Thursday, July 21, 2011

Back in the hills and the Memorial Challenge

It has been awhile since I have posted on this site or the Brain Injury Connection website because I have been struggling with my depression and it has been kicking my butt.  I’ve managed to push myself out the door to ride my bike and that always helps.  If I don’t ride, I don’t sleep well.  If I don’t sleep, I’m really grumpy.

I’m getting 25 – 45 miles a day in 5 – 6 days a week now that it is summer and the more I ride, the better I sleep and feel.  You may already know it, but if you don’t, cycling has been good medicine for me!

I’m back in the hills.  What a difference a triple makes! I lost my conditioning over the winter.  I didn’t ride in the hills for about 3 months due to the flu, inclement weather and I wasn’t confident enough to ride in the hills alone on clipless pedals without my cycling buddies.

It felt like I was just learning to ride in the hills for the first time when I started the Grizzly Peak Century Prep Rides in March.  Before I go any further I need to remind or inform anyone reading this that I rode from San Francisco to Santa Monica (over 27,000 ft of climbing) via Highway 1 on a triple geared TREK hybrid without SAGing in October 2010.  NOTE:  The wheels I used on the Golden State Challenge were much narrower and lighter than the picture I’m linking you to. 

The R2R donated a beautiful compact double road bike through their program to me in November on the Florida Challenge after they learned I was an injured veteran (noncombat).  I went up in the Berkeley Hills in December. I believe I made it up those hills on that double compact with no problems because I had just ridden two challenges. 

Three months later, after I realized I was struggling on the climbs during the Grizzly Peak Century Prep Rides, I discussed my concerns with two experienced and knowledgeable cyclists, Wayne Stetina and Jim, AKA Flash.  Flash wrote a very helpful article titled, "Low Gear Manifesto" for his Flashblog.  After reading Flash’s article; talking to the men and women I met on the Grizzly Peak Prep Rides; and discussing this further with my cycling friends, my bike is now a modified compact with gears lower than the traditional triple and equal to my TREK hybrid.

I had just made the change from a compact double to a modified compact when I was blessed to be invited to participate in the R2R Memorial Challenge.

The humidity drained my energy and we didn’t always have access to the Internet so I rarely brought my computer out of my suitcase.   I arrived home totally exhausted. The Golden State Challenge was a piece of  cake in comparison to the Memorial Challenge.

It had nothing to do with the miles we rode on any day or the hills.  The Golden State Challenge involved more climbing and more miles each day. The temperatures and humidity were unprecedented on the first three days of the Memorial Challenge for that time of the year.  I recall someone mentioning the heat index was 106 on one of those days.

I was born in the south – Southern California that is (Los Angeles ;-). I was raised in Texas and Michigan.  My time on active duty was spent in Alabama, Kentucky, and Germany.  After I married I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. The states I mentioned are very humid; I don’t recall whether Germany is humid.  Anyway, I’m no longer accustomed to humidity because I’ve lived in California since 1987.

Day 1 – 2: 

I don’t think I would have made it as far as I did the first three days of the Memorial Challenge, if I didn’t have access to a second engine.  I affectionately refer to that engine as the “Stetina Engine.”   Several of us were grateful for his assists.

You have to be a strong rider to assist other riders.  I was exhausted from the heat and humidity and there was one point that Wayne assisted me at least 15 miles.  I think that was the first day when we left to ride after 1:00 PM.  We attended a Memorial Day event just before the ride.  The heat was unbearable when we started.

I was not feeling well when I finished the ride the first day.  I was extremely exhausted and feeling very nauseated and I couldn’t get ready in time to go with everyone to eat that evening.   Someone had kindly brought food back, but I had eaten at a restaurant near the hotel. 

A bit about Wayne 

I wish I could add the picture to my blog that an R2R participant took of Wayne Stetina at the Sea Otter Classic.   He was standing up riding his bike in a race.  You could see the definition of the muscles in his arms and legs.  I downloaded it from Facebook and sent to his wife in case she didn't see it, but I can’t enlarge it and make it clear enough for my blog to show what a lean and muscular cycling machine Wayne is; he’s the epitome of fit.  That picture would have made a nice cycling poster.

When the participants who ride the entire route might get a 71 mile ride day, Wayne and the other ride leaders usually get more riding in because they assist and move back and forth among the different groups of riders adding to their daily mileage.  So, you know they have to be strong riders.

If you have an opportunity you should read “Living in Wayne’s World” a feature article in Road Bike Action Magazine.  I remembered there are pictures of him in that article, but when I went back I see he’s wearing his arm and leg warmers and you can’t see his muscles.

Wayne works for Shimano and is also a professional cyclist.  He’s a three-time Olympian and has won 13 US National Championships.

Wayne and Barb stayed in France after the R2R Normandy Challenge.  He and his friends from the USA Cycling Champions Club are riding the Pyrenees and the Alps.  He has his own blog now titled, Ride With Wayne.   His first post is about his Tour de France Adventure with his club.

I am just getting on Twitter and I follow Wayne @RideWithWayne and @Ride_2_Recovery.  You can see what Wayne’s tweeted from his new blog, too. The pictures of France he’s tweeted and on his blog are beautiful.  

Wayne’s wife, Barb, also my cycling buddy on the challenges, has kidded with me about being Wayne's PR person.

Most of the guys who work and volunteer for R2R,including, John Wordin, the Founder and Executive Director, Gary Hanson, and Scott Moro, and Jim Penseyres and Duane Wagner, Vietnam veterans, have competed in cycling events.

They bring a wealth of cycling experience and truly care about the success, safety and enjoyment of the participants.  I love these rides and I love these people.

Day 2 

Close to the end on the 2nd day there was a very steep hill and my second engine was busy assisting his lovely wife up that hill.   I’m embarrassed to say my heart was racing from the heat and humidity and I clipped out for fear of falling in to the traffic because I was climbing very, very slow.   

Wayne came back to help me, but I was off my bike.  He escorted my bike up to the top.  I think Wayne was born on a bike. I don't like taking my hands off my handlebars to drink and he's riding with one hand on my bike and taking it along with him while riding up a hill.  I’m embarrassed to say I got in the SAG vehicle rode up a short ways to the top of the hill – maybe a quarter of a mile.  I got back on my bike and we eventually caught up with Barb. I would have tried harder to get to the top if I wasn't so hot and my heart wasn't racing. 

Day 3 

I pulled over to hydrate and rest under the shade of a tree at about 42 miles in to the ride with another rider.  I got down on the ground and used my helmet as a pillow. I really, really wanted a nap. 15 to 30 minutes would have sufficed, but two of R2R’s cadre stopped to check on us. One felt my arm and said I wasn’t perspiring and they insisted I get in the SAG Wagon.  I didn’t really want to, but I also didn’t want to die from a heat stroke.  There was room in the van and I would have gotten out, if a combat vet would have needed a seat. 

I rode the red-eye from CA to DC and didn’t sleep well the day before because I was packing and I hadn’t ridden my bike a couple days before the ride. I don’t ride; I don’t sleep well.  I was excited about participating in the Memorial Challenge and seeing everyone I’ve met on previous R2R Challenges and meeting new participants as well.  The day before I arrived in DC was my birthday.  Even though participating in the Ride 2 Recovery wasn’t a birthday present I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the first few days after my birthday than riding my bike with this awesome group of people.

I didn’t sleep much on the plane.  I was hoping I’d get a nap (and shower) when I arrived, but shortly thereafter we attended a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.   There was no way I was going to miss that.

Back to Day 3 

While in the SAG wagon I hydrated and cooled down.  After 6 miles, I tried to get out and ride. That’s plenty of rest time when you’re in a vehicle following cyclists.  No one could remember which vehicle my bike was in and everyone who was getting out at that rest stop was gone by the time we found it.  Many of the R2R bikes look the same and the laminated license plate on the rear of the bike is what confirms it’s ours.

Catching up with riders in the heat would not have been easy.  I probably would have overheated again.  I got back in the SAG wagon.  When we saw riders stopped to rest and hydrate the driver stopped to let me out.  I rode the last 7 miles in with them.   Instead of 61 miles on the 3rd day, I rode 49.

Some of us weren’t thinking very clearly or fast due to the heat.  I crashed twice in the first three days.   I’m relieved to say, I did not cause either of them.  The first crash was on the first day.  A first time rider must have forgotten that John said if you haven’t been trained to assist a hand cyclist or recumbent rider, don’t do it.

I know that person’s heart was in the right place and he just wanted to help, but unfortunately he went down immediately after grabbing the push bar and I was right behind him and down I went.  Wayne said I could have avoided him and gave me some pointers.

I understand the hand and recumbent cycles are very heavy and there is a protocol for assisting them.  If you don’t follow that protocol, you will crash.

The second crash was the second day.  A gentleman was reaching for his water bottle while we were riding up a hill and his front tire touched the back tire of the person in front of him and down we went.  He felt so bad; he apologized to me several times throughout the ride.  I told him it happens and it was a learning experience.  At least the road rash I accumulated on both falls was on the same elbow.

John should have done a “road rash roll call” on this ride.  I’m pretty sure I saw more road rash on elbows and knees than I remember seeing on the Golden State or Florida Challenges.

There was another fall in front of me and I successfully got around that person.  Wayne told me I did well.  I learned five riders crashed when a rider reached for a towel to wipe off sweat and dropped it in his tire.  I understand those who fell because of that weren’t very happy.

Day 4 

The 4th day of the Memorial Challenge was the easiest.  It was also our longest ride day of 71 miles. The temperature was much, much cooler and the humidity much lower than the first 3 days.  What a relief.

Day 5 

The 5th day was emotional for me, but at least I didn’t cry.  We rode on to Ft. Eustis in Virginia where I took my transportation officer basic course and some of the courses of my transportation officer advanced course.  It was a painful reminder of my losses after a traumatic brain injury (TBI).  I was a transportation officer in the Army Reserves and I had just finished a transportation management internship for the Department of Defense. My brain injury was a year after I graduated from that internship.  I lost everything because of the ignorance about brain injury among the medical community and general public.

Day 6 

On the evening of the 6th day and after the Cyclefest on day 7 the USO presented a concert/fundraiser starring the Beach Boys and Darius Rucker, formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish, on Virginia Beach.  I understand this concert will be a special on TV in the future.  I love the Beach Boys Darius Rucker is now a country singer and I like his voice and music.

Crane Cyclefest 

Cyclefests are fundraisers that consist of one-day rides with various route distances designed for everyone from the occasional rider to the experienced cyclist.

Local law enforcement escorting us on the Crane Cyclefest changed some of the route due to flooding overnight. Instead of a 39 mile Cyclefest it ended up being 25 miles.  It was drizzling while we were waiting to start the ride and by the time the ride started it was raining. The rain let up some when we stopped at Fat Frogs Bike and Fitness to hydrate and fuel ourselves with nourishment, but by the time we were rolling again it started pouring.

It was a long ride in the rain, but the rain didn’t really bother me.  I was going to be packing my bike immediately after the ride for the trip back home in the rain and I was concerned about how packing a wet bike would affect it later.

I can’t tell you how much I wanted to pull over and sit in a water puddle.  I learned by the 3rd day of the Memorial Challenge that the Eurostyle Chamois Butt’r and my sensitive female parts did not agree with one another.   That part of my body was burning.  I was wiggling and standing off the seat often throughout the ride.  Standing up on the bike and off the saddle gave me some relief, but it didn’t help my pace.

I’m quite certain that the fact my body was sweating profusely from the humidity it allowed that product to get in to places that it didn’t belong.  I personally will NEVER use that Eurostyle Chamois Butt’r again.  So ladies, you’ve been forewarned.  Proceed at your own risk.  Because of that painful burning, sitting in the saddle was uncomfortable for about 2 weeks AFTER the Memorial Challenge. Again, Regular Chamois Butt’r for me YES, the European Style NO.

Despite the heat and humidity, there were still lots of smiles and I believe everyone enjoyed the Memorial Challenge and Cyclefest.  Maybe, we didn’t smile as much during the ride, but after the rides and out of the heat there were lots.  I enjoy being around our combat veterans and all the kind, supportive and generous people who support this program.

I had a nice roomie on the Memorial Challenge.  It was her first ride.  She learned about the R2R events through her brothers.  One rides and the other drives a support vehicle.

My roomie was living in Virginia when I met her.  She is more accustomed to the humidity, but also said that the weather was unusual for this time of the year. Her family was in the process of moving to Colorado.   She and her husband are veterans, too.  They are both West Point graduates and they were helicopter pilots when they served.

There’s not a whole lot more to write about the Memorial Challenge except these rides mean so much to me because I have an opportunity to ride with the most caring and giving people I’ve ever met.

Check out pictures from the Memorial Challenge here.

R2R National Champions

I am so excited for and proud of two R2R participants, Patty Collins and Jon Copsey.  They participated in the USA National Championship - Road Race and won first place in their age and cycling category.

Photographer unknown-Photo on Ride 2 Recovery Wall  on Facebook
Congratulations Patty and Jon! 

You can read about that USA National Champion – Road Race event  here.  To learn more about cycling competition go to USA Cycling.

Le Tour de France

Two years ago, I never would have dreamed I would enjoy cycling so much that I’m actually following Le Tour de France daily.  Previously, I might know whether Lance Armstrong won a stage or the tour but that was it.

Now, I'm predominately following our American teams: Team Radioshack, BMC Racing Team, Team Garmin-Cervelo and HTC-Highroad.

This is the last week of the tour.  There are a few sites I know you can catch up, watch or get updates on the Tour de France:;; and   It’s also being covered several times a day on the Versus Channel.

I’ve been rooting for Team Radioshack and more specifically, my home boy's, Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer! OK, so Chris isn’t really a Californian, but he trains a lot in CA.  Levi was born in Butte, Montana, but now he and his wife have made their home in Santa Rosa, CA.  Have you heard of  Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo?  Ya’ have now. :-)

I’m heartbroken about Team Radioshack.  Four riders have had to withdraw due to crashes (3) and illness (1 - high fever).  Two sustained concussions.

I’d really love to see at least two of Radioshack riders get a stage win on the Tour de France.  Levi is a 3 time winner of the Tour of California and Haimer Zubeldia is the highest placed rider on Team Radioshack so far. 

I think Chris will be 40 next year and I hope he gets one more chance at the Tour de France.   I love his smile, sense of humor and attitude.  My favorite picture is here when he won the 2011 Tour of California.  NOTE:  The link may go away pretty fast because it’s a slide show; his picture is on slide #1.

Speaking about our American pro cyclists, there is an excellent article with videos about how the Americans are faring in the Tour de France here
Lastly, I’m enjoying the Road ID commercials on the Tour de France. I especially like the Road Rules series with Bob Mionske.  I read his Road Rights Blog and follow him on Facebook.     

I get a kick out of the product ads.  I know I’m too slow, and Levi nor Bobke would ride with me either, but my personal Road ID will! ;-)  I have the Wrist ID elite in blue.

So, do you have a Road ID? Give your loved ones piece of mind and invest in a Road ID. So, if you can't speak for yourself, your Road ID can.

On that note, I’ll close.  About time, huh?  Rhetorical question. ;-)
Until next time.



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