Monday, November 22, 2010

Sometimes, only the obvious gesture works

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Provisions for the Winter Siege

Last October, I re-aggravated the weak lumbar discs which have plagued my cycling for the last six years.  Several aftershocks kept me in near-constant pain until March. It sucked.

So did the weather. A foot of snow fell in late November and didn't really melt until late March. Storm after storm after storm rolled through and pounded Omaha almost every week. I lived in the Midwest for 30 years before we moved to California for grad school, but my first winter back in Omaha was the worst I can ever remember. Everyone I know agrees--it's hard to handle waking up day after day under constant cloud cover and incessant 15-degree temperatures.

So I hardly rode my bike at all last winter. I set up a trainer in the basement and tried to do some easy spinning, but even those brief sessions pained my back. I jogged and used the elliptical at the gym a few times a week, but my inability to sit and work at my desk or ride my bike really depressed the hell out of me. For the last six years, I've defined myself as a teacher, writer, and cyclist, and last winter I really couldn't be any of those things. My maudlin blog posts probably reflected that.

I managed to salvage a bit of fitness in July; after throwing in a quick month of base training and suffering through some truly poor racing in May and June, I had a good day at the Nebraska State Road Race Championship and enjoyed a solid week of recreational mountain biking in Crested Butte.

 Now I'm faced with the daunting prospect of another Nebraska winter.

I've ridden three days this week, through 35-degree temperatures. I can handle that kind of cold; aside from some numb toes under my neoprene shoecovers, I've stayed pretty comfortable in Pearl Izumi Thermafleece tights, Pearl Izumi Barrier lobster claw mittens, and various doubled-up long-sleeve jerseys over my trusty DeFeet baselayers. Miles  promises to loan me some MTB Sidi winter boots, while MOD and Redemske are all over Bontrager's new RXL bootie, so I hope to resolve the dilemma of my frozen pigs before the mercury hits the fan.

But man, it's gonna get cold. Maybe not as consistently cold as last winter, but still--colder than 35. 
It's also gonna get wet. Snow, melting snow, slush, sleet, ice--various bits of meteorological and metaphorical sh*t are gonna fall from the sky and linger on the ground.

Once upon a time, I was a winter-riding badass. I commuted from Field Club to UNOmaha everyday through throughout the winter of 2002. The first day I rode to work, it was two degrees. TWO! My commute was only around four miles, but still. TWO! Granted, I had 10 pounds more fat for insulation and 10 pounds more muscle for convection, but still. TWO!

Now I don't commute anywhere. I read and write at a desk that's only 47 steps from my bed. I drive or walk my kids six blocks to school. But I really, really want to try training outside this winter.

And I want to break legs next season. I sucked so badly for so long last year, and next summer will likely be my last as a dissertation-writer before I start teaching full-time. I'd like to see what I can accomplish with a solid aerobic base to build on.

So, I have some choices to make. Because I work part-part-part time at the Trek Stores of Omaha, I have access to some pretty cool stuff. But since I'm scraping by on savings and fellowship leftovers, I can't blow a whole ton of dough on everything I want.

I just sold a carbon frame on eBay from an old sponsor for "x" dollars. I'm going to spend those funds on:

  • AND a Cycleops Fluid trainer

For simplicity's sake, let's assume I can afford the power meter AND EITHER the trainer, the Surly, or the Trek. I want to do my base training outside if possible, but I need to plan on riding inside a fair amount, too, especially when the temperature drops below 20 degrees. 'Cause I ain't no winter riding badass no more. My friends' recent Twitter-smack can attest to that.

I already have a really crappy Performance-branded trainer that I bought 10 years ago for race-day warm-ups. It's ungodly loud and has a cumbersome resistance curve.  It'll do trhe job, but the thought of completing two-hour base mile rides on a crap trainer in my basement is as about as appealing as undergoing root-canal work on a passenger jet full of flatulent adults and screaming babies.

However, all the coaches and experts say that cyclists can replicate long, slow base miles by doing shorter, precise interval efforts on the trainer -- hence the powermeter. And come springtime, when I start doing serious intervals, the powermeter will eliminate most of the training ambiguity caused by the vagaries of my heart rate and the unreliability of my perceived exertion. I'll be able to train smarter and more efficiently with power than with heart rate. No debate there.

But this winter? Oh, crap. Winter. My man Sam worried that winter would make him laggard and unproductive, even as it passed:

And WINTER, slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
I ain't going out like that. Not again. I SHALL kick winter's ass this year, come hell or high water. So,  here's my dilemma. Lots of sand, salt, debris, and grime will cover the roads of Nebraska and Iowa from December through March. I don't want to ride my carbon race bike through all that--it'll damage the frame, corrode the components, and endanger my health. I know MOD did all his winter gravel riding on his Chronus last year, but I'm going to sell my Fuji Team Issue in March, and I want to get top value for it as a near-new frame.  

I'd like a durable, value-based winter bike, and 'cross componentry and tires seem like a good way to go. They'll handle gravel, sand, muck--you name it. I can mount full-coverage fenders. I can pedal along in a stable position and spin up hills in the smaller front chainring. I can negotiate rougher surfaces and road debris with fatter tires, but I can also run road tires when the snow melts during a freakish 45-degree February heat wave.

But what about those inevitable 10-degree days? Should I get the trainer and just plan to ride inside whenever the weather's less than ideal, or should I plan to ride outside on a new 'cross bike in all but the worst conditions? Bike for outside, or trainer for inside? (Powermeter for either one)

What would YOU do?

(BTW, Brady, Shim, and Limpach rocked a ride last January that exemplifies my ambitions for this winter. Details are found here)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Waiting in Vain?

The Replacements, The Drive-By Truckers, and JTE all coalesce.

Waiting's a recurring theme.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Wild Swans at Coole

THE TREES are in their autumn beauty,           
The woodland paths are dry,           
Under the October twilight the water           
Mirrors a still sky;           
Upon the brimming water among the stones                    
Are nine and fifty swans.           
The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me           
Since I first made my count;           
I saw, before I had well finished,           
All suddenly mount             
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings           
Upon their clamorous wings.           
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,           
And now my heart is sore.           
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,             
The first time on this shore,           
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,           
Trod with a lighter tread.           
Unwearied still, lover by lover,           
They paddle in the cold,            
Companionable streams or climb the air;           
Their hearts have not grown old;           
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,           
Attend upon them still.           
But now they drift on the still water             
Mysterious, beautiful;           
Among what rushes will they build,           
By what lake’s edge or pool           
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day           
To find they have flown away?

I take my girls on after-school outings at least twice a week. Last week we drove to Central Park Mall, a city park just three blocks away from the first apartment where we lived when Abbey was born. She spent the first six months of her life bouncing through downtown Omaha and the Old Market in a Bjorn baby sling.  Nine years later, we ran around on the Mall and watched the swans.  Assuming she goes away to college when she turns 18, her time with me is half over. That fact drives almost all my choices, now.