Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sometimes It's the Ride to the Race (aka A Dog in a Hat revisited)

Disclaimer:  If you're looking for a race report I apologize.  While the race was a great event, this post is actually about getting to the Ramble Around Prattsburgh. 

Sunday morning saw me hop into the car to head down to Prattsburgh for the "Ramble".  Once I turned southwest coming out of Geneva,the GPS seemed to have me zig-zagging south and west down every other backroad down around Seneca & Keuka Lakes.  As I drove and observed a few interesting yet quirky situations from behind the steering wheel, I was reminded of a book title and it's meaning which the dedicated readers of this blog (all 3 of ya) may recall .. Remember "A Dog in a Hat" by former pro cyclist Joe Parkin?  (Well if not you should still get a copy and read it.)  In this book Parkin notes a "dog with a hat on" is a Belgian expression sorta explaining when a normal situation changes or something looks out of place. 

My first "dog in a hat" moment came as I passed a nondescript vineyard and suddenly noted a patch of white out of the corner of my eye in th evineyard.  As I glanced over, I noted many white patches grazing in between the various rows of vines ... there was a herd of goats fenced inside the vineyard -- this wasn't crazy but something I'd never seen before.

My second "dog in a hat" moment came as I slowly rounded a corner and saw two large white (domestic) geese along the ditch just a few yards off the road.  As my car got closer, one of the geese went into defensive attack mode and started towards my car in a quick waddle with it's neck extended.  I realized this was probably a defensive move as the geese may have had a nest near the ditch as this was similar behaviour to the (semi) wild geese I frequently encounter along the canal path in the spring when their little ones are running around.

My third "dog in a hat" moment came as I was descending a long gradual grade and I wondered what the dark object was a good ways down the road in the opposite lane.  (Please keep in mind I race Masters so my eye sight may be somewhat questionable.)  As I got a bit closer, I realized it was four cyclists heading up the hill in a nice 2x2 formation.  At first I wondered if it was some guys warming up for the Ramble but a glance at the GPS said Prattsburgh was still 20 minutes away so that wasn't likely it.  Then as I got closer I realized that they were wearing the tell tale hats ... it was four Amish teenagers on road bikes plugging up the hill.  A horse & buggy were not too far behind which was then followed by two Amish gals on bikes.  My best guess was they were coming or going to Sunday services. 

There you have it -- my three little dog in a hat moments all within a thirty mile stretch somewhere down in the rolling hills of the western finger lakes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Let's Make it RAIN!!! or a Battenkill Recap

So this past weekend was Battenkill. Saturday was my third time racing it. My first time racing it I came in 14th place in one of the Cat 4 fields and I was pretty psyched. Last year didn't go so well.

Battenkill is just one of those races. You need to sign up so early that you never know what kind of form or motivation you'll have by the time the race rolls around. Due to a variety of factors, I wasn't particularly confident coming into this years race. Factors including, but not limited to increased work travel, a house on the market, a puppy, a trip to hike into and out of the Grand Canyon, a head cold, and missing all three of the early spring races in Albany. I don't say this to complain, most of us are faced with the same hurdles, and I don't even have kids to contend with. That said, I didn't exactly go into the race with my head in the game.

The night before the race I asked my favorite bike mechanic if I should blow off the race and go to Paradise Found. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I don't frequent strip joints. Not because they particularly offend me, but I just think it would be awkward to run into someone I went to high school with. I picture my half of the conversation sounding like the following as Snoop Dogg's "Drop it Like it's Hot" plays loudly in the background: "Oh hey Kate, how have you been!? What's that, you say you have five kids!? Sweet tattoo's by the way! What, what's that!? Oh, you used to have a meth problem but now it's under control!? Glad to hear it! Well, you're looking good for 40, but I have a bike race tomorrow so I should probably be on my way!"

So despite the fact that I still have all of the one dollar bills, a one dollar coin, and one Canadian Loonie from last years TNTS races, I decided that I'd just stay in and prepare for the race. My favorite mechanic did suggest that it would be fun to "make it rain" as the kids say, and also pointed out that the Loon goes a long way considering the current exchange rate.

So fast forward to the race. Great weather and a highly organized race as always. For the first half of the race I lingered toward the back of the pack wallowing in my low self esteem. I went into the race with the aforementioned low expectations, but the legs felt good and I wasn't really struggling on the hills. I knew that the last hill would probably get me, but if I could hang on until then, I'd consider it a morale victory. I decided that I should probably move up in the field. As we cranked up one of the dirt sections I was feeling good and decided I could grab a few spots. Just then some dude lost it, tried to recover and shot from right to left across the road perpendicular to the field. Thankfully he only took out one of the racers. Unfortunately that racer was me. I swore . . . a lot . . . jumped up and started running for a cyclocross style remount. I was still in the mix and figured I'd be fine. As I jumped back on the bike, I went to pedal and noticed I'd thrown my chain. Off the bike, two attempts to get the chain on in a panic, and now the lead pack was gone. The wheel van waited around to see if I could get back on, but as soon as my adrenaline was gone, so was the wheel van. After that I got into a pretty good group and we had a solid rotation going. We were making good time and I still felt ok. Then on one of the rocky sections I got a flat. No worries, I brought a tube and pump for just such an occasion! A car stopped to ask if I was all set, and I told them my race was pretty much shot, so I'll just change my tube the old fashioned way.

So, after securing the area and making sure there were no snakes lurking in the ditch I was working in, I made a quick change and was on my way. Now I was in no man's land. Everyone in may race that had any legs was long gone, so I was pretty much a solo act. Sweet. As I rode along one of the dirt sections I noticed something shiny. I love shiny stuff, so I took a closer look. As close as one can look at 20mph. Oooh a Garmin. After riding about 50 yards I decided that I should pick it up, so I made a u-turn. This was definitely confusing to the two riders within sight as they wondered aloud what I was doing. I picked up the Garmin, tossed it in my pocket and resumed racing . . . er uh riding at a brisk pace. I had a devil on one shoulder suggesting that I keep the Garmin and a mini version of my mother on my other shoulder suggesting that I turn it in when I finish the race. As this debate raged on, I hit a sketchy downhill and got another flat. As luck would have it the wheel van for my race was parked on the side of the road. They asked if I want a wheel and I asked if they had a tube. They didn't, so I took the last rear wheel in the van. I've watched enough "So My Name is Earl" to have a rudimentary grasp of Karma, so I gave the Garmin to the wheel van driver and let him know that it was from the field that started 10 minutes before mine.

At this point, I had a strangers rear wheel and 18 miles to go. I now rode as gently is as humanly possible. I started wondering if I'd need to pay a stranger $20 to drive me back to Cambridge. As the finish line approached, I couldn't even imagine what place I was in. My ego started urging me to bail out just before the finish line. "Maybe a DNF is better than whatever number will ultimately be next to my name." It then occurred to me that I'm a Cat 4 and no one really cares. Not even a little bit. I still don't know what place I came in, but considering that I was taken out and had two flats, I guess I was lucky to finish in one piece with my bike intact.

The big question is what do I do next year? Avenge my poor showing . . . . OR MAKE IT RAIN!!!! If I was a little more adept with the whole internet deal, I could create a voting poll and my three loyal readers could decide. Feel free to use the comments section I guess.