That first breath of air when you first step out into the clear, crisp, cold morning, catches a bit in your throat and lungs quickly bringing your senses to a heightened state if you’re not yet fully awake. You hop on your bike and immediately feel that cold air get even colder on your face from the wind. Your nose starts to run; your cheeks start to freeze. They’re cold but not yet painful.
Continuing on your commute you take in the bright morning sun that’s going to warm it up so quick; if only you could wait another little bit to go, also affording you that extra little bit of shut-eye and a few more sips of hot coffee. But you can’t and you’re already on your way. You’re a couple minutes in and are feeling your ears start to freeze. That hat you wore on last night’s run isn’t quite sufficing. You alternate hands pressing against your ears to keep them from going completely num. You dodge that ice sheet from the house that still thinks its summer and wants green grass.
The sun’s bright; you’re warming from the effort despite the increased speed. Your down jacket’s doing its job superbly. Almost there. You’re almost bummed that your commute’s about to end but the next hot coffee beckons.
You get there. Frozen toes, cold hands, but you’re wide eyed and awake ready to take on and enjoy the day. That second first sip of coffee of the day, ahh, so good. It hits the spot better than the first.
I like to race and as much as possible at that. It continually gives you that fulfillment you’re always craving as a cyclist as well as the benefits of pushing your limits further and further, thus making you faster. When not racing I do love crushing long hard rides but don’t do so well with the specific interval based training otherwise required to step your game up.
Following the incredible Cascade Cycling Classic (NRC) in Bend, Oregon in July I didn’t have any racing until September with the Tour of Alberta (UCI 2.1). I knew that in order to be at my best come September I had a lot of hard work to do but being me, I’d do it my own way.
The day after Cascade (a hard 6 day stage race) I climbed the 3rd highest peak in Oregon, South Sister (10,358ft (the one NNW from Bachelor if you did the race)). It was awesome to say the least and was my introduction to the coming month or so that I would stay in Oregon.
Supposedly one of the best was to improve your athletic performance is to sleep high and train low. This allows your body to adapt to the higher altitude while recovering thus producing more red blood cells but training low so you can still hit your maximum during your workouts with the higher oxygen content (actually it’s the same but higher pressure to force it into your lungs).
Bend isn’t too high or low, just under 4,000ft, but the top of Mt. Bachelor is at about 9,000ft. This would give me the perfect setup to be able to train relatively low and sleep relatively high without a hypoxic tent or any of that jazz. The only disadvantage, which I used to my advantage, was that to get to the top you had to ride 1hr30 or so depending on how hard you were going, from town to get to the base of the ski lodge, and then ride up a fairly gnarly ski-access road that took you half-way up the mountain. The remaining half was another 45 minutes or so of pretty steep and rocky climbing via the hiking boot. And then you could eat dinner and go to bed under the stars with an incredible morning view to wake up to. I can’t say that hiking is the best way to train for pedaling in such a limited motion but hiking on a steep uphill is actually fairly similar to the pedal stroke so is decently good for strength building. The contrary to that is hiking downhill, which is hard on everything; your knees, ankles, hips but luckily there was still quite a bit of snow down off the top of the mountain so I could boot-slide pretty much all the way down to my bike in the morning. Perfect. And then I’d ride back down to town and do the same the next night.
To further add to my climbing of Bachelor, I did some awesome backpacking trips that included some more awesome mountains, such as Middle Sister (10,047ft), some incredible lakes and waterfalls, and an old abandoned mountain lodge; Old Santiam Lodge. I’ve always had a knack for old buildings imagining what they used to be like back in their hay-day and what brought them to their current state.
This lodge was built in 1940 by the CCC and was a mountain retreat that could house up to 80 people. You could stay there for $1.25/night (link1) and then ski at Hoodoo Ski Bowl, as it was called then. In 1959 it was then run by Ed and Alice Patterson, who were associated with United Presbyterian Church, (link 2) and who lived at the lodge for 18 years, running it as a place for youth as well as a hostel for hikers and skiers and anyone looking for a retreat. The price by then though increased to $12.75/day which also included 3 meals. Ski rentals were also available. With a seemingly limited documentation of its history, other than occasional newspaper articles, it seems to have been sold in 1987 by the Presbyterian Church and was then presumably owned by the US Forest Service of which it is still owned. With still a descent structure and a relatively new roof put on, it would be a sweet place to remodel and open to hikers, skiers, and outdoor enthusiasts. The only issue with it now, which might have been part of the reason why it was allowed to deteriorate, is that it is close to a busy main road that runs through the pass from the Bend Area, east to Portland. If this was further from the road out in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, it would be quite the place that I personally would be willing to remodel given I had the money…
With so much awesome riding, climbing, camping, and pretty much everything in Bend, it was hard to leave. What did make it easier though was that I then headed to Colorado where my brother just moved. The riding and everything down here is definitely different but awesome in its own way. It has some incredible mountain riding with climbs that are freakishly long and steep along with some good group rides and races to balance your long interval days. Furthermore here, I could continue my sleep high, train low approach except being a bit higher on both ends. Also, I was a bit spoiled in that I didn’t have to ride/hike to altitude to sleep as my brother graciously let me use his truck to drive up dirt roads above Nederland to camp at 10,000+ft. Waking up, not quite every day but most days, was awesome with incredible views up to the continental divide along with some cool old mines to check out on morning hikes along with views of a moose and a bull elk at about 10yards. One thing that being out here in Colorado and in Oregon the past 2 months has made me question is how have I not lived in the mountains for such a large part of my life. Definitely something that is to be changed.
Hopefully this unconventional approach to getting fast does actually make me fast at Alberta. I know I’m the lightest (another awesome benefit of being at altitude is that you lose weight without even trying) and fittest I’ve ever been in my life. But the sweetest part about my approach is that this is the most fun I’ve had in quite a while doing what I love on all fronts. So whether or not doing all this actually makes me fast is half irrelevant as you’re always going to perform better when you’re happy and doing what you love. So next week at Alberta I’ll be giving it my all; 1, to make all the hard work I’ve put in worth it, 2, prove to myself that I belong at this level, 3, I can’t keep chasing the dream forever even though the road to that dream is a dream in itself, as not actually living anywhere for 7 months out of the year on practically no money does start to lose its luster, so I have to get results enough to achieve a contract enough at the level I want, and finally, we have a pretty solid team that has more than just potential to do something big. We all seem to be on the cusp of something big so hopefully we’re able to pull it together for the last big race of the season to go out with a bang. Here are some stats from the beginning of July to round out an incredible summer.
Stats from the previous 2 month:
Nights slept on an air mattress: 30
Nights camped: 15
Miles ridden: 2700miles
Feet Climbed (on bike): 155,666
Miles Hiked: 40, not much but a lot was uphill or downhill at over a 45% grade.
Number of ice cold swims (in water seemingly in the 30’s): 5
Number of beers drank: Probably triple the previous 6 months. (Beer is awesome, why’d I ever limit myself…)
The first time I did this race was two years ago and I knew I’d be back, whether racing or just to experience Bend. Bend is truly an amazing place. Someplace I could easily see myself living. It’s a town that not only has a cool downtown area with awesome restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and an epic amount of breweries, but also close proximity to basically everything I love. Big mountains with endless trails for hiking and mt. biking, rivers to float and paddle as well as amazing lakes (so I hear), awesome road riding, and apparently great skiing, both downhill and nordic. And the people here are awesome in every way. So in a place that is so awesome can only have an awesome bike race, which they did.
Cascade starts off with a cool prologue of 4k with a couple technical sections and a bit of an uphill. I always start off too hard but in a prologue that’s good as long as you don’t blow up completely and can keep it rolling to the finish. I was the very first rider off and held the lead for awhile but eventually ended up 8th with some fast riders slipping ahead of me by a few seconds. The worst part about this prologue, especially coming from the humid east coast, is the lung you cough up after from not being used to the dry air. At least got it up and out by the first road stage.
The first stage was supposed to be a new course up by the Warm Springs Indian Reservation about a 2 hour drive north of Bend. However there was a large forest fire right next to the roads we would have been riding so instead we did two loops of Mt. Bachelor totaling around 170 to 180k with a good bit of climbing during and at the finish of the race. I was keen on getting into the days break but it was not to be with about a 4k climb to start the race which in hindsight was probably good that I missed it. The temperature kept on climbing throughout the day and we supposedly hit 100F. Good thing they had neutral feeds being here on my own; through the one I grabbed 4 bottles. With the heat and not being as good at going up hill as I should be, I slipped out of the front group into the second on the finishing climb loosing my top 10 position. After the race, and stage 3’s as well, I rode the 40 or so k back down to town to get an even more solid week in as well as not having transport besides my legs. Although the Kelly Benefit Elite guys did give me a much appreciated ride up to the start. Thanks Andrew Seitz, Marcos Lazzarotto, and Neal Shepard!
The second stage was a 26k, pretty much flat, out and back time trial in a valley that is signature of the American West. I got to take in these sights of cattle ranches and views in my pre-tt ride of the course fortunately as during there was not much looking around going on. I felt I could do a good time so gave it my all but couldn’t quite hold the pace I did on the way out the whole way back. I finished 37th, 2:11 back from the winner who smoked it.
The third stage took us back up Mt. Bachelor for the 3rd and 4th time but this time we started in Bend which met we had almost an hour climb to start the stage. I had the idea again to try and get in the early break (I think I always have that idea) but quickly realized I needed to find some good wheels to follow just to make it over with the lead group. Surprisingly I did make it over in the dwindled field but it mostly came back together in the following 50k. That then set up the chase for the break into the final climb up to Bachelor which was long but not as steep as I had anticipated so actually was able to make it to the top in the rather diminished field. The biggest take away from these two big summit finishes is that I need to get leaner and climb better.
Saturday brought an evening criterium in downtown Bend which brought out enormous crowds that lined the entire course. The race started out blazing fast, probably 35mph average for the first 5 laps, or at least it seamed like it. They changed the direction of the course this year making the first turn crazy tight which brought the whole field to an almost standstill except for the first 20 riders or so. The one line that would kind of save you from a stand still was up on the sidewalk, Belgian style. Almost every lap would have a solid line of riders taking that option further making for an exciting crit. The finish was blazing fast with lead-outs and anything behind the first 5 riders got dicey. I managed to position myself well but banked too much on my final sprint and finished 7th. Should have jumped with 300 or so meters to go as I can normally hold that but hind sights 20/20. Next time…
The last stage finally brought a course that more suits me; shorter climbs, fast, and unrelenting. I was again keen on the break and was in a bunch that looked promising the first few laps. I however was one break off on the one that finally did go and to add insult to injury I was then too far back on the last lap on a seemingly not to be decisive climb which saw a small group including the yellow jersey slide up the road. Tried a few times to go across but didn’t quite make it. Kind of a disappointing way to end a solid week of racing with having good legs but not having it add up to something substantial.
My Stage 6
I love mountains and everything to do with them and being someplace with awesome amounts of them and not actually going to the top of any of them would be hugely disappointing. South Sister is the highest mountain around Bend and the third highest in Oregon at 10,358ft. It’s a 12 mile round trip, non-technical hike that starts up through a super cool forest of huge pines and no undergrowth. Definitely different than what I’m used to so I thought it was pretty awesome. After a couple of snowfields and tons of loose Mars looking rock on a fairly steep accent we made it to the top and the views were simply amazing. Pictures never do anything justice, maybe an idea, but you have to go someplace to experience it. Also climbing South Sisters really showed me, even though I already knew it, that I need to do more than just bike riding. So much to do and that I want to do, why only do one of them. Gota find that balance that not only makes you great at what you want to do but also the happiest. Definitely was too focused on the former the first part of this season and it still doesn’t always make you great.
So to making more Stage 6’s. In a few weeks I’ll tell of what those Stage 6’s entitled. Doubt there’s any other pros in the world doing what I’m doing, and having as much fun doing it.
Coming into the beginning of May brings me to month three of being on the road. You always hear guys talking of the tour and how three weeks is like an eternity with the first week feeling like forever ago come the end. It is finally the end of this stint on the road and the start of it in Brevard, North Carolina, the beginning of March for training camp, really feels like forever ago. The weather’s changed, the scenery’s changed (practically every day), the forms gained massively, the racing has included everything, got sick, got better, got sick again. We’ve done a lot the past two months to say the least.
Being on the road this long staying in everything from roadside motels, to homestays, to a country house on a spinach farm sleeping on everything from a good bed to a bad bed, to an air mattress to a couch makes you really appreciate being home and want to come home that much more.
That said, where’s home? Guy’s I haven’t seen in a while will ask where I’m living and the honest answer is really wherever the race is. Home where I grew up will always be “home” but home being a place you always return to consistently, have a spot for your toothbrush whether you’re there or not, is currently non-existent. Racing as I am now doesn’t really allow it with the calendar being so widespread in all aspects makes continually traveling the cheapest and most viable option. It’s definitely a life that not all would want to live but traveling around the country seeing all sorts of places you would only ever see on vacation makes it pretty well worth it, plus you get to ride your bike, a lot. The past 2 months has taken me from North Carolina to Florida to Quebec to California, back to North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina, and ending back in Quebec. Some places you probably wouldn’t go back to but were still neat to see once and some places you didn’t want to leave.
A balance of living in one place and having that place to consistently return to along with being able to still go and race in all of those places and more would be simply awesome. Of course I have been improving and trying to get to that next level to make a lifestyle of this much more feasible. However, racing at the level I’m at currently only really allows you to skimp by and not spend money on the things you should to improve to the next level such as eating the right foods, having a coach, having massages or any attention to any problems/injuries, or even just not worrying about expenses.
Fortunately the first part of the season has landed us some solid results in some fairly big races which earned us some extra change to get further than just the next race. To get to that next level I decided to put this extra change into having a coach again, which I haven’t had the past 3 years, to hopefully get the results I’m capable of in the upcoming races later this month and next. Not having a coach has given me the freedom to do what I want in training which most of the time leads to less intervals and more long rides which I love and could do day in and day out. Hopefully combining my old school ways of riding a lot and burying myself with more specific training will get me to where I want to race and be able to more feasibly have that place to go back to consistently and call home.
So for now it’s time for some down time in some familiar places along with some solid focused training but first a pesky eight hour drive back from Quebec.
Traveling all over the country and continent as a bike racer gives you the opportunity to step into the world of others and see what it’s like living in their culture. We are now at a ranch, farm house outside of Greenfield, California for the week and the weekend for the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey. The rolling hills here bear but a short grass and the occasional cluster of trees which look exactly as you think it would from an old western movie. The flat plains between the hills and mountains are pan flat and here filled with fields of vegetables. Spinach I know, the rest I’m not sure but they are endless. And not far from here there are millions of grapevines with so many wineries or perhaps just a few owning the majority. On our drive here before the endless vineyards are orchards upon orchards of varying fruits of which I think was the southernmost extent of the California Central Valley.
The endless agriculture around here shows in the grocery stores as you’d expect. Although I’ve never been you would have thought you were in a grocery store in Mexico. For one the people; we stood out like sore thumbs, but all the produce and selection of everything including the meat counter. Also they had a lot of things I’ve never seen before or would not expect at an everyday grocery store such as shrimp powder or peppers of variety’s I didn’t even know existed. The people here seem to be much more in touch with the foods they eat and demand a wide variety of produce as I’ve never seen a grocery store with such an in depth selection. And cheap too. I guess when you live near where a lot of your food is grown…
Super stoked to go ride here as it looks incredible, like you’re in Spain or Italy somewhere. I guess one valley over from here is some of the most scenic riding in California. We shall see.
(Check back tomorrow for some photos.)