29 May, 2011

The Beginning of Summer (A Story within a Story)

This was written on the 24th of May:
Technically it hasn't started but it has gotten off to a distressing start. My Dad, for reasons I'll keep to myself, was in the hospital for a specific malady when they found a much more serious condition that might be causative to the original malady (ies). Haven't been in the mood to write since this happened. It's difficult to see your Dad-my musical, personal, comedic, familial, and paternal guide-being weakened by age-related, health paroxysms. But since then, I've completed the Santa Fe Century with my good friend J; in fact, I've posted his report on the previous blog entry. Here's what I came up with-on the 14th of May-before the condition of my Dad superseded the priority to write.

The reason why I’m here’s for the Santa Fe Century. Haven’t done any high volume miles this season so what better reason to hang out with my dear friend Jay of multiple decades in a cosmically hip place like Santa Fe to ride, catch up, and decompress from another end of an academic year (aka working my ass off!)
The road trip down to Jay’s cabin (aka ADMACO) was uneventful and sonically blissful. It was a cold and foggy start in Colorado so I handpicked music aligned to the unpredictable, quasi-mysterious, gastronomically adventerous, Georgia O’Keefe-ey, geo-socio-political state of being known as New Mexico. First one up was Miles Davis’
Filles de Kilimanjaro
. The first and last songs are memorable. In Felun Brun when Miles’ trumpet kicks in it is so understatedly powerful and strong it just cut through all the cold and fog that was settling in Sedalia…

Six hours later, nearer to Jay’s cabin, the sights I was so accustomed to as a 20 something undergrad when Jay, our friends and I would take refuge from the pressures of being said 20-somethings were foggy. But once I started rolling through Pecos, NM the memories of times at the cabin came slowly into focus. One of them was the tiny Church...
...The roads sure seem a lot narrower than what I remembered but the trees and the spatial orientation of the landmarks I used to remember where still there. Coupl’a houses got bigger but by and large this area of NM is still largely unchanged.
Jay has a log book in the big room where guests would remark on the day they were having as vacationers. Saw some entries I put in when we went mountain biking (like back in the mid-nineties) and it made me laugh from a majorly by-gone era. This is the Cowles city limit sign almost directly in front of the house (which is up a steep-ish hill).
Here's the vantage point looking at ADMACO from the city limit sign.
At Jay’s I gave my bike the once over and rolled for about half an hour getting my legs warmed up for tomorrow. This is what greeted me after the fog and cold I left Colorado this morning...

19 May (new story). I'm finished with my duties as a teacher and immediately afterwards I flew to TX to help out my Mom and to see my two brothers who were rallying for Mom as well. Our cousin Gerry also came up from Austin to visit and help us. As we were cleaning up/de-cluttering our folks' house I came up on two unopened bottles of Glenlivet (12) hanging out where non-alcoholic possessions usually hangout. Aw deem. So (mathematically speaking): the boys + our cousin Gerry + an unopened bottle of (The) Glenlivet = cigars and a newly opened bottle of (The) Glenlivet in the backyard (for catching up, decompressing, and general shooting the $hit). Gerry likes his neat, whereas I nosed mine before I sacrilegiously put (distilled watered) ice into it.
Seeing my brothers-all together-was excellent. We haven't been together for several years so hanging out with them and Mom (although the reason was $hitty) was rather satisfying.

Back in Colorado, the weather is currently holding in the precipitation pattern so my "free" time to ride (in-between picking up and dropping off the kids from schooly-school) is going to be interesting. Do I ride in cold rain/snow or run indoors? Either option is not particularly attractive, although the half-marathon's coming up...

It's going to be an interesting Summer. Heading out again (with my son and our Golden Retriever) in early June to help out Mom as my brothers and I are staggering our times in Plano, TX. Melissa's sympathetic to my situation because she's cool like that. Gonna bring my road bike.

24 May, 2011

My friend, Jay's Santa Fe Century Report. Entitled "Sammy Ortiz"

This is a redacted excerpt (from me, the .PDF threw off my margins from the beginning of his text) from my homeskillet, Javier De Soto Santa Cruz de la Collier's (yes, that's his real name and don't let him tell you otherwise) post race report of the Santa Fe Century. It's quite and enjoyable read. Hope y'all like it as much as I did. But, here's the breakdown of Javier...

Synopsis of Javer de Soto Santa Cruz Real Madrid como esta usted de la Collier (yes, that is his real name and don't let him tell you different) and our friendship of two plus decades.
-As a graduate student Jay was a HARD cyclist (years of West Texas headwinds made him hard).
-Jay has an MS in Organic Chemistry with a minor in English.
-we laugh and drink a lot of beer together.
-he still owns the original Selle Italia turbo SLR saddle.
-his patent for sliced bread was stolen so that made him bitter about entrepreneurialship.
-a mutual friend of ours got me a life-guarding, summer job where I met the narrator of said story back in 1989-ish.
-our mutual love of: cars, beer, music, geeky science stuff, people who write well, and food (to name a few) made our Venn diagram circles (his and mine) mo' similar rather than contrasting.
-lastly, he has plead the fifth more than once with his episodes pertaining to jurisprudence.

Characters (in no certain order):
-Jay=first person narrator (omniscient no, but cool? yes).
-Elizabeth=narrator's homeskilletienne.
-Jeff Winchester=conduit o'cycling knowledge and narrator's friend.
-Sammy=phred, tool, poseur.
-Mike=yours truly.

We begin with Jay's background in West Texas as an undergrad beginning with his downward spiral that is cycling...
Second race – October. Again, Sammy talking to friends before the race, “I’m not racing today because I’m upset at how Darrin put this race together. He took the whole thing and just did it, cutting the rest of us out when we offered to help, so I’m not racing today.”
I began to see a pattern. And at the time, I was one of the new guys in the group, so I sought the advice from a higher power, a buddy of mine, Jeff Winchester.
“That Sammy guy?” I quered
“Oh, don’t even get me started on him! Man, he’s worthless!”
“Does he ever ride? Or does he just talk about it. Because he’s always got some excuse as to…”
“He’s either got an excuse, or he’s quit everything he’s ever entered. Don’t ever quit a ride. Because once you quit one, it’ll just be that much easier to quit the next one.” Such words became prophetic as I rarely saw Sammy out there riding – though he was always full of knowledge.
Santa Fe, New Mexico – Sunday May 15th, 2011, 6a.m. we stepped out of the car to go pick up our ride packets for the 26th annual Santa Fe Century. And immediately upon setting foot outside of the 4Runner, we felt exposed – to the wind and to the temperature, or lack thereof. A quick check of my phone revealed a temperature of 46 degrees, but that didn’t factor in the windchill.
And with the 30-40 mile gusts we were feeling I didn’t want to know what the perceived temperature was. Sometimes more knowledge isn’t a good thing.
I couldn’t figure it out – 6a.m., just barely dawn, and it was already gusting this badly and the secret to this ride is to get an early start so you can make absolutely as much progress as possible early in the day, cover as many miles as possible out of 100 before the winds do kick up (as they will) in the afternoon.
But at 6 a.m.?
“This is going to be an interesting ride,” I said to my riding compadres, Mike & Elizabeth.
And I hate wind.
Living in Lubbock as I did, you’re faced with it every spring. Brutal wind – the kind that turns the sky brown from all the dirt it kicks up from the outlying farms. And if you’re going to ride in Lubbock, you’re going to have to learn to ride in the wind. And while I did learn to hide from the wind, that doesn’t’ mean that I like it any better. In fact, having spent 10 years in Lubbock, I feel
as though I’ve already received my life’s allocation of wind. I’ll gladly take climbing over riding in the wind. Because while every climb has its section to offer reprieve, wind has a way of just absolutely being relentless and breaking your spirit.
We’ve had an unusually windy spring here in Denver this year, which has on more than one occasion hampered my training efforts. Knowing this, and knowing my vocal sentiments about riding in the wind, my friend & colleague, Jim asked me, “So what are you going to do if you get down there and it’s blowing like crazy?”
“Don’t even say that,” I said. I then went on to describe my strategy as far as getting an early start and covering as may miles as possible before the afternoon winds kicked up.
But here it was, 6a.m., and the sun hadn’t even crested Atalaya Mountain yet, and we’re facing a 100 mile day – that we signed up for, paid money for, and traveled clear to Santa Fe from Denver to ride. Any other day, I wouldn’t have gone out. Or I cut my rides down to 20 miles if it’s absolutely essential that I go out that day. Otherwise, forget it.
Because I hate riding in the wind.
The Santa Fe Century route begins by immediately taking you south out of Santa Fe along NM-14 to the town of Madrid, about 26 miles away. And last year, we hit Madrid in 1:25, averaging just slightly over 20 mph.
This year, with the wind gusting out of the south, as soon as we made that left onto NM-14, which turned us south, I knew we were screwed. And for a long time.
Riding out on the flat prairie, you’re quite exposed. And traveling at any rate of speed on a bike induces a windchill in & of itself. Add wind to that, and you’ve just increased your exposed windchill that much further.
Mike took off like a rocket, and cyclist upon cyclist passed Elizabeth & I, and what their secret I couldn’t even tell you as we were getting blown all over the place – our bike’s direction at times being dictated by the gusts which blew out front wheel haphazardly.
I just didn’t know if I could do it. 100 miles of this?
Why would I want to do this?
I couldn’t even answer the question. But there were other people out there, and I just kept heading south.
And if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would I?
Evidently so.
Another aspect about the Santa Fe Century is that because of its route, you have to make a decision relatively early as far as centuries go, if you’re going to bail from the 100-mile route and take on something shorter. And the way this route is laid out, you have to commit to cutting your ride to 50 miles before you even reach the first rest stop in Madrid at 26 miles. And I can’t tell you exactly how far that point was from the start, or how long it took for us to get there. But I can tell you that both Elizabeth & I stopped.
And we looked at each other, long and hard. Because there were a lot of other things I would’ve rather have been doing that day than riding in a gusting headwind.
“I’m fine, if you just want to go in,” Elizabeth said.
And I would’ve been fine too. I would’ve had no problem making that decision.
“I know.”
And we looked at each other some more. And we saw people making that left turn to cut their century ride short because of the wind. And we stared down that road.
“I have to go on,” I said. And it felt weird to say it. It’s like they weren’t even my words. “I have the Iron Horse in two weeks. And while I have no problem making this decision to head in, I have a feeling that I’m going to have a hard time living with this decision later. I need this workout to prep for the Iron Horse. And if I quit this, then it’s just going to make the Iron Horse that much bigger of
an obstacle to overcome. I have to do this.”
And I thought of Sammy Ortiz.
And Jeff Winchester, “Don’t ever quit a ride. Because once you quit one, it’ll just be that much easier to quit the next one.”
Such decisions are easy to make, but much harder to live with. I then discussed my revised ride strategy – how we’d just try & noodle along into the wind, but trying to make that left turn at Stanley, NM which turned us back north and put the wind at our back as soon as physically possible. And I tried to explain to Elizabeth how she could draft behind me, hiding from the wind to limit her exposure.
But the truth was that neither of us knew if we could actually pull this off. 100 miles in a day is hard enough, but in wind like this? That said, I don’t think either of us entertained the worst case scenario idea – catching the sag wagon in because we simply couldn’t make it. I have to believe that once we clicked back into our pedals and set off, that we truly believed that we would make it. And in just a few miles we had made it to the first rest stop in Madrid. I think it was good for our spirits to at least have made it to the first rest stop. Our next obstacle, wind aside, was that most of the elevation gain in the century occurred in the next two segments to Cedar Grove – the 1600’ climbed out of Madrid, coupled with what is usually considered to be the true crux of this route, Heartbreak Hill which rises toward the sky at a 17% grade over a half mile.

Upon pedaling out of Madrid, I accidentally clicked my left shifter. But when I did, suddenly realized that I had dropped my chain onto the smaller chainring in the front, thus affording an easier pedaling cadence than what I had experienced previously – I had been climbing the hills into Madrid in my big chainring.
“What the?!?? I’ve been running my 53 all morning so far?” I had neglected to drop it back down after motoring out of Santa Fe at the speed we departed.
“I saw that and thought, ‘Gosh, he’s awfully strong to be pushing that gear!” Elizabeth said.
So once realizing I had additional (and easier) gears that I hadn’t yet used, the 1600’ wasn’t bad to acquire as the foothills, depending on which way you were facing, did provide a bit of relief from the wind to the point where our direction wasn’t dictated by the front wheel reacting to the gusts. But conquering Heartbreak Hill, for me at least, would have to wait another year.

“That’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” Elizabeth said as she saw the road rise steeply skyward.

Last year, I made it about 1/3 of the way up before stopping and walking the rest of way, as did Elizabeth this year. But this year, merely approaching it heading backinto a headwind was enough to immediately surrender defeat. Besides, we still had 60 miles to go in what was so far, an arduous day. As for Mike? He conquered the entire 17% grade in the headwind, then proceeded to single-handedly rescued helpless orphans from a burning building once at the top, and then put out the fire with his two water bottles before the fire department even arrived.

Mere mortals like Elizabeth & I can only aspire to be as great.

We skipped the rest stop a t Heartbreak Hill as it came before the monstrous climb and neither of us wanted to cool our legs before approaching that thing by stopping, so we soldiered on, descending into the Cedar Grove rest stop. This allowed me have the volunteers from REI take a look at my rear wheel, as it was feeling soft on the descent – and they replaced without delay using their own replacement tube. A classy move, and I’ll be a customer of theirs for life. But having skipped the rest stop at Heartbreak Hill, and using the rest stop at Cedar Grove to tend to a mechanical, I knew I was running low on fuel, but also knew the coveted Stanley rest stop was only 15 miles ahead.

And Cedar Grove marked the first of two essential left turns of the day, as it marked the southernmost point the route of the century would have us take. From here we would head back east into Stanley, and then make the left turn I had been dreaming about since Madrid – the one that took us back north, hopefully with the wind at our backs. Onto Stanley, and for the first time all day, at mile 50, we were no longer facing a direct headwind, but rather more of a diagonal cross wind. I motored as hard as possible to bite off these miles and make it to Stanly to turn back north, and ended up conversing with a couple of guys along this long straight stretch.

“This wind is relentless,” I commented.

“I’ve ridden this century 7 years now, and I’ve never seen it like this. How you can run a 100-mile course and face directly into the wind for 65 of those miles is beyond me.”

This guy felt my pain, though his misery evidently didn’t love my company because a few short pedal strokes later, his small group was gone. And my commands to the engine room for more power fell on deaf ears, because I hadn’t eaten. I was running on fumes and 7 miles out from the rest area. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth had caught up to me.

“I’m not going to lie,” I said, turning to her. “I’m really hurting here.”

“I can’t say I’ve enjoyed too much of this day, myself.”

We were wounded. Though in the distance, we could see NM-41, our cross street, that dear left turn that would turn us back north. I checked the wind – still coming from the south, if only it would hold. And a few short minutes later, we pulled into Stanley – the two of us needing a rest stop like we’ve never needed one in our lives before. We were famished, our spirits beaten down by the wind.

But the atmosphere at the Stanley rest stop contrasted with us as it was light & jovial, reggae music playing, and the volunteers happily serving up Gatorade, sandwiches, cantaloupe, pretzels and oranges, welcoming our arrival. Not since the wild hyenas of Africa were featured on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom have you seen such reckless abandonment while scavenging. We ate everything that was offered and consumed massive amounts of Gatorade. It was our longest rest stop of the day, easily 30 minutes.

We fought for every one of those 62 miles to make it into Stanley. But what lay ahead of us was the long straight road back to Santa Fe that passed through Galisteo & Eldorado. Last year, I fought a headwind through this section the entire 41 miles that it was back to Santa Fe. This year, I could only hope that this was the left turn I had been dreaming about putting the wind at our backs as it was nearly 20 miles to the next rest stop.

And having been beaten down by the last 15 said, “I really need for this section to go well.”

Sometime after 12:30 p.m. by the time we left Stanley. We had been on the road for six hours and covered 65 miles. Yet there it was, just a few short pedal strokes later, we could feel it – the wind at our backs for the first time all day. What was a difficult section last year proved to be a heck of a lot of fun this year – rollers, but with a net downhill. So powering down the backside of one would help slingshot you part way up the next. I felt good, I felt strong. I passed countless
people on the upside of the rollers. I felt like my old self again and for the first time all day, remembered why I loved this ride so much. We gained a lot of ground back on that stretch 20-mile stretch which went by all too quickly.

Galisteo to the final rest stop at Eldorado is a net climb, culminating in a long, gradual hill several miles long that rises out of Lamy and continues on until just a couple of miles south of Eldorado. And while it isn’t hard and is completely ridable in contrast to Heartbreak Hill, it’s about the last thing you want to see at mile 82 into a century. And after blowing my legs on the previous section,
decided simply to noodle this section to save some of my energy for the fast trip back to Santa Fe from Eldorado.

“On your left…” I heard come up from behind me on the climb out of Lamy, so I moved over to the right to allow the female voice to pass when it continued, “…at some point.” As she wasn’t moving any faster than I was. To that point, it was the funniest thing I’d run across all day, and as tired as I was, shared a good laugh together with a stranger who was as tired as I was at this point in the day, trying to climb the same hill as best as possible.

Elizabeth led this section, chugging along like the cog train that she is despite the fact that she detests climbs, and we met back up at the rest stop in Eldorado.

92 miles. We were almost there, you could practically smell the chiles roasting in Santa Fe.

“We have just a couple of miles to go here, then we make a left onto I-25 for a fast shot across the interstate and back into Santa Fe.”

“I’m not counting my chickens until…” she said.

“We’re practically there, this section is going to go by in a hurry,” and in fact while we were motoring along I-25 again with a tailwind, I turned back to her & said, “Enjoy this feeling right here, because it’s all just about to be over.”

And we motored this section – as hard as we did the section from Galisteo to Eldorado, until finally we saw our Old Pecos Trail exit. Stopping at a light, we saw some police activity on our side of the road, but on the other side of the intersection – a couple of cop cars plus a motorcycle cop.

“I hope that wasn’t a cyclist that got hit,” Elizabeth said.

I couldn’t imagine coming all 100 miles in a century, only to be mowed over by a car with the finish line literally in sight. But once we got to the crime scene, we realized that it wasn’t a cyclist at all that was involved – it was an Amish family that had been pulled over for some reason.

“That has to be one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen on a bike! But that made the rest of the day completely worthwhile to see that.” And as brain dead as we were at 100 miles, we shared a good laugh over that one while quietly wondering to ourselves what in the world an Amish family could’ve done do have caused such a commotion with the Santa Fe police. That, and I never really pegged the Amish to be such scofflaws.

And upon finally arriving back at the 4Runner, found a note on my windshield saying how Mike had finished the century in 6 hours flat, to our 9. All these years Mike & I have been riding together (term used loosely), he’s still an animal with his worst day still being than my best.

Denver, Colorado – Tuesday May 17th, 8:38 a.m. – And when my colleague Jim approached me and asked me how it went, I was able to answer his question, “You asked me what I’d do if I were faced with a bunch of wind for the century – well, I guess I’d ride it.”

“Don’t ever quit a ride. Because once you quit one, it’ll just be that much easier to quit the next one.”

Besides, if you go around quitting rides, then you’ll never get to exercise your imagination as to why some poor Amish family got pulled over in the dream state that comes around mile 100.

-courtesy of Jay (not used by permission either beetches).

p.s. it was just a smidge longer than a century