Sunday, September 9, 2012

Happy Hollows

TMI Alert!  (Too Much Information)  If you don’t want it, save yourself – run away now.

I rode 60km yesterday, which took me four hours of moving time… aka time in the saddle.  I note this as an achievement because today I have happy hollows, which is a really big deal for me.

Hollows?  You know… the dents in between where my legs attach to my bacons.  BACONS??  Well… my pal, Nancy, said to me that cycling makes her bacons sore.  I don’t know exactly what she meant… I didn’t ask for clarification, but I can guess, and you know that now that I’ve heard it, I will have to use it… incessantly.

I started riding a bicycle in a serious way about three and a half years ago, when I started training to do the Golden Triangle with Brent.  I didn’t start having problems with my hollows immediately, but sometime in the summer of 2010, when I was commuting to work on the bicycle and riding recreationally outside of that, I started having hollow problems.  I got a small red bump in one of my hollows, and the more I rode, the more that red bump hurt.  As the summer progressed, I got another red bump on my other hollow.   The cycle season eventually slowed down, and as I cycled less, my red bumps went away. 

In early 2011, Brent and I went to Australia and did some cycling over there.  The initial red bump reappeared.  We came back to Canada and it took several weeks before I could start riding to work, and in the meantime the red bump subsided.  As my commute routine became… well… routine that summer, the red bumps came back with a vengeance, making it quite painful to cycle at all.  Finally I couldn’t ignore the problem anymore and I went to see my doctor about it.  He was extremely helpful… shrugging and referring me to a dermatologist, who took weeks to get in to see.  The dermatologist was equally helpful.  He was a young fella, really not comfortable talking about the bumps in my hollows near my bacons, and really didn’t have any relevant thoughts on what they were, so he prescribed me some antibiotic cream for the bumps and sent me on my way.  I used the antibiotic, and took to washing my hollows with rubbing alcohol every time I rode when I wasn’t going to take a shower immediately following.  These things did nothing to help.

This year, I haven’t been able to commute a lot because of the afternoon rains, but for the first part of the summer we cycled a lot in training for our ride from Jasper to Banff, which we completed a few weekends ago.  The red bumps came back.  Of course.  I knew that they would be a problem for the ride, but I was at a loss for what to do about them.  We did the ride, and the original red bump site went absolutely nuts.  We rode 40km, then 109km, then 93km and by the end of the third day, the red bump was the size of a marble… swollen and sore… and every time I pedaled the bike, it just about blew the top of my head off with pain.  I hoped I’d be able to finish the ride on day 4, had a good shower at the Lake Louise hostel and tended to the red bump.  I had Brent check out the red bump for me so he could advise as to whether I should ride with it or not.  He decided that it may very well be a varicose vein or some kind of blood or lymph blockage, which could be quite dangerous and I should see my doctor about it pronto… and maybe not ride on day 4.

I am kind of stubborn (I know, that’s hard for some of you to believe… I mean those of you who don’t know me at all) and I really wanted to ride on day 4, so the next day I got up and got on the bicycle.  I made it for 30 of the intended 60km for that day before I had to quit.  

I was really reluctant to go back to the shrugging doctor and the shrinking dermatologist, in spite of Brent’s insistence.  Finally it dawned on me that maybe I’m not the only person on the planet who has had to deal with this problem (ok, I can be stubborn AND slow) so I googled it.  Well, I googled “Saddle Sores” because I didn’t get any results searching for “shrieking red bumps of torture on your hollows next to your bacons”. 

Voila.  A treasure trove of information because, hallelujah, I am NOT the only person on the planet who has ever had to deal with this problem.  The consensus seemed to be that I had started with some folliculitis which then progressed to full-fledged boils.  I had heard of boils before, but really only as a child when my grandmother was telling a story about someone she knew who had a hideous boil on their neck.  I found lovely photos of folliculitis and boils and… uh… yep.  That’s what I had all right.  Thanks, google… you win over the shrugging doctor and the shrinking dermatologist. 

I found lots of advice for solutions:
  • Wear biking shorts without underwear.  Lots of people (including Brent) had told me that before, but I had been stubbornly wearing underwear under my biking shorts because I have sensitive skin which reacts badly to the thread used in some biking shorts. 
  • Get a new saddle.  I bought one from a mountain bike store which sells women’s saddles in two designs: one for racing posture and one for regular posture.  The new saddle is longer and much narrower than my old saddle… and looks very uncomfortable, but surprise surprise, it’s not bad, and I get much less friction on my hollows from riding with it. 
  • Put moleskin on your area of irritation (ie. My hollows) to protect from friction while riding. I think the moleskin has been the thing that has helped the most.

Anyway, I had tried the new saddle for a couple of commutes, but yesterday was the first ride of a distance which would call for biking shorts or moleskin, so I tried them.  I was able to enjoy the ride and the day without even a single little poke from the hollows.

Wish me luck.  My hollows are happy today, and I’m hoping I will have happy hollows now forever.  I hope I have the saddle sore problem solved (geez… I almost said licked there… couldn’t do it... that would just be gross).  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Oh right... THIS is Why I Don't Highway Ride... aka "Bus Jam and Bear Jam and Camper Van... Oh My!"

Son-of-a-you-know-what, what exactly am I doing out here?  Day 2, in spite of its physical challenges was very enjoyable.  Today had lots and lots of wonderful moments, but I find myself forced to swear, once again, off of highway riding.  After Australia, I swore never again.  Brent has always maintained that the Alberta shoulders are way better than the Australian ones, and he has been proven right, but that does not explain the traffic on the Alberta highways.  

Today was "only" about 95km.  It's really interesting how a person's definition of "long" or "hard" or "steep" can inch its way, imperceptibly, forward until you find yourself "meh"ing things off that should, by rights, scare the beejeebers out of you.  110km including Sunwapta Pass... GAH!!!  But hey, only 95km, and the worst of it was 5km of 4.2% grade uphill, and 7km of 4.5% grade.  Now that's an easy day for you.  

Or... it should have been.  It's the traffic.  Oh my... the traffic.  That's the killer for me every single time.  It killed me in Australia, and it killed me today on the Icefields Parkway.  Thankfully, not literally, although it was not for lack of trying.  

First of all, there was the final push up to Bow Summit (that was the 7km / 4.5% grade section).  I could have ridden that one (unlike Sunwapta Pass) with occasional breaks, but I chose not to.  About 6km of the 7km uphill has a passing lane on the uphill side, which uses up enough of the road to leave the shoulder virtually non-existent.  I was riding, steadily, up that long sucker, when I got caught in a bus jam.  We were on the inside of a turn, which meant that the Greyhound-sized Winnebago that was in the right-lane didn't see us until it was pretty much on top of us, and blocked in by the other Greyhound-sized Winnebagos and other campers that were passing it on the left.  It flew past me with maybe 8" to spare between it and my bicycle.  I admit I yelled out in terror, but at least I didn't bail off the bike into the rocks and trees that were my next stop off the road.  I rode for a short time after that, but as my "near miss" sunk into me, I got scared enough that I got off the bike and pushed up most of the rest of the hill so that I could keep a close eye on the traffic behind me and easily bail off the side if I had to.  I guess a steep hill up with a narrow shoulder is my nemesis... the steep hill with a sufficient shoulder... sure, I could ride that.  But take away my shoulder and I'm done.  Done, I tell you.  

Once I reached the top of Bow Summit, I was on again.  Good to ride.  Bow Summit to Lake Louise is mostly downhill, and, as has been established, I am a "downhill demon".  I still touch the brakes now and then when I get going a little beyond the comfort zone, but that is happening less and less.  

My next terror was the bear jam.  Actually, it was more of an annoyance than an actual terror.  We got to a section of highway (yes, yes, tourists, I must remind you it is a HIGHWAY) where there were about 30 vehicles parked on the side of the HIGHWAY with people wandering all over, most of them trying to fire off the perfect photo of the little black bear nibbling on a tree in the ditch.  The traffic was virtually stopped on the road, as opposed to the cars on the side of the road which were completely stopped, so the cars had to brake suddenly, and some of them decided to cut in front of me to join the bear jam, while others decided to eschew the bear jam (probably shaking their heads, as I was, at the folks stopped who are willing to risk any danger to themselves, the people around them, and the bear in the ditch, to fire off that perfect photograph).  As we joined the traffic wending its way slowly through the bear jam, a parked car from the bear jam decided that, just as it was beside me, was the perfect time to re-join the flow on the road (naturally, without looking).  Good grief people.

The clincher for me, though, was in the final stretch of our ride... about 15km from the end, when the road was open, the sun was shining, we were mostly coasting downhill, and there was absolutely no... and I mean NO... reason for a camper to be on the shoulder as it passed a couple of cyclists, when one did just that.  There was plenty of room in the lane... and plenty of room in the open oncoming lane for that matter, to give us a wide berth as they passed, but no... they came over onto the shoulder to "buzz" us as they passed.  The highway is no place for a cyclist.  At least not THIS cyclist.  

I find myself... AGAIN... swearing off of highway riding (sorry Brent).  However... tomorrow isn't a highway ride... it's Bow Valley Parkway (speed limit 40) from Lake Louise to Banff.  Will I ride it?  Only me and my obnoxious saddle sore know.  Oh no... don't get me started about the saddle sore.


Sunwapta Pass = Sun-kicked-my-ass.  110km today and the unbelievable hill from hell.  I couldn't do it.  I had to get off part way up the pass and push my bike up for... oh... probably close to 2km.  Part of my problem, though, was that the shoulder was super narrow and I was moving so slowly that if I wobbled around at all I could fall into traffic, so I felt safer pushing rather than riding.  More than half of my companions pushed at least part of the way as well.  It was a long and tough day, but I'm super happy to report that the shoulders have, for the most part, been great, and the traffic, for the most part, has been very very cycle-conscious and considerate.  I appear to have almost lost my fear of speed on a bicycle... my top speed coming down the other side of Sun-kicked-my-ass was... ahem... 67 KM PER HOUR!!!  I rocked that downhill!!  Rampart Creek Hostel is very nice, but I am cursed by technology.  Athabasca Falls had power but no internet, and Rampart has internet but no power.  *sigh*  I must wait another day to share all of my important thoughts with the world.   The special moment of the day was when the very large grizzly ran across the highway a ways in front of us... maybe about 30m or so.  The motorcyclists in front of us had to brake for it, but we just got to see it unfold right in front of us.  It was really spectacular (but I was happy when it was gone).  

Ben is an amazing support driver.  He leapfrogs the group, keeping an eye on the slowest folks *ahem* but also setting up several breaks and meal stops along the road on the way.  At the end of the break, we will ride off while Ben packs all of our food and such away, and then he'll proceed on past us to the next checkpoint.  I wave, and Ben gives a quick flash of the brake lights.  Every single time we would pull in for a rest stop, he'd give me a cheezy word of encouragement about how awesome I was doing... but the cheese is completely irrelevant.  Those words of encouragement are worth their weight in gold and really did help me keep going on the times when I considered not.  

And Brent.  My goodness, Brent is an amazing companion.  I think it's pretty clear that I enjoy his company... but no matter how slow or scared I am, he sticks with me.  Just being his wonderful Brenty self.  Brent, I love you completely.  

Some Lessons Take More than Once

What AM I doing here?  What was I thinking?  Wasn't it just a little over a year ago that I emphatically swore off of highway riding?  And here I am, just finished the "warm up" day of the ride from Jasper to Banff on the Icefields Parkway.

Maybe Brent is right.  Maybe I'm a bicycle fanatic.  Or maybe I'm just too cheap to work at a bridal show for free.  What?

See, the thing is, I know this guy who runs a shuttle bus service from Edmonton out to the mountains.  And this guy, we will call him Ben Johnson, booked himself to be at the Edmonton Bridal Show for the second year in a row for 2012.  Which begs the question of why does a guy who runs a shuttle bus service from Edmonton out to the mountains bother booking himself into a bridal show, but that is a story that only Ben himself can tell.  Suffice it to say, Ben booked himself into the Edmonton Bridal Show, and then my guess is that Ben himself wondered why on earth he booked himself in to a bridal show because... ooops... he "accidentally" double-booked himself and was scheduled to do an awesome tour of mountain madness on the exact same weekend of the bridal show.  

So, Ben sent out a plea to folks he knows asking for volunteers to work the bridal show for him (I didn't fail to notice that he didn't send out any pleas for someone to take over his tour of mountain madness instead) in exchange for some kind of a deal on a future trip.  Well, to know Ben is to know that you can't receive a plea from Ben without stepping up to whatever you're being asked for.  That's just how it works.  To know Ben is to love Ben.  That is not negotiable.  So, my hand shot up in the air to work the bridal show.  A bridal show.  Is there any WORSE possible way to spend a Saturday?  I can't think of what it might be.  And then I had to think of what I might ask Ben in return, and after careful consideration, I asked him for a deal on a cycle tour... the Icefields Parkway.  Largely because Brent wants to do cycle touring and I want Brent to have what Brent wants.

So, back into the saddle I get... not that I ever left, because I love cycling... I just don't love being out there on the highways with the (fast) motorized vehicles.  It is unlikely that we'll encounter a lot of transport trucks or logging trucks on the Icefields Parkway... my two least favorite things.  The biggest terror of the Icefields Parkway is retirement-aged tourists who have rented their first-ever Canadream land-yacht motorhome.  

Like with the Golden Triangle, I did a fair amount of training for this one.  We rode from Edmonton to Devon and back a couple of times, but my best training was my "Six Killer Hills" events with the Edmonton Outdoor Club (if you think Edmonton is flat, you just haven't looked hard enough).  The day to start the trip arrived, and oddly enough, I wasn't filled with dread; I was actually rather excited and happy.

Along with six other riders from the Edmonton Outdoor Club, Brent and I set out with Ben on a Friday morning at 7:00.  We loaded our bikes, gear and luggage into his van and trailer and headed out of town.  I made everyone watch "Letters to Mark" (which I call "the Doug and Brent movie") to "inspire" us.  Everyone was inspired.  We stopped in Hinton for lunch.  Everyone was lunched.  Ben dropped us off just east of the Jasper Park Lodge and we started riding.  Day 1 was a relatively easy 40km from Jasper Park Lodge to Athabasca Falls Hostel.  Really only one hill to speak of.  My training buddy Colleen didn't even start hating me at that hill... maybe a mild dislike, but certainly not a hate.   The traffic was very considerate (even the Canadream motorhomes) and the shoulders were wide and clear.  The weather was warm... maybe a little too warm, but I'm too smart to complain about that.

We reached the hostel more than a full hour before it even opened, so we walked across the highway and went to check out the Athabasca Falls.   We had a marvelous potluck dinner with Colleen's award-winning lasagna and Brent's home made strawberry pie and Bear Flag wine (which I bought because it had a picture of a bear and a picture on a bus on the label).  Day one did not suck.  But Day 2 is niggling a little in my brain... 109km with the biggest climb of the trip... Sunwapta Pass.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Love for My Un-Hard-Core Friends

One of my favorite things about my friends is that none of us feels pressured to keep up with the hard-cores… we just decide what we want to do, for our own enjoyment, and then we go out and do it. And thumb our noses at any raised eyebrows or mockery from the folks who think if you’re not torturing yourself to prove something to the world, it’s not worth doing.

This summer, nine of us went out to do a West Coast Trail South-Ender. The West Coast Trail is a 75-km backpack, done, on average, over seven days because the terrain is just that challenging. I did the West Coast Trail five years ago, and vowed I would never do it again. I am spoiled by the Rocky Mountains. I’m used to getting this much “wow” for this much effort (imagine left hand at mid-height and right hand slightly lower than mid-height), and THIS much “wow” for this much effort (imagine left hand high in the air and right hand in between mid-height and high in the air). When I did the West Coast Trail before, I found it to be this much “wow” for this much effort (imagine left hand slightly below mid-height and right hand way up in the air). The wow/effort ratio just didn’t add up.

My friend, Marg, had eschewed joining us on that trip, not wanting to do the whole thing. She asked me if I would do an out-and-back sometime just on one end of the trail. My hike companions at the time weren’t interested in that, and I was kind of caught up in the idea that if you’re going to go that far, and pay that much, to do the trail, you ought to do the whole thing.

After about three years of Marg cajoling me to return to the West Coast Trail to do an out-and-back, I finally relented two summers ago. I told her I would go back if we did the south end, at a time when the tides were favorable for going to the sea caves at Owen Point on Day 2.

The south end is the harder end of the trail, according to common knowledge. But, because it is also the oldest growth rainforest, I find it to be the most beautiful. And I missed out on seeing those darned amazing caves the first time because I was worried about my ability to get around the point on time to beat the tides in the amount of time we had that day.

So, I chose the route, and I chose the dates based on some tide table analysis to make sure we’d have the most time for Owen Point on Day 2. We would hike in from Port Renfrew on Day 1 to Thrasher Cove, do an out-and-back day hike to Owen Point on Day 2, and then hike out to Port Renfrew on Day 3. Seven more folks signed on for the trip and we were a whopping group of 9.

It was so exciting for me, driving into Victoria and then Port Renfrew, to see the group start to materialize as well. Everyone had their own agenda, some folks had their families in tow, and some folks carpooled out to Vancouver Island. Everyone arrived at Port Renfrew in plenty of time for our orientation at 3PM on the day before we were to begin.

Well in advance of the trip, I chose some photos from my previous trip to share with the group to make sure they had a clear idea of what they were getting into. The West Coast Trail terrain is just so much more rugged and challenging than anything we get in Banff and Kananaskis where we do the majority of our frolicking. I didn’t want anyone to have any nasty surprises once we got out there. I carefully chose photos depicting us climbing over enormous, tricky root systems… tromping through deep mucky bogs… climbing and descending rickety ladders that really do make your blood run cold. I shared my photos and everyone commented with great merriment in the months leading up to the trip.

And yet… we were still surprised by the ruggedness and the challenge of the trail. Even me, to be honest. We got off the boat and took our obligatory “before” photo and set off up the trail. Within moments, we were in the thick of the climb through the rainforest. Roots. Bogs. Ladders. Just like in my photos. We climbed, we navigated, we descended, we took photos, and we got our muck on. When the reality was all around us, that's when my friends told me they'd just assumed I'd selected the really crazy pictures to impress them with... they hadn't thought that the WHOLE TRAIL would be like that.

A little more than two hours into the hike, we reached a kilometer marker. It said 74. A quick bit of math told me that we’d already hiked three of our six kilometers for the day. Yay! Then, I remembered that my math was faulty… when I had done the trail before, I hiked a total of 78km because of extra kilometers here and there, particularly the extra kilometer down to Thrasher Cove and then back to the main trail. The trail is actually 75km long.

We had gone ONE KILOMETER. In terror, I looked around at my companions and briefly considered suggesting that we just turn the h-e-double-hockey-sticks around and head back to the boat. At the rate we were going, we would reach Thrasher Cove by… oh… 9PM if we were lucky. I stuffed my inner sissy back down into my stomach and pressed on. We all did. A few of us confessed to each other later that we had all had that same thought at Km 74. But continue on we did, and we reached Thrasher Cove, covering the six kilometers, in nine hours from the time we started.

On Day 2, half the group made it to Owen Point and the other half turned back because of the boulder clambering involved. I was one of the turn-arounds. I guess it’s just not in the cards for me to see the sea caves at Owen Point in person – I’ll have to live vicariously through other people’s photos. I’m ok with that, and my friends who turned back with me are ok with that too. On Day 3, we hiked out from Thrasher Cove to Port Renfrew in seven hours – an improvement of two hours over the first day. I believe that’s partly because we were practiced up, and I believe it’s partly because we split up a bit instead of having the whole group waiting around for their turn every time we had an up or a down ladder.

It makes me sad when people feel that they can’t do certain things because they can’t do the WHOLE crazy hard-core thing. Whatever the whole crazy hard-core thing is. And it makes me mad when other people try to make me feel like I am inferior when I don't do the whole crazy hard-core thing.  I love choosing things within my ability and having wonderful friends to share them with who are happy to do them.

Thank you, my wonderful un-hard-core friends!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Little Wool-vangelism

I devote a fair amount of time, effort and money... oh yes, the money... in my quest for the perfect clothing and gear for the things I do. And I like to keep things as simple as possible. For example, I have always said that if a garment requires more care than just a quick run through the washer and dryer, then it doesn’t get to live in my closet.

It was with great reluctance that I allowed some wool to come into my life. A few years ago when I was preparing to hike the West Coast Trail, someone recommended Merino wool. The West Coast Trail is a grueling, multi-day backpack requiring that you carry as little clothing with you as possible (and, of course, no opportunity to shower). Merino was recommended for its ability to take the abuse and keep on... not stinking. You gotta do what you gotta do.

One of my West Coast Trail garments - a green sweater - became an essential item for a lot of my hikes, and even for my cycle commute in to work. I love that sweater, and since I’d already taken the plunge with allowing wool, I accumulated a small amount of other pieces.

Then, this past fall, in a moment of mindlessness, I accidentally ran the green sweater through the wash on the warm cycle. It came out... uh... small-child size. GAH!!! It was at that exact moment that I realized just how important my green wool sweater had become to me. It was perfect! Right down to its top-to-bottom direction pocket zippers. And I ruined it!! I tried to stretch it back into shape, but it was beyond hope.

I have consistently had problems with other fabrics. All the fleece and polypro and other fancy fabrics that the outdoor stores flog for proper comfort in the outdoors did not do what they purported. I know a lot of people who swear by them, but I decided that I must have magical non-wicking sweat because I consistently became chilled during events (due to the layer of sweat being held against my body by my “wicking” clothing), and especially after events when I felt like I would never be warm again.

A couple months ago, I went out snow shoeing with a wool base layer, then one of my Helly Hanson Merino hoodies, the green sweater’s replacement (a lovely, but inferior in a couple of ways, orange 1970’s-reminiscent wool sweater), then my outer shell. Wool, wool, and wool. And, to my amazement, I stayed warm and dry throughout the event AND in the vehicle after the event! Wool, wool, and wool. Wool, wool, and wool became my mantra, and the only thing I would step into the outdoors with, particularly in winter.

I love finding a solution to a long-standing problem. Even if it does require special care, I guess. Thanks to Value Village and Goodwill, I’ve added a few more wool pieces to ensure that I’m never without. My other “perfect solution” to date is Lole Traveler’s Pants, which I wear nearly every day because I can travel (or commute in them on my bike) and they still look like great business pants!

As I write this, I’m looking at the green sweater... soaked and stretched over my stuffed backpack in a second attempt to bring it back to its original size. Wish it luck... I would sure love to wear it again! And I promise to be more careful washing it in future. It can live in my closet as long as it likes.