Arizona by the numbers

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Shawn and Aaron have their summaries here and here.

Here’s mine:
Cities visited: 2 (Tucson and Phoenix)
Number of unpack/repack cycles: 6
Days riding: 12
Miles ridden: 820
Feet climbed: 38,000
Farthest day: 101 miles (Madera Canyon)
Longest day: 99.8 miles, ~7 hrs (Lemmon)
Minutes riding in circles trying to find my hotel: 40
Times passed by hipster on fixie: 3
Times seeing hipster on fixie not able to stop: 3
Flats: 0 (Continental Gatorskins!)
Saddle sores: 2 (one on each side)
Visits to chiropractor: 3
Lost credit card: 1
Snickers bars eaten: 8
Best coffee: Le Buzz (Tucson, bottom of Mt Lemmon)
2nd best coffee: made with my Aeropress
Best lunch: Epic Cafe (Tucson)
Best dinner: Cup Cafe (Tucson)
Best pizza: Il Bosco (Phoenix)
Favorite stretch of road: Picture Rocks Rd, Saguaro National Park (see photo)
Favorite climb: Mount Lemmon
Least favorite climb: Mount Lemmon
Least favorite road: Most anything in Phoenix
Seemed like a good idea at the time: following Shawn, Aaron, and Sam on the dirt

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Mount Lemmon, on top

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The day after arriving in Tucson I tried riding up Mount Lemmon with Shawn. It did not go well. By mile 13 I was feeling pretty horrible. Trying to climb another 14 held no appeal. “I’m ready to go back down”, I said.

As with many things these days (so it seems), I needed to go back and conquer that demon.

This time I rode it more sensibly, at a pace that would let me enjoy the view rather than one that made me suffer.

At mile 13 it occurred to me that I should be grateful — and happy — just to be able to ride like this. 10 months ago I wouldn’t have imagined doing such a climb. It’s not that Lemmon is brutally steep. It’s just so darn long: you keep going up and up and up.

Actually it’s the perfect climb for where I am right now: it requires patience.

I made it to the part where most people stop — at the Cookie Cabin — then made the right turn on Ski Run to go up the final pitch to the “tippy top”. That is also the steep part of the climb, the part that you can’t really fake.

25 miles of patience allowed me to to finish those last 2, out of the saddle most of the way in the 39×26. I was on top of the world, any way you want to interpret that.
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Back to Double-A

After last week’s bad experience doing the Shootout ride, I didn’t really want to do it again. But on the other hand I was feeling like I needed to do it.

I happened to be reading about MLB spring training going on out here in Arizona, and about guys doing rehab assignments in the minor leagues.

There was my solution: I would do the “old guys” ride, which leaves 10 minutes before the (real) Shootout. That wasn’t what my ego really wanted, but it was the solution that made sense.

I hooked up with the group about 15 minutes into the ride. The group was pretty big — 60-70 riders, and not many of them “old guys”. 10 minutes later they passed the “Game On” starting point.

Whereas last week I was doing all I could do to just hang on, this week I was actually riding at the front and going with attacks — a familiar, yet at this time very strange sensation. It’s been 10 months since I last felt that.

When we finished the hard part, I stopped and waiting for Shawn and Aaron who were coming up with the Big Boys. We rode up Madera Canyon, and I knew that had been the right decision. Had I done the fast(er) ride, pretty sure I would have been limping home (again).

I also had the voice of Jim Behrens in my head, telling me that I’d done the right thing. (thanks, Jim)

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Dr. Feelgood


I often have the (misguided) tendency to look at the human body — my body — as if it were a car: something is wrong, you take it in to the mechanic and get it fixed.

That’s been one source of frustration over the last 10 months. Between seeing the ortho-, physio-, masso-, chiro- … I’ve very badly wanted to ‘get fixed’. Unfortunately none of them can order a new part, open the toolbox, and simply replace it.

But the thing is: they’ve all helped, each in their own way, and so I’ve learned to allow them to help.

From the moment I got off the plane in Phoenix last week, my leg didn’t feel right. Apparently sitting on a plane for 5 hours was enough to do … something. Add a walk through the airport schlepping luggage and a 2 hour drive to Tucson, and it’s even worse

I was hoping that riding would work it out, but it didn’t. Maybe easy riding would have, but it’s hard not to take advantage of 80-degree sunshine. 4 days later I was limping noticeably.

How do you deal with that, 2000 miles from home? Sit around and rest? Not really an option.

Through the magic of the Internet, I was able to find a ‘mechanic’ just a couple of miles from where I’m staying: a chiropractor who does Active Release Technique. I called at 5pm and they got me in by 5:30. It wasn’t pleasant. He found some tender spots that had me sweating and brought tears to my eyes.

But it helped. A second visit, no less unpleasant, had me out doing an easy 2 hour ride, which made the unpleasantness worth it. Now I just need it to help enough to get me through 5 days of riding back in Tucson.

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The last 10% is most of the problem

I think that we don’t fully appreciate the magnitude of separation between “good” and “great”.

In absolute terms, it doesn’t seem like that much. People ask me how close I am to where I was before I got hurt. I estimate 85% – 90%, based on numbers I’ve seen on the trainer. Only 10-15% off. That doesn’t seem like that much. I can do 4-5 hour rides and 15-hour training weeks.

But what we don’t appreciate is how big that last bit is until put in a racing context. It’s huge. It’s the difference between making it and not making it

As I rode over to the Shootout ride in Tucson, I considered it would be the first real test of how far I’d come. I also acknowledged that it was a milestone to even be there in the first place, riding in a big group of fast riders. Being able to ride in a group was a test itself: I still have some lingering psychological effects that keep me from being completely comfortable on the bike.

The real test came when the ride passed the traffic light after which it is “on”.

I was OK for a while, following wheels near the back. It was so familiar, even though last April was the last time I did it. I knew what to do — my body knew what to do. It felt good to be going harder than I had since last May.

I glanced at the number my power meter was reporting. It was way above anything I’d been doing. That was encouraging, but there was no way it was going to last. Eventually I would have to sit up and let the main group go.

85-90% isn’t good enough when the real stuff happens. If it’s me, last year at this time, I’m up there with Shawn and Aaron in the group, no problem. That last 10-15% is the difference between being there and being off the back. It wouldn’t seem like that would make such a difference, but it does.

I was told — get some perspective, you had a serious injury.

Intellectually, I know that. But being there, in the mix, with fast guys around me, it’s like the body knows and remembers what it was able to do, and it still wants to do that. And that just doesn’t turn off because the mind knows something.

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One step back

Over the past 6 months I’ve not had to deal with the “2 steps forward, 1 step back” type of progress that people warned me about. It’s been a forward progression — linear at first, then exponential once I got on the bike and on the road again.

That changed about 2 weeks ago.

Thinking back even farther, I had these occasional “twinges” in calf, or back of my leg while walking. But it went away quickly or worked itself out while riding. Then something triggered it — some new PT exercises, or too much yard work or a combination of both (I think).

I went from walking with only a slight limp, to back to using a cane again.

Diagnosis? Consensus between doctor, PT, and massotherapist is sciatica. Something in there is aggravating the sciatic nerve. The crazy thing is that it moves around: back of the leg, all down the leg, in the foot, in the calf. Riding sometimes seems to help, sometimes doesn’t. I’m doing lots of stretching, PT, massage, and trying to pay attention to what might aggravate it. Chiropractor might be next up.

Dana, my wonderful massage therapist, says “you have a new anatomy now”. It feels that way — different. And I’m always aware of it — sometimes more, sometimes less. But it’s always there. Makes me think of all the different parts — the nerves, muscles, tissues, bones — that make up the body. All the different things that could go wrong. It’s pretty amazing that it doesn’t go wrong more often.

***
(BTW: Dana’s website is here: http://akronmassage.co/. She’s pretty terrific)

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Spring training starts now

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Executive summary from 9 days of riding down south:

Blue Ridge Parkway: great road to ride on, but it actually gets annoying.
Savannah: food good, walking good, riding bad.
Greenville: challenging routes, courteous drivers.
460 miles over 9 days: feels like ‘spring training’ has already started.

The more complete story:

Somewhere in the middle of not being able to drive for 3 months, I had told myself that once I was driving again I was getting in the car and going somewhere … anywhere. I needed to at least get farther than Youngstown — the farthest from home I’d been since May.

Heading south proved to be a good decision: I missed the worst week of weather since last winter.

Blue Ridge Parkway
I stopped on the way down south, and again on the way back, to ride the Parkway where it conveniently crosses I-77 at Fancy Gap, VA.

It’s a unique road to ride on: limited entry and exit, no commercial trucks, good pavement, 45mph speed limit, great scenery. From that standpoint, it’s a pretty ideal setup for cycling. But riding it twice on this trip, something occurred to me: riding the Parkway can be annoying. You always seem to be going up or going down. The grades aren’t that steep or long, but it seems that you can rarely get into a nice riding rhythm. I know that sounds like heresy. It’s still a pretty special road to ride on … but day after day, I think I’d need a different option.

Savannah
Visiting Savannah was primarily about spending time with my daughter. So we stayed in the city, where we could easily walk to where we wanted to go — and all the walking turned out to be really good for me. After walking around for 4 days I felt like I’d completed a round of physical therapy.

It’s a great city to visit: not too big, but big enough. Good restaurants. Beach 15 miles away. Lots of parks and other sights to see, just by walking.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, cycling-wise. I did what I often do when visiting somewhere new: go to mapmyride.com and look for routes that people have submitted. Riding out of the city, there weren’t too many. I wanted to ride out to the beach (Tybee Island), but the prevailing opinion seemed to be “don’t even think about it” (dangerous traffic). So I essentially rode the same route each day. Anything different seemed to take me on 5 lane roads with heavy traffic … and lots of trucks.

Even on the route I took, there were lots of trucks — perhaps as a result of Savannah being a port city. The truck drivers weren’t obnoxious towards me on the bike, but it’s a little unnerving being passed by an 18-wheeler a dozen times on a 40 mile ride.

Overall, I liked Savannah, and I would visit again. But I can’t help but feel that they are missing out on something by not being more bike-friendly. It seems like a natural fit: it’s warm year-round, it’s flat, there are lots of pedestrians. Why not embrace cycling too? More bike lanes … rental bike stations for the more casual rider … and then outside the city how about some more roads where you don’t have to be looking over your shoulder for a lumber truck to come screaming by? It seems like a no-brainer to have a safe route to ride from Savannah out to Tybee Island.

Greenville, SC
In contrast, Greenville was riding heaven. Besides the courteous drivers, which I wrote about here, there are many great (scenic, challenging) roads to ride on. If you look on mapmyride, there are pages of routes for the Greenville area. Ride up towards NC and you are in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Just about every road that I was on seemed to have markings as part of some ride or another.

Overall I got the impression that Greenville really embraces the cycling culture. I will definitely be back.

9 days, 460 miles
… which included a 3-day stretch of 87, 75, and 94 mile rides (in Greenville). The day after the 94 mile ride, my legs actually hurt. I know I keep repeating myself here: I never imagined I’d be able to do this, so soon. I’m not able to go fast, but I can keep going.

I can’t express how good it felt to spend a few entire days doing nothing more than riding, then eating and resting afterward. I had told myself, back in May, that if I were able to get to “just riding” like this, then I would feel satisfied. And so I am.

The big shock came when I arrived home to 5″ of snow, no power, and downed trees everywhere. I almost … almost … turned around and headed south again.

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