Heading into my first fall in Vermont I had been reading about brevets and long distance cycling. There was something about riding incredibly long distances that had always intrigued me, and exploring under my own power has always felt like a part of who I am. Somehow I stumbled upon the Boston-Montreal-Boston website, and through various links and forums found RUSA. I wanted to be ready for the next season, so I became a member, and sought out some training books from the local bookstore. I even flirted with a big name online coaching system, paying for a 3 month subscription in the late summer. I did regular baseline time trials wearing my heart rate monitor up and down my road, took long endurance rides while targeting specific muscle groups and heart rates, and jumped on the recovery drink and energy food band wagon. After the Thanksgiving holiday that year I even dropped most meat from my diet, moving to a near vegetarian palette.
After sorting out the previously mentioned ‘bad idea dating’, I returned my attention to meditation, time on the bike, and stretching. As winter rolled in I set up my home office as a make shift bike studio. Bike stand, tools, and gear strewn everywhere, with my LeMond mounted in the trainer in the corner, desktop computer with music and speakers against the wall, and a small cabinet in front to place my laptop for movies. I would work in my office in town for most of the day, when the weather was accommodating I would ride home (downhill!), have a snack, read, and then ride inside. I kept up a simple heart rate training regime, focused mainly on base miles, listening to specific sets of music, or watching a movie I’d download to iTunes on the laptop before I left the office. I’d end the evening sitting to settle my mind, then drop off to sleep, often on my living room floor, tucked into my meditation cushions with a book left open and snuggled into a cozy blanket. I’d repeat this most of the winter, with the trainer rides getting progressively longer. Weekends were filled with hikes or outdoor activities, as much as possible.
At some point I started to get fussy with fit, so I would teak my position, record it on my digital camera, and then compare it to fit videos in the office the next day. I also purchased my second Brooks saddle. I bought a Ti railed Swallow, the narrowest and lightest they made at the time, for mounting to my carbon and steel go fast bike. I again fussed with position, and had to swap seat posts to something with more setback. In my search for the part I discovered Thomson components, and through a cascading series of internet wanders discovered whole nother world of high end bike parts – carbon wheels, featherlight brakes, ti-everything. Most out of my price (or use) league – but shining with that go-fast, top of the line, racer boy glow.
At the same time I rekindled some winter sports that I missed. I got out on my XC skis a bit, snow shoed when the snow was good and deep, and eventually took a telemark lesson that the West Hill Shop organized at the Brattleboro town ski hill. I was instantly hooked on the skiing, as it would blend nicely with my desire to explore under my own power. With a light gear setup one could get into the backcountry, do some moderate terrain both up and down – which was the original reason I had bought my bc xc skis back when I lived in the Rochester area. I learned over time though that turning on my long and skinny Karhu Pavos was something of a challenge – so I rented better gear for the lesson. Despite getting pretty sore from lots of stumbling and falling into the snow – I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and the following weekend took a lesson at Mad River Glen.
The lesson at Mad River Glen was an eye opener. Ungroomed snow (and ice), a quirky lodge and lifts, crap rental equipment, but a pretty incredible instructor. The lesson was labeled beginner, so we immediately took the lift to the top of the mountain, and began working our way back down. Snow (and the view) at the top was incredible – powder dolloped on trees, 8–12” of fresh snow under foot, and mild terrain to negotiate while learning how to turn on those slippery and long shoes. It wasn’t until about mid mountain that I knew I was in for a long day. The lower snow was pretty skied out, and there would be many areas of hard pack and ice. Not knowing the trails I’d follow my class trying to keep up – only to turn a corner and realize I was doing everything I could to keep and hold an edge into the snow. Despite my best intentions and focus on good technique there were many many wrecks that day. After about three runs with the class – and having watched a fellow student on really light metal edged nordic gear ski circles around me – I moved to the easy slopes to practice the basics. I left a bit discouraged, and physically wasted. After a long drive back to Putney I questioned my sanity in wanting to learn to ski. (This after snowboarding in high school…)
Back on the bike, as we hit mid winter I was logging my longest base mile trainer rides, typically an hour plus every other night, with a different pattern developed for each day. I’d religiously watch my heart rate monitor and try to stay in specific zones to further build a strong foundation for what I hoped would be a successful first brevet series. As those rides got longer, I started needing more options for entertainment while pedaling circles. On my days where I’d go ‘into the city’ (of Brattleboro) – I’d often shop at the coop and drop by the video store on my way home. I discovered the Bourne Identity series, revisited some Philip Glass movies, and did marathon sessions watching the Lord of the Rings movies. I had the Swallow broken in and ready for prime time in short order, and felt like I was well on my way to the best shape of my life. I was dropping weight slowly but surely into the high 180s, a number I hadn’t seen in a long long time, since I lived in NYC as a student.
My sanity check from downhill skiing was short lived, as a college friend was going to be in town while his wife taught at a workshop in Western MA, and he wanted to know if I would be up for a Friday of snowboarding. I had learned to ride (poorly) in high school, having saved up paper route money to buy a Burton board and boots to take down our itty bitty little ski hill. It had been a long time since I strapped on a board, but I jumped right back in and made arrangements for us to go to Stratton. Not an hour after getting excited about playing in the snow with a college friend, my brother called from NYC and wanted to know if he could come up and ski that same weekend – he’d arrive by Amtrak late Friday and would leave on Monday. He skied in high school – the two of us would take the family car out to Boston Mills and Branywine for night skiing or on the weekends. I offered up my room for him and his girlfriend, and would be their taxi service to and from the train.
Friday I rented a board and spent the day with Tim, who never having been on his snowboard outside of Ohio and western NY, was simply amazed at the snow, and the length of the runs. Getting off the mid mountain lift, and being a bit in early morning flurries and clouds, he thought we had topped out. It wasn’t until I took him up the gondola that he realized just how big (compared to our midwest experience growing up) the mountain was. For the better part of the morning we floated on fresh snow, and later carved turns on long cruisers. Somehow I felt great after a full day on the slopes. Legs were a bit sore, but overall I confirmed that all my core work and endurance riding was starting to show benefits.
Saturday with my brother in town was a blur of hanging out in Burlington, and Sunday brought a huge powder day. As we left BTV that evening the snow started falling, and 3 hours of sketchy driving later returning to Putney we had 8” on the ground. We got to the mountain early and probably had a foot of fresh snow to play in. I was on a West Hill Shop tele setup, and my brother and girlfriend were on rented alpine skis. I found that my confidence went up quite a bit skiing in the fresh snow, and I slipped into a good rhythm practicing my turns, as well as chasing my brother all over the mountain. By the end of the weekend I was exhausted – but we managed to squeeze a half day pass into Monday, before they returned to NYC via Amtrak.
I returned to my monk like life – work, ride, work, ride, repeat. And I began venturing out for long winter rides when the conditions would allow. The LeMond would be the bike of choice, as I was trying to log as many miles on it as I could before the Brevet season started.
As spring arrived I had developed a great friendship with the owners of the West Hill Shop, Putney’s world renowned bike shop. I managed to get recruited to help with the Putney Bike Club, and before long I was organizing meetings, helping to set the upcoming ride calendar, and getting a simple blog online. I’d often ride down from my office in town, snag lunch at the Coop, and spend my lunch time sitting in the shop hanging out. I also got to test my early season legs on some group rides – where I was promptly dropped on the climbs, but had good fun being out with a group, and getting a taste of riding that wasn’t in my apartment.
I started to ramp up my utility mileage, and realized I wanted (needed) a run about for town and errands. Having my office in town, just 2 miles away, and nearly everything that I needed for day to day existence right in town, I opted for a single speed. I had the shop order me a Redline 925, and I set it up single speed. I used the bike for office runs, lunch errands, trips to the post office, and short spins down my dirt road. I eventually picked up a Brooks saddle for it, and swapped the stock bars for a Nitto Mustache, which had a much nicer bend.
On the weekends, and a day a week I’d leave the office early, I’d be found on a long loop ride on the LeMond. I often rode with clip on fenders, so my ‘go fast bike’ now had a leather saddle and rain protection. And occasionally an Ortlieb bar bag strapped to it, or a cue sheet flapping from the bars.
Somewhere along the way, I started to take seriously the fatigue I was feeling. I had been trying to rest and recover more, but I wasn’t seeing any gains from upping my intensity, and it felt like I just hit a wall with my training. My thyroid was the first suspect, so we checked all the levels and things looked good. After some blood work my doctor informed me that I was severely anemic… something he wanted to confirm with a follow up a few weeks after moving back to an omnivorous diet, being sure to eat plenty of read meat, and starting iron supplements. The follow up showed virtually no improvement.
To be continued…