Saturday, June 30, 2012


Two hours, bright sun, hot air, worn out, but a good ride.

Plus, bagged yet another Pioneer Valley mystery shot. I have zero idea what this truck is for, but around these parts, it could be anything from a family circus to a pest control business.

Note the hooded eyes hovering over the rear gate. I love the freakiness.


Six a.m. Saturday. It's been an abusively busy week. For some reason, my clients, who, in the run-down small town in which I work, show up whimsically, at best, all decided to show up. I overbook every week to counteract the whimsy, so I was sitting on my tuchas nearly non-stop the whole week, my hard-won muscles ossifying like carbuncles. We also got an email from our adoption agency Tuesday which moved that whole side of life from limbo to locomotion in about three seconds. I'm still working toward opening my own office for a few hours a week; I put in some frustrating time on that this week. There was more, but you get the gist.

By Wednesday, I was a basket case. (What is that, anyway?)

So here I am, up early, after a sketchy night's sleep, buzzed and ready to get out of here. It was 95 and clear here yesterday, and today will be about the same, but it's 60 right now, with a soft breeze and a nearly-risen sun over the horizon. The birds in the yard are busy singing their Get Up songs.

A couple bowls of cereal, some air in the tires, and I'm out.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ha Llegado El Verano

I've been re-planting my road roots over the last few weeks, finding rhythms within the eternal music of road noise and turning pedals and heaving lungs on endless hills. This week, the heat in New England became stifling, temps over 100 and humidity in the 80s or higher, so I decided it would be a good idea to turn to my neglected Vaya and head for the sweet damp relief of the woods.

A two-hour jaunt this a.m., through Earle's Trails, with a bonus stretch of road riding through Amherst and environs.

A venture off the easier trails brought many delightful stream crossings and bridges

A philosopher's rock, of sorts, at the small reservoir at Earle's

On Hampshire College campus. I'm still unsure what this means. Pure Pioneer Valley.

A ceremonial pagoda? They do love their uniqueness over at Hampshire.

The 45 mm Vee Rubber tires I've been sporting on my off-road ventures have definitely given me more confidence on every sort of irregular terrain; I love them. I had them inflated at lower pressure than ever today, 30 p.s.i. in front and 40 in back. At first I kept wincing, waiting for pinch flats. Eventually, I relaxed and began to enjoy the extra "suspension" they afforded my fully rigid steel frame over roots and rocks, and the wonderful grounded feeling they gave in loose terrain or sand.

I've been getting braver about stream crossings, and the rewards have been manifold. Why are they so fun? Is it the sound of the water plashing around the tires, so unaccustomed during two-wheeled sport? Is it the sense of invulnerability, knowing that I can ride where bikes are not "supposed" to go? 'Dunno, but I'm diggin' it.

I'll leave you with a couple pics taken around the old abode:

Start line of unsanctioned criterium, which takes place on our dead-end
street every weekend. The schedule is whimsical, all categories welcome.
Mrs. V's fine foot, as she toiled in her garden patch this morning

Here's to the finer things. The first weekend of summer brings 80 degrees and clear skies, hawks circling over our yard, cardinals and catbirds and sparrows singing for their lives and livelihood, vegetables fresh out of the ground (thank you, Mrs. V, you're a gem). 

Life is good.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Good Day's Work

We roll out from my driveway at ten to nine, into a chilly, clear morning alive with the promise of warm sun, long miles, and prodigious hills.

Across the river and through the center of Northampton, flat and leisurely, the town just stretching its limbs in the bright morning. Folks out for their morning cuppa and a paper, no real traffic to speak of. A left onto side roads after the center, and the road turns up for the first time, destined stay up for most of the next ten miles. Climbing through Williamsburg and Conway, neither of us very spritely, mostly riding in unaccustomed silence.

Up goes the temperature, down goes my speed, on we press through the most sustained of the climbing for the day. It's not the start I was hoping for; the hills are really slowing me down.

Crossing the line into Ashfield, we decide to stop for spiritual and physical refreshment at Chapel Brook Falls. Water plashes and pours down sculptured, rocky channels, forming intimate pools and then flowing downward again. We strip off shoes and socks, step into the shocking cold, our eyes bugging out and smiles beginning to appear. New England at its best.

My new go-to energy food, an almond butter and honey sandwich, and a little time in the moist, cool shade. We have to force ourselves up and onward.

We top out for the day on a perfect, tiny side road in tiny Ashfield, grappling with a brutal ramp of about 150 yards; I only make it by weaving from shoulder to shoulder. The view is worth it. Hills beyond hills, fading into the distance, farmland, forest, we could be in any of the most beautiful places. Vision is sharpened by the clear air and the hypoxia.

A long descent down into Conway. Speed is the ultimate energy food; my legs awaken, we pass the halfway mark, find a paceline rhythm. Things are looking up. This is a great ride.

Right turn on to Whately Road, the last stretch of extended climbing. The last time we were here, Todd rode away from me, as he always does on the hills. I'm feeling feisty; I decide to see if I can prevent that today.

Up we go, me pushing harder than I have this year. The legs respond, it's all there, coming together. Detailed inner dialog recedes, replaced by elemental commands: "If you're going to chase, chase; if not, sit up. There is no in-between." I chase, and love the chase. And love that the chase is succeeding. I count the seconds between when he and I reach a landmark. I shave five seconds off the total. Ten. This is my goal ride for the spring, there's nothing later to save up for; I feel good, so I go all in. I almost catch Todd at the agreed-upon spot for our second sandwich. I feel good; very good. Words spill from us, excited talk.

Down, down, down from the hills we descend, daredeviling the turns, chatting on the flats, hammering up the ramps. The back way through Northampton and to the bridge. On a busy commercial street, an inattentive driver nearly t-bones Todd; foolishly close to his rear wheel, I hit the brakes and feel my rear wheel fishtail. Deep breath. Everyone's unscathed, driver's gone, so we move on.

The bridge over the river. Day's heating up.

Last challenge of the day: The mile-plus hill right before home. We both dread it, and my legs start to threaten big cramps as we begin it. Todd pulls ahead, but I manage to find a rhythm and leg angle that allows me to avoid seizing up. Up we go, up-up-up, and before you know it, we're standing in the shade of my driveway, smiling and shaking our heads in disbelief at the quality of the experience we have just created with a combination of hard work, camaraderie, and focused intention. 51 miles, 3,000 feet.

A good day's work.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Time to Snap the Leash

Three weeks of mostly clouds and hour after hour of non-stop rain can really get under my skin. If I'm going to live in Pacific-Northwest conditions, I want the cheap prices and the majestic mountains to go with it.

This is what Douglas Adams, in his infinite wisdom, called the long, dark tea-time of the soul. Clients at the clinic slowly begin to stall, then lurch into that terrible nose dive therapists live in fear of. Entering the office this morning, I was greeted with the news that one of my clients was in the emergency room after a suicide attempt, the second in three weeks.

We were promised sun today, and through early next week, but I don't see much of it out there.

A friend and I have been planning a longer outing on Saturday, 50 miles in the hills, and given that my fitness seems to have come together as of last week, ain't nothing gonna hold me back. A quick shakedown this morning showed legs and lungs itching to run, chuffing and bucking like a thoroughbred in the starting gate. I kept it down to a couple sprints and a short interval; just a scrap or two to sharpen the hunger pangs. Saturday, I unleash the beast. I'll still be 20 seconds behind Todd at the top of the hill, but at least it won't be two minutes, like it was the first couple times we rode. I'll consider that a victory.

Pray for clear skies and cool temps, but if you're out in the hills  of Ashfield or Conway, driving in a pouring rain, look for me anyway.

Crazy guy on a very red bike -- with or without wingman.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tricks of the Trade

Okay. I've had a day or so to sit on my modest laurels and enjoy the success of Saturday's ride. Now, for the left-brain post -- the attempt to analyze "How'd I do that?!"

Here is a list of all the things I think might have contributed to an unusually strong day on the bike. I don't know if I can re-create the feeling of having turbo-boost in my legs for more rides this year, but it makes sense to me to try to learn from success for once, instead of misery, as I do so often.

1) Bike weight: I'd been angsting all last week about buying a lighter set of wheels at a huge sale a local bike store was having. I adore the steel frame on my new Jamis Quest, but even when I'm flying, I can feel the extra weight over my old aluminum Cannondale CAAD 8 -- a thoroughbred racing bike. I finally decided that spending hundreds of dollars to lose six ounces on the bike was not a wise use of funds right now.

However, in an unrelated move, I did buy a new under-saddle bag for my road bike, way smaller than the expedition-sized one I've been using. To my shock, all my old stuff won't fit in the new bag. Huh! So, I ditched the multi-tool I've been schlepping around for five years, mainly for talismanic purposes (I haven't needed it once -- knock wood!) and lost those six ounces for a big round zero dollars. Maybe a couple more ounces, in fact, when you count the lighter bag. Saturday was my first ride with the new bag, sans multi-tool; the bike was about a half-pound lighter.

2) I ate a lot of fat on Friday; avocado, ice cream, cheese. Yeah, I know, sounds weird. But there's a whole school of nutrition that believes that wholesome saturated fat (as opposed to the crap they make potato chips in or put in donuts) is not only good for you, it's a necessary part of a healthy diet. I eat very low fat most of the time, but I find that an occasional boost of red meat or cheese does wonders for me. Maybe, instead of carbo loading the day before a ride, the trick is fat loading...?

3) Following in the footsteps of my friend Juancho, I have stripped down my already scrupulous diet and added a lot of kale and brown rice back in to my daily diet for the last month or two. I did a ton of this back in the hoary, new-age '90s, and now I remember why. I feel more energy, have fewer allergy symptoms, and have been losing weight. I recover from rides faster. And so on. Steamed kale is a superfood.

4) Focus. For the first 45 minutes or so of my ride Saturday, I was so wound up and nervous from all the excitement in my life these days (establishing a private practice, getting ready to adopt a kid, extra stress at the full-time gig) I just couldn't relax and enjoy the ride. Thoughtful riders know that tension in the body anywhere but the legs is a big energy-suck. So, I flashed on a trick I first discovered when doing solo singer-songwriter gigs; to deal with the terror of being stripped emotionally naked in front of a waiting audience, with only my voice and guitar to protect me, I learned to take all that nervous energy and direct it outwards, to encompass the room and the audience. This way, I felt excited and alive instead of scared. Great way to be on-stage. My fingers and voice just flowed.

When I got sick of feeling crabbed on Saturday, I tried a modified version of this. I turned my entire awareness to the beautiful natural scenery all around me; trees, brooks, winding road, sky, earth. The smells and sights began to feed me. I got out of my head and the specifics of my body -- worrying about technique, or aches and pains -- and simply expanded, to become part of the earth, moving over it like the brook, except I flowed uphill instead of down. I began to fly roughly around that time. You can bet I'm coming back to that one.

                                                   *     *     *
Is any one of these enough to make the difference between two weeks ago, suffering up the hills of Shelburne, and this week, flying up the hills of Shutesbury? Probably not. Taken all together, though, and with the additional time for recovery and adaptation that came after Shelburne, they just might. There are probably other factors, as well.

These things are hard to quantify. What makes the stellar days, when we fly on the bike? Nutrition? Mood? Focus? Training? Kismet?

I don't know, exactly, though I love the process of gaining a bit more wisdom each year.

I'd be curious to know your tricks and thoughts!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tailwinds All the Way

One of my blogroll friends -- forget just who -- recently wrote, "Some days you hit it just right." (Please ID yourself so I can credit you). Couldn't be more true. Today?

Today, I rode like a sparrow

36 miles and 2100 feet of climbing were gone in a flash. I only stopped for a few minutes here and there, and not because I had to, or even really wanted to. It was another case of feeling like the chainstays on my new Jamis Quest, made of beautiful steel, had sprouted powerful yet invisible wings. Pros like to say of such days, "I couldn't feel the pedals."

On all but the steepest of the grades, I fairly flew upward, and would have gone faster but for a precious piece of wisdom which age and suffering seem to have finally driven home: Just because I can, doesn't mean I should.

Joe Friel, in his valuable book, Cycling Past 50, declares that middle-aged endurance athletes should always return home from a training ride with a little bit left in the tank. Excellent advice, which generally ensures that my mood and energy stay high all week, and that I have that little extra zing on said goal event.

In my next post, I'll give into the temptation to quantify what went so right, but for today, I hear the voices of my wonderfully philosophical -- and similarly middle-aged -- blog friends (see blogroll, to the right) singing out, "Just enjoy it for what it is, don't try to capture it!"

Good point, friends! I enjoyed the heck out of it while I was riding and I still am. I went out with Mrs. V to run an errand an hour ago, and strutted around with my chest puffed out, feeling all studly and athletic. "The local hero, folks, running his weekend chores after another routine fabulous feat; observe!"

As the inimitable Toby Keith put it so succinctly, "I ain't as good as I once was/But I'm as good once as I ever was." I was going to link to that song, but, knowing the general populace's response to country music, I'll leave you with another tune that aptly sums up the day. David Wilcox was my songwriter hero for many years, and this is one I still chant to myself on mile 30 of a fifty-miler:

Next: Let the pointless obsessing begin!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Adventure by Bike

Not feeling ambitious in mind or limb this morning, I climbed on the Salsa Vaya with no destination in mind. A great bike for that, since one can turn down any kind of "road" one finds alluring.

To wit:

Hubbard Road on a pristine spring day

Juggler Meadow Road's eponymous view

Yes, Virginia, there really is such a road name

Valley roads sport an abundance of quirky monikers and appellations


When I see a turn-off by the road, I look past it for a trailhead; all sorts of little treats lie beyond

Even managed a stream crossing with a little log involved, at speed

Later, another hidden trail led to this treasure...

...and a bunch of flowy singletrack, affording fine views of local industrial history

Happy legs at favorite café after the ride

Even happier tummy

The steed awaits patiently, tied up outside the saloon

Don't you wish you lived in the Pioneer Valley?

Icing on the cake: when I arrived home, the neighbors were dog-sitting, with local kids chasing him all over their yard

I can't recommend highly enough just getting on a bike and going where your nose leads. No goal or GPS unit needed. A good friend (and pretty serious racer) does it all the time; he likes to call it "playing bikes."

Whatever you call it, don't lose out on that wonderment that you had as a child, when you could first take yourself somewhere far away, just to see what was there, and to feel the sun on your skin and the burn in your lungs.