Only one face necessary

I blame the shoddy drugstore batteries someone sent me for expiring just as the photo-moment arrived (or I arrived at the photo-moment): Barack Obama’s three-quarter profile on a sheet cake at the big refectory. It’s another quiet night here at the secret city; dusk has settled over us while folks are still getting into position in Washington.

On the fitness front, another strong day today. I wanted to take it easy but coming up the one hill on my way to the back of the airfield, I felt so strong. And besides, I have to be strong for Obama! Strong for America! Today is no day to slack off, no way no how. Yes we can!

The wind was all over the place in some confusing fashion, and as I did the other day, I guessed wrong so that when I thought I would be turning into the back stretch and heading with the wind, I was actually pushing into a headwind. Is it possible that there could be one certain direction for the wind to blow from so that it feels as if it’s in my face the whole way? If this is so, how (and why) did the Yugoslavs who built the secret city calculate it so that the roads are lined up with that prevailing direction? Were they masochists or something?

Fickle wind, I have my eye on you. I saw how toward the end of my ride, the smoke off the burn pit was blowing west, although I could feel the wind coming out of the northeast again. You try to fool me into giving up, but I am strong today for Obama and have no patience with your silly breezy games! I hit the wide open stretch just west of the big perpendicular taxiway, all the while humming the howling riff from “Hatari” to myself, and getting myself ready for the sharp turn onto the back stretch with the unfavorable wind in my face. What a pleasure to make that turn (after looking both ways for traffic), to feel the push of the sticky tires, warm from friction, against the asphalt as I whip around 135 degrees without losing speed. (Of course, I feel as if the wind is fully ready to turn itself 136 degrees to frustrate me.)

I pulled around the first lap in less than 22 minutes, and did the second one in 22:05, so both laps were over 19 mph, the second day in a row that I’ve accomplished this. I am convinced that by writing about it (most vividly here) I have made it easier for myself to master this skill.

In the running event, today was also a good day. On my predawn jog, I reached the 370-mile milestone that gets me a metaphorical pat on the back from those mysterious secret-city authorities. I have run at least 5.6 miles nine days in a row. I confess, the pegs feel kind of tired, like they were made out of chocolate that has slowly started to melt. I have been just barely shuffling along for the last couple mornings, it feels like, although I suspect that a big part of that is running on the roadside verge in the dark and my anxiety at the likelihood of twisting my ankle. I have three more of those 5.6-mile runs to go before I get to the 100-mile goal I set for January, which shouldn’t be that hard in the 11 days left in the month. We’ve been enjoying pretty good weather lately so I want to take full advantage of it; I dread another cold snap or another rainy day.

(Today’s picture is not the Obama cake, but Freedom Lake, at the east end of the secret city, nestled in the canyon wall. Yes, we drink the water.)

Notes on motivation, two-wheeled version

(I wrote this and am posting it not necessarily to motivate anyone else, but more so that the next time I am in the same situation, I have something to reference it to.)

Cycling this afternoon, I came around my first loop with the straightforward intention of getting in a good ride. The wind had lightened up since the day before and it was actually almost warm, in the low 60s probably. Riding into the wind, I hit the straightaway from the flagpole past the fire station, old chapel and refectory, checked my heart-rate monitor, and set myself the task of raising my heart rate to 80% of max from 64%. I got distracted somewhere along the half-mile stretch and reached the turn with the monitor still stuck at 64%. I passed the Funny Hat People running and singing their goofy songs, as is their custom in the afternoons, then came around for a second loop.

Learning from the first lap, on the second I focused intently on the pedal stroke to get my HR up and when I made the turn I was at 81%. I didn’t get down to below 70% until I got to the Leticia straightaway (There’s a clamshell structure there permanently under construction, with the word “LETICIA” in wrought-iron letters mounted on the crane above the clamshell; it always looks striking because when I ride in the afternoon, I see it with the setting sun as a backdrop.) and felt like I was falling a little short of vim.

Feelings notwithstanding, as I came around the tight turn, onto the back stretch, I checked the stopwatch: it read 1:09:58, and I had started the loop at the other end at 56:50. So I had only taken 13′ and change to complete the out stretch, fighting the wind the whole way. That was a pretty good sign, so I sipped some water, grabbed the drops, tucked in and pedaled hard, with the wind at my back, all the way past the dump around to the loop starting-point by the barrels. The entire seven-mile lap took 22:32, a pace of 18.6 mph (my target is 23:22, which is an 18 mph pace; if I’ve looped around faster than that, it’s a red-letter day).

I kept up a crisp pace on the way home from the barrels, and even sped up a little bit at the end, trying to get in under 1:40, my full-ride reference time (I always assume it takes 100 minutes to get in an afternoon ride), and missed it only by a couple seconds. Not bad for a ride where the first fifty-six minutes were pretty poky.

I guess the conclusion to draw from today’s experiment, which I’ve apprehended before but have been absorbing only slowly, is that the first good push is critical to getting my heart starting to beat fast enough to maintain a swift, satisfying pace. The only times I’ve kept that 18 mph pace, I’ve had an average HR for the loop of over 70%, which means that I need to do some serious hammering over the 23 minutes it takes to loop around. On days when I’m feeling slow, it’s hard to push past 65% at all, so averaging more than 70% is more of an achievement than it might seem. On the other hand, as I go over my records, I see that I only rode an 18-mph loop five times in the entire month of December (twice on the 30th). I’ve already matched that sum for January, although I haven’t felt as strong this month.

Attached picture is my ride, in today’s late-afternoon light.

Tighten chain tension; feel more relaxed

Jose gave me a hand with the chain tension this afternoon. I was hoping to do it this morning, but I couldn’t find my 15mm box wrench. So I went down to the garage area and borrowed one of the mechanics’ wrenches. As I had the bike turned over, Jose says, “Let’s do this old-school,” and goes to fetch a broomstick. After I loosen the wheel, he wedges the broomstick between the bottom bracket and the rear wheel, between the chain stays, so that it is both pushing the wheel toward the rear and holding it in place. All that was left was to tighten the axle nuts gently with the box end of the wrench, alternating sides so the wheel doesn’t get locked off-center.

Of course, some buttinsky walks over and warns us that if we push the wheel back too far, it won’t turn. Huh? Then he comments unfavorably on my 700×23 tires, suggesting that they are a poor choice for riding on dirt. I looked him in the eye, then gestured to the expansive pavement.

I rode back to the lodging sweetly, with the new tighter tension. I had been a little worried that the chain would start to leap off the sprockets like it had back about six weeks ago, right before I tightened the tension last. No ride this afternoon, however, no interest on my part in a rematch with Boreas. I went running this morning in the light of the full moon before dawn and I actually felt pretty energetic, and it even seemed as if the wind had let up a bit.

Boreas vs. Me

I complain a lot about the wind here on this blog, but today was the north wind’s roughest attempt yet to keep me off the road. Today was a bright, sunny cloudless day. I got out on the bike a little early this afternoon and I could notice the gusts even down here in the canyon. When I got up to the plateau there was one smooth bit where I had the wind at my back, and everything was beautiful and quiet, and I could listen to the wheels rushing against the pavement and the chain spinning around the sprockets.

Then 10 minutes later, after passing the dump, I came around and headed directly into the Boreal fury. I’ve noticed about the flat desert around the airfield that there’s no letup. Nothing stands in the way, apparently, between me and Greenland, or Kamchatka, or whatever they call the House of the North Wind these days. It’s relentless, completely different from the gusty winds that blow, careless about their direction and force, back home.

I’m reminded of one evening back in 1988 when I was walking along 14th Street in the middle of the night (on the way to Nell’s, if I recall correctly) and ol’ Boreas was blowing right off the Hudson and wrapping around my bones, poking and twisting with his cold fingers between my muscles and ligaments, like my grandmother taking apart a chicken.

Pictures are stealth-camera shots, taken with my cell phone, on the same 14th Street.

Latest night ever!

Eyes bleary from lack of sleep and mouth acrid from stale coffee, I
check in with my faithful readership. I don’t know how I got myself
roped into working the graveyard shift here at the Emotional Trauma
Center and Whine Ward. It’s been refreshingly quiet and the phone has
not rung since I got here at 10:30 p.m. Jason, tonight’s able
assistant, and the pet mouse sit in the front room, buying motorcycle
helmets online.

 It seems like a long time since I went biking this afternoon in the
warmer weather. I actually stripped down to short-sleeves for the
first time in about three weeks and was rewarded with a good hustling
pace, making 18 mph on my pair of seven-mile loops. Unfortunately for
me, the fickle wind shifted direction between the first loop and the
second. On my first loop, I was cycling in the doctrinally correct
manner, pushing against the wind on the out leg and reaping the
benefit of the tailwind on the return leg. That created a nice reverse
split, where the back half was faster than the front half.

 On my second trip around, I noticed myself daydreaming a little bit
about the book I was reading (Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories)
instead of really pushing hard, and a couple minutes later at the far
western extent of the loop, I checked my time and saw that though I
hadn’t pushed too hard, I had still beaten my corresponding split time
on the first lap. Of course, the return leg was a doozy because I was
pedaling into the wind. Takeaway lesson from that is: if it feels too
easy, it probably is and you should push more.

 On that last doomed leg, however, I discovered something new: an extra
(fourth) gear. Not really a gear, as if I had an automatic
transmission instead of two leggy-pegs, but a metaphorical gear. First
gear is just pushing the pedals along, second gear drops the elbows to
relax the arms and lower the upper body while the legs start to move
the pedals in circles, both pushing down and lifting up (I have found
that not overlubricating the chain is actually a pretty good way to
determine this because I can hear the ruff-ruff of the mostly pushing
stroke, as opposed to the smoother circular stroke sound). Third gear
involves pushing the ischial tuberosities back off the end of the
saddle, which moves the fulcrum of my femurs slightly more distal,
like choking up on a baseball bat, shortening the pedal stroke. This
new fourth gear, which came upon me as unexpectedly as a power-up in a
video game, involves the same position as third gear except for a
slight extra bend forward and just more pedal strokes, more quickly. I
wonder if I’ll be able to get to it again.

Though not yet spring…

The cold snap seems to have broken for the afternoon, although I can
affirm that it remains frosty under the bed, where the heat from the
wall unit never seems to reach. I have returned from one of those
28-mile bike rides I wrote about earlier, my first one of Year 9.

 As I made my way west to the road that leads up the side of the canyon
and around the back of the airfield, I noticed more than the usual
number of joggers out. I think we are all desperate to enjoy whatever
little touches of better weather come our way.

 The ride wasn’t bad for the wind conditions; when the wind comes from
the southeast like today it feels as if no particular direction has
the wind at my back. When it’s cold (it was still cold, just not
frosty cold), it’s harder to ride faster, a fact-slash-excuse that I
am trying my best to learn by heart.