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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Not Quite Canadian Hospitality

Just a couch and a road ride.

That’s all my friend Munny was hoping for. After all, last summer for a whole week he put me up, fed me gourmet meals, and took me on some stunning, epic rides in his hometown in Whistler, Canada.

Munny flew down to California last week to get away from the deep snow and frostbite. He’s a full-time firefighter, but somehow finds time to train as a pro adventure racer. He was pining for some long, warm miles on the road bike, and a little time with American friends. And, I was on his list for the central coast wine country segment.

The problem was, my husband and I are in the middle of a home improvement project, in the painting stage to be precise. And for the first time since we’ve lived here, we were going to have to get a hotel room to spare our last remaining brain cells from the toxic fumes. The burnt crème custard walls looked great, but they reeked.

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Turned out there was just enough space for Munny in our hotel room on the squeaky little roll-out bed in the corner. He didn’t complain once, despite my husband’s violent punctuated bouts of snoring.

The next morning at a cafe, I broke Munny the news that not only would we NOT be riding road bikes, but he’d be borrowing my heavy free-ride bike to join me as I zipped up my favorite rocky trails on my super light race bike.

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Marla and Munny

“We’ll ride dirt today,” I announced. “The vineyards do make pretty road riding, but I’m kind of in the mood for some trails.”

He muttered something about low-intensity road miles and taking pictures of rolling fields of grapes, but nodded politely and sipped his coffee.

“That’s okay. It’s still California, eh?” he conceded.

Munny did a great job hammering up the climbs on my beefy free-ride bike, although his training schedule forbade it. I kept reminding him that even though he was lugging around those big downhill tires, the Maxxis stuff still has lower resistance tread patterns compared to other brands.

“You’d better clear the next loose climb!” I’d cajole him from behind. “ I always make this section! Of course I’m not supposed to try right now, in my condition.”

When we got back to my place, all I could find in our second-hand harvest gold refrigerator were two bagels: one fresh onion and one very stale blueberry. Without hesitation, he opted for the blueberry. I just shrugged and dropped the pair of dry, half-disc husks on his plate.

Crazy Canadian, I thought. I would have chosen the onion.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Fear of Spinning

Don’t know about you, but I ride my mountain bike out of fear. Or, rather I ride to put fear behind me, to leave it lonely in the dust like a ledge drop that most dare not approach.

When I first started riding, the fears that I gapped were the usual suspects. A really steep rooted single track climb; would I be able to clear it the whole way and who would see me as I teeter tottered from side to side eventually falling down in slow motion?

Back then, I was ascaird of those steep downhill sections, and rightfully so spasmodically squeezing every finger full of front brake even as my butt rose off the saddle, my feet grew light on the pedals, and I ended up endo’ing.

But, with a brave face I progressed through the terrors of off camber turns, and day long “Loop of Love” rides with misanthropic Mark Weir, eventually screwing up the courage to race downhill on a frozen bobsled course with spikes in my tires and a claims adjuster at the bottom.

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Marla training for her first spin class.

After years of riding and falling, and riding some more, fear for the most part is way off the back. On a mountain bike I’ve swallowed those fears down, one bit at a time, by learning how to brake way before I enter the turn. By preloading the suspension before a jump. Or, trusting that carrying speed usually carries the day. When riding with an “animal” I just give ‘em a long leash and then reel ‘em in when I feel like teaching ‘em a lesson, because I’ve learned that the only competition that I should fear resides within my own helmet. And I’ve come to grips with that, too.

Except for spinning.

I mean Spinning.

I have never, ever, not in thirteen years of professional riding ever taken a Spin Class. I walk past that glass wall a couple of times a week on my way to the hack squat rack. I look away from that chamber of horrors, the Spin Class, as I super set my up-right rows with my lat pull-downs. Afterwards, as the Spinners, parade past flush from their exertions wobbly walking towards the showers, I stare down at my own big feet unable to look them in the eye.

But, this week, maybe tomorrow or the next day, but one day this week, I’ll take a Spin Class.

I’m no fool. Gotta scope out the schedule, make sure I sign up for the session with fewest amount of Spinners. Find the most subdued and least vocal trainer. Check out the music situation to make sure that Abba won’t be an option. I’ll probably inspect the rigs to determine which one presents the minimal amount of mirrored image.

But, I know there won’t be anything to fear in that room until I walk in with my helmet.

I’ll be the only Spinner wearing one.

Maybe next week I’ll tell you why…

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Pits are the Pits!

It was pouring on New Year’s day. And I’m not talking about the champagne.

When some in California were busily mopping up the mud in their living rooms brought in from a record breaking storm, my friend Wild Bill and I decided to go check out the “Hangover Harescramble” in Pozo. Afterall, it looked like the rain would let up somewhat.

This annual motorcycle event near San Luis Obispo is a traditional race no respectable moto rider ever wants to miss, no matter how hung over they may be. I certainly was bummed to leave my big orange teddy bear (a KTM 520) in the shed, especially because of the biblical conditions. Riding with little to no traction is one of my all-time favorites.

But my boyfriend, I mean husband, keeps mumbling something about how pregnant women aren’t supposed to be racing motocross at 5 months. He Kryponited my bike for the winter and hid the key.

So, I’d be working the pits for Wild Bill. How could it be any easier than handing him Red Bull and fresh Oakley goggles between laps? That’s the least I can do for a riding buddy. Last year Bill lent me his coveted Fox Talus fork for the Santa Cruz Hell Ride. And during that Hell Ride he worked on my Blur. And, drove me the 800 miles to and from Downieville.

I wore all my winter riding gear to the pits, because it was feeling like the storm wasn’t giving in as much as we thought. In fact, in felt like it’s origin had changed and was coming straight from Alaska or the polar ice caps. But I was going to ride after his race, come high water or frigid higher water. I wasn’t just another “pit girl”. I’d brought my mountain bike. That way I could ride something in the mud to celebrate the first day of the year.

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Hangover Harescramble in Pozo

Wild Bill had an okay start off the line. His pre-race disclaimer already established itself to be mounting fatigue from riding 5 out of the last 7 days. And besides, he didn’t know the course. So, I didn’t expect a holeshot out of him. But he’s a top-ranked A racer so I expected that he’d pull up in no time.

As excited as I was for Bill’s New Year’s riding experience, I was not very motivated to stand in between puddles and wait for him to come around to shower cheers and claps of enthusiasm. I knew his pick up truck down the way was warm. His two dogs were in there and they must have been putting off some decent thermal, albeit stinky, energy. So, I sat in the truck smelling their dueling dog chow sighs and watching the rain and hail pelt the sunroof. For what seemed like hours.

I confess that I didn’t really help Wild Bill much in his race (and I did sneak a selfish little ride afterwards).

I guess I am just not tough enough to work in the pits.