Sunday, May 31, 2009

Big Bear Shootout #1: Race Report

The Big Bear Shootout was a big race, with almost 400 riders. My division (Cat. 2 age 25-29) was only a tiny portion of that: seven riders. I needed a top five finish to count towards my license upgrade and would have gotten it, too, but a nail in the trail had other plans for me.

Despite being at a ski area, the race was not a single up-down loop but rather a lot of mixed up and down, mostly on fire road with some singletrack mixed in. All in all, abut 2,000ft of climbing. While fire road races are kind of lame, this one ended with such awesome singletrack that I forgot about everything else.

The race started out with a bigfire-road climb right off the bat. As usual, I was slow off the gun and got dropped on this first climb. Turns out that my lungs are pretty good at sea level, but at over 7,000ft they kind of suck. I started to get into the rhythm by the top, though, and was hanging on the downhills, barely 30 seconds back and gaining very slowly as it turned into rollers on fire road. I knew there would more big climbs before the end and I'd take all the places back on those, so I hung on and saved my energy, getting into a groove.

Then, at mile 8 out of 18, something started knocking on my frame. Suspecting a rock had gotten stuck in my tire as usual, I looked down to discover a an inch and a half of rusty nail sticking out of the sidewall. I stopped and discovered that a 3" long nail had gone through the tread of my tire and out the side. Disgusted, I pulled the nail out and threw it far into the bushes (I later wished I'd saved it). At this point I figured that my tire was shot and the race was over, so I gingerly pulled the tire off to examine it. I discovered that the two holes were not large enough to let tube through, so I was good. Pissed off that I'd wasted time, I pulled out my spare tube and put the tire back on. It took forever to pump it up with my crappy frame pump. Elapsed time: 13 minutes. I will have to work on my tire changes in the future, because that is atrociously slow.

Despite being severely pissed off (or perhaps because of it), I ground up the climb I was on and really found a good rhythm. I was moving up like crazy through several fields of riders, though unfortunately not my own. There were several steep uphill sections that forced many to walk, but I was able to clear all of them. One section, a 100m 25% grade of rocky/rooty singletrack with two switchbacks, forced nearly 9 in 10 riders to walk their bikes, but I cleaned it absolutely no problem. I switched back to flat bars and bar ends two days ago and am absolutely loving it; I have my technical climbing ability back!

I was warned that switching from the wide risers to the narrow flat bar would slow me down on the descents, but just the opposite happened. I've been working on my countersteering and that allowed me to fly down the fire road downhills, pedalling hard most of the time. With this much fireroad, the single ring up front was something of a disadvantage because I really had to spin to keep up with other racers with higher gearing. The last two miles were a steep singletrack descent featuring deep sand and lots of big rocks (very similar to the down at UNR). Maybe 1 in 3 riders had to walk portions and several wiped out, but I was able to clear the entire thing (something I doubt I could have done a week ago with risers) and keep the speed way up, passing many riders along the way. Risers work best for most riders, but somehow with my narrow frame the flat bars just work better for me and feel much more comfortable. Weird.

I ended up finishing in 1:43:23, seventh out of seven. Sixth place was 1:36:41. If I had halved my tire change time I would have just about caught him. My bike computer (automatically stopped when I stopped rolling) showed 1:30:01, good enough for third in my division. Damn you, nail! Damn you to hell! Oh well, there's next week's race in Santa Barbara.

Lessons learned:
  • I need to get my tire changing time down. Way down. I'll work on that this week. In mountain biking, a flat doesn't necessarily mean the end of the race. I may start carrying a better (albeit heavier) frame pump.
  • Wearing the USC Cycling jersey for non-collegiate events is great. I had so many alumni come and talk to me and cheer me on. Too bad I didn't represent the team better, but I did give the spectators on the final descent something to see.
  • Energy drink was a good idea, as was going bottles and not Camelbak. Also, Trader Joe's Lemon Iced Tea made a great energy drink.
  • Shot Bloks continue to be my favorite energy food by far. I love those things!
  • My cardio's going to have to get much better if I'm going to hang at high altitude races, and as I am planning to race several in the near future (Big Bear #2 in August, Tahoe-Sierra 100 and UNR in Sept., hopefully Nats at Northstar in October), I am going to have to be beyond a badass at sea level.
  • Big Bear Lake is a beautiful place. It's a lot like Tahoe, but not quite as nice. Also, people from SoCal are embarrassingly bad at driving on twisty mountain roads. I bet the drive up there is an absolute nightmare in the winter with snow on the roads. May have been decent skiing, hard to tell. I could only see the close in stuff.
As part of our race entry, we got two free tacos after the race. It was awesome.

An extremely dirty racer post-race pre-taco. That frown turned upside down post-taco.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Island Adventures

Here are the pictures from Carie's and my stay on Catalina Island. It was a fantastic and magical time where we were incredibly productive (Carie finished her 41-page major proposal for her qualifying exam!) and had a wonderful time: we snorkeled, kayaked, watched the fish off the dock at night, and stalked the island foxes and deer that wandered past out front door in the evenings. Also, some of these are the first pictures posted with my new DSLR! I finally sold my film camera and bought a nicer digital camera.

The island appears out of the mist.

We arrive at the Wrigley Institute in the best little cove ever (next two pictures are from the top of that hill on the right).

The Wrigley Institute and inlet (actually a wildlife sanctuary, thus the fantastic snorkeling) in the foreground, with Two Harbors in the background in the upper left and the bird-island in the upper right.

The houses we stayed in; we were in the house on the right. The large building on the left is the research center, actually a very well-equipped laboratory.

We kayaked out to this rock to discover pelicans, sea lions, and the worst smell we've experienced in our lives. Oddly enough there's a large patch of Prickly Pear growing on top of it despite it being just a big poop-covered rock in the middle of the bay.

The dock from which we snorkeled and watched fish.

From my mountain biking trips: the island is completely full of beautiful little untouched coves such as this one called Little Harbor.

This was on Catalina. Seriously. They brought bison here when they were filming westerns in the 30's, and they became a fixture on the island.

Avalon: very touristy (full of golf carts because cars aren't allowed to non-residents), not as neat as Two Harbors, and midway through a 50-mile ride. I pretty much took the picture and left.

Sea Lions have no respect for the law.

It's kind of hard to be back on the mainland now. I miss wandering out to the dock at night to watch the fish, being able to take swims in the ocean whenever I want, and having a beautiful little piece of the island practically to ourselves. It truly is a magical place; we'll for certain be going back.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Catalina Interim Report

I don't have the capability to upload photos here, so I'll just give a brief summary and give a full report when I get home.

Carie and I have spent Memorial Day Weekend at the Wrigley Center for Environmental Science on Catalina Island. This is the same place Carie was last summer for her Geobiology course. It's an awesome place: snorkeling in a protected cove, kayaking, hiking, the works. It's quiet and peaceful and we have an adorable little house to stay in. We've been working hard and been extremely productive, but also found lots of time to play.

On Saturday I mountain biked the length of Catalina Island from Two Harbors to Avalon and back, totalling 51 miles with 5,000ft of climbing. It was all on fire roads and the climbing is about 1,000ft short of what I'd be doing in half of the Tahoe-Sierra 100, but I was happy to finish the ride in 4:55. Had I brought more food (I did the entire thing on two packages of Shot Bloks), I would have been faster. I think I'm on target for a sub-10:30 Tahoe-Sierra 100. Maybe sub-10, but I'm keeping my expectations low for now. I definitely need to remember to eat a lot before and during the race.

Pictures of beautiful ocean, island, and bison to come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


This is not particularly mountain-related, but I am now a NSF Graduate Research Fellow! I found out last night that I'm a recipient of the fellowship! My funding is taken care of for the next three years (I'll never have to TA again!), I have a very prestigious line to add to my resume, and I get a 25% raise. I guess it's kind of mountain-related, since I can now afford more stuff. I'm quite excited by this.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sullivan Canyon/Backbone MTB Ride

One of our favorite local rides is out in the Santa Monica Mountains. They're really only hills, topping out at 3300ft, but they're taller and more rugged than anything Ohio's got, so I shouldn't complain. Besides, they're plenty burly for mountain biking and reasonably pretty.

The Santa Monica Mountains: very nice hills for mountain biking, kinda boring for hiking

The ride we did today is a 24 mile loop that climbs up to the ridge that follows the crest of the Santa Monicas. It's 80% singletrack, even on the climbs, and while it's got some mean switchbacks, frightening exposure (like every ride in SoCal), and baby-heads galore, it doesn't have any big drops. Overall it does almost 3000ft of climbing, some of it very steep, so it gets the ol' heart pumping well enough. It is a wonderful, challenging trail for a tough XCer. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the best parts because I was either out of the saddle panting up climbs or hanging on for dear life bombing down descents. I got a few on some of the crests, though:

Goofing around with the camera while rolling through an easy section

That sign tells bicyclists to dismount because there are some tight switchbacks and stairs coming up. Needless to say, we stayed on the bikes.

Training is coming along. My legs are dead all the time such that it's work to go up stairs, but I am getting noticeably faster on the bike. Got a race in Santa Barbara coming up in a couple weeks. I'll probably get creamed, but I'm just looking for experience and starting points for now.

Todd, my riding buddy and teammate (or the other half of USC's mtb team, I should say) is a badass. Many people beat me on the descents, but Todd is one of few who can kill me on the climbs as well. It's good to ride with him; struggling to keep up makes me a better rider. Sadly he'll be spending his summer in Reno doing a clinical session (he's a PT grad student) and Virginia's back east for the summer, so I don't have many offroad riding buddies for the summer. I can ride with roadies, but they're weird. I guess I'll be riding a lot with Bon Jovi this summer. It's still fun to be on the bike, no matter what.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rose Bowl Ride, Collegiate Nats

Part of the problem with road biking is traffic (the rest of the problem being the lack of dirt, but that can't be helped). Dealing with stoplights, stop signs, cars, and traffic controls designed for cars sucks. Stopping and going is no fun. That's why it's important to have routes that are relatively free of traffic controls. Getting to these routes can often be a pain, but luckily there's one a mere 7.2mi from my house via bike path and back roads: the 3.2mi Rose Bowl loop. It's quiet, nearly free of cars, free of traffic controls of any kind, and reasonably scenic. All in all, a very nice road ride when you're looking for an easy flat ride.

The Rose Bowl flanked by the foothills of the San Gabriels: not a bad sight

Of course, why would anyone want to do a flat road ride, especially when there are so many great epic road climbs to be had (or better yet, why would anyone want to ride on the road when they can mtb)? Well, to train your aerobic system it's important to be able to have easy rides where you can plug away for long times/distances without working very hard, which is difficult to do on climbs and impossible to do while mtbing (at least the way I mtb). Since when do I care about training?

Since they announced they're holding collegiate mountain bike nationals at Northstar, that's when. I want to qualify for nats, and to do that, I have to increase my past average race speed by nearly 50%. That's no small order, especially taking into account that I'll be racing longer courses, double or triple the distances of my races from last year. Thus, in addition to mountain biking like a crazy man this summer to improve my descending skills, I'm going to be doing a full road regimen too for the benefit of my climbing. My first goal is to kick ass in the Tahoe-Sierra 100 so I can upgrade my category before the season starts. We're definitely coming, Jeannie. You know, there's a 50 mile course too, if you or anyone else wants to do it.

As an addendum, this is also the first picture I've uploaded from my new camera phone. It's convenient to have; I don't have room for a camera when I'm biking, but I do have room for a phone. It also has a built in mp3 player, which I also enjoyed very much. Nothing like music to take your mind off a long ride.

Credit Cards

Within the last two months I've had two different credit cards compromised. It seems SOP is to buy something from iTunes, and if that works, to go on a crazy spending spree. The weirdest part of this latest one (my REI card, no less) is that they donated money to the American Cancer Society with it. I guess they tried to make me feel guilty for cancelling those charges?

Just make sure to check your statements regularly and call if something is amiss, even a tiny charge.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Car Wash

I washed the Lesbaru today, and I realized that in nearly three years of ownership, this is only the second time I've washed it. I've actually washed Carie's car more than I have my own. I love the Lesbaru, but for some reason it just plain looks better with dirt on it.