Tag: featured

Want to be a Better Climber? Here are 5 Nuggets of Wisdom

For those of you who have met me you know I don’t have the typical climber’s frame – in fact I don’t have the typical cyclist’s frame either. At over six-feet tall and about 220 pounds I climb better than most cyclists even though I weigh more than most cyclists. I don’t say this out of braggadocio, and I’m never going to be a Pantani or a Froome, but if I can improve my climbing prowess, so can you!

Now if you’re a loyal reader you know I’ve waxed on about climbing in the past, including a post back in September of 2018 where I wrote about some of these same principles. Recently, though I’ve had somewhat of an epiphany so I wanted to share. Again!

Nugget #1 – Work on the Weight

Yup, it’s somewhat of a no-brainer but I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on other things, many of them productive, at the expense of this one.

I just wasn’t improving as quickly as I wanted, even with all the other work I was doing, so I set a goal to get to my lowest weight since high school. I had that “Denial is d-longest river in d-world” moment, you know?

You can tell by my shadow 😉
that I was a bit porkier back in November

I realized that goal and lost 20 pounds. Granted, the weight does fluctuate day-to-day but I know my base weight is a helluva lot less than it was and that’s making a difference, and not just on the bike. Can you say power-to-weight ratio?

Nugget #2 – Eat Better

Most cyclists I know, including yours truly, drink a lot of beer. We often take the approach that goes something like this:

“Hey, I’ve burned 1000 calories today, I can eat (or drink) 1000 calories more.”

This one has been the bane of my existence and still is to a certain extent. Today, however, I focus more on the what and not as much on the how much. Sure, sometimes I over do it but when I do I back off the next few days.

In general I eat more fiber than I used to (especially in the a.m. – it “holds” better) as well as lots of yogurt and other high-quality, lean proteins and most importantly I focus more on the after-workout nutrition. That 30 minute window post-ride is crucial. Get some good protein and carbs in after that ride.

My biggest challenge is snacking, especially after dinner. When I don’t do that the scale is happier and I sleep better, too. Go figure.

Lastly, it’s the little things…Every once in a while I choose less over more. For example a 1/2 a sandwich instead of a whole, some pasta and cottage cheese instead of that sandwich – I can live off of those things, I swear! – or no 2nd breakfast or mid-morning snack and a chore instead (gotta keep my mind off my stomach).

Nugget #3 – Get More Rest

This one is probably the most challenging for me and I suspect it may be for you as well. So much to ride, so little time. I’ve been somewhat immersed in racing season (see my April 23rd post about Social Distancing Racing) and so every week it’s another challenge. Early on I kept riding, in some cases fairly hard) between races (all TTs), and it began to take its toll. I wasn’t sleeping well some nights, my heart was pounding some mornings when it didn’t used to and my average resting heart rate was climbing.

Once I added in a rest day or two per week I slept better, my RHR got back to a more normal range and I wasn’t so cranky. Denial is d longest river…

Nugget #4 – HIIT it

High-Intensity Interval Training is what HIIT stands for and as painful as it can be it is SO WORTH IT!

The book “Climb!” (see my March 21, 2019 post) by Selene Yeager was life-changing for me. Among other things it includes several HIIT options (it’s by no means an exhaustive resource on the subject, though) that I find can be done inside or outside. In fact IMHO some of them are more easily done on the trainer since as it is a more controlled environment.

HIIT also includes lifting heavy weights. When I lift (twice a week ideally) I go with the circuit training model – I keep the heart rate up and use weights that allow me to do 12 reps per set and 3 sets. I often alternate push, pull, legs, arms, etc. so I can rest some muscles between sets.

I now throw in some weights that are so heavy I can only lift them 5 times or so. The muscles don’t know what to do initially but they figure it out and I’ve gotten both stronger and more lean.

Nugget #5 – Core, Core, Core

It’s all about balance and it’s the core that is responsible. As a martial artist I know this but I have to remind myself fairly often. It’s easier to just get on the bike.

My core-efforts, if you will, include a lot of kettle bell work as well as balance exercises on the Bosu ball and most recently I’ve hung some straps in the garage so I can do leg-curls and leg-lifts from the bottom up, if you get my drift. This approach really works the lower abs and hip-flexors.

I’ve also added other, non-traditional exercises to my repertoire. These include scorpions, weighted jump squats and bird-dogs.

Oh, and speaking of non-traditional…Check out this post: “Find a few extra watts,” from pedalWORKS. I too was skeptical but I kid you not I immediately saw the watts go up when “breaking the bar.”

Show Me the Money!

Coming up the eastern side of Monitor during the 2018 Deathride

Alright Cuba (Gooding, not the country) here are a couple rides I’ve done recently that validate this approach.

Kingsbury Grade (Daggett Summit) – 7.75 miles, 6% avg. gradient, ~2500′ of up

First ridden in April of 2017 and ridden three (3) more times since, the latest being last May (the 29th).

On that May ride I improved on my previous best time
by over thirteen (13) minutes!

Monitor East (Monitor Pass) – 9.25 miles, 7% avg. gradient, ~3100′ of up

First ridden in May of 2017 and ridden six (6) more times since, the latest being June 26th of this year.

On that June ride I improved on my previous best time
by over fourteen (14) minutes!

Granted, this improvement didn’t happen overnight and frankly I’ve still got some more work to do but by focusing more on rest, losing some weight, strengthening my core, hitting those intervals and keeping a better eye on my nutrition I’ve become a much better climber and a better cyclist overall.

Sure, some of this stuff may be obvious (e.g. weight loss) but in my mind it’s the combination of all of these things that have made me a better mountain goat.

How about you?
What have you done to be a better cyclist,
gravel rider or mountain biker?

Do tell!

In Cycling it’s All About the Data – or is It?

Garmin, Wahoo, FitBit, Apple Watch, Lintelek (haven’t heard of that one until today), you name it, most us of have one, or more, so we can track our rides, runs, hikes, sleep, Vo2 max., oxygen saturation, heart rate, caloric intake and on and on and on.

Is it worth the hassle?

Well after yakking with my BFF (and CA Alps Cycling member #3) Scott yesterday about the issues he was having getting his new Wahoo Elemnt Roam to upload to Strava I asked myself that very question.

My answer = YES.

My Experience

I’ve run an Apple Watch (it’s been awhile) and found it wasn’t rugged enough. At one point I used it for work and my Fenix (Garmin) for play. It became too much to manage both systems and I also found in the frequent switches that I would have “button-confusion” (the process whereby you push one button on one watch thinking it was the other button on the other watch and therefore not get the data you were looking for). I just made that up but I think it works. Hello Merriam-Webster! Next edition perhaps?

Image courtesy of Know Your Meme

Finally I decided to simplify my life and I sold the Apple Watch and went with the Fenix. Since then I’ve upgraded a few times to newer Fenix models and I absolutely LOVE this watch (Fenix 6 Pro) and with just a couple of exceptions (I’ll let you guess) it never comes off.

This watch gives me the tools and feedback to monitor and improve my health and fitness. Among other things it’s helped me lose 20 pounds this year and increase my Vo2 max and FTP. It also lets me keep an eye on my pulse ox and resting heart rate – two key indicators that can tell me if something’s awry in the ol’ bod.

What about on the bike?

But…the watch doesn’t work on the bike, at least for me. While I do wear it while I ride, and use it as a back up — which, you’re correct, adds another layer of data complexity and management — I prefer a larger, bicycle specific computer on the two-wheeler, or wheelers. The larger fonts help me see the data that matta betta.

In the saddle I’ve used a Garmin most of the time (1030 is my current model) and a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt some of the time. Recently though, just before Scotty did as it turns out, I purchased a Wahoo Elemnt Roam. Why?

I was tired of the resets and screen freezes on the 1030 and I happened to notice on Strava that Levi Leipheimer was running a Roam. I had also just watched a FulGaz “How to film amazing bike videos” clip on YouTube and it suggested that the Wahoo was the best computer to use to record your rides.

I must give credit where credit is due though: Garmin support has been awesome and they have sent me two replacements. As I think about it, Wahoo support has been great too – I had problems with my original Kickr awhile back and they too sent a new unit my way and knock on wood, no further issues. Maybe I’m just too hard on shit? Or is it just that shit happens? I’m going with the latter.

Talking about confusing data…A cow with horns and an udder?

The downside(s)

Of course being the data-nerd that I am, I had to compare the difference between the Fenix and the Roam. After pairing the same speed sensor to both off I went for a ride up to Raymond Meadow Creek (northern side of Hwy. 4/Ebbetts Pass).

Guess what? The Roam “said” I was faster but the Fenix gave me more credit for elevation gain. Seriously? I have to pick? C’mon man!

As I alluded to in the beginning of the post, there can be upload or download issues, too. While the 1030 uploads seamlessly, even when not on wifi, as does the Fenix, I’ve had challenges with the Roam (but not the Bolt – go figure) uploading when not on wifi. Wahoo support gave Scott some guidance this a.m. though (they also said that a patch was forthcoming) and so we’ll continue to compare notes. Perhaps we’re the exception, Scott and I, as Charlie, CAC member #6, has had no problems uploading via cellular.

Ignoring the data

Part of the feature-set for the Garmin models that I run is the post-ride feedback, e.g. Productive, Unproductive, Maintaining and Peaking. But I’ve had conversations like this with my watch: “What do you mean I’m unproductive (as it displayed yesterday)? How can you say that if my Vo2 max is up and I rested yesterday?” I’ve even been known to give it the finger when I don’t like what it displays.

It’s a similar dynamic that I sometimes experience when using GPS to navigate in my car. What, that’s not the correct street! I shouldn’t turn that direction. I’m going this way!

So are these things worth the trouble?

To me the key is finding the balance and realizing, as I read recently, that these data points are just that – the data helps us make decisions or gives us insight that perhaps we don’t have or couldn’t get. Note to selves: That doesn’t mean though, that we have to pay attention to our various devices like they were oracles!

In spite of all the data and equipment management, upload and download challenges and button confusion, however, I still believe these “widgets” are worthwhile.

How about you? Do you have similar challenges? Perhaps you don’t even run a bike computer (like a friend of mine here in town). Do you have some recommendations? Funny stories?

Please…I need more data!

Jumping on the Gravel Train

I’ve taken my road bike off-road before but only for some “sectors” here and there, not for anything of decent length. So, this was my first true gravel ride experience and I was excited (and admittedly, a bit anxious). I’m blessed to be able to live, work and ride in the California Alps yet I also realize that I need to break things up a bit. Here was my gravelly opportunity to do just that!

Gravel i.e. sand, dirt and rocks, on Sierra Vista Lane. That’s the Carson Range to the right.

What Gravel Riding Isn’t

Coincidentally, I had just read the March/April issue of VeloNews and in it was an article entitled “Harder than Robaix,” by Andrew Hood (the article’s about the Strade Bianche). He writes: “Gravel racing has deep roots in Europe. In its earliest iteration, nearly all bike racing that wasn’t on a velodrome was held across gravel or cobblestone roads, simply because paved roads were a luxury at the turn of the last century.” Luxury, indeed. I realized immediately that I wasn’t in Kansas any longer.

Note to self: Gravel riding isn’t riding on nicely graded roads covered in decomposed granite. Yup, I was pretty naive but I had this picture in my head that this was not mountain bike riding on a road bike but was instead something much more civilized. That isn’t the case! At least not on this particular ride.

Jobs Peak and Jobs Sister, and other peaks of the Carson Range, as seen from Sunrise Pass Rd.

Setting Up the Bike

My faithful steed, Roscoe (named after an Italian Gentlemen – Roscoe Fanucci, because my Domane thinks he’s Italian) has been with me for many years and we’ve put in thousands of miles together. But, after getting an Emonda last year, I decided to convert Roscoe to a gravel bike. Really wouldn’t be too hard I thought. Not going to change out the fork or do anything too drastically complicated, so it’s really just about new tires and pedals, right?

Tubeless and Platform

Tubeless I thought for the former (my wheels were tubeless-ready after all) and as for the latter, my braddah suggested pedals that are clip-in on one side and platform on the other. Found a nice set of pedals at REI that fit the bill – Shimano EH500 SPD Sport Road Pedals. As for the tires, I’m thinkin’ hey, I run tubeless on my Fuel so I know what I’m doing. I’ve got Stan’s NoTubes and that injector thingy. I’ve done this before.

Not that Easy – the Tubeless Part That Is

So I ordered the stems and some Panaracer Gravel Kings. I should mention that the Domane is not a true gravel bike so my clearance is limited to 32mm in back and 35mm in front, which is what I set out to mount on my trusty stallion. The wheels had the right rim-tape on them and I put in the stems and got the tires on. As for the “tubeless but holding air part” I looked at the instructions and did what I could to interpret the petroglyphs, arrows and “cross-out, no you dufus” icons. I failed in the translation. I could not for the life of me get a seal on those tires! And, I reminded myself, I hadn’t done this before. I’ve added sealant to tires that the shop set up but I’ve never actually installed tubeless tires from scratch. So, after a couple tries I decided to cut my losses and I filled the tubes with Stan’s; I’ll seek expert advice from Jay at Big Daddy’s, or via YouTube.

Roscoe on the left and Chris’ steed (with Chris) on the right.
Photo taken at Riverview Park in Carson City, NV

Ready to Roll

Chris, our fearless leader, and I went with the hydration pack approach since we weren’t sure what to expect. Good call since we were out there for about five (5) hours. I also carried a couple bottles with Skratch’s Sport Hydration Mix (that stuff is awesome!). We packed some sandwiches and the obligatory gels and bars, too. We met at Riverview Park at about 10:00 a.m. (not too cold but not too hot either, we figured) and after the typical pre-ride prep. (that’s where Chris waits for me to get my shit together), off we went.

Definitely not a flat ride!

Gravel Riding is Challenging

But oh so fun. I giggled like a crazy-man while fish-tailing and sliding around in that sand. I was stoked that I was able to stay upright and power through, having never ridden in sand that deep, for so many miles. That all changed about two-thirds of the way through the ride, though. I became an uber-whiner (Chris was much more stoic and bore the pain silently). The terrain had become very challenging with some big ol’ rocks (some loose, some not), sand, mud, steep climbs and creek crossings. — Great suggestion on the pedals, by the way Scotty! — My lower back and glutes were screaming and I was kinda pissed off at myself that I hadn’t set my expectations properly; this was TRULY challenging. I am a strong cyclist after, all. This ca-ca, though, is different – mountain biking with a twist. Now I understand why cyclocross riders are true bad-asses! Roscoe, by the way, wasn’t challenged at all. He handled everything that was thrown at him. And those tires…I was blown away by their traction and durability!

The Light at the End of the Gravel

The sand was a kick (and meant that coasting was not an option); the climbs were made more difficult by that constant sucking feeling (I swear I heard sucking sounds), the rocks were scary but at the same time exhilarating when I cleared them, the creek-crossings (sorry, too tired to take pix at that point) were disconcerting, BUT IN THE END, it was a great day. Cycling (and gravel riding) is pain, right? If so, lots of weakness left my body. Seriously, though, I will do it again; especially now that I know what to expect, and what to bring: more GRIT, or dare I say…True Grit?)

All smiles AFTER our epic ride. Cold cervezas await.

Epilogue – How Do They Know That?

As it turns out, five days after the ride. I received an email from Bicycling. Subject line: Are you ready for gravel? Okay, that’s just too weird. From the email: “Thing is, gravel can also be hell, especially if you hit terrain you’re not expecting. To crush it, you not only need special equipment, but also a different kind of fitness, fueling, finesse, gear, and grit.”

Grit? If grit means stoically taking the pain and quietly dealing with all that’s thrown at you, I didn’t have that. Chris did. But, if grit is persevering, even if vocalizing a little (okay, a lot), then I DID HAVE THAT. Perhaps I need some more of that, I decided. I ordered the book. Should be here this week. Stay tuned for a review.

A Tale of Two Trails – Both in the California Alps

Charity Valley Trail

This trail, maintained by the Alpine Trails Association (ATA), of which I’m a proud, and rookie, member, traverses approximately 7-8 miles between Blue Lakes Rd. (off Hwy. 88 in Hope Valley) and Hot Springs Road, in Markleeville. On this particular day (Sunday, July 28th), the ATA hosted the hike in order to show members, residents and guests what they did and how and where they did it. Like I said, I’m a new member so it was my first chance to see first hand what I’d gotten myself into! With that said, I must disclose that workdays (i.e. trail-building, tool-sharpening, etc.) are currently on Tuesdays and since I’m gainfully employed, I’m not available. After this hike, I must admit, I’m a bit grateful.

And so the day began…

…at the trailhead on Blue Lakes Rd. Well, we actually met at the opposite end of the trail, on Hot Springs Rd. where we left some vehicles, as we needed to shuttle up to Blue Lakes. This was NOT the day to do the entire out and back! Anyway…some 411: While this is a public trail, it begins in private land and so the only marker is a rock cairn 6.2 miles from the turnoff at Blue Lakes and 88. There is a small parking area across from the trailhead. We did some orientation and sign-up stuff at the HSR trailhead and then we got a lesson in tools and such at the BLR trailhead.

Off we went…

at a gentle, posey sniffing, pace. The plan was to take our time, stop and smell, or at least photograph, the wildflowers, as well as learn about trail-building techniques. We were also regaled with stories about the local history of the trail and surrounds.

The trail was amazing! Wildflowers and such for the first couple of miles, waterfalls, pools, an old beaver pond, shaded forest; cool, big-ass trees (a lot of the area was not logged and so we were privileged to see some old-growth firs and pines), granite and some amazing views throughout.

That lily-pond, though, was the highlight of the day. A lili-pond in the heart of the California Alps?! I had never seen such a thing. Yet another hidden gem on this fantastic trail.

Admittedly, it wasn’t all fun & games; there were some fairly technical sections of the trail with rocky switchbacks, granite “steps” and other such obstacles. I ride 5000-6000 miles a year so I figured 7.5 miles (advertised distance) would be no problem whatsoever. Wrong! All that downhill, and the distance itself, took a toll on those gams. I was pretty sore for a couple days and realized that I’ve got to put a bit more core, including Bosu and Swiss-ball work, into my routines. Too much cycling makes Mark a dull boy. Well, at least that’s how my legs felt. Still, an awe-inspiring day filled with sights, sounds, conversation and laughter. And a shared sense of experience that one gets when doing such an adventure with a dozen others. What a day! Thank you ATA!

Frog Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail

I had snowshoeed the PCT to Winnemucca Lake last winter but this was the first time I had actually seen the trail itself. As I told Mom, who joined me for this short and relatively easy hike, it all looked so different without the snow. In some ways it was harder as the snow had flattened out many of the obstacles we hiked over on this day, which by the way, was a week ago Sunday, August 4th.

All Trails shows this section that we hiked as part of its Lake Winnemucca from Carson Pass via Pacific Crest Trail so take a look and if you’re so inclined, definitely head up to Winnemucca Lake – so worth it. Mom and I didn’t have the time so we went with the shorter out and back to Frog Lake.

Frog Lake is that first lake you pass on the trail towards Winnemucca Lake.

Parking can be a challenge…

but there is overflow parking about 300 yards east of the main trailhead and we were able to find parking there. Keep in mind there is a $5.00 charge to park in the overflow lot. You can also park at the trailhead on other side of Hwy. 88, about 100 yards west, if that. There are restrooms at both parking lots and at the southern lot, where the trailhead we took starts, there’s a visitor center with helpful rangers and docents. Be sure to stop by there if you do the hike; the folks in the center are eager to answer your questions and point you to some great resources.

Wildflowers Abound!

We had heard that the wildflowers were popping just a couple weeks prior so were hopeful that we’d get to see our share. We were not disappointed!

There was one point on the trail where, as we turned to head east, we were greeted by this amazing field of color (that’s me in the middle of it and Mom is on the trail). Most of the pix you see above were taken there but there was lots of flora on other parts of the trail too. And, the butterflies were very happy. So many flying about – between the flowers and the ‘flies it was crazy pretty.

The lake itself…

was like an infinity pool. There was a field of wild iris nearby although there were starting to wilt so we were just a tad late for that show. Next year we’ll have to go a bit earlier. Fields of purple iris’ are wondrous. Saw some on Monitor Pass, along with Wyethia (Mule Ears) and White Lupine, earlier in the summer and it was quite the contrast.

A lone Wild Iris on the trail. Imagine a field of these!

Speaking of the lake…The entire hike, including a trip around Frog Lake itself, was about 3.3 miles. We did it a pretty slow pace so we could take in all the scenery; we were out on the trail for 2.5 hours. Here’s a few shots of the lake – see what I mean about the infinity pool?

Great views to be had!

At the other (northern) side of the lake there was a nice outcrop and we could look down to see Red Lake, which thanks to a massive algae bloom was (still is) actually green, and Hope Valley. All of this just 30 minutes from Markleeville, or just down the road from Kirkwood!

Well, there you have it! Two cool hikes in two weeks – one somewhat epic for you hardcore hikers and the other much more user-friendly. Be sure to come on up to the Sierra and experience some of the amazing trails before the summer ends or wait until the fall, when you won’t see the wildflowers but you will see the aspens in “full-bloom.”

Have some hikes or other adventures you’d like to share with fellow readers? Give us the data that matta by commenting on this post!