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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Iniquities of Racing

Many things aren't fair.

Some people are born good looking, or to wealthy families or are endowed with special talents. I'm pretty sure I was born to be a mountain bike racer. Too bad it took me almost thirty years to figure that out. At the time, that seemed a little unfair.

This past weekend I raced the "All Mountain Pro" event at the Downieville Classic. This combines Saturday's downhill with Sunday's cross country to crown one person as the "All Mountain Pro" winner.

In an effort to make the combined effort fair to downhill freaks and cross country geeks, the organizer introduced a uniquely equalizing concept. Both the DH and XC had to be raced on the same bike.

Same bike. Same tires. Same forks, wheels, shocks, same everything. I even heard that before each event the bikes would be weighed and verified by a disgruntled worker for the California Bureau of Standards, Weights, and Measures. But I think a volunteer just did it.

The whole idea of the All-Mountain Pro category was an attempt of fairness.

But, as all racers know, there is nothing completely fair about a mountain bike race.

THe world famous Downieville Downhill zigzags over and along the Yuba River, which seems unfair as we rode it because the temperature never dipped below 100 degrees, torturing us racers by the prospect of a river dip.

marla streb
View From the Top...

I raced on my xc bike, the Blur, with light Mavic wheels and xc Maxxis tires (on esemi-slick). My only DH concession was a slightly beafier Fox Talus. The fork was all-adjustable, even the head angle, and I'm sure the other racers thought that was a bit unfair.

My DH run lasted for about 47 minutes (a little longer than the men's winner and NorCal demi-god Mark Weir). As it turned out, the timing system might have had some iniquity issues itself, because my watch had me winning by over a minute, but I ended up only winning by one second!

Sunday's XC would be a two and a half hour furnace fest. Seeking every unfair advantage, the night before I filled my hydration system with water and stuffed it into the freezer so it would turn into a block of ice.

Good idea, huh! Poor execution though because I realized moments before the start that the block of ice on my back wouldn't be doing me much good until I cut away all of the Kelty Bag's insulation.

I zipped back to my bus, snatched the scissors and started snipping away. The result: A missed start. My sneaky trick backfired on me. How unfair!

Even more unfair was how I fought my way up the climb for hours through most of the field and just as the course began to descend, I double-flatted. Now that was really unfair.

But the whole weekend was really fun. Cool concept, well organized, lots of friends, and abundant waterfalls.

Just one more iniquity I should mention. Mark Weir won the men's downhill and a $5,000 purse. I won the women's downhill and what I thought was a $500 purse.

During the drive home, I looked at the check and noticed it was only for $300!

That's pro mountain bike racing and I love it. But how fair would it be if everything was equal?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Packing for Heat

I started out this morning for a road ride. Since the last tune-up for a long string of events coming up, I needed to put in some intensity.

A few hours up the coast, probably do some hill work, and then in the afternoon I’d help Mark grind the concrete counters that we have been making for the kitchen. I packed a jacket.

The coast was foggy and cool, waves on one side of the road and green rolling hills on the other. Cows. Always lots of cows up there.

But the coast is sort of flat. So I turned east towards Route 46. And began to climb. Rte. 46 which leads to Paso Robles, is the twisty road where James Dean crashed his Porsche. The wine tasters were out in full force today, eyes and brains everywhere but on the road.

As I climbed away from the chilly coast, the fog fell away. Past the wineries it began to get hot. Paso can easily get to 105 degrees and often higher. This extreme afternoon heat and the cool nights are reasons why the region is well known for excellent wine.

But it can really put the hurt on a roadie with just one water bottle (it wasn’t hot at my house!). On a two hour climb. My tongue started swelling, and my right leg kept breaking out with goosebumps.

marla streb
Suffering heat exhaustion

I eased up on my cadence, but the funny thing is the slower you go, the longer it takes you to get to the top and the hotter you’ll end up anyway. At least if you keep working up the hill you make your own breeze. As I rode on I could see the shrubs turning from green to brown. The cows in the fields were no longer gamboling along the white picket fences, but instead hunkered down in the shade of the straggly bent oak trees. My eyeballs wandered independently. I took a dirt road shortcut.

It wasn’t a shortcut.

I remembered reading somewhere that Japanese baseball players stick some frozen cabbage leaves under their cap to stay cool. They had heard that Babe Ruth used to do that.

I had a pump, a tube and some patches, but I didn’t have any frozen cabbage leaves handy.

At the top of the climb I finished the last warm drop of Clif Shot drink in my bottle. Descending back down the hills weren’t much cooler. It was like dropping down into a blast furnace. Where I spied them, I pulled off to the side and drank from farmers’ garden hoses. Tasted like weak unsweetened sun tea made in your dad’s rubber galoshes.

I wobbled to the coast and stopped at the first convenience store where I chugged three bottles of something sweet and cold in the check out line. Then sat on a dirty curb with my shoes in an oil stain in the parking lot and drank more. After pedaling an hour home I stuck my head in the fridge and drank cold spring water, some more Clif Shot recovery drink, and then polished off a half quart of yogurt shake before I even thought of stripping off my chamois.

The night before this weekend’s Downieville Classic, I am going to stick in the freezer a three quarters full Kelty hydration system to wear on my back. For good measure, maybe even a cabbage leaf or two.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Momentum Interregnum

You can't do LSD on a single speed.

LSD stands for Long, Slow Distance. It might be long, but there’s no way you can climb slowly when you’re out of the saddle, torque-ing the bars back and forth, practically ripping the cleats off your shoes with every pedal stroke. You just have to keep it rolling, not too slow, stay on top of the gear and off the brakes and really connect with the trail. Gearing dominates the trail, single-speeding succumbs to the trail.

I went out with the intention of riding long, and listening to my i-pod. The trails that skirt the ocean bluffs wink in and out of sunshine and fog. You ride all alone surrounded by a bubble of fog, and then roll up on a mesa that leads to a limitless horizon, and then you drop down again into an arroyo disappearing into the mist again. Stuff like that really opens up your helmet.

marla streb
"Momentum Interregnum"

When I ride with gears, the speed ramps up and down with the terrain, but my exertion remains relatively constant. However, with just one gear my speed is pretty steady, but my efforts of huffing and puffing go up and down in tune with the trail.

I rolled into a friend. I paused the song, turned around, and rode with him for a while.

I stayed with him as long as I could. He wasn’t riding with the trail; he was merely riding on it. He had a geared bike. So I broke away. I pushed the play button again to find my song hadn’t missed a beat. Was there ever really an interruption?

It was a beautiful Sunday, so there were lots of hikers, riders, and equestrians on the trails. I started humming along loudly with the music before the blind corners. And luckily so because I rode into my next-door neighbor, also on a single speed.

I was already pretty worked. But again, I pushed the pause button and turned around to ride with him.

We rode together and pushed the climbs- he on an 18x32 and me on a 16x32. It’s really hard to be social with another one-speeder if they’re on a different gear. So, I’d ride away from him on the descents and he’d ride away from me on the steep climbs. Eventually, he peeled off.

He disappeared into the fog, and I hit the play button again.

I was back to where I was before.

The single speed rig makes a gift to you of momentum. Even without a proper dose of LSD, momentum reifies. It actualizes. It becomes as real as the dirt beneath your tires during a single speed ride, though it may make you question everything else. Like why am I riding this thing?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

How to Plant and Poach

First you have to check out the telephone poles. They line up in a straight line. On one side is the private property of homeowners. On the other side is the county strip of land about ten feet wide on which someday no one in my little beach town of Los Osos wants to see paved sidewalks, irrigated swaths of grass, and non native plantings.

Once you figure out which side is which, then you have check out the driveways. Start near your house for the shortest commute. Look for a driveway with a broken Big Wheel laying on its side. Or a garishly painted playhouse, maybe an unsafe tree house. Scattered baseball equipment, a towering basketball hoop, or even just a chalked hopscotch outline will do.

Find a section of the county strip near such a driveway that lends itself to your efforts. Dirt is way better than scrub grass. A slope helps. Access to garden hose is a real coup.

Oh yeah, and you’ll need a shovel.

Dig. Dig. Dig. Deep into the ground a pit whose tailings piled up on either side amount to mounds that stand as high as your wheels. One mound will be the take off and the other will be the landing.

marla streb
You dig?

Ride it over and over again until the lip gives you enough kick and the transition is smooth. Water it until the dirt becomes a rich brown color.

The local controlling authorities (parents and the sheriff’s department) will assume that some neighborhood kids built the jumps. The kids will think that they ‘discovered’ them. And you’ll get to ‘poach’ them.

Planting a few succulents or some endangered California Poppies in the pit is a Martha Stewart touch that might dissuade some adult from flattening out your jumps. At least for the summer…