Thursday, May 5, 2011

Check Your Ego at the Bottom of the Hill

This was part way up Latigo. Looking down at the roads we came from.
Sort of an ironic title to give to my last instalment about my California climbing experience. California, in particular the Southern California Los Angeles region where I was riding, is by definition the Ego capital of the world.

I would say, the necessity of keeping your ego in check quickly became the theme of the trip for me. Out in the Santa Monica Mountains it is every (wo)man for themselves.

I went on this trip thinking I was a better than average climber. Kind of an arrogant thing to think when you live in a Very Flat Place. Nobody else in this camp came from flat places. I tore up the first climb of the day on Day one like some possessed animal and pretty much blew up by the end of the day and wondered how the hell I was going to survive the week. There was a point on the second climb that I said to Don through choked gasps and a heart rate of about 180: "I need to stop. I need to drink and I can't swallow with the way I am breathing."

That was on Yerba Buena on Day 1 when I still thought it would be nobel and big of me to be able to do all these climbs without stopping (how naive). This was a 10 mile climb up cruddy roads which on the 4th day when we did the first third of it again, felt kinda gentle. Funny how that happens when you pace yourself.

Later in the week on Thursday night at diner, while everyone ate lamb (I won't eat anything "baby"), and I ate steak with my fork fisted in my wonky left hand, Don made some comment about me kicking his ass up one of the climbs on the first day. I have no recollection of any such thing happening and I said so (and for those who know me, if I did remember and if I'd taken pleasure out of such feat as some measure of my own ability, I would surely toot my horn a little bit). But I fried myself on Day 1. I'm sure I lost a few brain cells to anoxia at the same time. And Lord knows Don beat me up and down many more hills during the week. Enough that I often told him to not worry about me and just go... which he did on a few occasions, but not many. I didn't want to hold him back.

Ann said from down the table, "Sure sure, I bet he's just saying that to protect his male ego."

"No. No.. I've been riding with this man for 4 days. I can honestly say I haven't seen one shred of ego. Not one."

And I can say that of most of the people at this camp. There was no point in doing these rides if you were going to turn it into an ego fest. This wasn't some LBS ride with a sprint at the end. A sprint for the county line, as they do in North Carolina. Or a sprint for the bridge over the perimeter as we do here in Flat Winnipeg. I challenge you to TRY and sprint at the end of one of these California days.

We went for dinner every night with Rich, the tour leader and those of the camp that opted to join in. It was different faces every night and depending on the faces, the conversation changed. One night we talked about literature and Rich's affinity for the Casanova biographies. One night it was beer. Usually me goading Don into having another or as it was one tired night, Eric goading me into having one at all. I was in the restaurant known for it's beer. How could I turn him down?
Eric's last day. He was off to a series of crit races in Atlanta on the Thursday. He shouldn't have been drinking that beer either that night in the restaurant. Eric is coached by the same guy who coaches Frank Schlek and has trained with both Mark Cavendish and Bernie Eisler from HTC during the off season in California.
But really when you do a camp like this, it is the people that make it what it is. I'll start by telling you about Paul from Vancouver with his brand new Pinarello he'd bought for himself the year before.
Paul and his Pinarello
What did you do to earn this purchase? I asked him one morning. Paul was a quiet guy. Probably shy, I suspect. He didn't start joining in on many conversations until about that 4th day and he never talked in the big group (not even when they were making fun of how Canadian's talk -- I still insist I DON'T say a-boot), only one-on-one is when Paul spoke -- that is, when we actually saw him. He kept to himself. Rode by himself. What did he do to earn the Pinarello? He rode a steel bike for 14 years before that. Well earned, my friend. The reason why we never saw him much and he rode by himself is that he was in a class of his own. There was no one that could ride with him.

Well there were the "Santa Barbara Boys," maybe. They dressed in their identical kits every day and outclassed everyone. They must have been pros or ex-pros. They looked at me with dry contempt when I teased them about looking hot in their matching gear. We never saw them at all. I couldn't even tell you their names, other than you see them go past us in the Day 4 video. No one, not even Rich or Eric knew what they were all about. We never once saw them at a SAG stop.

Or maybe there was Reve. I think Reve rode with Paul on one day. Reve is a 64 year old guy of Hispanic descent who could outride most everyone I know in this province in endurance feats. He didn't ride the last two days with us because he was headed to a double century race somewhere in Northern California. We heard his tale at dinner the first night of how for his 60th birthday he rode across the US from California to Maryland in 21 days. And he would have rode home too but he called home and his wife had a plane ticket purchased in his name for his return trip. On Day 3, Reve rode up and down the first climb up Rockstore at least twice checking on everyone.

Carol and her 11 pound bike.

And Carole, Reve's riding partner. Ex Torontonian (we won't hold that against her) who's lived in Tahoe for 25 years. Reve built her 11 pound bike for her. Yes, 11 pounds. That's not even legal, if you are a racer that is, which Carole is not. I heard her remark, on more than one occasion: "I haven't really earned this bike." Top level Stork frame was what it was. There are apparently only 25 of them in the whole USA. Pricetag? About $8000 for the frame alone. Never mind the components. Making a bike 11 pounds doesn't come cheap.  Carole was the most persevering among us. Of course, she'd earned the bike. She wasn't the fastest, she'd often leave the SAG a half hour before everyone else and still be last in, but she is the one that never stopped on a climb. Never. And I never heard her complain once.

I however, whined as often as I could.

And then there was the rest of our crew. If we had been on the flat we could have formed a great pace line and worked well together but we were in the mountain hillsides riding past multimillion dollar homes (most of which were for sale) wondering what the heck they did if they needed milk at 11:00 at night. Nothing was close. Or riding through Malibu where we saw peacock road-kill and a woman walking her dogs while driving a golf cart.

The veiw of downtown Los Angeles from one such million dollar for sale home.

But in the California hills there are no pace lines. You could grab a wheel for a while here or there but you were either going up something at 10km per hour (or less), or down something at 40km per hour (or more). And there wasn't much wind. Screw cheating in draft. You are on your own for this adventure, baby. Don and I rode a lot with Bob and Ann from Vermont on and off. But Bob and Ann hammered us on the climbs. They were two limber and light people and they had triples to work with (Don and I both had compacts -- it slowed us down often forcing us to grind it out -- in fact, on day 1 and 2, Don only had a 25 on the back).  But Ann was a very nervous downhiller and that's why we saw them on the road so much. It was the great equalizer.
Bob and Ann up on Piuma
The DC boys, Mike and John, were strong riders too and often passed us if they started after us. But they had off days. They were behind us on Day 3 and stayed behind. They didn't do the whole day on 11,000 foot day. But they were back in tip top shape on the last day when I struggled, and flew through the last two climbs.

And Judy, another Californian. She had an unorthodox bike positioning but she could power up those hills at a steady pace.
Watching the view: Mike and John from DC, Don, Bob and Ann. Rich in the background.
And Ray who is doing Ironman Texas at the end of the month. Apparently he didn't spend much time on the bike this winter. I think this trip was his bike training for Ironman. On the last day, he was right with Don and I up Las Flores. Las Flores 18% hell... for 1.8 miles. I stopped about 4 times to survive that stretch. I was long over my need to preserve my ego and not stop.

I did however, always refuse to walk any of these steep climbs. There is no walking in cycling.
Me up on Piuma on that part of the Day 2 video that most people have commented about where I  can be heard saying: "I wouldn't die if I fell."
And Jenn.... how I talked her into this, I'm not sure. Maybe I didn't. She has her own brand of crazy too. She didn't spend much time on a trainer this winter. She spent a lot of time doing anaerobic training at ELITE and eating spinach and nuts and seeds and chicken. She could have gone and lay on a beach on her vacation but she came out to LA for pain and punishment instead. Aside from the classic moment when she went to pee in the bush and came running out screeching from a snake encounter, my absolute favourite Jenn moment was sitting at the last SAG at the top of Latigo after 11,000 feet for the day and watching Jenn round the last corner and hoot and holler the whole way in. She did the longest day of all of us that day. A wrong turn earned her about 3 extra kms of climbing and probably another 500 ft more than the rest of us who finished. I even had her drinking beer by the end of the week.
Jenn and I at the top of Latigo at the last Sag stop of big Day 4. I think our faces say it all.
So now I recover. I've been home for 5 days. There are two races this weekend. My legs wouldn't survive either of them and I have no motivation to race. For whatever reason, earning race stripes no longer feels like what this past week was about. I'm sleeping about 9 hours a night and eating about every 2 hours. I still feel like I got run over by a truck. My daily training plans for the week say: 60 minutes of light aerobic activity. Not very high performance sounding but they are necessary. So I commute. I tried to run yesterday (it was too much). The 30+ km/hr winds we've had the last few days have felt deadly on my single speed bike. Wednesday's rain and chill felt worse.

I got an email from Don earlier in the week after his regular Tuesday night group ride. He said his heart rate never got to max and he found himself pushing the pace on more than one occasion in ways he never could before. That's what California did for him.

My brain is in a fog and I'm still trying to figure out how this week will change me. It is assured that it has already. It has changed me as an athlete. It has changed how I approach big efforts. It's changed who I am as a person.

And that doesn't feel like a very profound way to end this post but I haven't completely figured it out yet. I'll let you know when I do.

That's me showing my good side at one of the Los Angeles beaches. That water was cold.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Funny how things like this can change your life perspective. Looking forward to a 'girls' night to talk more..gin/wine/beer may feature prominently! ;0)