Penticton 2018

I started to write this blog post as a ride report. As a rookie cyclist, a lot of the stuff I write about seem fresh and interesting to me, so I go on and on and on about them. You might read this and think, “Wow, she’s an idiot.” Just keep your thoughts to yourself, and remember that I’m still new at all this.

Back in the fall last year, “Coach Jill” told me about the Penticton fondo. Jill is probably 103 lbs soaking wet, but can power up a hill like a boss. Penticton is easy enough to drive to with the whole family without too much fuss. Naturally, I signed up with little prompting.

Since March this year, I’ve been faithfully following a schedule to train for the fondo. After much anticipation, the day finally arrived and I was pumped.

Before this, I have only ever done one fondo (the 2017 Whistler fondo). Whistler was rainy and cold, and I was miserable, but I finished. Whistler has more net elevation gain than Penticton, and I handled it just fine. I figured I’ll be ok with Penticton. Right?

Not so much.

Whatever mistakes I made, I chalk it up to stupid rookie mistakes. The fact that I actually finished the ride was a huge win in my mind.

The route starts in Penticton, goes up to Summerland, back to Penticton, then down to OK Falls on the east side of Skaha, back up the west side of the lake, back to Penticton. It is absolutely gorgeous. Breathtaking. Beautiful.

I started the ride waaaaay at the back of the chute, and I couldn’t find anyone I knew. Mistake number one was trying to chase down other people I might recognize. Right out the gate was a hill, and I tried to pass everyone in my way. Eventually I found another familiar jersey (Emily), and hopped on her group. I already knew I blew more energy than necessary to try and catch someone. But I was so happy to find a friendly face. Emily was full of energy and it was infectious.

Things were great in the flats and turns, until we hit the KOM hill in Summerland. Mistake number two, I tried to keep up with the girl pulling, and it was a long hill. By the time I crested the hill, my legs and lungs were burning and I was on my own. After only 35km, I was *this* close to pulling over to throw up, and I still had 90km to go! Somewhere around 40km, Emily found me and we rode together back to town again with a big group.

After 50km and back through town, I lost Emily. That sucked. I found a big guy with giant calves and stayed behind him for a good while. It was like having a windshield, so I can take a breather. I tried eating, but my stomach was very unhappy with me. I have already drained two full bottles of electrolyte, and about half way through my 3rd bottle. Mistake number three–likely the biggest mistake I made–I didn’t want to stop at a busy aid station to get more water, so I went further down the East side of Skaha Lake with only half a bottle of water left.

Between 60-80km, things were pretty decent. I was very thirsty, obviously. Half a bottle of water for 20 km was not smart. I will pay for this very dearly later. I found two guys with Spandex Panda jerseys riding just above my speed. I asked if I can join them, and they kindly accepted. We all took turns pulling, but I knew for certain they were just being patient with me when I pulled. At 5’3″, I’m not giving them much draft. That was probably the most blissful part of my entire ride. They were going at a great speed I can manage, and rode smoothly and predictably.

Sadly, the Spandex Panda guys were doing the 160km ride, and I am doing 126km, so I had to wave them goodbye at the bottom of Secrest. By the time I took that turn, there was barely anyone on the 126km route. Was the rest of the world doing 160km? I looked up that hill, and looked down on my empty water bottles, and just thought to myself, you’re an absolute idiot.

I like hills. But Secrest is not like many other hills I have climbed. It was steep. It was relentless. I stood up on my pedals to try and use my body weight to push my way up this hill, and that’s when the cramps hit me. At the same moment, both my quads and both my calves cramped. I nearly fell over as my legs just gave way. I quickly sat back in my saddle as a “fuck!” involuntarily escaped my lips. What the hell was that? I have never cramped before.

My little brain was still trying to work out what was wrong with my legs, and how I was supposed to do this climb sitting on my butt the whole way. I pedaled slowly like a drunk person, zig zagging all over the pavement trying to not fall over. I ran through my options in my head. I can pull over and call it quits. Or I can try to ride through the cramps. I also really wanted to call the super athlete Tennessee and ask her what I’m supposed to do with the cramps, but the hill was too steep and I couldn’t take one hand off the bar to use my phone. So I kept riding.

My legs were in excruciating pain with each pedal stroke. I rode up the entire hill doing the drunken zig zag. The worst part was, at this point, I felt like my crotch was on fire. Maybe not enough Butt’r (a chamois cream I applied quite liberally before the ride)? Too much sweat? Too warm of a day? I don’t know, but I swear I was sitting on burning coal.

Imagine the Okanagan paper headline, “Fondo participant from Vancouver started a forest fire with her crotch“.

Some guy was being friendly and was chatting me up, and I was just so not in the mood. I really wanted to say, dude, my crotch is on fire, how is yours? (Don’t worry, I didn’t say that out loud. I just smiled and nodded, and pretended not to speak English.)

I crested the hill, and rode the next 7 or 8km all by myself. It was a remote piece of road, with no traffic, no signs, and no other cyclists. It was a little creepy. I went from, “This hill is finally over” to “Am I even on the right course?”

Eventually I see a few people ahead of me, and it gave me motivation to try to catch up. I rode a bit on and off with a few guys who look like they didn’t even sweat. They were chit-chatting and joking around. I’m pretty sure their crotches weren’t on fire.

At the next aid station, I was so happy to see the volunteer with two jugs of liquids. When she filled my bottles, I almost wanted to kiss her feet. Then a cute young man even peeled a banana for me. He could probably tell I was in shitty shape. The volunteers at this fondo are freaking awesome.

Eventually I caught up to someone riding somewhat at my speed. I found out later his name is Rob. Since I wasn’t going anywhere fast with my useless legs on the climbs, I chatted him up. He looked like he was suffering too. On the downhill, I ducked behind him for a quick descend. On the uphills, I would ride in front to give him a little break.

During the last 20km, it was so warm and the wind picked up. Back on the last stretch of the highway, all I can think of is how much pain I was in, and hashing over all the mistakes I have made to be where I was at that moment. My Garmin wasn’t giving me an accurate read of the distance, and I don’t know Penticton at all, so I really couldn’t gauge how much farther I had to go. I was nearly in tears. Even my inner thigh was cramping. Like really, I didn’t even know there was a muscle there!

When we started the steady 1% climb up Main Street, Rob said that was the last climb. I figured the fact that I saw a Starbucks, we must be near the edge of downtown. It couldn’t be much further now. I had nothing left in me to go any faster than I was going. I keep waiting for Rob to lose his patience and ride past me, but I guess he likely had nothing left either. Main Street eventually flattens out, and the last 500-600m everyone starts to sprint. That was probably the clue that the end is near. Rob pulled out in front of me with a couple of other guys, and I gave it all I had to hang on. We rode as fast as we could to the last corner, and sprinted down the chute to the finish line.

The poor volunteer who cut my timing chip off had to catch me as I almost fell over. I limped my way up the curb, shook Rob’s hand, met his wife, and went to look for my family.

I finished. I couldn’t believe I finished. As much as I was cursing my legs for not working right, I knew it was my mistake. I started out too hard, tried too hard to keep up, and I was dehydrated. Even though I took enough electrolyte, there wasn’t enough water to deliver it to my muscles. And when you over-stress your body, the digestive system shuts down to allow all the blood supply to support the “flight” mode. That’s why I could barely eat and was at the edge of throwing up for more than half the ride.

I have learned so much on this ride. I’m still trying to digest all the valuable lessons. More importantly, as shitty as I felt physically, I looked back on the day and thought to myself, I will be back.

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Things I learned on a road bike

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Exactly a year ago, I bought my first road bike. It was love at first ride.

Shortly after buying the bike, I decided to do the Whistler fondo–122 km ride from Vancouver to Whistler. Not knowing what I was getting myself into was probably a blessing.

I have become so addicted to cycling, that I decided to sell my motorcycle. Yeah. I know.

I have learned so much in the last 8,230 km.

First, a big goal can be broken down to small chunks. Riding the fondo started with riding 20 km, then 40, then 60, then 90, then 120. Each stage is a new learning experience, with different challenges.

Second, eating for performance can be very different from eating to be skinny. I have had to learn to eat for riding, and the timing of when to eat to sustain a long ride.

Third, it’s amazing what each individual can achieve when you all work as a team. All of my fasted times on rides are results of riding with other people. Sometimes this is because we take turns pulling/drafting, and sometimes it’s because someone pushed me to climb faster and harder than I ever would on my own.

Fourth, the learning never stops. There are so many skills to learn and practice, and so much knowledge to be acquired. I first learned to ride a bike when I was seven years old. But now at 42, I feel like I barely know anything.

Fifth and last, riding is so badass. I absolutely LOVE it when my lungs and my legs are burning on a steep hill climb. I love being scared shitless letting my brakes go on a downhill. I love being challenged to go farther and faster, and seeing other kickass women ride like its nobody’s business.

 

A full year of bike commuting

A year ago today, I started riding my old and over-sized Giant OCR to work. That thing was a men’s 52cm aluminum frame bike. The handlebar is so wide and the bike so heavy that it rides like a couch–slow and comfortable.

My commute to work is a very short 4.5 to 5 km depending on the route. The reason I always drove is that it’s easy, and I was given a parking spot at work. Riding a bike just seemed like such a chore.

The new building our office moved into has a really great bike locker and shower facility. The bike locker is free. I pay $180/year to have access to the shower with towel service. It even has two clothes dryers for those rainy Vancouver days so you can dry your wet clothes. $180 is peanuts when you consider what you get for it. (Thank you, Oxford Properties!)

It took maybe a week or so to get into the rhythm of bike commuting. It takes a bit of extra time to pack my work clothes and lay out my cycling clothes the night before, and a bit of extra time to change back into cycling clothes after work. If I have to bring my laptop home, it’s extra weight to haul. Some days I use just a backpack with a chest strap, and some days I use my Ortlieb classic pannier bag on the bike rack–it just depends on which bike I’m riding and how much I’m hauling.

In terms of commute time, I would say it averages out to be shorter on the bike. Driving is about 12 minutes in the morning if I leave early enough, but often 30 minutes in the evening (or 40 minutes when Burrard bridge was being renovated). Cycling time both ways is always consistently between 14 and 16 minutes, regardless of traffic conditions. The fastest cycling time is 12 minutes (early morning, green light all the way, on the road bike), and the slowest is 18 minutes (I think I was just dilly dallying that day, plus hitting all red lights, on the cross bike).

The best thing about bike commuting is that it eliminates the high blood pressure induced by my road rage while driving gives me time to decompress while I’m commuting. I get some fresh air, get some blood pumping through my system, and burn a few calories.

I’d love to say that I’m doing it for environmental reasons, but I would be lying. I don’t deserve a “one less car” sticker, because I’m doing this for myself rather than for the greater good of the globe. You can always count on me to be totally honest.

The worst thing about bike commuting is…well, I don’t know. Yes, some days I get wet from the rain, and some days I am cold. But I find if I dress right, given my very short commute distance, none of it is really that bad. I don’t recall ever hating a bike commute, whereas I recall hating almost every driving commute.

If you are considering bike commuting to work, I would say just give it a try for a week and see how it feels. You might like it so much that you decide to sell your car. Or do the Whistler fondo. Or just enjoy some fresh air.

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This “haul everything” set up.

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A little snow this winter.

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Finding great backgrounds for bike photos during my commute.

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Sometimes I take a detour on my way home.

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So many great bike lanes in Vancouver, and well salted during the winter.

Sedona

Sedona is breathtaking. My words fail to describe the beauty of the place. Here are some photos from the 3-day hiking trip with Maggie.

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First day’s hike–Devil’s Bridge. We started hiking before 6 am in pitch darkness, using our headlamps to find our way. We were rewarded with having no one else on the trail, and got to Devil’s Bridge before anyone else that day.

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At Devil’s Bridge

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Cacti everywhere

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Pick your poison. Neither sounded really appealing to me. Good thing that was for mountain bikers, and I don’t mountain bike.

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The signs for mountain bikers are plenty

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I named this the “chocolate cake rock”. Maggie was not impressed with my creativity.

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We were getting pelted by hail here, but who’s complaining when you get this kind of view?

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Plenty of interesting plants

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This just takes my breath away.

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Day two started with a scramble up Cathedral Rock. Best part of the trip!

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The view from the top of Cathedral Rock trail.

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What the walls of Cathedral Rock looks like.

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Half this branch is smooth and brown, and the other half is bark-y and dried. So weird!

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Funky bark.

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Seriously twisted tree branch

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Day three, we hiked to Devil’s Kitchen. It’s a giant sink hole with huge slabs of rocks fallen into the sink hole. Pretty awesome. Also pretty hard to demonstrate in a photo.

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Last interesting plant

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Since everyone talks about the vortex, Maggie and I decided to give it a try on the top of Ant Hill. We sat, breathed deeply, and hummed. Ok, maybe it was just making fun of the vortex seekers, but we got a photo to prove that we tried it and did not find the vortex.

Nothing but water

I did promise to come back here and give you an update on my swimming progress. Before that, let me sidetrack for a minute for a quick story.

Last weekend, Josh and I went swimming. After he encouraged me to try the water slide last time, we have done it multiple times because I was no longer scared.

This time, he encouraged me to jump off the spring board into the dive tank. I said, “Errr, I am scared.” He spread his palms, shrugged his shoulders and said, “But mommy, it’s nothing but water.”

This kid gives me the most interesting perspectives in life.

Anyway, back to my swimming progress.

When I started 5 weeks ago, I really had nowhere to go but up. Now I have completed the five half-hour lessons from the Vancouver Parks Board, and practiced on my own five times. I went from not being able to do front crawl at all, to doing half-assed front crawl for 25-35 metres. I can only breathe out of my right side, I still choke on water regularly, and I can’t swim more than 35 metres at a time. But hey, that’s progress, right?

Very slow progress. But progress nonetheless.

The next step for me is to continue practicing. I’m planning on two practices a week. I have also signed up for another round of lessons starting in March with Sea Hikers.

Swimming is probably the most unnatural and uncomfortable sport I have ever tried. Maybe it’s the mental block I have about water, and hating the feeling of water going up my nose. Maybe it’s all the self-fulfilling prophecy about I could never learn to swim. Whatever it is, it’s this gigantic task that seems so impossible.

My plan is to just slowly chip away at this task of learning to swim. I need to do this for myself, to see for myself what is possible when I put my mind to it.

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The dive tank is “nothing but water”, he said.

Water slide

Josh and I went swimming on the weekend. It’s partly to have some “mommy and Josh” time, and partly getting me more comfortable in the water.

We were merrily going along, trying different stroke in the pool, playing games in the water, and having a good time. Half way down the 50 metre lane, where the pool is the deepest, Josh notices a slide on the side of the pool. His eyes lit up.

“Mommy, I want to try the slide!”

“Sure, go ahead.”

The slide was maybe only 6 feet high, and the bottom of the slide was maybe a foot above the water. I knew Josh can handle it. He quickly climbed out of the pool, up the ladder, and came down like a cannon ball. Splash! He surfaced with a big smile on his face a few seconds later. (This whole time I’m clinging onto the edge of the pool for dear life.)

“Mommy, I want to do it again!”

“Sure.”

This time, he wanted to come down without his goggles. Splash! He surfaced again with a smile. I was so proud of him. He is such a great swimmer, and so brave.

Then, he asked me the deadly question.

“Mommy, do you want to try the slide?”

Instantly, I thought about 100 reasons I could give him why I should not try the slide, ranging from my ass is too big for the narrow slide, to I’m too full from lunch. Oh, I know, how about I’d rather not die?

It took me maybe eternity to answer him with a whisper, “No, I’m too scared.”

You read that right. I’m 41 years old and too scared to come down a kids’ water slide. I am much happier to jump out of an airplane, or bungee jump off a bridge, ride a motorcycle solo across North America, or hike up Kilimanjaro. But no, no water slide into a swimming pool.

Let me just take a second to remind you the fact that I am struggling to learn to swim. Each time I have my lesson or go practice swimming, I drink so much pool water that I can taste the chlorine in my mouth all day. Choking on water half way down a lane and then panicking to grab the pool edge is my specialty. To willingly go down a steep slide, and throwing myself into the deep end of the pool is just asking for trouble.

With all the wisdom he has accumulated in his 7 years, 2 months, and 14 days of life, Josh said in the most gentle and non-judgmental voice, “Remember last time you were scared of that tree run at Whistler? You tried it, you had fun and liked it. Maybe you will like the slide too if you tried it.”

Bam!

May this moment always serve to remind me that despite my irrational fears and parental failings, Josh is turning out pretty freaking awesome.

Sigh. “You’re right,” I said.

I climbed out of the pool, up the ladder, sat at the top of the slide, hoped I don’t drown in front of my kid. I cursed the “setting an example for your child” thing. I took a deep breath, pinched my nose hard, and slid down towards my death. Splash!

I recall lots and lots of bubbles, then I surfaced. OMG, I survived! Somehow I did not die. In fact, I had so much fun that I did it two more times.

Josh, one day when you’re old enough for swear words and scarcasm, I’ll let you read my blog. I want you to know that when I finally conquer my fear of water, you are a large part of that process, and I will always be grateful for that January Saturday afternoon when you encouraged me to try the slide.

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Me and Josh at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre

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Guess which one of us the better swimmer?

The fear of water

26154995_1582172691873309_7902964687652782080_n(1)Water is my nemesis.

My mom put Grant and I in swimming lessons when we were kids. She had a lifetime of regret for not learning to swim, so she made sure her kids learned to swim. (BTW, my mom did eventually learn to swim as an adult. More on this later.)

As a kid, I learned breast stroke and stopped there. It was good enough. In any event, I didn’t love swimming. I didn’t love anything that required practice. Like the piano. Anyway, Grant and I probably spent more time splashing around than actually swimming. All this took place in a swimming pool at a fancy health club where my dad had a membership. I did enjoy the cool water on hot summer days, and ate countless sandwiches at the poolside restaurant.

For the next 10-12 years, I was never required to swim. Since I didn’t love it, I don’t tend to want to go swimming.

I’ll spare you the details on how I almost drowned in a lake when I was 20, because, you know, my mom will read this and freak out.

My fear of water kept me away from water for the next 20 years. I could swim laps (with badly done breast stroke) in a pool if I know I can reach out and grab the edge of the pool and be able to see the bottom. But I never went swimming. Why would I? The fear-induced shiver each time I get in the water is just too much for me to handle.

I decided that this needs to change.

I was inspired by a small human–Josh. It’s not just his capability of swimming that inspires me; it’s his comfort level in the water. When we went swimming with whale sharks in the middle of the ocean in Mexico, he jumped into the water without hesitation. When his mask/snorkel fell off and he sucked in some water, he was not fazed at all. He got the guide to help put his mask/snorkel back on, blew the water out of his nose, and just went on his merry way to see the whale sharks.

Pride oozed out of my pores, and I was so inspired to be more like him.

I was inspired by another person–my mom. As a child, she was traumatized by old school jackass gym teachers and never learned to swim properly. When she saw Grant and I learn to swim, she was inspired to learn as well. So in her 40’s, she took lessons and learned to swim, and swam a lot in the following years.

I was also inspired by a bunch of strangers. When I did that duathlon race (run-bike-run) last summer, I longingly looked into the swimming pool at the athletes who were on the swimming leg of the triathlon. I was envious of their abilities, even if they were slow swimmers. I thought to myself, maybe one day. Maybe one day I will overcome the impossible, and learn to swim. Maybe one day I will be able to swim well enough to participate in a triathlon. Maybe one day.

The one day started last week. I signed up for 5 private lessons, and committed to going for 5 swims on my own. In 5 weeks (10 times in the water), if I make absolutely no improvement, I will concede defeat and remain a land animal forever. I am really hoping that I will make some improvements, regardless of how slight.

I’ll report back in 5 weeks on how I’m doing. Fingers crossed!