Monday, December 30, 2013

How we Prepare for 2014

The end of my race season is marked by the annual international travel with my wife! It never seems to last long enough. I don't ever take a bicycle so I am forced to do extended walking and hiking as a form of cross-training for the following year. I doesn't hurt that my wife can "walk me into the ground." She will power walk for 12 straight hours and I will be begging to take a break.

 Travel coming to an end in Mid November leaves me excited to plan for the upcoming season and allows for some fun specific riding. I ride with anticipation for my final big "fun ride" of the season called the "fat boy birthday ride." A large group of guys and gals gather in West Virginia to ride and celebrate the birth of the "All Mighty" Jr Petsko. We endure the elements riding On and OFF road-usually in some wicked conditions. This year was no exception. I don't typically ride in these conditions but it is so much fun to get out there in a non-competitive ride with these peeps!

 Serious planning starts to take place looking toward the New Year. Preparation for 2014 race season needs to begin. My favorite place to go and reflect on the previous year and plan for next is

the BEACH & Brunson Villa, Surf City, NC.

Two of Our Best Friends live here and love to have visitors! Lucky for us we love to travel; So serious training starts for 2014 here at their home in North Carolina were I ride all morning and walk the beaches with my wife Caito in the afternoon. The roads are flat here in North Carolina and you cannot hide from the wind. It is a perfect place to commit to the saddle and get in long steady miles.

Every day Chef Myrna would say that I can't go ride without a little something to give me energy! She always choose an international theme for the meals of the Day. This day she did a Turkish tribute meal in recognition of ours recent travels. It usually turns out that I'd rather to take a nap after the daily breakfast than ride! My wife and Myrna laugh and say that I'm breaking my daily bread before I leave with my mistress (The Cannondale EVO) for the morning.

GOOD MORNING and Thank You Chef Myrna!

As I prepare to get on the road, Caito and Myrna usually make a few jokes about my stretchy pants. I tell them that "sometimes when you are a MAN-you wear Zee stretchy pants!"

Myrna shakes her head while taking this picture and asks, "how can you sit on that seat?" I told her it is all about the cyclists Fizik Arione! She said that sounds sexy but she didn't speak Italiano!

When I'm lucky I get to meet up with some of the Southern competition to ride. It's great because they are preparing for early February racing so it forces me to push myself a little more. This is Ian having an easy time around the 50 mile mark forcing me on into the headwinds!


A few hundred miles later I am tired but relaxed. The stresses of days passed are replaced with optimistic day dreams of the season to come. I sometimes reflect on the reason why I put myself through the pain of training and cycling competitively. I always come back to a similar answer...

... I like to push myself. I love to test myself. I like to belong to something bigger than just me. I love the responsibility that comes with being a team member. I like to be a better me. I love to help the people around me be a better them and somewhere deep down inside I don't want to smell Roses. I still wonder what it would be like to be fit enough to smell the Lavender Mid-Summer with these guys!

Thank You to all those that help Our Dreams become one step closer to Our Realities. We cannot do it Alone...

New Year's Resolution

A New Year’s Resolution

                Out of the 45% of individuals who make New Year’s Resolution only 8% are successful in achieving the goals they set.  This may make you wonder why people set resolutions.  I’m a firm believer that if in your heart you want to make your life better you will.   My resolution isn’t for a year; it’s one I will keep for life…Finding balance.

                I started my career less than a year ago and I dove head first.  Anyone that knows me could attest that I’ve worked as much overtime as possible.  This is due to many reasons…student loans are the devil, I want more for my life than just working, and I absolutely love my job.  Unfortunately by working so much I’m afraid I had the opposite affect and ended up only working.  I became so set on my goals of owning a home and the future I lost sight of the present.   

                This past year has been stressful to say the least.  Amidst all the stress I lost sight of who I am.  I became a robot working at times 24 days straight.  I would come home from work, cook dinner, shower, and fall asleep on the couch at 830..Wake up at 530 and do it all over again.  As much as I thought this wasn’t affecting me and more importantly the people I love,  I’ve come to realize now that I’ve just been going through the motions the past few months.   I haven’t paid enough attention to them and the things I enjoy most.

                Reflecting on the past year, I’ve realized it’s time to make a change.  I can’t say I won’t work overtime because after all, a girl has to eat.  I can guarantee that I’ll have more balance in my life.  This year my resolution is to take a step back and enjoy the little things and the big things that make life worth living.
2014 will be about getting back to being this girl

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Best Christmas Memory

I was just reading posts on Facebook, and I came across one from a friend, Harlan Barnhart.  Essentially, he was asking what everyone’s favorite Christmas memory was.  I smiled as I read the comments about the childhood memories people had shared at that point. Obviously, it made me start thinking, and that thinking eventually lead to me write a blog about it.
Flocking around Santa at the Annual Cook Christmas Party

Immediately,   I was taken back to 7th grade and the pile of skis, poles, and boots that were found under the tree that year. I also had quick visions of my freshman year at Slippery Rock and my very first Penguins jersey, it was a gift from my sister, Amy.  I also remember opening my first box of Lego’s, and to this day, I still love sitting on the floor, amidst a pile of assorted pieces, while I look for the perfect one to finish whatever I am building at the time. And the Radio Shack TRS-80 that was supposedly a joint gift to be shared by my two sisters and me, but somehow became the prized possession of my dad, he even built his man cave around it. Then I was ashamed that I had overlooked the greatest gift I have ever gotten, my dog Brady.  And as I sat there smiling as I reminisced about all of the wonderful gifts I was given over the years, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe I was missing Harlan’s point.
I loved this drum!

I shifted  mental gears and started thinking about the perfect (in my mind) gifts I had given (or was about to give this year).  After all, they always say it’s better to give than to receive, and I’ve always taken pride in my ability to come up with great gifts for the people around me.  As I let myself start to travel down this path of thinking, in the back of my head I knew this wasn’t even what I should be looking into. Harlan’s post was about sharing our favorite Christmas memory.  After a stroll down memory lane, it was rather apparent that one memory stood above all others as my favorite Christmas memory to share: Christmas, 1983.
That was the year our house burned the day after Christmas. Now, your immediate impression may be that I must have fallen and hit my head during my recent trip to Ray’s Indoor Mountainbike Park.  But nothing like that happened, and if you look at it from the right perspective, it makes complete sense. That was the year we piled into my dad’s version of the Family Truckster and headed for the coast of Maine to spend the holidays with my mom’s parents. And Christmas was awesome. The thing I remember most was that my grandparents had a live tree and planned on replanting it that spring. At the time, I had never heard of anyone doing such a great thing, and as I grew up and saw more and more people doing that, I just assumed that they had copied my grandparents idea. The other thing I remember was that on the 26th we were making plans to go skiing at the SnowBowl in Camden, ME.  At that point, I had never been skiing before and as you can imagine, I was thrilled at the prospect of what layed ahead of me.  I remember how difficult it was to sleep that night, almost more difficult than on Christmas eve.  And the next morning I remember buzzing around the house with tremendous expectations. If we were going to go skiing, it was going to have to be that day, because there was a storm coming.  Well, the storm came early, in the form of a phone call from Bob Faddis. (see #13)
Yes, this is Chrsitmas in Maine... not much snow, but still it was snow!

Bob is arguably my dad’s best friend.  And the only phone call I EVER remember my dad getting from Bob in all the years of vacationing was regarding when Joe Cook (also see #13) fell off a ladder while doing some roofing at the Greene County Museum.  I remember being in the basement when the phone rang. I believe my grandfather answered it, and when he called out “ Gary, its Bob Faddis”, I knew something bad was about to be announced.  I even had a fleeting thought that our house had burned but I quickly dismissed that as nonsense. We weren’t even there to make THAT happen.  But I was wrong, and that was exactly what my dad shared when he got off the phone.  We went from packing for a day of skiing heaven to packing for a trip from hell. Within an hour, the car was packed and we were piling in to head back south to Waynesburg. My Dad’s parents lived in Chatham, NJ so we would go that far before we would continue on to complete the trip the following day. It was going to be tight because my Aunt Gayle was there for the holidays with 3 of her 4 boys as well as my Uncle Glenn and his girlfriend, Claire. The tiny 3 bedroom house was packed to the gills with 7 adults, 3 teenagers, 3 preteens, and a dog. My parents stayed at a neighbor’s house around the corner, because there just wasn’t enough room in the inn.  I was sleeping on an air mattress or couch in the basement with both my sisters and my 3 cousins.  Throughout the night, the storm hit and instead of being pounded by a foot of snow, it turned out to be an inch of ice. You literally could not move outside without falling down because everything was covered in a thick layer of ice.  We were stuck and not able to go anywhere. We spent the next couple days trapped in a house that hadn’t seen a new toy since the early 50’s and we forced to find ways to entertain ourselves.  It was a challenge to keep from getting in trouble because we were literally tripping over each other in the small house.   But it had to be a more of a challenge for the adults to have to put up with all our shenanigans and not want to kill us.  And there were lots of shenanigans. I mean lots.
Newspaper Clipping from the Democrat Messenger

Flames out the basement door

Fire Truck parked in front of the house

All buttoned when we got home from Maine/New Jersey

Essentially the view from my bed (see foot board on the bed) looking into mom and dads room

Bikes in the basement. Believe it or not, my Grandfather rebuilt 2 of these and the last I knew, these were still being ridden.

Shenanigans... as if you doubted me (actually taken the following Christmas and the only other year I got to spend Christmas with my cousins from New Hampshire)

It was the first Christmas that I got to share with any of my cousins.  While the catalyst for the occasion was among the worst possible ideas one could imagine, we made the best of it. I’m sure mom and dad wanted nothing more than to hurry home to see the damage done and begin the hard work needed to create a new home for our family.  But for me, I wanted nothing more than a few extra days of making memories with my cousins, and that’s what we were blessed with.  I look back on that time knowing that while it changed our lives, it ultimately changed them for the better. 
Merry Christmas from the Big Guy himself, as well as from Amber, Mackenzie and Santa Claus!

So Harlan, that’s my favorite holiday memory, and thanks for inspiring me to really reflect back on the 41 past Christmases. If I wasn’t already in the holiday spirit, I know i would be now.  I am excited to start making another round of memories with my family this year. While the gifts we get and give are exciting in the present, it’s the memories we make that are important for the future so we can look back on our past.  I’d like wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy new Year, and I leave you with just one question…

What’s YOUR favorite Christmas memory?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas

To all of the 2013 sponsors and followers of the Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling team powered by Pathfinder........

I would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

(Arryn, Addie & Billy Slutz)

Guest Blog by Mackdiddle

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Try as I might to dissuade her, someone was hell bent on sharing her own thoughts about the Holidays!

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Mackenzie says "Merry Christmas!" 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ej Hubstenberger III returning for 2014 racing season!

The Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling Team powered by Pathfinder is please to announce the return of Ej Hubstenberger III for the 2014 racing season!  EJ will take part in the ABRA Road Race Series as well as weekly events at the Bud Harris Oval in Pittsburgh next season!  Ej is also a board member of the  Allegheny Cycling Association.   

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013

30 Days to say thanks...

Anyone who has spent anytime on their social media account in the last 30 days knows that we have been thrust headfirst into the holiday season.  November was all about the “Day #X and I am thankful for (fill in the blank)”.  And although I didn’t actively participate in the statuses, I did enjoy reading others’ posts because it was a reminder of everything that I had maybe overlooked , and I should also be thankful about them.  So today, to make up for lost time, I have decided to make a list of the 30 things I should have stated that I was thankful for last month:

30: First Student—yeah, as much as I complain about what my employers expect me to accomplish by myself, I am really thankful for the challenge of managing the safety department of one of the largest school bus terminals in western PA.  There are days when I want to call my bosses and tell them where they can stick their PPDT’s, but the rest of the time, I enjoy seeing the end results of what is currently 6 months of digging out of a blackhole.
Some of the Cast and Crew at the Frankstown Terminal

29: Mason—in late July, we acquired Amber’s black lab from a previous relationship. Make no bones about it, I love English Springer Spaniels, but a lab would be tied with a golden retriever as my second choice. He came to us as a relatively well trained 4 year, so there was only minimal learning curve with him adjusting to our schedule and us having to adjust to his. While the sound of his nails scratching on the floor at 4AM as he paces back and forth waiting for me to get up can drive me CRAZY on the weekend, I was very thankful on Thursday when my phone wasn’t plugged in and it died during the night. I still made it to work on time thanks to my little buddy.
This is just about as far from me as Mason ever likes to get

28: Swiftwick Socks—OK, so they are a sponsor and it might appear to be a complete suck up, but if you’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing Pursuit 7’s on a cold ride, you’ll know what I am talking about. Simply put, they are the only sock I have ever looked forward to putting on in the morning. And given the natural odor absosrbing propertiesof Merino wool , I will frequently wear them to work several days in a row before washing with no ill effects. Icky… maybe, but worth the ribbing it, at least until I build up my inventory to match the 30 pairs of underware I own to make the trip laundr-o-mat a monthly chore.

27: Gabriel Brother’s—how else do you think I can afford enough undeware to go a month between doing laundry!

26: Travel Trac Flud Trainer—this is a love/hate relationship here. I don’t know anyone that likes riding the trainer, especially me. But given the hours I work, without it, I wouldn’t be able to train until spring and the daylight hours increase, so I am thankful for it, even if I hate it.

25: Adidas Kanadia TR4’s—I haven’t done much running in the last year because I hurt my knee, but I still am thankful for these trail running shoes. In 3 years, it is the only sneaker I’ve had on my foot.  Too bad it has been replaced with the TR5 which just doesn’t seem as comfortable to me as their successor.  I can still find online a pair or two in my size so I haven’t had to make the transition just yet.
and they all look the same under the bed when it is dark... careful that you double check BEFORE you leave for work

24: EBay—see above.

23: LL Bean—Over the last 40 years, every trip to the coast of Maine has included a trip to the Gold Star Standard in customer service. Since I prefer to travel at night, my ETA to my parent’s cottage to is usually around 5 to 6AM. I know I would be welcomed with open arms at any hour, but it’s the one time that I try defer to the side of decency and try to time my arrival in Temple Heights, until the ‘rents are alive and awake. And since Bean’s is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (they don’t even have locks on the doors of the main store), I use it as my last stop and time delay before my final 2 hour push up the coast.  Since my grandfather took me there for the first time when I was just a tyke, It’s my favorite store to visit (at least the original store in Freeport, Maine) and walk around and ogle all the awesome outdoor sporting equipment. And I do mean visit. Every year, I go in with the intention of buying my big Maine “souvenir”, but inevitably seem to always talk myself out of it.  And then I kick myself all the way back to Southwestern PA, just to  start talking myself into a purchase next year.
This is the real souvenir I want from my trips to Maine... Great memories with friends and family.

22: Progresso Light soup—140-200 calories a can and on sale, they can be had for about $1.50 or less. Can’t beat if for affordable calorie conscientious meals that you can keep on hand for those days when you don’t feel like cooking or don’t have the time to do it properly.
Stocking up for the P-90 Petsko diet I will be on starting January 1st!

21: My new bed— Finally upgraded to a new overstuffed queen size pillow top mattress set. It’s amazing how well I can sleep when you have the right bed under me.

20: Asparagus—after years of thinking I hated it, I was forced to try it at the American Cycling Association’s award banquet because of the 90/10 diet I was on. I was shocked just how much I loved it. It made me rethink my eating habits and now I discovered that foods I once deemed inedible are now actually quite tasty. Mussels, brussel sprouts, and hummus are a few foods I am thankful that I have introduced to my diet after waving them off a long time ago as unpalatable.

19: Appalachian Bicycle Racing Association—yeah, might seem like another shameless plug, but I sure do appreciate all of the racing opportunities it provides me, right in my back yard. Sure beats driving 4 hours into metropolitan DC or Baltimore every weekend. Thanks JR and Gina for doing what you do for us. I love ABRA.

18: Pittsburgh Penguins—yes I love hockey and the Pens are my favorite team. But I am thankful to get to watch them, especially when it comes to riding the trainer. I use their games to 1) take my mind off the drudgery of logging miles and 2) use the game for random training efforts. Some games I just get out of the saddle during commercials and raise the tempo. Others I do 30 second sprints for every penguin goal and 60 seconds of one leg drills for when the opposition scores. I am thankful to have them to break the monotony of just “spinning my wheels”

17: Jeff Holloway—I first met Jeff a few years ago when I came to work for First Student. He was one of three trainers at one of my terminals. At first things were just a little shaky and I didn’t know how to read him.  I was the new guy and approached the safety department from a different background than the previous safety managers and I don’t think he really knew how to take me.  But we worked together and over the following 4+ years, I have come to depend on him as my go to trainer. In June, I was transferred out of his terminal but I still call on him when I am in need and he always comes through. This year, I even talked him into buying a new road bike and talked him into racing. The few trips that Amber wasn’t able to make it to, he was along for the ride and kept me company.

16: Dean Cochran, Lynn Kizina, and Teresa Cole—Dean is a safety manager in Dry Tavern, Lynn and T are both my bosses, but the three of them have been instrumental in me keeping my sanity the last 6 months. Whenever I start feeling the pressure or the desire to pack it in and look for greener pastures, somehow they sense it and either randomly show up to assist or call me and offer words of encouragement. Their ability to get me grounded when I am ready to fly off the handle is unprecedented and appreciated.
Me, Teresa Cole, and Lynn Kizina in Savannah Georgia. This is not what I meant by keeping me sane though!

15: Local Bike Shops—one of the things I like to do when I have time off is go and visit random bike shops. While there is nothing quite like visiting “YOUR” shop, I really enjoy visiting other shops across the country. And for the most part, it’s the same experience everywhere I go… the bike brands may be different, the store size and layout may differ, and the names and ages of the staff may not be the same, but seemingly all bike shops are cut from the same cloth. I think it is because, in order to be successful, they recognize the importance of customer relations and customer support. Without those two things, they won’t be in the bike business for very long. I only wish that I lived closer to Morgantown so that I could visit Pathfider of WV (my local bike shop of choice) more often.

14: On Demand—I set my alarm to get up between 445 and 500AM most days during the week. As a result, as soon as I get Mack to go to bed (usually 830ish) I usually make a quick sweep of the apartment and make a beeline to #21. Most of the good TV programs come on after I am out for the night or while I am busy getting her ready for bed, so it’s so nice to be able to watch the programs I want without having to remember to record the programs.  Currently I love watching Gold Rush, Alaska State Troopers, Mountain Men, and of course Big Bang Theory.

13: Joe Cook and Bob Faddis—one might expect to find these names on my dad’s list of things he is thankful for, since they are two of his good friends.  But the truth is, they both had a big influence on me growing up.  It’s always a pleasure to get to spend time with them and I look forward to Christmas Eve at Mom and Dad’s, when I know they will both be under the same roof at the same time.

12: Hot Baths—yeah, yeah, yeah… say what you want, but there is nothing better than a soak in a hot bath after a hard effort. For a brief time, I had a hot tub and at my first opportunity, I will likely own another one.  Until then though, I am thankful for having an apartment with a large enough bathroom to sport a bathtub.

11: Time Trials—I’ve only ever done a few time trials, but I think I am going to take a serious look at participating in more next season.  My body style lends itself to doing well in them and I think if I actually focus on them, it might pay big dividends for me.  This year I had 2 wins in 2 attempts despite not being in the best shape.
Coming home in third place in the Eastern Ohio TT two man team when I was unexpectedly asked to help this girl because her teammate had a mechanical in the individual event.

10: Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling Team powered by Pathfinder—anytime you put 15 random people together, you are bound to have heated exchanges… but not so with the folks on our team. Some of the best parts of the season are under the tent prior to or after the races. We get along so well and I know that we are all pulling for each other, no matter what the circumstances are.Simply put, they are some of the best people in the sport and a complete blast to be around.
Most of the members of the Best Team in all of Cycling

9: Billy Slutz—I’ve had some good friends over the years but none better than Billy. He and I were both rookies on the Dynamic Physical Therapy powered by Pathfinder Cycling Team at the same time and just kind of clicked (or should I say cliqued). Our sense of humor is very similar and can quite honestly, make even JR blush, when we let him in on what we are laughing about.
One of the many "selfies" Billy sends my way

8: JR Petsko— I have previously included ABRA on my list of things to be thankful for and everyone knows JR is ABRA. But I include JR separately because he has been very helpful to me away from the racing as well.  Some of my most memorable rides (not races) have been with JR leading the way. As much as I love the sport, my passion for it doesn’t even come close to matching his passion for the sport. Anyone who is fortunate enough to call him a friend is better off for it. Oh, he introduced me to Honeycrisp Apples as well.

 7: Mackenzie—biologically I am not her father, but in my heart she’s my first priority. I am so thankful for the time I get to spend with her because she can brighten my day just with one of her stupid little looks she gives.  I wish all people had her sunny personality. Life couldn’t be any sweeter if they did.
Mack in her Halloween Crosstume

6: Amber—if nothing else she is loyal to a fault. Other than maybe Gina, I don’t think I have seen any other spouse spectating at more ABRA events than her. And, she is the sole reason that #7 is in my life.
probably in trouble for post this picture but I can't find the one I really like from this night

5a: Grandfathers—while they have both passed on to better places, I am very thankful for the time I go to spend with them.  My grandfathers were directly responsible for my interest in my two favorite sports. Grampy Milliken (mom’s side) loved hockey, and while he loved the Bruins and I loved the Pens, we found common ground in hating the “Gahdamned Canadiens”.  Grampy Gernert (dad’s side)rode and repaired bicycles well into his 80’s and supplied me with each of my bikes while I was growing up.
I was born the night this Stanley Cup was won. Pictured here is Grammy and Grampy Milliken.

5b: Grandmothers—I know everyone THINKS their grandmothers were the best cooks ever, I am fortunate enough to KNOW  that mine, were in fact, the two best cooks ever. I miss Grammy Milliken’s Seafood Chowder and Grammy Milliken’s no peek chicken. I am very thankful for every meal I ever got to eat at their tables and for helping to instill my love of cooking as well.
Chicken noodle for a Cyclist's Soul

4: Sisters: Amy and Heidi—while I have walked down a slightly different path than they have over the last few years familywise, I still love them and enjoy getting to share the occasions that we do get to spend together. Their kids are all active in a variety of sports that have them traveling all over the East Coast and into Canada, so time together has been reduced, but we will always be close… at least I hope so.

3: Nieces and Nephews—3 of each… Abbey, Eliza and Patrick (Amy’s) and Nathan, Caleb and Madison (Heidi’s).  I love watching them grow up and become the people that they are. Abbey is the oldest and a freshman on the swim team at Shippensburg U, Eliza a Junior on the Indiana Area HS swim team, and Patrick a center on the ’99 Pens Elite hockey team. Nathan is a Freshman on the Waynesburg Central HS soccer team, Caleb is also a soccer and wrestling standout as a 6th grader at MBM, and young Maddie wil be starting school next year. I am proud of each and every single one of them and can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.

2: Brady—While he left this earth just under a year ago, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my best friend.  He was with me and kept me sane through some very dark periods of my life, losing my job, breakups, a divorce, financial turmoil, you name it. Without him being by my side, there is no telling where I could have ended up, but I can tell you that I would have been in a much darker place mentally without him. Miss you little buddy but I am so thankful for the time we walked side by side.

1: Mom and Dad—I can only hope that everyone has a set of parents that love and care about them the way mine do for me.  Through all the highs and lows in life, my parents have been there to either help pick me up or to remind me to stay true to my roots. Thanks for everything you have ever done for me and will do for me in the future.  Love you!

I am sure that I have missed plenty of things that I am thankful for and I know that on any given day the order of these can and do change.  If you made it this far, I also am thankful for you. You’re the reason I blog and the reason I put as much effort into it as I do. Thanks for reading and stop back soon!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

December: Transitioning from derailleurs to deer

December generally signals a recovery period for me, which allows time to participate in some other hobbies, like deer hunting. I thought I'd share a couple of my favorite cycling products that I actually continue to use even when I'm not cycling. In January and February I'll use a lot of the same things for cross country skiing.

First off, those wonderful Honey Stinger waffles and Honey Stinger bars make great snacks to keep the energy up while hiking around. They don't take up much space, deliver a good caloric punch and taste great! I favor the original honey waffles and the blueberry bars.

Aside from my bike, this convertible jacket is my favorite Cannondale product. I've washed it a ton of times over multiple seasons and it's still repelling water and quite windproof. The durability has been very impressive to me. I also really like the ability to easily convert it into a vest. The whole thing is quite compressible as well. This a slightly older version but Cannondale is still making a similar product.

The jacket also pairs well with this long sleeve Cannondale jersey that I use as a middle layer when the temperatures drop into the 30s. A light wool sweater and an old synthetic race t-shirt under there and I'm good to go.

There are a couple pairs of tall Swiftwick socks that I'll layer up in my boots to keep the tootsies warm.

I've also gotten a great deal of off-season use out of these convertible Cannondale winter gloves. They aren't too bulky but the multiple layers fend off the wind and cold.

Is there any cycling gear you use for other hobbies or activities?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Got Gravel but Norman, Indiana ain't flat...

This past weekend, as de facto man in charge of the American UltraCross Series, I headed west for the final round in Norman, Indiana to take part in the event and handle the series awards.  Dave Cornett and Ms. Stephanie Swan were my travel companions and cabin buddies for the weekend adventure to the Midwest

As we left West Pennsylginia and headed west, the landscape got pancake flat.  With 2013 being the first year the Gravel Grovel is part of the American UltraCX Series, we really wondered what it was going to be like.  On the event's website it stated 62 miles and 2800 ft of climbing..  We all kinda laughed, as that amount of climbing is kinda flat in our world, compared to say 72 miles and 8900 ft of climbing in the Hilly Billy Roubaix.  Still, we were excited!

We pulled into the Midwest Trail Ride Horseman's Camp around 2 o'clock on Friday, just in time to unpack to our cozy cabin home for the weekend.  We had enough time to get in a quick scouting ride of the course.  As we looked around, it was not as flat as we expected, "so much for easy" we said to each other. We mounted our steeds (get it, we were staying at a horse camp) and headed out to see what was out there. The first 5 miles were paved, narrow and FAST.  The road really reminded me of our tar and chip roads back home, but flatter. The three of us looked at each other and said, "this is going to be a screaming fast start!"  We ended up scouting about 15 or so miles of the course and it had, from what we saw, some punchy rollers, lots of freshie deep gravel and some really nice scenery.  I had debated all week on what bike to bring as the course also had a total of 7 miles of single track, but I decided on the cross bike with 32 cm tires.  After seeing all the fresh gravel, I thought to myself, "should have put on the 40 cm tires like you thought"..  Oh well, run what ya brung! 

Back to the cabin, dinner then sleep.
(inside our cabin)
We awoke the next morning to COLD temperatures and everything was frozen.  The grass outside was white with ice crystals and when folks spoke, it looked like they were all exhaling smoke.  I wanted to just stay in the warm cabin and drink beers, but ya, that wasn't going to happen.  Like a high school girl going to the prom, the debate in my head started,  "what do I wear"?  Too much and I'd fry, too little and I'd  freeze. To compound the dilemma more, it was to reach a high of 48 that day, decisions, decisions.  Dave and I bounced choices off each other and finally we both decided on our attire.
What and what not to wear

At the start I was surrounded by familiar faces in this strange land they call Indiana.  George Lowe, Jason Samonds, Scott Green, Pflug, Swan and Dave were all there, just to name a few..  As the race started, it was just like we predicted the day before. The first 5 miles were fast, and I was having a hard time just sitting in. Oh hell, I thought to myself, this ain't good!  I was started to dangle off the lead group, even though it was a flat section.  

At 5.5 miles in, we hit the first climb, which was more like a steep pitch about 500 yards long.  I got up it still in contact with the lead group, but my legs felt heavy and slow.  Nothing like what was about to come up, a deep gravel descent.  I felt myself backing off just a bit, trying to figure out what was going on with my body. After another 10 or 20 minutes my legs continued to fail me.  I was alone now in no where land, off the front
Combs Road
group but ahead of the the next.  30 minutes in and I felt like it was over and it seemed like 200 racers were up the road and I was stuck in quick sand.  Regardless, I kept pushing on as best I could and every so often a rider would come up or back and I worked with them a bit.  Around mile 15 we hit a county road that would fit right in with some of the Hilly Billy Roubaix roads, even with my legs and body not working it was a blast.  Stream crossings, roots, mud and a few down trees, what's not to love?!  Towards the end of the "road" I saw Swan on the side, "you ok Swan?", I yelled. She replied that she was but had a hard fall.  She was just getting back on her bike so I felt comfortable to keep going.

It wasn't to much further down the road, after come around a fast corner, I show my buddy George "Michael" Lowe(no not that George "Michael") pushing his bike.   George had sheared off two chainring bolts on his singlespeed. To make matter even sadder, he needed to only finish the race to take third overall in the series.  With many more miles to go and no way to repair what was broken, third wasn't going to happen.  Next year sir!

Back on the road, it was more pedaling on flat pavement alone.  Dread set in, I thought to myself, "those
How I felt the first half of the race
guys are in a big group pace lining they're gone!".  Nothing I can do but pedal I guess.  Finally I bridged up to a local, his name was Matt if I recall.  Matt was strong on the road and we worked well together for a few miles.  Trucking down the road, I see a group of 20 riders or so headed right at us.  I thought, someone is going the wrong way, but then I remembered there was a out and back section of the course.  What was coming at us were the leaders.  "Well, I wonder how far away that turnaround is?", I thought to myself.  Then a second group going the other direction passed by me including Cornett, Mike Janeiro and Samonds.  I yelled work of encouragement and kept going.  A few minutes up the road I saw the turn around..  Crap, I am less than 15 minutes down on them!  I was shocked cause I thought it would be much much bigger.

Correct tool for the job!
Feeling as bad as I did and still being that close rejuvenated me a bit.  After the turn around, it was back the way we came for just a few miles than we hit the first true single track section of the course.  This also worked in my favor as I figured I could handle my cross bike better than a lot of the folks in front of me.. The trails there are not like here in WV, we would call them smooth, and you could really get going! Also to my benefit on the singletrack was that,  I had decided to run Kenda Kwicker Pro for the race that morning. Their aggressive tread pattern made it much easier to navigate the damp, leaf covered trail.

After a few miles of sweet single track back to the gravel we went.  I had dropped Matt on the trails but I thought it wise to slow up just a bit to have help on the road once again.  As we joined forces again, Matt said, "ok, two big climbs coming up".  He said goodbye because he didn't think he could climb with the guy from WV on the bigger hills.  As I started up the first climb I could see Janeiro on the side of the fixing a flat.

Maybe a slight exaggeration 
When I came by, he was just getting back on but I could hear the air and tire sealant still coming out of his wheel.  "Mike you need a tube?", I yelled.  He said he had one and I carried on.  My new friend Matt was right, this climb was a full on WV climb, about 1 mile long and steep.  As I round the switchbacks , I could see, Fat Head's Brewery jersey of Jason Samonds and just a little way up from that Dave.  This gave me yet another shot of life in my legs.  I could tell I was climbing up to them, surprising after how first 25 to 30 miles went for me.

At the top of the climb Jason was only few hundred up now.  With my 411 from Matt, I knew it was a big climb a 50 mph descent and then another big climb.  Feeling back in it, I was riding well as we approached the next climb.  I rode up to Jason right at the base and he said, "I think my 40 minutes are up now" referring to a cross race.  He made me laugh.  Pushing ahead, this climb was steep, I thought I was back home!  Ever closer and closer we got to the top and I found myself about 20 yards behind Dave, and back in the top ten, as we reached the top. Here we go now, I thought to myself.  My plan was to work with Dave and we could really start moving up.  As we descended down the other side getting closer and closer to Dave I felt it.  The rear tire hit a piece of gravel hard.  I waited...  Then I heard it, air and the sound of Stan's sealant coming out of my tire. NO!

Reenactment of tire change
As I fiddled with my back on the side of the road I hear the sound of multiple bikes passing by.  As Samonds went by he asked if I needed anything but I was good. If you have ever rode with me and had a flat, you know I always change peoples flat tires for them.  Why?  Practice.  I had a pretty fast change and back on the road I was.  I was determined not to let the flat spoil my comeback, so I buried myself in an effort to get back in the game.  Over the next 5 miles I made it back up to Samonds.  Jason was having the best UltraCX race of his life but he said he was starting to crack.   As I pushed on, I could once again see Dave and a host of others up the road from me, maybe a 1/2 mile or so away.

The course made a few curves; as it went up, they were out of sight for now.  I guessed I was maybe 3 minutes or so behind.   As I crested the top of the hill I headed right down the back top section and I was motoring to get up there.  About a mile down the road I see three riders stopped in the middle of an intersection..  I knew from the look on their faces they had no clue which way they should be going..  This can't be happening, I thought to myself.

The other riders and I looked around and no one had a clue.  After a few minutes, I headed back up the road the way I came.  I was going up, here comes Jason down.  With a sad look on my face I gave him the turn around sign.  To make it worse we had to ride back up the hill a mile or so to were we last left the course.  Once back to where we got off course there were a few others scratching their heads but then someone noticed a piece of single track across the road.  We headed down the trail, and I realized I didn't have another big push in my legs to work back up the field again.  2 was all I had..  Jason, I yelled..  I will ride in with ya.  We had 18 or so miles left to go and I kinda like the idea of riding in with my pal.

The climbs, and now I know there are real climbs in Indiana, were pretty much over.  There were only rollers the rest of the way back.  I told Jason I was not going to leave him and to hold on.  Roller after roller we went and we even picked off a few riders here and there.  About 3 miles to go I was starting to really hurt and a couple of young bucks had been sitting on for a good 3 or 4 miles.  "Hey, you guys can take a pull ya know", I said. One of the kids was a nice fellow from the Bissell Team and he said "thanks for the awesome pull" as he went to the front.  Awesome pull it may have been, smart it was not.  Usually when you are a mile or two out from the finish you get that, "I'm there feeling" and your energy reserves kick in.  Nope,  I burned way too many matches trying to bridge up and all that.   

A mile from the finish was a closed down bridge with guard rails on either side.  They were very high and as I raised my leg to step over the mother of all cramps set in!  "OOOOOO!"  I shouted..  It hurt bad.  So close to the finish and I cramped.  I would have laughed but it hurt too much.. After Cramp Fest 2013 was over, Jason and I headed into the finish together.  It was good enough for 16th and 17th in the men's open field of around 80 or so riders, but it could have been so much more..  

Coulda, woulda, shoulda!

Even with a bit of a disappointing finish, I had a great time with my friends!  Plus West Pennsylginia folks crushed it out there!  Nice job folks!

Want to see my course data and route?  Here ya go -

In the end we all found out Indiana isn't all that falt.  62.6 miles with 4,442 ft of climb(including my bonus climb) and not just that.  The pace was so high on the flatter section that there was never a break.  In my world, all that adds up to a good race!

Tania and the sub-9 crew put on a great event, we all are coming back in 2014..  Hope to cya there!

Also big shout out to Dynamic Physical Therapy and Pathfinder of West Virginia for giving me the opportunity to be out there racing!

Ps..  Congrats to all the series winners and competitors! 

Thanks to these great folks for their support!