Respect the Mountain

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Photo by: Andreas Moore
(This article was posted in issue #126 of Southern California Bicyclist)

     Rolling towards the base of a climb you may look up and ask yourself, “What challenges will these mountains bring?” We dream of days when our climbing is unhindered by the constant nagging of gravity and wish to fly up the steep secteurs which always drag us down. Days like these are only given to us when we least expect it. When we feel fresh After putting in the hours of searing legs and wretched faces we hope to have a day when the gods of Ventoux and L’Angliru smile upon us. It is in that moment that we begin to advance upon the territory of the mountain.
     As we become more familiar with the ascent we learn its curves and pitches. While we study them a sort of confidence starts to grow. As it grows it starts to swell as more and more risks are taken up and down the mountain. Some riders like to think that as they get stronger and faster that their speed up the mountain asserts some kind of dominance over the ascent. As if each trip up has chipped away at the resolve of the mountain. Like a battle between rider and a towering giant taking place every time the road tilts towards the sky or back down towards earth.
     Meanwhile the mountain waits patiently for the right moment. A moment when it can take away all the shelter from the elements and leave you to waste with no place to go but to grind up to the finish. At that point it becomes apparent that all your training and preparation can still leave you exposed to the power of the unrelenting mountain. A giant who never tires and can outlast the strongest of us all.  A power that can take all that swollen confidence then fill it with doubt and pain. It’s goal is to pull you back down and make you humble.
     When the mountain’s judgement comes it comes when it is least expected. Despite it’s towering size and patient demeanor the action it takes can be lightning fast. In the form of a slide out or surprise obstacle the ride can be over in moments notice. With that in mind, probably the mountain’s favorite way to strip away confidence and leave their victim stranded far away from home is just to wait for a rider to take on more than they can handle by going out too hard and fast allowing gravity and time to take its toll.
     Respect the mountain and realize that it can give you just as many good days as it can bad days(in some cases even more).

Finding your legs

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     Every cyclist has gone through the same rite of passage. Some form of challenge with a group or by themselves early in their riding career where the effort or distance was overestimated. Ultimately this would lead to being dropped or bonking far from the end of their ride either leaving them disheartened as the group motors along or eager for more as the grades show no signs of easing up. The common theme between them all is that each rider goes through a period of discovery within their own abilities. For the seasoned rider it is easy to recognize these learning experiences happen in others. They are seen in the rider who has no endurance background and the rider who has experience in pacing from other sports.
     For the novice, learning the nuances of pacing within themselves for long solo efforts can be a game of trial and error. Whereas learning the timing and etiquette seen in group rides can be difficult since it requires the legs to participate. One must come before the other. What many novice riders can miss is that in order to consistently be off the front the difficult days will outnumber the easy ones.
     For the folks that are aware of this thing called pacing, the challenge lies primarily in the etiquette, timing, and cohesion within a group ride. This also does not come without a good deal of time riding solo to coordinate the efforts of your legs, lungs, and mindset. One thing is for certain though. The competitive nature of an athlete transfers over very nicely from one sport to the next. Given time they will be a force to be reckoned with.
     Though different in their abilities and varying attitudes the process of progressing as a rider does not stray from the easiest training plan in the books: Ride lots!

Random Acts of Panache

 Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 6.07.42 PM    Solo attacks up hors categorie climbs, break away groups that hold off the peloton, and screaming descents. These are classic examples that are displayed by the men and women that we see as heroes and fearless adrenaline seekers. These are things that warrant the title of panache.

     Panache, as described by original french definition, describes the flamboyant manner and reckless courage shown by those who dive into the heated mix of sweat and gears. This is a topic that has been exhausted by countless writers and over exuberant fans of the not-so-secret keepers of the cog. Yet out of this constant comparison and reworking of the word something new has appeared. It’s something that has evolved to fit the accolades and accomplishments of mere mortals not traveling the world with an outdoor workplace.

     Everyday there are riders who are rising above their limits and attempting the feats seen on the international stage of cycling. This can mostly end in defeat from over estimating an effort. For many of them, panache isn’t only about breakneck pace or solo attacks but merely pushing beyond their own limits. These random acts of panache can happen on the local group ride but mostly on the solo training rides. The recognition of panache can only be gained by those who do not seek it. Those who gain it do so because it is the way it should be done and have no intention of recognition.

Suffering Brings Clarity

justin-climingBy: Dean H.
Low gears, controlled breathing, shifting in and out of the saddle. Climbing is a funny thing, really. Those who dislike it often curse at the thought of pointing their bike upwards. Sure, gazing up at a big bad mountain can be intimidating to anyone. Yet those who dare to defy gravity quickly learn that climbing isn’t all that bad and that it actually brings variety to your ride. Riding your bike at a forced slower pace makes you that much more in tune with your surroundings. It doesn’t matter how fast you go or how long, gradual, steep, and undulating the climb may be. But the fact that you’re out there, suffering and immersing yourself in the ride is what cycling is all about. Suffering brings clarity. The simplicity of man versus nature. You and your bike versus the gradient. There’s something beautiful in that. Conquering that climb then getting to blast back downhill isn’t all that bad either.

The So Cal “Winter”

As quickly as it came the brisk mornings will soon fade into temperate Spring. For us Californians it means that many of us may have already started to wake our legs from the slumber of “offseason”. Which in comparison to most of the country is lacking certain items such as spiked tires and indoor rollers. However, there were a few mornings this past winter which brought these sorts of conditions to our doorstep. It was definitely a nice change of pace to see our San Gabriel and Santa Ana Mountain ranges  snow capped if only for a short while. This made for some nice photo ops and flocking to our local mountains in search for Alp-like conditions so we could try to imagine what it would be like to ride alongside the peloton.
For some, the winter season was merely a period of honing skills and maintaining fitness that would be carried into the next year. For others, it is a time to keep on pace with the daily routine, de-stress, and get out from the stuffed up indoors. Although for any category the days pretty much start off the same. Dark and still before daybreak with plenty of layers that could easily be peeled off as the sun came up over the horizon. Evenly metered efforts with every mile counting towards an aerobic base. All of this work obviously topped off with a quick stop at the local coffee shop before heading out to the rest of the day.
It’s strange how the chilled morning air can make you more motivated to get a ride in provided you are kitted up properly. Heck, I’ve seen an older gentleman riding an italian steel frame nearly every time I ride through the local canyon regardless of weather or temperature. I can only hope that I’ll have the fitness and stamina to do that when I am his age. So as Springtime pushes the eager sun up earlier and earlier each morning. As each mile is logged and every foot of elevation is gained keep in mind the long season ahead.

Be Present

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Sometimes when I am by myself on a long and winding ride I’ll pull my phone out to take a picture of the scenery which can be of a sunrise, an interesting feature of the landscape, or just a gratuitous picture of my bike. Lets be honest, it is usually just of my bike. Although, recently I’ve taken to keep those moments to myself by soaking them in and keeping my camera app sheathed in my pocket. The number of morning rides that have flooded my Instagram feed have been great and by now I think that everyone knows I like to wake up and ride with the early birds.

Since I am no authority on how people choose to internalize their personal experiences or even how they choose to share them I still recommend that every once in a while you keep the phone in your pocket and take a moment to yourself. In this moment you should take some time whether you are still riding or have stopped for a quick bite to see how you got to this point and all the work it took to get there. I find it inspiring to have these sorts of personal experiences. The world is a great big place and if you give it a chance it can make you feel like a part of it despite how small it can make you feel.

Strava [was designed] for those who don’t race

     I got some feedback about this particular Cyclist Thing so I thought I would elaborate. Among the many classifications, sects, and disciplines of cycling there are two groups that can overlap them all: Those who race and those who don’t. There are benefits and disadvantages for each depending on your skill sets and level of fitness.

And up until a few years ago, those non-racing cyclists who were still competitive had to venture out of their own comfort zones and find group rides or organize their own to test their skills with the locals. During this time the cyclists who weren’t able to make the group ride because of work or scheduling were shit-out-of-luck. All they could do was ride in their own time, sparingly make time for group rides, and base their progress on how they felt that day.

Actually… now that I think about it that sounds kind of nice. In today’s data filled it seems like no one rides just to get out on the bike. Riddled and clouded with segments, wattage, KOMs, and training zones, cycling has become something akin to an outdoor statistics class. Clip in, record data, keep cadence at this number, don’t dip below a certain wattage, stay away from this HR zone, clip out. For those of us who don’t have the funds or desire to race this can be a good way to keep motivated.

Strava is a great tool for someone who likes the technological/data filled side of cycling. What it does for many cyclists is make the competitive nature available to those who do not get it from the weekend criterium or occasional stage race. Facilitating competition for the solo rider. The weekend racers and pros who are competing don’t really have a need to compare their segment times because they are already comparing their overall place, ITT, and GC times with the others in the race.

It could or should have been said as “Strava was designed for those who don’t race”. Constructed in order to build a sense of community in local cycling by supporting the healthy competitive nature in all of us. More importantly, it promotes appreciation of the time and effort that others put into the common interest of cycling.