own climbs on this 112 miles with 7500 feet of elevation gain that is the Tri-State Gran Fondo. I am glad I am a peloton of one right as I catch a glimpse of motion out of the corner of my eye and turn in time to watch my bike fall over in slow motion on the non-drive side because it just caught a little puff of wind just right in the cold.