Monday, June 27, 2011

Anniversary and Rim Nordic #1

8 years has passed.  
Not one doubt.  
Many things have changed.
As long as we are together,
nothing is too big to conquer.
Celebratory beer.  Firestone Parabola from our trip to Santa Ynez.

Champagne flutes from the wedding.

Almost 10 years, going to have to do something special for that one.

Many more to come...

Racing back to back weekends can be a bit on the stressful side.  Camping AND racing back to back weekends put me right on the edge this past week!

Friday I was in meltdown mode.  Between work, bike maintenance, camping gear sorting/packing, training, racing, and general life stuff like cooking and dealing with the fact that my Dad has been in and out of the ICU for the past couple of weeks...   I was maxed out on all levels of stress.  I feel for Allison.  I had to have been like a teenage girl with PMS.

I was freaking out that there wasn't going to be a Yellow Post camp site available late on Friday where we had hoped to camp near Keller Peak.  I was trying to run contingency plans in my head and just couldn't even manage to fathom a guess as to how I was going to save the day in the dark.  For once Allison was the calm, go-with-the-flow, person.  The drive was full of tension and I felt like the world was crushing me as we inched our way  through northbound traffic.

Yellow Post site #2 was open.

And it was RAD!

Deep breath.  Holy crap, things worked out (BTW it was the last available site and we likely would have missed out had we been 5 minutes later).  Looking back on this I need to remember that things will work out.  Stressing about these things won't make the situation better.  As long as Allison and I are in it together everything will work out.

In any case, the relief that I felt was just like the sound of cracking open an ice cold beer.

Not too long after pulling in we figured out part of the reason that it was the last available site.  There was garbage everywhere.  The people that had occupied this spot previously were of the lowest possible ilk.  We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the amazingly beautiful location picking up all manner of refuse.  We totally filled a kitchen sized garbage bag.  Sometimes I forget how low of a life form humans are.  Moving on.  We set up camp and cooked a typically fabulous BBQ dinner before staring at the camp fire for a bit...

Pork Chop, Asparagus, Quinoa

Thanks to Allison for capturing the best images to share!
Please note, fire had just gotten going and I underestimated the dryness of the wood, I don't usually have the giant flames rolling like in the picture.  #firedanger
Saturday I had my work cut out for me.  After breakfast I wanted to stockpile some firewood so that I wouldn't have to purchase more from the store.  $7 for a tiny bundle of super dry fast burning wood just seems like a waste of money so I cut and chopped and carried firewood back to camp for a while before we kitted up for our planned 3hr MTB ride.  Lots of dead-fall around the area meant I had plenty of raw material!

Getting primal.  When the log is too big for the  tiny hand saw and the hatchet,  I used the SMASHER.
We then kitted up for our ride and Allison needed my ID and USAC card from my wallet.  I had placed it in the car, but then we ran for Fuel and supplies after setting up camp and it was no longer where I remembered putting it.  We frantically turned the car and camp upside down hunting for it.  We came to the conclusion that I had to have lost it after paying for the supplies at the store so we jumped in the car and drove down searching the sides of the road.  We asked inside the store if anyone had turned in a wallet.  Things looked bleak.  Then Allison remembered that I had told her that I put it in her camera bag!  Wow!  I don't like feeling stupid, but what a relief!

Ride time!

The route we picked for the ride was lots of fun.  We left camp and climbed towards Keller Peak, then dropped down Exploration Trail, climbed 38 to Rim Nordic, rode a lap and most of a second lap of the XC course for the next day, then back down 38 and up to camp.  I felt pretty good on the ride, I struggled a little technically on Exploration Trail, but I think that it was likely due to a severe mismatch between tires and trail conditions.  The Rim Nordic course was super fun and I was totally looking forward to Sunday's race!

After the ride we checked off all the boxes for stuff that needed taken care of.  First on deck was cleaning up and we had a bit of fun with showering outdoors.  Following that was hydration, food, bike prep, firewood, pictures, etc.  I harassed Allison about her iPhone, but I am glad she is enjoying and I like having the pictures to steal for my blog!

I think it was good for me to get some time with the SMASHER, it was definitely therapeutic.
After all the work on our firewood collection and the fatigue from the ride I decided I needed to rest a bit so I went to lay down in the tent for a few minutes while Allison prepped our bottles for the race.

A delicious Ballast Point Sculpin IPA was consumed and a typically amazing BBQ dinner followed that and we were in bed long before I was able to burn through my stack of fire wood.

The Mann site complete with Sworks'.
Sunday was another beautiful day in the mountains and after breakfast we broke down camp and packed it back up in our little TDI.  With all the driving to races and stuff I am really glad we pulled the trigger on the new car.  

With the later race start and an extra long warm-up Allison's patented Steel Cut Oat breakfast and two Jetboils of French Press coffee didn't seem like enough.

My stomach was grumbling big time about 30 minutes before race time.  I wolfed down the easiest food to get to in the car (2 Fruit Leathers) and was super stoked that they had Clif Bar samples near the water jugs by Registration.  I shoved a tiny Clif bar in my mouth, slammed a small cup of water, dumped some more water on my head and back, and lined up to go racing!

I was bummed to find out that my wave started 8 minutes behind the Pro men.  I guess if I want to get to race with the big dogs I need to get upgraded!  The coolest part about racing Rim Nordic is that if CAT1 men place in the top 5 of the Pro class *times* they get to take home the prize money for that position.  I was on a mission.  I wanted to be in the money!

Photo credit : Mrs. Dean Swank.(Laura Ranney)
Off the start line I didn't waste any time.  I set a harder pace than what was comfortable and only Jason Rusnak followed.  It was really hot and dry out but I wasn't holding back.  I hoped he would hang on longer than he did as it can be motivating to race with someone else, but I was soon all my myself with the exception of an occasional rider, none of which were moving fast enough to work with.  Two themes kept me moving as fast as possible.  First that this was preparation for Nationals, this was hurting myself at altitude, if I am to do well at Nationals I need to race fast at over a mile of altitude.  Second was that I wanted in the money!  There was a good showing from the local Pro racers and it was going to be a huge boost of confidence if I could finish with a top 5 time overall.

Photo credit : Mrs. Dean Swank.(Laura Ranney)

I gave it my all.  I had a few rough patches during the race, on the second lap I had some issues with staying focused, I even went down on a loose corner losing precious seconds.  On the last lap I had some issues fighting with my dreaded leg cramps.  Overall I felt like I had a decent race.  In the end I gave it what I had on the day and came up the fastest Amateur time on the day, 32 seconds behind the 5th place Pro time.  Didn't get in the money but there were some seriously fast dudes out with the deepest Pro field I have ever seen at Rim Nordic.

Definitely an awesome weekend all around.  We are already trying to plan what is in store for the three day weekend ahead.  Whatever I do I look forward to doing it with this girl...

Best companion ever.

Full gas toward Nationals!  BRAAAAAP!!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

2011 Kenda Cup West Champion

While the title gives away the subject of my blog post, it doesn't tell much about the other stuff and that is what I want to look back on to read. So for those that like "Short Attention Span Theater", I won the 35-39 CAT1 Kenda Cup West Series Title.

Actually I had the title wrapped up after Santa Ynez. Even counting points and a half I clinched it. I have to admit though, with Ben and Brian racing in the Pro class now, the victory feels a bit hollow. After Fontana I didn't get any bar to bar racing except with racers that were not in my AG.  I am reminded by the finish times of Ty and Marco that I need to be faster to win races outside of Socal, and am worried that the lack of competition will leave me unprepared for my next big race goal.

It didn't much matter to me that I had already clinched the Socal Championship Series, I am headed to Nationals soon and racing at altitude is going to be a big challenge there. Since Big Bear is at altitude and I have historically struggled with cramping there, I figured there is no better training for Nats than to smash myself up high. To make the weekend even better Allison and I decided to test out a weekend of camping in our new little car. It is a challenge for us to pare down our load, we have always been famous for "cramming 10lbs of shit in a 5lbs bag", dating back to our R/C racing days.  So this weekend played double duty for us, camping road trip and altitude racing!  PERFECT!

Still can't believe we fit all our crap in this little car!

Friday after work we headed up to the mountains.  Our little car was loaded down with lots of stuff!  Camping gear, tools and racing gear, and our race bikes on the back.  We planned on camping at Barton Flats but by the time we got up there the place was full.  I asked the Camp Host about availability of sites and he said that San Gorgonio campground up the road might have spots.  A short trip up the road we found an acceptable location for our homestead and set to work cooking dinner and setting up camp.  Dinner was great, boneless pork chops with asparagus and quinoa, and we indulged ourselves with some great beers, Stone Lukcy Basardt followed by a Kernville Brewing Just Outstanding and finally a Firestone Walker Reserve Porter for dessert.  By the time we went to bed we were both fairly well smashed!

I didn't sleep well.  Woke up many times, had a wicked headache, but the new Thermarest pads that we bought at REI were very comfortable and I didn't have my typical camping body aches, big bonus!  Saturday morning we got up (slowly) and had both Jetboils fired up to make coffee and Allison's patented Steelcut Oat breakfast.  Eventually we headed up to Big Bear and rode a good amount of the course (rode the Medium Course).  I felt pretty good but for some reason had a lot of muscle soreness in my legs.  Not sure what caused it.  Unfortunately my bike wasn't feeling so well.  A couple of miles in to the ride my bottom bracket started to complain.  By the end of the ride it had mutated into a cacophony of creaks and pops and moans.  Not good, in reducing the volume of stuff to take I had eliminated several items I would have needed to do a rebuild!

Immediately after the ride we hauled butt over to Bear Valley Bikes and were super stoked to find the proprietor, Derek Hermon, in the house!  Derek hooked me up with his mad wrench skills and some top notch tips and tricks!  I am not sure anyone knows the Sworks race bikes quite like him and I am extremely grateful for the fact that he sacrificed some of his ride time (he was kitted up and headed out to ride when we arrived) to help me.  Derek, you are the man!!!!

After turning my Chitty Chitty Bang Bang bike back into the rocket sled it was designed to be, we headed back to camp and set to work making dinner again.  Due to some "above and beyond" type efforts at work I had obtained a gift card for Omaha Steaks and part of my order included a "Free Gift" of "Gourmet" hot dogs and hamburgers.  I fired up our PIMP ASS TOO DAMN BIG AND SHINY camping grill and set to grilling meat and veggies.  What I wound up eating was quite satisfying, despite the not-very-impressive meat I had to work with.  Grilled red onion, grilled sweet peppers, avocado, thin sandwich flats, and meat (I had three cheeseburgers and two hot dogs!).  Allison and I joke around that we are like fish, if there is enough food available we will eat till we explode.  I came close.  We also enjoyed an Alaskan Limited Edition Imperial IPA.

Hope you like my jugs!
Thanks to Allison and her iPhone for capturing so many food pics!
Sunrise on Sunday morning was pretty amazing!

We turned in early and despite a wicked headache (again?! I don't know whether it was the beer or the altitude) I got a good night's sleep.   Sunday morning we were up early and rushing to pack camp, cram it back in our little car, and cook breakfast.  I really like camping with Allison like this, but it is for sure a lot of work for me!  We got up to Big Bear with plenty of time to prep and warm up before our races.  I decided to forgo warming up with Allison and ride up 2N10, then down Pirates and Fall Line.  Fortuitously, Eric Colton joined me and I appreciated the chance to ride with him before he heads off to join the Specialized Helmet design team (Eric you will be missed, come back and ride/race with us often!).  I felt like I had a good warm up session in my legs and decided to go stage for the start.  The staging area was a cluster eff!  Guys were walking around yelling at everyone trying to chat and stage to clear the road.  At first I was very confused as there were no cars driving up and we were supposed to be staging for our race.  It turns out that due to the remote start for the 50 miler, and the start timing, the 50 miler contestants were scheduled to climb through our staging area a couple of minutes before we were supposed to start.  I guess Team Big Bear/US Cup is still learning.  In my opinion the course layout/design and timing of starts were bad enough at Big Bear, adding the 50 miler like they did just made things less optimal (trying to be as polite as possible, I have no hate for the race promoters/organizers!)

Eventually we were lined up and took off up the climb.  Marco again put in a huge attack off the start and nobody followed.  I remember in years past when Marco used to make these attacks and they always seemed stupid because he was soon going backwards through the field.  I take it back.  The dude now attacks and checks out and doesn't fade or suffer.  Huge improvement and quite remarkable/inspiring!  I was in the chase group that included Ty, Griffith, and several others.  The pace was brutal and I was suffering.  Ty seemed to be cruising and had extra energy to push Griff a few times to help him stay near the front.  When we crested the climb I am pretty sure it was just Ty and me, and Eric Colton who had started ahead of us but tagged on as we worked through traffic.  Griff might have been very close as well.  Moments after passing the Pro women (Allison was right with Deya which was HUGE for her to hang up the first climb) Ty soft pedaled a few strokes and looked over at me to pull.  I really had no intention of pulling for a stronger rider (did he not think I saw him push Griff?) and he didn't seem to want me tagging along as he put in an acceleration that popped me off the back.  My attempted response to his attack, however weak, shelled anyone else that was trying to hold my wheel and it left me all alone on the top of 2N10.  Every now and then as we undulated across the mountain I would catch a glimpse of Ty who was 40 seconds or so up on me and gaining ground.  So much for hanging on.

The rest of the race was pretty uneventful.  There were tons of cars on the course, which is never a good thing but I felt like I was going pretty good and was constantly passing traffic (50 milers were doing the same course as us and we were working through pretty much that whole field).  However I was never in contact with anyone from my wave so it is hard to judge.  I suffered where I always do, the single track climb up from the bottom of Cabin 89, and rallied in the same location on the fast fire roads afterwards.  On the fire road descent at the end I discovered another issue with the simultaneous running of the 50 miler.  As we were descending 2N10 at breakneck speeds, the Pro class from the 50 was set on a collision course with us.  I played it safe and didn't have any issues, but it really seems like a risky situation to have two way race traffic in addition to all the jeeps and motos that are out on course!

At the finish line I looked at my Garmin and was stoked to see I had finished in around 1:46.  I was pretty sure my race a month earlier had been around 2hrs so I thought I had cut a huge amount of time.  Looking back at results however they had my finish time at 1:48:43 so I was only a few minutes faster.  Not as impressive, but I figure I would likely had been faster if I felt I could take some risks descending (less cars/riders/traffic).  I waited around to see how Allison would fare against Deya and much to my surprise she was victorious!  It is a huge deal for her to slash somewhere around 6 minutes from her finish time in a month. Hopefully she can keep the momentum going and salvage something from what started out as a horrible year for her!

So there you have it.  Approximately one year from my return to pedaling after breaking my neck and knee (first ride back was June 29, 2010) I have smashed the Kenda Cup West winning 5 of the 7 races, and am looking forward to my trip to Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho.  Nationals, regardless of finish position, will be the capstone for my comeback from my crash.  I am sure I will be lined up and shredding the course before I know it.  Hopefully I will have a good story to write about, but I know I will have a great time!

See you at Rim Nordic next weekend for more high altitude suffering.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Smiling through it all.

Tumultuous.  That is how it feels my life is lately.  I have so many things in the process of change, so much stress, so much going on that I feel at times that I am not going to be able to keep it together.  Sunday during the race I found a very real analogy for how I feel about life in general right now.  Before I get to that I figured I would share a bit of the lead-up.

Plans came together last week and my mom would be joining us up near Solvang for the weekend of the Santa Ynez Kenda Cup West race.  We were going to sort of double-up the weekend since my birthday is coming up.  I had been planning on driving the new TDI up and seeing what the amazing little diesel is like on a longer weekend road trip.  Unfortunately the weather outlook was not so bright.  Thursday we decided that it would be better to have the truck for this trip.  If for no other reason other than to not trash the interior of the new car with muddy race gear!

We took Friday off work and meandered our way North.  We stopped off at our wonderful sponsor's shop, Rock N' Road Cyclery, to grab a few odds and ends and say "HI!"  After that we stopped off at an REI for a few other odds and ends.  We wanted to go for a little bike ride somewhere on the way up and Gary Douville responded to Allison's Facebook request for an easy ride with some sweet bluff-top single track over looking the ocean in Goleta.  The ride was perfect, exactly what we needed!  We even found some sweet little jumps and stuff.

After our little ride we headed to the place my mom had booked for all of us to stay for the night.  It was a "Thousand Trails" facility in the Los Padres NF area.  We all jumped in my mom's car and headed to dinner at the Firestone Walker Tap Room in Buelton.  Such an awesome night!  Great conversation, food, beer, wine...  we even had TWO desserts!  (the server made a mistake in our favor, collect bonus yummy empty calories and advance to GO!)

Friday night the weather started up.  The wind howled and woke me up many times in the night.  The morning started out partly cloudy, but deteriorated rapidly as we lazied around and ate breakfast and drank coffee.  By the time we left for the race venue to go register and pre-ride there was some rain falling here and there.  Allison and I rode a lap and a half of the course, got to see our favorite DH racers, and generally had a good time.  We then ran over to the Firestone Winery and purchased some wine (2 bottles for Allison's Dad, 1 bottle for my mom that was the same as what we had the previous night at dinner, and 1 for us!) before hauling butt down to meet up with my mom and have some coffee and pastries in Solvang (more caloric indulgence, noticing a pattern yet?).

Okay so this is where there starts a few kinks in things.  We have been struggling some with how to approach the bike racing and training while enjoying the life experience.  Previously Allison was going to conquer the world on two wheels (she still is, but not this year) so we were both very focused on every detail of every second of every day to get her there.  With a delay in her World Domination we have shifted some focus to life experience including beer drinking and other such indulgence.  The problem comes when these things directly contradict what we know to be the ideal race preparation/experience.  Anyway, at times this internal controversy causes some friction between us and that certainly happened on Saturday evening.  We wound up eating the leftovers Allison had thoughtfully/carefully packed as a pre-race meal, then joining our favorite DH'ers where I had some pizza ("I like pizza, Steve") and then I had an ice cream sandwich.  Downward spiral much?   At the same time Allison was freaking out, worried that racing in the cold and wet was going to cause more "Black Death Foot", certainly something that we both fear in a major way.  The Mann Show had shifted from a situational comedy to a drama for the night.  The rain and wind pounded away outside, a physical manifestation of the struggle inside?

Sunday morning we had our regular race prep breakfast and headed to the venue.  Somebody had definitely done a rain dance and we were going to pay the consequences.  We started our warm up in the rain and things were sticky to say the least.  My warm-up was weak.  The lap count for the race kept changing.  The course changed.  I had no idea what was in store for us, wasn't even sure what the course was.  We didn't have anyone to do bottle hand-offs.  With no idea on race duration I had one bottle on my bike and hoped for the best.  #tumultuous

My group lined up with the AG below us (just like at Big Bear) so we had Ty Kady and Marco Arocha in our group, as well as Brandon Gritters.  I figured I would mark my main AG competition and Gary Douville topped that list.  I guess the weather scared off Eric Bostrom who had pre-registered.

I took a few deep breaths and we were off.  We funneled down to single track quickly and I think I was around 8th wheel.  The first little climb had a bunch of shuffling and I moved up to 6th.  The guys in the front were all strong so I figured I was in a decent spot.  On the first major climb of the lap I moved around Ted and then Gary.  Looking ahead it seemed that Ty and Brandon were checking out and Marco was in between.  Right at the top of the climb Umberto put in an effort and passed me.  I rode behind him for a good portion of the descent before going around which gave Marco a pretty good gap.  The rest of the first lap was fast and I was trying to hunt down Marco.  Conditions weren't too bad and the rain was light.

The second lap things changed.  I was right behind Marco going through the Start/Finish.  After catching him I sat on for a while, then went around and pulled for a while.  When we hit the climb I just kept a good pace and Marco followed.  Near the top of the climb I caught Chloe Forsman and rode her wheel for part of the descent.  The track was getting quite slippery, mud was starting to clog people's bikes, and we were hitting a lot of traffic.  We got hung up behind some kids and we were pretty much track standing.  Marco dropped off the track to the left and cut a switchback to make the pass so I followed.  Better to not force a questionable pass on little kids and the single track was slippery!  Marco led onto the next climb and we were working hard through very heavy traffic.  Marco seemed to be making some pretty iffy passes and I tried to play it safe which gave him a gap.  We caught Derek Hermon and Marco tried to pass on the left but slid in the mud and fell.  I moved past him and stayed behind Derek until I could get a clean pass and then just motored on.  The rain was coming and going and the mud was getting really bad.  Somewhere around this time I just decided to smile and have fun and not let the conditions derail me.  I knew I was leading my AG and was 3rd in our wave, likely overall for amateur racers.  The next descent really tested my attitude!  Right before getting there I passed Alex Estrada.

At the top of the next descent there was a guy standing there and he said, "The trail is extremely slippery, watch for down riders, be careful!"  I said, "Thanks!" and thought to myself that I could handle anything coming.  I will now forever know the next section of trail as "The Slip and Slide."  No sooner did I enter the trail I was sliding sideways and moments later was picking myself and my bike up off the ground.  I did this a bunch of times.  It seemed I was making decent time as I caught the Pro Women's leader, Lea Davison, and complimented her on the awesome new Specialized Fate race bike she was on.  Catching and passing a World Cup racer was very encouraging!  I figure she races in crazy conditions and has a great deal more experience in mud than me so it really stoked my engine room.  Unfortunately the mud was starting to take it's toll.  My FD stopped shifting altogether and only certain gears would work in the back.  I kept bunny hopping and slamming my bike down to knock mud off, but it didn't help the FD.  As I came into the main race venue I made a decision to stop at the bike wash that was pretty much right on the course and wash off my FD.  It took about 30-45 seconds, but I think it was a very smart decision as I now could shift in the front!

The 3rd and final lap was quite an experience.  I am not sure I could convey how much the track looked like a war zone.  People were standing, walking, carrying bikes.  I just kept cranking and smiling.  The carnage seemed to effect everyone except me!  I passed Zack Valdez standing on the side of the trail scraping mud off his bike.  It seemed like I was in a constant state of calling out "Passing Left" or "Rider up, please move".  I wasn't mad, but I did not want to slow down.  I had a theory that if I went fast enough the mud couldn't stick to me!

It seemed there were three kinds of people that were hiking with their bikes, many people were cheering me on and commenting how amazing the Pro riders were at dealing with the conditions (I am NOT a Pro!), an equal number were asking me how the hell I was still riding everything (I just kept smiling and cranking hard!), and a small minority of the people were so shell shocked by their own personal struggle with the conditions that they were completely unaware of anything else.  Near the top of the second big climb of the lap one of these people managed to smash me in the face with his rear wheel as he swung his bike around to shoulder it.  Not long after that I was shocked when I passed both Brandon Gritters (he was in the second category above) and Ty Kady (who I will classify in the first group as he said something like "Good work dude").

I was now leading the amateur race for sure (nobody goes faster than Ty), and had definitely lost count of how many times I had crashed and slid around in the goop.  Going down "The Slip and Slide" and finishing the lap it seemed I was all alone on course.  It was pretty cool.  I just kept smiling and miraculously my bike kept working!

Fastest non Pro, 2nd fastest time of the day!

Post race coffee to warm up.  Man is it nice to have the Jetboil on tap!

I swear my bike hates me now.  First Sagebrush and now this?!?!  #rebuildneeded

It seems I took the second fastest time of the day!  I got my birthday wish.  All I wanted from myself for the 36th birthday was a good race.  :)

Keep on smiling!  See you at the next one...