Friday, June 21, 2013

Alps Alps

More detailed report to come later, but here's a vid taken on the climb up the backside of Alpe d'Huez (Col de Sarenne) with Becky. We'd climbed the traditional route the day before and despite the hype and Tour de France tradition of the 21 switchbacks, this alternate route was significantly more scenic and challenging... 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

2013 so far...

I haven't posted here in a while but a lot has happened this year. The collarbone is healing well and I'm glad the metal plate is out and the bone is almost back to full strength.

On training, I've been focusing exclusively on the bike and with a new cycling coach and my power numbers have improved substantially over last year. That's good because I'll be racing a lot this year, on the dirt, on the road, and on the grass (cyclocross). For various reasons, triathlon will be taking a backseat for now as I enjoy my time on the bike and the occasional running race.

Here are some travel, training, and racing highlights from the year thus far: 

Redefining Badass -- The Masai Warrior
A conference in Nairobi in late January offered the chance to visit the Masai Mara National Reserve for a couple of days. Given my strong aversion to following the tourist herd, I managed to find a remote safari camp nestled at the border of the Mara and thankfully away from everyone else. Needless to say the camp was awesome. Anyone thinking of a safari should seriously consider the Enkewa Mara Camp. Apart from personalized attention (they only have room for a dozen or so people at a time), the safaris are on legitimate 4x4 vehicles and not in minivans cramped with 15 other people as in other "resorts". We rarely spent any time on the regular dirt roads, rather paved our own path through the Reserve. While others strained through binoculars from afar, we managed to get within a few feet of lions, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, etc. Further, we had a former Masai Warrior as our wildlife spotter and he had an impressive knack for finding all the cool animals one would want to see. 
The lions couldn't care less that we were sitting 5 feet away from them!
For me personally, the most interesting aspect of the trip wasn't necessarily the wild animals, but rather the community of people who live with them. The Masai people have traditionally lived in villages on the outskirts of Mara and interact almost daily with wild animals from the Reserve. The Masai hold a special bond with their cattle; in fact, they believe that the entire world's cattle belong to them! A select few become Warriors in their prime years who are charged with protecting their villages and herds from wild animals and rival villages. These are legitimately badass dudes! As a rite of passage in the past, warriors were required to engage and kill an adult lion with their bare hands -- not sneaking up or spearing from afar, but face to face. Our spotter had killed 3 lions in his days as a Warrior. Thankfully this practice is now on the decline because it is cruel and unsustainable, but it gives you a sense of how tough and fearless these guys are. 

While badass sort of comes with a Warrior title, these guys are also incredibly friendly and welcoming. I was lucky to spend one morning climbing a big hill just behind our camp with two of them and we had a great time. I'm pretty fit so stayed with them as they set a torrid pace up the hill and in some little way I think they respected me more afterwards. We also visited one of the local villages and helped boost their economy by buying some of their handicrafts. I came away fairly intrigued by their way of life. I can't say I would go back for a safari as sitting in a car watching wild animals, as awesome as they may be, isn't exactly my idea of fun. But I did it once and its marked off the bucket list.    

This is my favorite picture... Notice the stuffed sheep key chain on this Warrior's backpack. Turns out this lion killer is a big softie!  
At the top

We got stuck a few times...

First Race of the Year: Bakers Dozen 13 Hour Mountain Bike Relay
Shifting gears completely, the cold winter days spent training indoors on the bike trainer culminated in the start of racing season. Becky and I were signed up as a co-ed team for the 13 hour Bakers Dozen race out in Leesburg, VA. The event is incredibly fun, very well run, and a blast to participate in. 

This was my second mountain bike race ever so I was a bit nervous about my technical skills. Thankfully the course isn't terribly technical and I had great fitness going in from months of focused training. And we did pretty well -- managed to snag 4th place which is pretty good given than the top two teams consisted of pro riders. I was a bit nervous about night laps but managed to borrow a gazillion lumen bike light from a friend which lit up the trail better than sunshine and all was good in my world! Becky came into the race a bit under-trained given her habit of skiing rather than biking most of the winter, but she rode like a rock star and even went out for a final lap just before the 13 hour cutoff. 

This was an awesome race and can't wait to do it again next year!  

Excessive Training Syndrome: Colorado Climbing Trip
Normal people spend long weekends sunning themselves silly at beach resorts, but Becky and I plan 19,000 feet of vertical gain cycling trips to far away destinations. This time, our target was the small cycling mecca of Boulder, CO. If one can ignore some of the silliness that abounds in the city (like a triathlete climbing at 4mph in her aerobars... wtf??!!), there is fantastic riding to be had right from the city center.

We were mindful of the fact that just getting accustomed to the altitude in the valley would be a bit of a challenge since Boulder lies at about 5500 feet of elevation and we live at sea level. And further, all roads out of Boulder go up into the Rockies. But we weren't dissuaded. Neither were we dissuaded by the fact that we were both coming into this training weekend already in the negative on training stress balance, Becky significantly more so than I...

With an elaborate plan to ride-till-we-drop hatched, we hopped on a plane to Denver on a Thursday night in late April, renting a car and driving into our awesome Air BnB condo in Boulder around midnight. The next morning, we were up early and after a hearty breakfast at a recommended local joint, we swung by the Scratch Labs mothership to grab some nutrition. One of the guys there who looked like a serious bike rider suggested a long 80+ mile route that looped the famous Flagstaff climb with Peak to Peak highway and onwards to Lyon. In passing he mentioned a bit of dirt road along the way but dismissed it as being rideable on road bikes. Becky and I decided we'd tackle this monster the next day and spend today on a lighter route getting used to altitude and new bikes. 

Armed with yummy drink mixes and a riding route, we headed over to University Cycles on Pearl Street to pick up our rental bikes. What can I say about this place? Its simply an awesome cycling store. The vending machine outside for bike nutrition and tubes ought to have suggested a great experience inside, but the cake really goes to their rental bikes. I'm talking top of the line 2013 Cannondale Supersix Evos with complete SRAM Red grouppos. Plus the people at the shop were super helpful and nice. They suggested a climb up to Ward and back, about a 75 mile loop so we decided to tackle this as a warmup.

Riding in Boulder is fantastic. You take route 36 out of Boulder going north towards Lyon and this road by itself is stunning. The Rockies are on your left and the vast valley stretches out on your right. The road is rolling but nothing significant and soon we made a left turn onto Lefthand Canyon Drive and started a long uphill haul towards Ward. The climb felt great and we made good time towards Ward, though the upper reaches had quite a bit of snow still. We stopped at a great little convenience store in town, a perennial cycling stop and refueled on cokes and snickers (at least I did!). Then it was a short slog to Peak to Peak Hwy, followed by a fantastic descent into Lyon and back to Boulder. We both felt great during the ride and were eager to try the experimental route the next day.

yeah, we're goofballs
The views were just magnificent
The next morning started with yummy bagels and cream cheese at a trendy coffee shop where we also bought some additional bars and other nutrition for a long day in the saddle. The climb to Flagstaff begins immediately from the city center and the views along the way are quite stunning. Its a steep climb but not terribly long and we made it to the top in good time. The real tippy top is actually a few miles further up the road than where people normally turn back (as per the Scratch Labs dude) so we only claimed the summit once we hit the mailboxes about 6 miles into the climb.

Pretty nice day to be out on bikes
From here we descended a bit to a dam and then continued on till the road dead-ended. But we were expecting this and looked around for a bike trail and could only see a very sketchy snow covered dirt path. Feeling adventurous we took the path and spent then next 5 miles on trails conducive to mountain bikes rather than bikes with 23mm road tires.
Umm, where tf is the road?!
Luckily, both of us are mountain bikers so managed to ride most of this crap on the bikes and didn't get a single puncture to boot. We were hoping for paved road after 5 miles of rocky snowy ok-we'll-call-it-a-trail, but were only rewarded with a bumpy carriage road for another 5-6 miles till we hit Peak to Peak highway and the town of Nederland. Here we caught up with some Bontrager pro team kids who were out hammering the hills and grabbed some coffee and snacks.

So glad to be on paved road again!
From here there was a major uphill haul on the highway followed by some nice descending till we hit Jamestown road, and after some more sketchy dirt road, we hit the real steep descent and bombed down into town.

At this point, I was feeling a bit tired and would have been happy to spend the next day just tooling around but Becky had other ideas. So off we went on another 90 mile ride on Sunday morning, this time to Estes Park. Surprisingly my legs felt pretty good and we passed Teejay Van Garderen out on a fast bike ride. The altitude got to me a bit at the top as we spent a good chunk of time above 9,000 feet. But this was well rewarded with a bombing descent into Estes Park. The views here were not just magnificent, they were magical. I would go back and do this climb again just for the views.. and the descent. We both hit about 50mph on the bikes on the way down and it was awesome. 
At the bottom of the descent into Estes Park
 We should have realized that cities are built in valleys so naturally the only way to get out of Estes Park was to climb some more. Of  course, this was quite unwelcome but we slogged through it and then descended gently into Lyon and beyond into Boulder. Then it was a quick bike return and drive back to Denver for the flight home.
Two happy campers

Wildcat 100 Mud Bath
It rained and rained and then it rained some more. This was all before we arrived in New Paltz, NY for the Wildcat 100 mountain bike race. Becky had the bright idea of this "exotic" race that has been on her bucket list for a while. I wasn't too keen on 100 miles so opted for the more forgiving 100K option.

Turns out that this is a shit race. Very poorly organized, poor course markings, and terrible trail choices. The rain didn't help at all and made the already make-shift trails through cow patches and orchards into slow slogs through deep mud. A bunch of us riding together got lost due to lack of trail signs, but the worst was having to do 3 extra miles at the end when I had already done 67 of the 66 miles I signed up for (as per my garmin, which always under-reports if anything). Those last 3 were in mud filled single track where it was impossible to ride a bike... Even the pros were crying about conditions at the rewards and the race director was booed onstage...

But it was an experience and I finished despite the trying conditions and some bike problems, which is great. and I didn't have any spectacular crashes. Becky was lucky and found a riding buddy, Greg, along the way and the two of them chewed up the 100 mile course together.

Here are some pics that speak for themselves:

Glad to be done

Yeah.. thats mud!

I don't know why I was smiling here. This must have been early in the race

And she's smiling at the finish. wtf?!
Yeah, long day

Becky with her riding buddy, Greg
A well deserved beer

Upcoming: Cycling in the Alps + Work travel to Lima, Berlin, and Moscow
Stay tuned for a report on what promises to be yet another epic climbing trip in June, this time in the Alps, where it is STILL snowing right now -- the Giro d' Italia was rerouted off the Galibier due to snow. Lets hope it warms up in the next month or so, else Becky and I may just have to ride our mountain bikes up the snow-covered road. Not doing it is not an option... obviously!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bionic No More... Just Screwed Up!



On March 4th, I went into surgery to finally get my left clavicle plate out, just a shade over three months after it went in along with 10 screws. 9 of those also came out with the plate but the doc kept one in that was inserted across the main fracture line. He thought it would be helpful to leave that one in instead of trying to dig it out. This screw will remain with me permanently. 

Actual clavicle plate and 9 screws that came out
So the big question is why did I get my plate out, and why after just 3 months? Insanity! Yes, to some extent, this is quite suboptimal. While my bone fractures have healed, taking the plate and screws out leaves 9 screw holes in the bone that need to fill in, a process that can take 3 months or longer. I have a greater susceptibility of breaking my bone again if I fall on it during this time

But the odds are not terrible. The doc's analogy is of a 2x4 with 9 screws inserted and then removed. Yes, there are holes in it and yes its not as strong as a solid 2x4, but its still a flippin 2x4. Absent a spectacular crash, I should be ok even in the next 3 months. 

But why take the risk, you ask? Well I had some complications. First, the plate plain and simple bugged me. Car seatbelts, backpacks, and pretty much anything on my shoulder bothered me. But more importantly, my surgery wound did not want to stay shut -- I could actually see my plate. Apart from the disgust factor, this was asking for an infection. The doc tried to close it in his office (a bloody process, mind you) but that didn't work so well. So he said we'd have to go in under anesthesia to re-close the wound. Hence the discussion of taking the plate out... 

Basically, I wanted the plate out because of reason #1 above. So the choice was to either go into surgery now and re-close the wound and then go into surgery again in 6 months or so to get the plate out. The alternative was to go in now and do both things in one go. One less surgery. One less possibility of not waking up from anesthesia. So the choice to me was obvious. 

Yes, I carry a marginally higher risk of breaking my bone again but I will be cautious and won't be jumping mountain bikes for some time, possibly ever. It would suck big time if I have to do this all over again

Part motivation for writing this blog entry is to provide some knowledge and experience base for those facing similar decisions. I couldn't find much objective analysis on google -- conversations and opinions were all over the place and rarely backed by medical advice. My doc thinks I'll be fine, and I trust him -- after all he is the #1 rated sports medicine doctor in the Washington DC area