Thursday, September 2, 2010

Post TransAm reunions galore....and then off to Maui for the 'Cycle to the Sun'

After nearly 4,600 miles of epic adventure on the TransAm, when I reached Astoria I had very mixed feelings about whether or not I wanted it to end; in fact, I waited until the very last possible minute before Shaw and Lindsay started the car to drive back to Portland before I committed to actually getting in the car and going with them. I had thoughts of going further, up into Washington on the Olympic Peninsula, perhaps over to Seattle, and ultimately getting back to Portland approximately two weeks later, but I just decided that really the trip did have to end sometime and that if I rode another two weeks, I'd probably be feeling the same apprehension about ending then. It was the crappy, cold, drizzly weather that finally swayed me, and once I made the decision to stop, I headed back to Portland feeling emotionally finished.
The next week, however, would prove to be a really nice transition time at the end of the ride. People that I had ridden with off and on over the summer began trickling into Portland and getting in touch with me, desiring advice on how to get around Portland, as well as to hang out together and see the Portland sights or share a beer/meal/coffee. It was quite enjoyable to see these people again, not only because I had the opportunity to show off my hometown, but because it was a way to continue to share the experience of the TransAm with others who understood what it was all about even now that it was over.
Robin from PA and Zack from VA actually arrived in P-town a few hours before I did. The next day we were all reunited, along with Dennis, Ellen, and Marga, our friends from the Netherlands. Phyllis from Seattle and her riding partner Jerry, from Baltimore rolled in a few days later. The entire group of us, along with Tony (who's also from Portland) had several opportunities to gather again, either as one big group or in several smaller ones. Ellen and I went hiking in the Columbia Gorge up around the Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls area. Phyllis and I met up for coffee and a meal. The entire group of us met for a barbeque at Jerry's nephew's place in Portland's West Hills area.
On one sunny morning Robin, Zack, Tony and I had an amazing breakfast at the Hawthorne Cafe. I then hung with Robin and Zack as they were shopping at various secondhand clothing stores in the Hawthorne area (Portland is BIG into funky, secondhand clothing joints). We later found our Dutch friends as well and the group of us rolled into and ransacked Powell's City of Books, which encompasses an entire Portland city block, is multiple levels tall, and may, I believe, be the largest bookstore in the United States (possibly the world??) We even managed to time it right to get Nick Tempest and his mom (Nick I knew from hosteling together in Montana and I had randomly seen him and his mother when I ended the ride at the Astoria Column) together with most of the group at the Amnesia Brewing Company one evening.

Here is, from left to right, Ellen, Tony, me, Phyllis, Jerry, Dennis, and kneeling is Marga:

Ellen, at a small random waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge.

Bruce Moore, who I had ridden with for three days back in Virginia, (and who happened to be one of the very few people who rode with me when I had my little dog Buck accompanying me in my handlebar bag) had his wife fly into Portland to meet him; once here, they found me and Stefaan (a Belgian guy I rode with in Kentucky, who along with his wife Tara, had ridden across the U.S. in permanent move from Durham, NC to Portland) for a great patio dinner at sunset at a Mississippi German beer joint (Prost!)

Here we are at dinner, from the left is Bruce, Kristen, Stefaan, and me:

Not long afterward, two other Dutch friends named Klaas and Gosse (a couple of guys that I'd met over lunch back in CO and spoken to for 20 minutes before heading on solo down the road) contacted me and we met up two times over two days, taking in some local Portland sights and flavor, including Pittock Mansion, the St. John's Bridge, Mt. Tabor Park, and the International Rose Test Garden. I also took them to experience a one-of-a-kind taste sensation...a fresh-squeezed lemonade at Liquid Sunshine, of which my friend of 20+ years, Clint Bissell, is the proprietor. Though I'd only talked with them briefly on the road, meeting up with them in Portland was a fabulous experience; they were educated, interesting, generous, funny, down-to-earth, and positively interesting. They are pushing me to do a bike tour next year in The Netherlands, Germany, and perhaps a few other European countries and say they'll help me plan it and let me stay with them as long as I like when I roll through their medieval little town! I must say I am going to strongly consider this.

Here are Gosse, me, and Klaas standing behind my car and in front of the Portland Motel 6 (which they thought was the very best budget motel they stayed in on the entire TransAm!!):

After all my friends had passed through Portland on their way back to wherever they are from, I turned my attention back to the bicycle, wanting to both just keep riding, as well as to get a couple of final training rides in for Maui’s upcoming Cycle to the Sun race for which I had already registered. I once again loaded my clothing/camping gear/supplies up on my touring bike and headed up to Mossyrock, WA (where my sister Jennifer and her family have a lake home) for a little family reunion. Phyllis (yes, TransAm Phyllis) drove me in her SUV for the first 70 miles toward Mossyrock and I then rode the last 30 miles on my bike. I had a wonderful visit for two days with my sister Jennifer, her husband Ryan, my nieces Madison (age 16) and Molly (10), and my nephew Wyatt (5). My brother Kris and his partner Ron were also in town and all of us had a great time catching up on life, playing on the lake, drinking a few too many adult beverages, and simply relaxing. It was there on the gorgeous and warm Lake Mayfield that I tried wakesurfing for the first time, behind Ryan and Jen’s really nice Mastercraft boat. I am proud to say that I was able to get up out of the water and surfing on my first try, though I never did master the trick of letting go of the rope and finding that perfect sweet spot in the wake where you can surf without having to be pulled by the boat; though I got better and better, the longest I was able to surf without holding the rope in my hands was about 30 seconds.

Here is a pic taken before I let go of the rope:

Jen and Ryan also recently allowed my niece Molly to adopt a rescue dog from the Oakland, CA humane society. The newest addition to their family, Max, is the most adorable and well-behaved little Chihuahua. Sadly, he was abused by his previous owners and that abuse resulted in his little legs having gaping wounds on them at the time my family adopted him. It was so sad to see the wonderful little guy with bandages covering his legs, and later, because he was finding a way to lick under the edge of the bandages and prevent timely wound healing, a plastic “lampshade” cone around his neck. Each night Jen and the girls would get out the wound cleaning supplies, the Betadyne, and fresh bandages and lovingly tend to poor Max’s wounds. I haven’t heard how he’s doing in the three weeks since I was there, but I would imagine he’s only getting better and better, given how much care the girls were putting into his recovery.

Here is little Max, all bandaged, coned, and sweatered up:

After a couple of wonderfully relaxing days of family time, I hit the road and rode the entire 100 miles back home to Portland in one day. It took me about nine hours, including probably and hour and half or so of resting/eating along the way. It was nice to know that being off my bike for a week or so hadn’t adversely affected my fitness level. Also, wanting to get in one final hill ride at at least some kind of challenging altitude, I did a ride up as high as you can get on a paved road in Oregon, up to Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge which sits at 6000’ of elevation. The Timberline Lodge road’s grade is quite similar to that of the road up Haleakalá, the mountain which Cycle to the Sun ascends, so it was a very realistic training ride. Unfortunately, however, I couldn’t train at the altitude I would experience in the race because the elevation at the summit of Haleakalá where the race ends is 10,000’.

The view just before turning the corner to the parking lot at Timberline Lodge:

I was both encouraged and discouraged by the results of the Timberline training ride. Yes, I’d just ridden from 1500’ to 6000’ at a faster pace than I’d been able to ride at last year’s Cycle to the Sun, but I was also sucking wind when I got to the end of the road at Timberline Lodge...not a good sign for how I might perform when riding all the way to 10,000’ ten days later in Maui. Regardless, I took the results of the ride as a positive, knowing that I’d ridden all summer to develop a base fitness level, that I was feeling pretty strong, and that I’d probably feel better after the upcoming ten days of tapering for race day.
I rode only a couple of times, and only for short, easy spins, in the days after the Timberline ride. When I arrived on Maui two days before the race, I immediately loaded up my bike into my friend Karen’s Honda Pilot and headed up Haleakalá. My plan was to do a very short ride just to spin my legs for a few minutes but to do it at a high altitude so my body could experience the feeling of riding with less oxygen again. I drove to the 8000’ mark and from there I did an easy 10-12 minute climb, ensuring that I didn’t tire myself out or overdo it in any way. After that short ride up, I coasted back down to the truck, loaded up the bike again, and this time drove to the 10,000’ summit. I had a book and a picnic lunch with me and I spent the majority of the day up there, not only to enjoy the spectacular view afforded to those who make the effort to ascend the mountain, but also in hopes that even five hours at such a high elevation would somehow jumpstart my body’s red blood cell production and allow me to better acclimate to the altitude. Here are a variety of pics from my day chilling on the mountain.

The Haleakalá road's final push up to the 10,000' summit and race finish line:

The view backward from the finish line itself:

The view down into the extinct volcano's crater from just below the summit:

The road at 9,500' descending down toward the clouds (yes, you pass through them on the ascent):

Want proof? At about 6,700', they actually WARN you to turn on your headlights!!

Below the clouds, at around 5,500', here is the road descending toward the ocean and into the afternoon sun:

The Cycle to the Sun race is a grueling, fast-paced ascent up a relentless mountain. From a distance, Haleakalá appears to have a gentle grade, but looks are very deceiving as the grade actually averages approximately 6%, and has short, steep spikes up to 18%!! There are only two places on the entire ascent where a brief respite appears, and both are very flat downhills that only provide 15-30 seconds of temporary relief. Other than for those two brief moments, the road snakes upward, climbing constantly for 36 consecutive miles, from the sandy, palm tree-lined beach of Paia to the majestic summit of the mighty Haleakalá.
Race day rolled around and found me in a very excited, energetic state. I had trained all summer riding a loaded bike on the TransAm, I had wisely tapered for the last three weeks in an attempt to go into the race feeling strong, and I had eaten sensibly and slept soundly in the days leading up to the event. All indications were that I was as ready as I could possibly be for the ride. As expected, when the sound of the gun indicated the start of the race, I was feeling great. I had, the night before, visualized how I wanted the ride to play out and my goal was to avoid shooting so quickly out of the blocks that I wasted all my energy early on, leaving nothing for the end. I really tried hard to ride at a sensible pace, having experienced Haleakalá’s lung-sucking, leg-pounding, merciless onslought the year before, and knowing that the smart racer paces himself up the hill.
As I got past the initial lactic acid burn and settled into a rhythm requiring only moderate but constant effort, I was feeling really, really good. I noticed that not only was I pacing myself nicely, I was making good time. In fact, I realized that for the first time in any of the few events in which I have competed, I had begun to actually RACE. Typically am not particularly competitive with other people in these sorts of races and am really am only participating in an attempt to compete with and better MYSELF. On this day, however, I noticed that all my training and all the viewing of various stages of the Tour de France was beginning to change the way I rode. I was more alert, constantly scanning the race landscape to be aware of where others were and how they were riding. I was remembering all of last year’s training rides on this very road, as well as last year’s race day, and using that information to plot where I might find a good place to make up time and perhaps pass other participants. I was watching for others’ weaknesses and strengths, quickly assessing whether or not it was appropriate to work together in drafting to help each other save time and energy, if I should pass because they might hold me back, or if they were simply too strong for me to hold their wheel.
This alone was exciting enough because I was beginning to feel like a real cyclist, plotting, strategizing, and the like. However, what thrilled me even more was when I realized that I passed the 5000’ halfway point at one hour and fifty six minutes...faster than a four-hour pace!! Breaking the four-hour mark is considered a big milestone in this race and only about a third of the participants are able to make it. Though it was my stated goal to finish in 4:30 or less, I was thinking at that moment that I really did have a chance to break 4:00 because I thought I’d been pacing myself nicely for the first half of the race.
But, as I climbed from 5000’ to 6000’ feet, I noticed I was beginning to wear down a little; not a lot, but enough that some concern was beginning to creep in. As I passed by the 7000’ mark, I turned a switchback and immediately hit a fairly stiff headwind. Quickly my energy began to drain away and I found myself realizing that I could not maintain the same pace. I was struggling to get some calories into my body, my heavy breathing and strong effort making it difficult to chew and swallow bits of a Clif bar, and my liquid energy/electrolyte replacement drink rapidly disappearing. As I passed by the 8000’ sign, I was weak and relying on sheer willpower to carry me up that grade. There were long stretches of repeated switchbacks, and there was more mileage into the wind than there was with wind at our backs. Though I was wearing down, I was not giving up and I was not yet “bonking” (“bonking” in an endurance event is when you run of calories and hydration and your body literally just has to stop or slow way, way down because it is unable to go on any longer).
As I passed 9000’ feet, however, I started to feel better. The road began to follow a path with a less forceful headwind and the grade flattened slightly. The calories I’d forced down began to be utilized by my body. And my mood improved. I started to pass a few people that I’d let pass me over the previous two thousand feet of climbing. I started to pick up a bit more speed, my feet able to move a bit faster, my legs able to shift up to a slightly more challenging gear, and I found my second wind.
A little while later, I turned the corner and there it was, illuminated by bright sunlight, standing tall and suddenly within reach...Haleakalá’s summit. I had about 500’ of elevation gain left, and I knew that the final quarter to third of a mile was nearly straight up, approaching up to a 14% grade. I turned the corner where the road passes by the visitor center parking lot and I hit the final hill within the hill. I was unable to consistently sit as I pedaled, my strength too low and the hill too steep, so I frequently stood tall and hammered away with all I had, only sitting when my legs and lungs demanded it. I somehow summoned the energy to finish the race in a sprint, shooting past the only other competitor who was near me as I approached the finish line.
I’d done it! Thirty six straight miles up a 6% grade, without a rest, in four hours and fifteen minutes. 4:15!! Though I didn’t reach goal of breaking the 4:00 mark, I did handily surpass my original goal of 4:30, and I shattered my previous year’s time of 4:43. Slashing last year’s time by 28 minutes is a very significant improvement and left me smiling widely. I finished the race in the ideal fashion, I think: fully spent, feeling like I could not have poured even one more ounce of myself into that day’s ride; being completely exhausted but not in any way hurt or injured; and happy with my time but not fully satisfied because I know that I can do better.
I know that my summer of bicycle touring with a heavy load, all the way across America, over the Appalachian, Ozark, Rocky, and Cascade mountain ranges, left me well-prepared to summit Haleakalá. I cannot help but wonder, however, if I might have EASILY broken the 4:00 mark if the Cycle to the Sun race had been held about a month earlier. At THAT time, I’d just finished riding through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, and for several straight weeks I rode every day, every hill, fully loaded, between elevations of 7500’ to 11500’. If only the ride up Haleakalá had happened when I was not only strong, but strong at high altitude. I will always wonder about what could have been, but hey, there’s no reason why I can’t find out the answer to this question by training more at altitude closer to raceday before a future Cycle to the Sun experience, right?! 
Ultimately, my time of 4:15 proved to be good for 77th place out of 175 people that began the race (and only 156 actually finished). That is a marked improvement from my 94th place finish in last year’s event. In my age group, the men’s 30-39 division, I finished 17th out of 27 people, versus last year ending up 16th out of 24; not a significant change. (And frighteningly, the 40-49 age group which I will enter next year, is MORE competitive and even faster.) It is very, very humbling to realize that after months and months of training, and giving everything I can possibly give in an event, that 44% of the ride’s entrants still beat me!! There are some AMAZING athletes out there who simply ride at a level that I never will. However, I did learn that of the 25 people that this year signed up to ONLY ride the first half of the race to the 5000’ mark, my time would have finished fourth overall.
Fortunately, after the Cycle to the Sun, I still had another nine days on Maui to relax and have a true vacation. All summer long on the TransAm, while technically on a vacation, I had been constantly working, whether it be riding the bike, hauling gear, moving to a new camp, or trying to find food, shelter, or services. All of that, logistically speaking, required a lot of energy and I was now ready for a relaxing vacation. After the race, Maui provided the perfect complement to the summer's working vacation. I spent nine straight days walking the beach, swimming, eating at my favorite local Maui haunts, playing with my friend Karen’s three adorable Golden Retrievers, sleeping, watching the Little League World Series on ESPN, reading, napping, sorting out (and deleting many of my) digital TransAm photos, and, of course, writing multiple blog posts to finalize my summer cycling experience for my ardent fans. I fattened myself on fresh mangoes, coconut/pineapple/banana smoothies, mango scones, and a lot of the freshest Ono fish tacos you can imagine!
Of course my Maui time was spent seeing great friends as well. Karen, from whom I’ve rented a room each time I’ve come to Maui for contract Physical Therapy work, has become a good friend of mine and she was generous enough to both let me stay with her during these 12 days and let me drive an extra car that she has. This allowed me to not only have a true place to call home, but to be able to get out and experience Maui on my own as well without having to rent a vehicle. I cannot thank her enough for her generosity. And, did I mention that I got to play, cuddle, and hang with her three sweet and loving Goldens?! (Karen, you’re lucky that I didn’t pack my loverboy Nemo in my suitcase bound for Portland!)

Here is a two-headed dog monster attacking me on the couch:

I was able to connect several times with my awesome local Hawaiian friends Brad and Shirley Falcon, whom I know from having run as a member of their Hana Relay team two years ago when I was living on Maui. (Some of you may know who Brad is, if you ever watched an episode of ‘Deal or No Deal’ and saw Howie Mandel playing the game with a guy he called “The Cryin’ Hawaiian”.) Brad and Shirley cooked a fabulous dinner one evening and also invited over another buddy Scott from our relay team. Brad and Shirley’s kids Christian (13) and Brendan Sky (15 months) were a real treat to spend time with, particularly when we all loaded up and went to Olawalu Beach, frolicking for a couple of hours in the calm, shallow, warm water under the spectacular Maui sun.

Here are the fabulous Shirley, Brad, and their niece Shantelle:

Something else really special was being invited to watch another local Hawaiian friend’s children dance a hula show one night in Paia town. Devin, the office manager for the clinic at which I worked when I was here last year, and I continue to communicate on Facebook and I dropped in to see her at the clinic one day early in my trip. She invited me to watch her lovely daughters’ hula show the following week, and I had the best time! They and the other dancers were really adorable, and they were really good at dancing the hula and other Polynesian dances as well. It was obvious that they’d spent hours and hours practicing! I was honored that the girls would share that experience with me, and even more touched when they came up and gave “Uncle Dennis” big hugs afterwards, even after not having seen me for nearly a year!

I got to hang with Angie Peters, my PT school classmate who originally orchestrated my introduction to Karen so that I had a place to live the first time I came to work on Maui. Meeting Angie’s precious, five-month-old daughter Hazel for the first time was really a special treat. Just like Angie, she is simply angelic, and just like Angie, everyone loves her! Perfectly behaved each of the three times I saw her, Hazel’s sweet innocence and calm demeanor embodies that of Angie and her most excellent husband Paul.

Angie and Paul run a lovely Maui beachfront inn (the Blue Tile Beach House), and I snapped this pic as I sat on the bench outside with a book and a drink one early afternoon:

Here are Karen and Angie, after Angie cooked us a scrumptious homemade pizza dinner:

My buddy Karl Kolbeck (the guy who, along with his wife Sasha, had taken time out of his day of Oregon surfing to meet me as I pedaled through the very last day of my TransAm trip) also happened to be on Maui during the last week of my trip; we were able to connect several times over food or smoothies or coffee and share travel or other life stories. Karl, incidentally, is the reason I ever ended up doing contract therapy work on Maui in the first place, so it was really cool to get to hang with him there. And, getting Karl and Karen together over a meal was even was awesome introducing the two people most instrumental in the success of my Maui life!
I got a fabulous massage from the best massage therapist I have ever had....Rene Haynes, of Maui Body Works. Each time I come to Maui, I get at least one massage from this most amazing woman! She will lovingly work you over until you leave feeling like you have stumbled upon a secret, like you know something everyone else doesn’t, like you have found the way to make your body feel exactly the way it wants to and should.
Oh, speaking of massages...on the night of the Cycle to the Sun race, at the after-race dinner, there were several massage therapists that were contracted by the race promoter to give free massages to the riders. I got there early and Jessica called me over to her table for her first massage of the evening. Normally, these free post-race massages are fairly unremarkable, lasting only five or ten minutes because a) there is a long line of people waiting behind you, and b) the massage therapists are being paid very little (or nothing) so they want to see more people to increase their chance of making better money through tips. So that is what I expected when Jessica laid me down, but that is not what I got. No, Jessica just went on and on and on, working out every kink as if I were a paying client in her clinic. Furthermore, I learned that she is one of the TOUR DE FRANCE’S massage therapists, and has worked on the all the biggest names in the cycling world. If ever there were a person you’d want massaging you after a bike race, it’s her, the therapist to the most elite bike athletes in the world. She lives part of the year in Girona, Spain, which is where a large number of the Tour’s athletes live and train, and then she travels along with the Tour, massaging her team’s athletes nightly after their insanely difficult and long rides. She was chock full of interesting stories that bike geeks like me get off on, and her ex-boyfriend is Ryder Hesjedal, a former world mountain bike champion who finished something like sixth in this year’s Tour de France. She had nothing but good things to say about people, although she did admit that she thought a certain VERY famous cyclist is a real dick because he openly cheated on his famous celebrity girlfriend while at the Tour. Anyway, Jessica was just what the doctor ordered after such a grueling ride earlier in the day!
That’s about all I have to say for now. I am home in Portland, having just started work. I am contracted through May 31, 2011 and quite likely can have the summer off if I want it (and if I can afford it, of course). I wonder what’s next for me. Any comments, suggestions, thoughts from any of you? Thanks for being a part of my amazing summer, everyone!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Dennis,

Thank you so much for taking us all along with you on your adventures.

My suggestion for your next trip;
The Netherlands and Germany sound wonderful, we would love to follow along...

Wherever you go, we can hardly wait.

Uncle John & Aunt Sharon