Sunday, March 08, 2009

Chileno Vly Hopper

The Hoppers have gotten a bit larger than life. Maybe life has gotten larger as the field thickens. Personally, it's been a bit of a roller coaster ride caring and at the same time letting go of my quest for MegaFitness and quest for glory. Never really goes away, kids or no kids. Hero in my own time; hero in my own mind. It's reward enough seeing all the folks out for the fun yesterday. Crumpled at the finish in a ball of multiple cramps, was a bit demoralizing to have nothing on Marshall wall and finish in...79th! Kim was up late posting the results last night and I noticed I beat my last years time by 4 minutes but still dropped from 32 last year to 79th. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Ya'll just be happy I'm still riding these things. When you see me from the sunroof of the ride vehicle start worrying...oh yeah, and expect a nice suprise to next year's finish :) Thanks to our local toughmen and women for showing up and making it a fine, fine day. Got a story to tell? Let's hear it.


At 10:17 PM , Blogger Dario said...

Having completed my 3rd Grasshopper event, I think I’m starting to understand what “Adventure Series” means. Go hard. If that’s not hard enough, go harder. And if you thought you were going hard, think again, ‘cause there’s always someone willing (and able) to go harder. Hard-rockin’, hard-headed, hard men with hard legs making life hard for you on the bike when you thought today might be your day to be the hammer. Then you realize you’re the nail.

This little, grassroots “training ride” drew a handful of riders – only 50 or so more than the 200 the previous week…I heard that last Saturday’s Old Caz champ, Geoff Kabush went back to terrorizing unsuspecting racers up north again, so perhaps I had a chance this time. Oh, but did I mention who all came out to play? Try Levi “Leavin’ You on the Climb” Leipheimer, Scott “Just Training” Nydam, half the Bissel train (red is the new black), Davide (ci vediamo dopo) Frattini, “Follow Me and You’re Gonna see HR Max” Plaxton, “Barry You in a Shallow Grave while Smiling” Wicks, Elite RR Champ James “KiloJoul” Mattis, Mike “the Motor” Broderick, and various other professionals and local hammerheads who could very well be racing pro also. Did I have a chance? As if the devil served snow cones.

At least this was a ‘Hopper route where I knew all the roads…Chileno Valley. Although, I’m not sure that particular section defines the Spring Classic-nature of the route, other than it’s a merciful stretch of road that comes after the Marshallberg and Wilsonberg, and before the Muur Carmody and Burnsideberg. Maybe Chileno is the one section that is only as hard as you make it.

We roll out in a sea of bikes, basking in Nor Cal spring sunshine. The first few pitches toward the coast let us stretch out the legs and thin out the pack to a manageable 150 or so. Just after hitting Tomales, a small group rolls off the front with a couple of pros and a stars and stripes jersey. I look around and see that most of the big dogs in the pack are disinterested, most certainly waiting for the Marshallberg to inflict general climbing chaos and reel in the break like a squirming trout.

We turn onto the Marshallberg, and I have front row tickets. I start the climb at a reasonable clip, then young prodigy, John “Smiles” Bennett rolls by me with Levi on his wheel. I grab Levi’s wheel (what the heck am I thinking?) and soon after realize that their speed is bordering on the ridiculous. I let myself drift back a bit to recover slightly for the next pitch, and as one paid assassin after another moves past me, I glance back to see a large gap to the remnants of an obliterated field - thanks to neo-pro Bennett.

Head speaking to legs in over-acted style: “Scotty, we need more power!” Legs respond to head in Scottish accent (and with a grin): “I’m an engineer not a magician, captain…” Head says to ego: “Dude, you’re forty and don’t do this for a living, ease up on yourself.” And the gap opens. It’s still the first hour with at least two to go. Then my training partner, John “Terminator” Hunt rolls up and gives me the words I need to dig deeper. I see the start-studded move cresting the top up ahead. We scoop up John Bennett (props for thinking you were putting Levi on the rivet), Aren Timmel and John Staroba and roll over the top plummeting down the wall in search of glory.

After a few miles, a small group including “Motor” Broderick, Jonathan “the Optimist” Lee and Tim “Steamroller” Farnham come up to us, and we meld into a cohesive rotating eight-man paceline. We hit the Wilsonberg and we can see the front group ahead on the climb. John Bennett takes off in chase like a greyhound out of the gate, as Hunt, Timmel and I separate from the others heading for the feedzone at a slightly more humanlike pace. We take on fluid and hit the familiar descent, brakes be dammed. At the bottom we pick up Bennett again, and immediately go back to sharing the pacework. Just before swinging onto the namesake road, the remnants of our group coalesces and we are fluid and fast as eight on Chileno.

We scoop up a few more left from the original break, and they add to the fray. Soon after, we come off of Alexander and there they are - only a few hundred meters ahead, clear as day, the front of the race! Oh, excuse me, I mean training ride…The hammer drops harder (as if that were even possible) as the prey is near, and we turn heading for Muur Carmody like a pack of frothing-mouthed wolves after speeding rabbits.

Timmel pulls his jersey open to reveal a big “S” and goes big-ring up the Muur with the intention of hero-like proportions – the solo bridge. Of course, John Bennett will not have superheros be lonely, so he goes to keep Timmel company. They get about three bike lengths on us, and the Muur shows who’s super and who’s gonna be the hero. We scoop them up over the top, with only half of our group making the cut. No, we did not bridge…yet (optimism until realism interferes).

Then it’s Frogger through the traffic onto Petaluma Valley Ford Road, and as we swing onto Bloomfield, we pick up a few more early-break survivors. Up the gradual rise toward the Burnsideberg, only a few are willing to pull. Knowing what lies ahead has everyone taking stock. “Terminator” Hunt slowly pulls ahead of us and hits the Burnsideberg first. Timmel, Broderick, Farnham, Bennett, Staroba and I separate from the others up the first pitch. Bennett finally cries uncle after a day of super-human efforts, showing that even the Energizer Bunny runs on finite batteries. Staroba follows suit.

A few more pitches and my leg muscles start getting twitchy. I stand to follow an acceleration and sit back down just in time to avoid full calf lockdown. I begin to lose the wheels, unable to stand on the steeper segments. I look back to see barren road and no one in sight. I look ahead and see ten bike lengths to the Occidental Express. Look up “no man’s land” and that’s what you’ll see.

I play “chase the cramps” around my legs as I solo TT the rest of the way past Freestone onto the final stretch. Up Bohemian I stand and start cramping in my calves, so I sit and cramp in my inner thighs, so I stand and cramp…and on it goes…until finally I finish 15th. I am the nail today.

Thanks, Miguel & Kim! If this is your idea of a “training ride” I can’t wait for the race.


At 10:17 PM , Blogger Dario said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:04 AM , Blogger Jeremiah said...

Thanks for a great ride - here's my "report" -
From a conversation between Vertical Panda team member Jeremiah (VPJ1) and himself (VPJ2) during a March 7, 2009 “training ride.” This ride, Grasshopper No. 2 - Chileno Valley, was part of the Grasshopper Adventure Series, a noncompetive bicycle race similar to jumbo shrimp. The ride is about 65 miles with 5000+ feet of climbing starting from Occidental, CA. The ride attracts racers of every ilk including members of the pro peloton, Cat 1-4s, Cyclocross A,B &Cs and general all around NorCal hard men and women. This year (and last year) winner was Levi Liepheimer of Team Astana. Unless in quotes, the conversation occurred exclusively in Jeremiah’s head during the ride. KD is the “official” time keep and a race organizer extraordinaire.


VPJ1: You recently placed 73rd in the overall standings of the Bay Area Super Prestige cyclocross series and a top 98th finish at Old Caz. So I guess my question to you is why?
VPJ2: Why what?
VPJ1: Why are you here today? Racing? Why all this pain and suffering for well, to put it rather bluntly – for mediocre results.
VPJ2: Hmmm. That’s a good one. I guess I am here to fulfill my dreams. This ride - this race, or whatever you call it is the stuff of my dreams - not the “I wish upon a star” type dream and certainly not the “what I dream of as I lay my head down on the pillow at night” type dream. Rather, this ride is the stuff of my daydreams – the “at the office typing on the keyboard and looking out the window” type dreams. Out here I get to leave my day job and live my daydream. Out here I am a bike racer.

VPJ1: I’ve heard that inside each “racer” there is a little something (a voice? a little “sumpin sumpin” if you would) that tells you that you could win. And I mean win - actually come in 1st place. Is there a little “sumpin sumpin” in you?
VPJ2: Yes and no. Sure I thought about crossing the line No. 1, but the sight of 150 other racers pulling away quickly squashed any little something I may have had. However, that squashed something is not what’s important; rather what remains after the squash – that wishy goo, smashed up and crumbled “sumpin sumpin” is what’s important to me. That “sumpin sumpin” I do have.
VPJ1: What does the post squashed sumpin tell you?
VPJ2: For starters, it tells me I am not going to win –let’s be real - so don’t even bother. But then the sumpin goes on, suggesting that I could place in the top half. Wow, better than half the racers out here, now that would be sumpin. Sumpin also tells me that I could look respectable, ride in a pack, take turns pulling a pace line, and descend in an aerodynamic position. Basically I want to fit in. I want to be considered a rider. A racer.


VPJ1: “Turkeys!” [hand raised, pointing to the far ridge]
VPJ1: Whoa – wild turkeys. Did you see that?
VPJ2: Sure did. In college I use to drink wild turkey, and up until recently I would drink it at Thanksgiving.
VPJ1: What made you stop?
VPJ2: I think it was the taste, or that I no longer fit into the silly costumes I would don on after the 8th or 9th shot. Nothing like waltzing around the holidays in an ill fitting costume to make one swear off the Turkey. Now where were we – back to racing?


VPJ1: Ah yes – racing. You took that descent like a pro, how fast do you think you were going downhill?
VPJ2: Yeah, thanks for noticing my mad skills. I think I was going at least 40+ mph.
VPJ1: Wow, that’s faster than the devil’s number [the speed in kilometers one can obtain when traveling down a very straight hill in Tuscany.]
VPJ2: Yeah, you bet. I am not good with converting miles to km numbers but I’ll give it a try to take my mind off the pace and pain … Let’s see 3.5 = 5, and if I multiply by 40 and … uhhh … carry the 3? … ohhh, I think I may have a cramp coming on. Change subject please.
VPJ1: Ok, Ok … How did you find this group of riders on Hwy 1?
VPJ2: Not sure you can say I “found them.” More like they were here and I am here. So we are here together until they drop me ...

VPJ2: Ahhh, a new group! We are working together until they drop me. And now I am on my own, fighting for the scraps again – fighting for the nubbins.
VPJ1: Don’t get so down, you must have made some friends along the way. Did you talk to anyone?
VPJ2: Sometimes. For example, one person commented that I did a good pull. That felt good. There was also a time when we talked about going counterclockwise in the rotation. That was useful. Another racer indicated that beside water in his bag he had brought a ray gun on this adventure series. Hmmm, a ray gun? I guess it makes sense.
VPJ1: If it makes sense, why didn’t you stay with them?
VPJ2: Just didn’t. No more groups; just stragglers like me. Stragglers, gagglers and bragglers.
VPJ1: What is a gaggler?
VPJ2: Someone who may throw up.
VPJ1: I see, and what is a braggler?
VPJ2: Someone who may throw up but still pulls hard in the front to show he is not weak. So he can tell his friends he is not weak but strong.
VPJ1: Are you weak?
VPJ2: No.


VPJ1: Let’s play a little word association – Marshall Climb.
VPJ2: Courage!
VPJ1: Wilson Hill.
VPJ2: Nice cowbells, whoop whoop!!!!
VPJ1: Muur de Carmody.
VPJ2: Steep. Can we get off the climbing stuff?
VPJ1: OK, lets see here – how do you feel about headwinds?
VPJ2: Am I pulling?
VPJ1: Yes.
VPJ2: Uhhnhnhn … I think I want to get back to climbing.
VPJ1: Come now, really? This is not that bad.
VPJ2: OK – then you get up here and pull.
VPJ1: Fine, fine – back to climbing.


VPJ1: Leading up to the Burnside Burn, you seemed to be taking it easy. Almost enjoying yourself. What gives?
VPJ2: I knew the flat road of Bloomfield was a perfect place for eating and resting up a little before the Burnside Burn. Although it may have seemed that I am taking it easy, I am in the big chain ring. Oh yeah! Big man in the big chain ring! How you like me now?
VPJ1: Not for long though?
VPJ2: No, not for long – the big chain ring is for people that can best be described as monsters. They don’t just ride their bikes, they mash them. They dominate. The big chain ring is for big Belgium, freaky type stuff. Me, I struggle.
VPJ1: Speaking of freaky stuff, you must have seen some freaky stuff on Burnside.
VPJ2: Oh yeah – Freakshow! For starters, racers zig zagging across the road to cut the steepness. Another rider fell completely over with his legs in the air forming a “V”. Normally I would ask a rider who is down if they are OK and if they have everything they need – but I wasn’t prepared for this. I didn’t know what to say to this chap so I said nothing. I passed by, pushed a little air out between my lips and gave a grin to say yeah I’m with ya and I know its bad, but just a little more pain and then it will all be over.


[Cresting Burnside, Jeremiah hits devil speed again into Freestone. He motors on pass the girls selling lemonade and cookies and sees the sign indicating the start of the final climb of the day. He smiles, he begins to sing out loud to the tune “We’re on the Way to Pienza.”]

VPJ2: “Cyco-camp! We’re all going Cyco-camp! Lalala, Hahaha!”
“Let’s all go to Cyco-camp!”
VPJ1: Up there, a clearing do you see it?
VPJ2: Where?
VPJ1: Up there, around the bend.
VPJ2: Yes, I see it.
VPJ1: Go…
VPJ2: Go…
VPJ1: Go …
VPJ2: Stop!

KD: “What’s your name?”
VPJ2: “Jeremiah Johnson”
KD: “Good job Jeremiah”
VPJ1&2: Thanks.


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