Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections on the Year

I thought that when I pedaled 5,000 miles in 2010 that that would become my new annual goal - the base by which all future years were measured. I now realize that 5,000 miles is a lot of miles for someone who works full time.

I fell short. Way short. Just 3,700 miles this year. And I really haven't analyzed why. Some things stand out such as I biked home from work 14 times last year. This year, just three. That's about 450 miles or so. But where are the other 800-900 miles?

Sometimes I ride to remember. Sometimes I ride to forget. But last year I just rode. I guess this year I just didn't have as much to remember. Or to forget.

Ironically, last year my total mileage was never a goal and in some ways, I was wrong to think of it as the goal for every year. Just ride. Enjoy the air. The sun. Even the rain. But most of all, enjoy the ride.

My Top Ten Rides of 2011 (in no particular order).

1. Col du Tourmalet. We never made it to the summit last year because we were blocked by the Tour de France. Twice. This year, riding with Adrian Register, I made it. Added bonus: I handed Stuart O'Grady a newspaper while he rode by (so that he could insert it in his jersey for warmth).

The statue to any cyclist who can make it to the summit
A Statue to ME!!!!

Adrian Register

2. Civil War Century. Rode slower than last year. And cramped. But this route is special. How can one not be moved when riding through Gettysburg?

Met a guy wearing the same Alpe d'Huez jersey as me

3. America's Most Beautiful Ride. Thirty-eight degrees and raining at the start at Lake Tahoe. Never higher than 50 degrees. But the best I ever felt on a bike for 100 miles. And it was beautiful.

Cold and Rainy at Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

4. Mont Ventoux. Cold and rainy. And windy - 50 mph at the top. But cross one off the bucket list. 

50 mph winds blew the glasses off my face

5. Alpe d'Huez. The nicest day I had in France and I was joined by my friend, Brian Hutchins, for the climb up this iconic mountain.

Brian Hutchins and me

6. Col du Galibier. I did not make it and am not ashamed to admit it. Cold and rainy at the start, it got colder and wetter the farther up I went, to the summit of the Col du Lautaret. It was simply the coldest I have ever been on a bike. I turned around and went hypothermic on the descent. After drying off and changing clothes, I drove to the top - through 3-4" of snow. I later learned 200 cyclists had to be rescued from here two days earlier. It was July 19.

Couldn't bike this -- July 19

7. Pulling the Grandkids. I bought a child's trailer for the bike and was able to take grandsons Andy and Aiden for a few loops of their neighborhood on Thanksgiving Day. And on Christmas Day at our house, the kids wanted -- to go for a ride with Grandpa.

Aiden (L), Andy (R)

8. Mount Lemmon. A 26 mile climb in the heat from 2,500' to 9,000' through six different ecosystems. Tucson, Arizona.

9. Jeremiah Bishop's Alpine Gran Fondo. The first hill I ever walked, 18% grade and mud. Just mud. But finally, a charity ride for prostate cancer.

Barry Sherry (L), Jeremiah Bishop (R)

10. Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. My fourth climb up this iconic mountain, this was the first time my wife, Cheri, joined me. She was impressed by my suffering.

Six Mile Curve - It's 18% here

In addition to the riding, I met some very nice people along the way. At Lake Tahoe I met Rodrigo Garcia Brito -- he and I would be riding partners for the entire 100 miles (or 98).

Along Rte 31 on the Allegheny Plateau near Somerset, Pa., I met Rolf, from Denmark, who was exploring part of the U.S. I invited him to my niece's graduation party to feed him. (I called first to make sure it was OK, OK?)

Many people go to the Tour de France and hope to see "The Devil," a Tour fixture for years. Most never see him. I saw him twice and was photographed both times.

L- near Lourdes, FR; R - Col du Tourmalet

But it's a random act of kindness I will most remember. Near Carpentras, France, I had been locked out of my prepaid B&B. All the hotels in the city were full. I had no place to go. I found a campground, Camping Les Fontaines, just as they were closing at midnight, or was it 1:00 a.m.? They were sold out. But I didn't have a tent anyhow.

The owners graciously allowed me to park in their lot - which was all that I wanted. And brought me a pillow and blanket. And offered me a towel. It wasn't the most pleasant night I had sleeping - in fact it was pretty awful - but when I slept I knew I was safe. 

Owner, Camping Les Fontaines

I would have gladly paid for a lot but they didn't charge me.

*  *  *  *  *

In 2011 I missed my mileage goal and I will have to rethink whether I want that to be a goal for 2012. Some of my best rides (Mount Washington - 8 miles) weren't about the mileage. But at the end of the day, or at the end of the year, I should not be disappointed where the road took me.

Who knows where the road leads in 2012?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Plains


With a forecast of 68 degrees (it didn't materialize but it did get to 62) it was a perfect day to ignore the leaves piling up in the lawn and go for a ride.

I found a "CC" ride and decided I would jump in. But I arrived at 9:58 and decided not to rush  just to leave with the group at 10:00 a.m.

There is something about pulling up with license plate marked UPDHEZ and wearing a jersey from Alpe d'Huez. It's like a target on my back -- I am expected to be better than anyone else.

As the group rolled out there was one other person who was getting ready. He looked at me and said "You don't look like you'll have any problem catching the group."

Yea, a big ego stroke. So I waited for him to get ready.

We were "wheels down" at 10:10. We rode at a sensible pace -- never hammering it to catch the group because we knew with our pace we would catch them. And we did just 7.5 miles into the ride. But the group was already strung out so we rode through the group, overtaking 10-12 more riders, one each at a time.

Like many group rides, we're not much on formality. I never did catch the name of the guy I rode with. You never know if you're going to ride with someone for 10 minutes or 10 miles.
At times as we rode I thought he might drop me then other times I was stronger, but as we approached Aldie I did pull away. For good.

At the Aldie rest stop I was anxious to keep moving. I'm not a fan of rest stops unless it's 100 degrees and the lower level the ride the longer the rest stops are and just drag on. As soon as the first three guys left I jumped in and joined them. Greg, Adam, and John. The guy I first rode with was still resting.

(I only know these guys names because they asked me mine with about five miles to go after we had ridden together for 30 miles.)

They had been riding together for the first 15 miles and I jumped in without a word. I sort of had to prove that I belonged. I stayed with them until the next hill and then took off. First up the hill. Then I soft-pedaled. I belonged.

After the rest stop at Atoka, and I tried to convince them not to stop, I set the pace for the first two miles. Then I quietly pulled off and moved to the back. Without a word, they were all experienced enough to recognize that we should ride in a pace line with each rider taking turns at the front.

And we did. My last two pulls ended up with me pulling away so I simply backed off the pace. I never thought of hammering home solo today although I knew I could pull away by myself.

Selfie in van window
Could never capture the Rugged look

This is horse country, lots of money here, and I saw deer running through the woods and jumping over the fences. So graceful. So beautiful. And I thought how differently I see them from some of my Facebook friends who see them only as a target.

Near the end we were adjacent to Great Meadows at The Plains, Va., home of the Gold Cup races. It was a beautiful four miles back to start. We passed a farm stand with fresh produce and apple cider. It is definitely fall in Virginia.

As we pulled back into town I went to the front, but not attacking and being a jerk, just enough so I could say last to start, first to finish. I had no problem with the pace today -- we rode at a BB clip, and may have been one 
of the last good days of the year for a long ride.

I left the parking lot, then stopped by the farm stand and bought their two remaining jugs of cider. I love riding. I love fall. I love cider.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mt Lemmon


Peter Jenkins, author of a A Walk Across America, wrote something to the effect that if two strangers told him he should see something he took notice but if three did, he had to do it. I have made that sort of my mantra too.

Traveling last May from Oakland to Phoenix I flew with Dr. Paul Mittman who told me I should come out and ride Mt. Lemmon. I had never heard of Mt. Lemmon. Then one of the riders on last year's Tour de France trip, Deirdre Mullaly, told me about riding Mt. Lemmon. That was two.

Last Christmas, Adrian Register from Great Britain was visiting his grandmother in Arizona and rode Mt. Lemmon. And he also told me that I must do it. 

That was it. Three recommendations from three people who don't know one another.

Mt. Lemmon, it is.

Although I have a nice bike crate, it is still such a pain to fly with a bike that for one day I decided to rent. I located Broadway Bikes, online, and made a reservation. I picked up the bike Friday at 5:00 p.m., found an In N Out Burger for dinner, then went back to the hotel.

Wheels down at 8:00 a.m. I was at the Safeway at E. Tanque Verde and Catalina Hwy, it was 66 degrees. 

The first four miles were on Catalina Highway a straight-as-an-arrow road that leads to the base of the climb. Then the road kicks up.

I rode for a little while with a man and his exchange student son from Madrid. Like many cyclists, he was very nice but we didn't hang around long enough to exchange names. In many ways, cyclists are just two ships just passing in the night and there usually isn't any attempt to become personal. I may be the exception because I enjoy meeting people.

But we rode and talked and I found they were only going to Mile 5 or 6. He asked if I was going to Mile 10 and seemed surprised when I told him I was going all the way to Mount Lemmon. I didn't have a good feel for where the road would lead me - I just knew the road signs pointed to Summerhaven, some 25 more miles ahead. And up.

At Mile 5, or 6, they pulled over and I kept going. At first. As we said goodbye he turned and offered me his water. I said no. As I rode away I thought differently, turned around, and told him that I would take him up on the offer. 

A Man and his exchange student son from Madrid, Spain

He told he I didn't have enough water to make it to the top and he was right. I finished off one bottle then refilled it. It was like having three bottles instead of two. But I would want four.

At the base of the climb you are in the desert with tall Sagura catci all around. The Tucson valley is at approximately 2,500 feet. I've read there are six different eco systems; it's like driving from Mexico to Canada in a span of 30 miles. I can point out four and I'm no biologist.

At 5,000 feet,  the cacti are gone and you are in a barren area with lots of rock croppings. Yet higher about 7,000 feet, you're in a fir forest and at 8,000 feet there are Aspins. 

Look carefully. Someone left water in a jug by the pole.
It was hard but I resisted the urge to fill up from this jug.

I don't think there were many cyclists on the road. I would guess less than 50. I do think at 8:00 a.m. I was one of the last to start the climb. And for good reason. It gets friggin hot in the desert, even in late October. But what goes up must come down and most cyclists seemed to be coming down while I was going up.

Notice the retaining wall for this highway at the top of the picture

At Safeway as I was getting ready a couple was also getting ready to go and I thought I might jump in with them but decided not to. They were never far ahead of me and they turned around about Mile 10.

The road seemed to average 5-6% which makes it the equivalent of the first seven miles of Skyline Drive coming out of Front Royal, Va. Except this would be for 30 miles. In the heat.

Looking back, and down, at the road just climbed

As I saw people going back down I was beginning to wonder if I should do this. Or if I should go all the way to Mount Lemmon. Yet I came for this purpose and there would be no turning back.

Halfway up I was passed by four guys with Carmichael Training Systems. This is a training camp that cyclists can go to. They were in their 30s and 40s and I thought about riding with them but wisely decided not to. Running out of water, I passed their support person. He was holding out new water bottles for the paying customers. Did not offer this rider any  :(

CTS offered this thirsty cyclist no water

Nor did he have to. I just wonder if he would have come to the aid of a seriously impaired cyclist impacted by the heat since he didn't pay $2,000 to go to his camp?

I was allocating my water -- one sip/gulp every mile, when I came to the Palisades Campground around Mile 25 and saw the one source of water on the ride. I pulled over and filled my bottles from the faucet.

Back on the climb the four guys came whizzing down past me. I thought it strange they didn't go to the top but in 200 meters or so I was at a summit. It was clear this was where they turned around but where was Mt. Lemmon? I kept going.

I was flying downhill over the top and wondering where the heck I was going. The only thing for sure was I was getting there fast and that I would have to turn around and climb this on the way back.

Three miles later I was in Summerhaven, and after missing the turn and righting myself by talking to a local, or at least a local tourist from Tucson, I started the climb up the ski road. After almost 30 miles of climbing at 5-6%, the road kicked up to 8-9% with grades of 12%. I was hurting.

I passed a famous pie restaurant (I know because it said famous pie restaurant)* and entered a section beyond a gate. I saw a sign for "next two miles" and wondered how I could finish this climb after having climbed for 30. But I must. It's one time. It's Mount Lemmon.

I'm not the strongest climber - just enthusiastic, and my bike at home is made from carbon fiber (light) with a triple ring up front (low of 30 teeth) and a pretty helpful 27 or 28 tooth cassette on the rear. I rented an aluminum bike (not as light) with compact crank up front (low of 34 teeth -- harder than 30) and a rear cassette of 23 (much harder than 27 or 28). I divided one number by another and I calculate that it was 38% harder with this gear setup than the one at home. I may be grossly wrong because it didn't feel any harder than maybe 35%.

At top of Mount Lemmon
I really did not look ahead at the road - just kept turning over the pedals. At the end of the two miles I came to a small parking lot and the road was fenced off with a no trespassing sign. The end.

There was no summit sign. In fact, I don't think this was the true summit if there is a true summit. But it's as far as the road allowed. I met three women from Germany having a picnic in the back of a pickup truck. They were gracious enough to take my picture and offered me a tomato. I declined.

I headed back down the road, and came to a hairpin curve and pulled over for another photo op. None up here offered a clear view but this was one of the best. Two women had pulled over and were picnicking by the drop off. They offered me a nectarine and strawberries. I accepted.

Back on the road I hit 45 mph, disappointed that I didn't hit 50, but I wasn't on my own bike and the road didn't allow for more. At Summerhaven I began the three mile climb back up to Palisades. Shut up Legs!

Once I crested at Palisades I began the 30 mile descent to my car. And it was sweet. While many curves were marked at 20 mph for cars, I never had to brake. Not once. I even went through one at 40 mph.

Reaching the valley floor it was hot - it hot 100 degrees - and I regretted not having stopped for more water before my descent. I was parched, again, but the car was only 5-6 miles away.

I reached the car satisfied. Mount Lemmon is a beautiful ride. Water is probably the hardest thing to prepare for. If I did it again I would probably carry a couple of water bottles in my jersey as well as on the bike. Or a Camelbak.

Dr. Mittman. Deirdre. Adrian. You were right. This was one super ride.

*This was the Sawmill Run Restaurant

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Alpine Gran Fondo


This was two events in one. Or at least that was my expectation. It was the inaugural Jeremiah Bishop's Alpine Gran Fondo and a fund raiser for the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project. The cycling event was pretty neat. The PCAP was disappointing.

First the cycling.

Jeremiah Bishop told me last night that he planned to call all the fund raisers up front for the roll out. However, when we started, he got in position behind the police car and called for bib numbers 1-15 to join him. Instead, a number of jerks simply move to the front. Maybe they didn't hear?

An Alpenhorn signaled the Start

We rolled out and I was quickly in about 10th position. I think for at least the Gran Fondo riders (there were two other rides as well) we stayed together as a peloton for the first 11 miles. Once we got on US 33 the pace picked up or I started to drop back. Doesn't matter. I was wearing four bibs on my back, the only person to honor or remember those fighting cancer, and I decided that no one would see them if I stayed in 10th position. So I drifted back.

Although not a race, we had two timed King of the Mountain climbs. The first one was on US33 and the peloton sped up as we approached the start of the climb then abruptly slowed down to make sure their timing chips were read. I stayed in the back. I was the last to go through although I think at this point we had a major split in the peloton and I foolishly had been hanging with the first group led out by Jeremiah Bishop.

The climb on the lower slopes of 33 was pretty easy but I thought I would catch and pass someone. Anyone. Nope, no one. Then about half way up the climb some riders from the second group began to catch and pass me. In all, I was probably passed by 20 riders and passed no one. Nada. It's the first time on a climb with other riders I don't remember catching anyone.That's what I get for hanging at the front.

View of WV from the top of US 33

After a screaming descent where I caught some other riders, followed by a brief rest stop, we rolled out to our next turn and this warning sign: "Gravel." If only it had just been gravel. It was a mud road. The GPS quickly registered 12% and I tried to find a line where I could sit and pedal. I made it up the first mile and a half then saw everybody ahead had dismounted and were pushing their bikes. The GPS registered 25%. I was determined to pass them all. Until all I did was spin. Then I joined them.

I thought I could go where no one had gone before but it was the wise decision to dismount before I fell. It would be fun to tackle this section on a day the road was dry.

I was wise enough to have brought cleat covers which I used while walking in the mud and dirt. Others weren't so lucky as they reached the top of the climb and found their cleats wouldn't clip in because of the grit.

Part of the mud climb. This section was good enough to ride.

The profile of the route shows for major climbs. The first, basically the first 23 miles, was on US 33 and had good pavement. The second, around mile 34, was the mud section. All of it. The third section, around mile 47, was on paved roads coming out of Franklin. The fourth, mile 62, was all dirt. Again.

Summit of the first dirt (mud) section

Leaving the rest area at Franklin, West Virginia was a short climb where I was passed by four riders. I was getting passed by everybody and had no response. It may have been my nutrition. Or just my suckage. I planned to take some gels, one for every 15 miles, but left them in the van. Damn.

At the top of the climb coming out of Franklin I summited then hit a four mile descent. I took off and passed a couple of riders. My descending was excellent today. Then a six mile climb began. And a partial transformation. About half way up three men and a woman caught me. I stayed with them for half a mile then dropped off.

Riding by myself I was caught by Jim Mortson. Although he should have dropped me he either eased up or I picked it up but we rode together. About one mile from the top we passed the woman who had been dropped from their group. Then near the top in a 13-14% section, we passed the three men. All walking! I mentioned to them the story of the tortoise and the hair. Fear the Turtle! I hope they weren't offended.

Jim and I rode to the rest stop at Moyers Gap Road. When we left there were five of us soft pedaling as the road turned to dirt. Unlike the first climb, this road wasn't mud and one could ride it without spinning out. This was the road up to Reddish Knob.

There were a couple of cones off to the side of the road and a sign "KOM Start." The King of the Mountain competition. We all kept pedaling. No attacks. Nothing hard. Someone mentioned they'd see us at the top.

I was the oldest of the five and had just been hanging with Jim and had no expectation to staying with him. As we climbed higher the road went from dirt to rocks. Not the loose rocks or heavy gravel but the rocks that were simply part of the road perhaps when the road was grated years ago they were just sheered off. Trying to find a line to ride without running over rocks was impossible.

One guy dropped behind us while two went ahead. Jim and I kept pedaling. I had no idea of the length and it was hard to judge from the trees. Each time I looked up I could see daylight through the trees and thought I was near the summit. I wasn't. The two guys in front of us pulled over, the relentless climb getting to them.

Jim and I stayed together although at perhaps two miles from the summit he dropped behind me. I never looked back to see where he was.

Summit at Reddish Knob. End of the Dirt Road.

The road was tough to pedal and many times the grade was 11 and 12%. But it wasn't a 12% average like Mount Washington. I calculated it to be an average 8.1% which is pretty formidable, especially with that road surface.

I continued on alone just wondering where the summit was. And I felt that I was getting stronger. Having already dropped everyone in my group (after believing it would be me who got dropped) I soon caught one of the riders who left the rest stop five minutes before we did. I continued on and the road started to flatten out with 1K to go. I picked up my speed and blew by a rider trying to sprint my way to the finish line although I knew I had no hope of a age group podium.

I went from feeling crappy to passing everyone I rode with. I could have continued on but waited for Jim to come over the top. He was five minutes back of me.

What was most refreshing was there was no cramping. Often at mile 50 or 60 if I have a long climb the cramp monster finds me. Today I felt good. And with Mount Washington type grades I did not have Mount Washington type gearing - just my normal gearing.

The descent was foggy and a little chilly but nothing like France prepared me for in July. Again I bombed it then waited to ride with Jim.

I gave up five minutes waiting at the summit and after the last rest stop maybe as much as 20 minutes more sweeping, waiting for a riding battling asthma. It's not about the time of the ride - it's just a ride - and there's no way I was going to leave a struggling rider behind. Besides, I accomplished what I wanted to.

Having dropped all the climbers in my group on Reddish Knob I was feeling good. We hit some pretty steep rollers and I had drifted to the back to help our struggling rider. Then I made my way up the climb, catching and passing everyone in my group. One guy said "I hate you." I smiled. With that, I soft pedaled then let them go and dropped back to sweep.

I didn't post a great time but I enjoyed the ride. I didn't understand the KOM was cumulative with two climbs and took my time on the first one - 14th out of 14 in my age group. On the second climb I was 8th out of 14.

On the day I say it was 10% fun, 90% suffering and 100% satisfying.
Barry with Jeremiah Bishop

Now the fund raiser.

My expectation was this was a cycling event / fund raiser which ultimately turned into a cycling event. Jeremiah talked of recognizing the fund raising teams but none was made. I spoke briefly with Robert Hess, the founder and president of PCAP after the event and shared with him better ways to improve participation and to get the message out. I think I was the top fund raiser with $1,000.29 but will never know. The 29 cents paying homage to the organization 29,

Donating to this event was complicated compared to the sites at LIVESTRONG and Team in Training. There people can search for a participant and donate in their name. Their apps show the top fundraiser giving incentive to others chasing to recruit more donations. People like to see their name in the scroll. And maybe more importantly, while waiting at the finish for official results, the PCAP could have recognized their top fund raisers, or all, including jerseys for the top or certain thresholds.

I took all their Blue Ribbon cookies. Was that wrong?

This was a first time event and they look forward to doing it again. Hard to improve on the awesome cycling but maybe they can improve the fund raising.