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Cirque du Soleil (pour chiens)

December 13, 2010 Fido, Food 4 Comments

I rallied late in the day and went for a run around 3:30 PM.  As usual, I came around to the back to enter the house. For the first time EVER, Argus was sitting up on the kitchen window seat. I was delighted by this! I figured he was up there to get a different vantage point (the pesky neighbor cat has been very brave lately) along with some comfort in the cushion. I came right in and grabbed the camera to take the photo from outside.

Once inside, I made quick work. Aunt Sue had called and I wanted to chat with her about my plans to visit Kansas City this coming weekend, and Argus was pining for a walk. I went into the kitchen to fix a roadie to bring with me over to the Bay Trail. I glanced in the sink to check the turkey necks I had been thawing for Argus…

I couldn’t help but notice they weren’t exactly “intact,” as I had left them!

Apparently ol’ Argus got hungry while I was gone. He knew these bad boys were in the sink all afternoon; I had been checking them to see if they were thawed enough to break apart into individual pieces. He clearly took matter into his own paws-n-jaws for an afternoon snack.

What I cannot figure out is how he did it. Sure, he has counter-surfed before… However!! This bundle of deliciousness was IN THE SINK. I don’t think he could get to them. So, being one-legged up-front… and based on him being on the window seat (a.k.a. accomplice)… and the fact that the Ziploc bags that I had laid out were scattered… I think he managed a Cirque du Soleil kind of feat!

Three-legged dog

Onto window seat

Onto counter (not an easy jump from the window seat for a one-legged-up-front dog!)

Mama will be home soon!!

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Slacker

December 8, 2010 Fear, Fitness, Food 2 Comments

I’ve been a slacker lately. On my workouts. On my writing. Slacker.

It’s kind of liberating, actually. All the guilt and fear I felt previously about the off-season has lost its edge, just like my fitness level… But in the words of Frou Frou: it’s all right, because there’s beauty in the breakdown. There’s just no way to keep up that level of training and fitness for an entire year.  I didn’t rest properly immediately following my races this year, so my cumulative fatigue was very high after 10 months of hard training. As a result, my body and mind are tired and my left knee is on the verge of injury. Besides, my dog is dying and the time I’m spending with him is priceless.

And what was I so scared of anyway?  Simple: I was afraid of getting fat.

Of course I knew my endurance would fall off and I’d have to build it back up next year. Of course I knew that my muscles wouldn’t look as toned. But I actually believed that if I stopped working out with such intensity that I would gain a bunch of weight and get fat. I was afraid of wanting to eat (and drink!) the same amount of calories without the exercise on the other end to offset it. How many calories does fear burn? Oh, the irony!

As it turns out, when I’m not working out an average of three hours a day, I’m not nearly as hungry. Who knew?? And with Greg out of town, I often just have a light salad a couple of glasses of wine and some crackers for dinner and call it good. I still work out five days a week, though the intensity isn’t as high and the distances aren’t as long. I haven’t been in the pool for about six weeks. Instead, I’m taking more strength classes at the gym, hitting more yoga and Pilates classes, and doing boot-camp-style workouts with friends I don’t normally train with during the race season. Oh, and it’s snowing in Tahoe! Bring on the cross-country skiing!

I haven’t stepped on a scale in over 18 months, so I have no idea what The Number is. But I know how my clothes fit and I know what I look like naked. Ten days into the holiday season, I’m happy to report that my skinny jeans still fit — at least so far!

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True Love

November 10, 2010 Food 1 Comment

Greg made an impromptu stop at Costco yesterday to buy beer and motor oil. He also came home with this for me:

You were expecting the gigantic bottle of Kirkland vodka, weren’t you?

Nope. The most thoughtful gift Greg could bring home from Costco is 3 jars of sun-dried tomatoes. And he did, without being asked.

It must be love.

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Feed Me!

October 28, 2010 Fido, Food 3 Comments

I mentioned that Greg found a diet for dogs that is shown to help their bodies respond to cancer. Here’s an excerpt from The Dog Cancer Survival Guide:

Did you know you can help your dog fight cancer at his next meal?

The right foods – many of which you probably have in your house right now – can be powerful weapons for a dog with cancer. Putting your dog on a Dog Cancer Diet, as outlined in this report, accomplishes two things.

The Dog Cancer Diet:

1. Fights Cancer. It’s probably what you want the most – for the cancer to just go away. While no food is that kind of “miracle cure,” there are some that can “go after” cancer tumors.

2. Supports Immune Response. The body has a natural defense system for cancer, called the immune system. Unfortunately, dogs with cancer have a suppressed immune system, which means cancer can run roughshod over the body. Foods that boost the immune system help the body’s natural defenses repair themselves.

Greg is absolutely convinced that this diet — and the supplements, of course! — are going to help Argus cure himself of cancer. I am not convinced. I agree with the logic, mostly because it’s the same logic that applies to humans. And the author of the book is correct, actually. I DO have many of those foods in my home right now, because Greg and I eat them and we eat them for those cancer-fighting reasons. I assure you that it isn’t because brussels sprouts are my favorite vegetable.

But the data for osteosarcoma is clear: my dog will die of this disease. Now that he has gotten it, it’s too late. And, let me remind you that we were not feeding him Ol’ Roy to begin with. Argus was being fed a raw diet. Raw chicken backs, turkey necks, lamb necks, turkey hearts, and his favorite — tripe. Pretty healthy stuff, all things considered.


Even if my heart isn’t totally into all the claims surrounding this diet, I have agreed to put it into practice. Lucky for Greg that I have, as it is really a two-person job (unless you have all day to spend at this). After our first batch took pretty much an entire Saturday afternoon and netted us only four days worth of meals, we knew we had to streamline our process. If this were a raw diet and/or my dog enjoyed vegetables as much as I do, this would be a piece of cake. It’s not and he doesn’t, which leads us to why there is a process involved at all and why we need to fix it in bulk.

INGREDIENTS:
Whole Grains — brown rice or slow-cook oatmeal
Protein — chicken, turkey, lean beef cuts, liver, fish
Vegetables — shiitake mushrooms, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, red/yellow peppers, dark leafy greens, parsley, garlic, banana, apple (I realize these last two are fruits)
Calcium — cottage cheese
Other — fish oil, krill oil, shark liver oil, enzymes, black strap molasses, egg, apple cider vinegar

Part of the rationale behind this diet is that your dog’s body is busy trying to fight off cancer, so you should make digesting his food easier for him. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Cook the meat at a certain temperature as not to cook all the good stuff out.
  2. Grind the vegetables up and hide them amidst a bunch of meat so your dog can’t taste them.
  3. Dissolve the oil pills in hot water because he will suss them out if they’re whole.
  4. Add cottage cheese just before serving so it doesn’t separate.
  5. Sprinkle enzymes on so they can begin breaking down the food before it goes into the dog’s body. This means preparing his dinner 30 minutes before it’s time to eat so the enzymes can begin doing their job.
  6. Explain to your dog why his food is sitting on the counter and he is not yet allowed to eat it.

On our first attempt, Greg and I were working side-by-side in the kitchen. I got the whole grain brown rice going on the stove and began cutting a selection of the vegetables, then quickly steaming them to soften them a bit. Then I put batches of them in the blender to form a puree. Greg was working on the meat. Cutting it, quickly boiling it, removing fish bones. When the rice was done, we added the veggie glop to it. Then the chunks of meat. After a good mixing, it went into the freezer in individual portions. We were both exhausted and we didn’t even know if he’d eat it!

The good news/bad news is that Argus LOVES his new food.

Here’s what we’re doing now:

Borrowing Pete’s Vita-Mix so we can grind the veggies with minimal chopping and no steaming. Cutting meat into bite-sized pieces and adding them to the Crock Pot, along with the rice. Combining all ingredients and putting them into individual servings.

We got 10 servings out of this batch, which is much more reasonable. He’s been on the diet for a week now and he really does love it, so we’ll keep at it. Of course, there is no way of knowing if it is helping or not, but if it makes Greg feel good, I feel good.

If you weren’t convinced we are crazy for all the endurance sports we willingly participate in, what do you think now?

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Refining My Palate

October 24, 2010 Food, Friends No Comments

While I am a somewhat picky eater, I would not say that I have a refined palate. I enjoy Kraft Mac & Cheese almost as much as I like homemade stuff, although maybe only for the reminiscence factor. I can’t tell the difference between a wine that has been aged in an oak barrel versus a stainless steel vat in a blind taste test. Is it red? I’ll drink it.

And, I buy olive oil off the shelf at Trader Joe’s.

When visiting Caryn earlier this summer, we stumbled across a little shop in the El Dorado Hills Town Center. It’s a tasting room for olive oil and balsamic vinegar called Mia Sorella. After oohing and aahing over a couple of specialty flavors, one of the proprietors mentioned that they do tasting parties after hours. Sign us up!

The evening came for the event and we were ready! Caryn rounded up several friends interested in joining us that Thursday evening. It was fun for me to meet a few new people and reconnect with a couple of the folks I had previously met on EDH Tri Club outings. The one common denominator among all attendees was endurance sports and the calorie replacement involved. Bring on the food!

Mia Sorella provided the oil and vinegar for tastings, a big salad made with a dressing using their products, and dessert. Caryn and I brought a chicken kebab experiment, spicy shrimp, and fresh strawberries to drizzle with balsamic vinegar once there.

Oh, and wine. We were also drinking red wine.

The party format included a side-by-side tasting, along with a lesson on how to properly taste oil and the history of where each came from. I was a little disappointed, actually, that she didn’t have us taste the fancy oils next to the store-bought kind to see just how refined or unrefined our palates really are…

After the lesson part of the evening, we were free to try any of the other oils and vinegars in any combination. The options were limitless!

One of my favorites was chipotle-fused oil with chocolate balsamic vinegar. It tasted like a Lindt chocolate + red chili bar. I don’t know where you’d use that combination in real life, but the little sample was delicious! The combination they used on the salad was meyer lemon oil with fig balsamic. It was very good and I bet it’s very versatile. They made a pound cake using the orange-fused oil that was very moist and flavorful. I drizzled the chocolate balsamic over a few strawberries, then the cinnamon-pear, then the vanilla bean. Yum!

Our chicken kebab experiment was a huge success. We recipe we used called for regular EVOO, the zest of one lemon, and fresh lemon juice (among other things). We made the control batch using that as the marinade. For the test batch, we substituted the Mia Sorella meyer lemon-fused oil and used no zest or lemon juice. The experiment results were unanimous: everyone could taste the difference and preferred the kebabs made with the lemon-fused oil!


I came home with a bottle of the chipotle-fused olive oil and I’m already looking forward to a return trip in November, when they’ll have sampler packs for the holidays. The prices are higher than what you’ll pay in the grocery store, but we proved that it’s “worth it” in many situations — including marinades and salad dressings. Perhaps I’ll be hosting my own tasting parties once I get a few of the fun flavors in my own kitchen.

And perhaps my palate is more refined than I think.

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When life gives you peppers… pickle them!

October 9, 2010 Fitness, Food, Friends 1 Comment

I went for a run along Crissy Field and the Marina Green with a friend on Friday. It was her first run in a very long time and my umpteenth-million run in the last eight months, so we both really appreciated having a running partner. It didn’t hurt that it was a perfect day in San Francisco. The sun was shining and the area was buzzing with Fleet Week activity.

After our run, we went back to her apartment in the Inner Sunset for a snack. I pulled out a bottle of red wine and a loaf of freshly-baked (and then frozen) fougasse from Wild Flour Bread in Freestone, CA. This fougasse was chock-full of goodness — asiago cheese, roasted red peppers, and green onions. Andrea pulled out a jar of homemade pickled jalapenos. We warmed the bread and topped it with her jalapenos. Then, a sip of wine.

HEAVEN!

Andrea generously shared the process for making these little gems, and I happen to have a surplus of jalapenos on-hand from my CSA. Here goes!

Chop the jalapenos:

In a bowl, soak them in enough white vinegar to cover (I put a plate over mine to weigh them down). Add a little salt as well. Let them soak overnight.

The following day, put them in your desired air-tight container and fill with extra virgin olive oil.

See how long (or little) it takes for you to finish a jar. For me, about 20 minutes. YUM!

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Is this heaven?

August 19, 2010 Fear, Fido, Fitness, Food, Friends, Fun 4 Comments

At long last, I have organized my thoughts about RAGBRAI for your reading and viewing pleasure. Rather than drone on in chronological order about what we did every day, I’ve categorized a few choice stories by F-words. I’m including several photos in-line, and you can check them all out here.

FIRST THINGS FIRST
RAGBRAI stands for the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. It’s pretty much a week-long party on two wheels. I grew up in Iowa and have always known about it, but I’ve never done it. When my local friend Caryn said she was considering doing it with a few friends… and then my friend Ryan said he was considering doing it with a few friends, I knew this was the year to lose my RAGBRAI virginity.

We put together a team — the PIEromaniacs — with members from all over the country. Kirsten and Jennifer drove a 15-passenger van from Salt Lake City. Corinne offered to be our SAG driver, all the way from Washington, D.C. Jeff and Caryn flew in from Folsom. Chris calls Santa Cruz home. Greg and I live just south of San Francisco. Planning for a week of camping with people you’ve never met before over email is difficult at best. We probably weren’t as efficient as we could have been, but we all arrived in good spirits and ready to have fun. And we did!

Our days went like this: we woke up somewhere between 6 and 6:30 and slowly came to life while other teams were already leaving for the day. Kirsten and Chris would entertain us for 20 minutes or so, wrangling their tent into its bag. We’d all set our gear at the back of the van where Jennifer and Corinne almost always got stuck packing it. The team would leave camp together, but then quickly break up as people stopped for breakfast or photo ops along the way. Greg and I usually rode to the meet-up town before stopping, though sometimes he’d find a smoothie stop with a reasonable line. As I was enjoying a beer around 10 AM in the meet-up town, we’d send a text to everyone and often it worked out that we’d see Jeff and Caryn there. The other three were having their own fun, taking their time immersing themselves in Iowa/RAGBRAI culture. Corinne would send a text around 1 PM, letting us know where she had set up camp. We’d roll in to the campsite and find our tents/luggage all set out, a cooler full of chocolate milk and other non-alcoholic recovery beverages, and a cooler full of beer, wine, and snacks. Have you tried the Dill Pickle Kettle Chips? Delicious! We’d drink awhile at camp before some of us would find a swimming hole and others would find a shower. Then we’d wander into town for dinner, entertainment, and more drinks. We were usually in bed before 11 PM.

Of note: Corinne had never been camping before. Ever. She deserves extra points for making her first camping excursion a week-long endeavor with people she didn’t know and in a situation that required you to set up and break down camp every day. That alone is hard-core. Add in the heat and humidity and lack of showers and electricity — she was out of her element! What a trouper!

Here’s the story from where I sat:

FITNESS
This is a big one, and let me start with what this ride entailed: 462 miles (including the century loop) and 14,527 feet of climbing over 7 days. For you non-math majors, this averages out to 66 miles a day.  From a physical endurance standpoint, I was fine. I ride my bike year-round, in addition to other things like swimming and running and yoga and housework. My legs were certainly tired by about Day 4, but it was nothing like the relatively “acute” endurance required for a triathlon. Several of us have done the Death Ride, and that’s 15K feet of climbing in ONE DAY. But just because I personally was more-than-prepared for it, I have to hand it to many people we saw along the way. People on crazy bikes like unicycles and penny farthings, people 50+ pounds overweight, families of 5 or 6 on extended tandems, people carrying their own saddle bags with camping gear, our teammate Jeff who had never ridden a road bike…  It’s not like you could come off the couch and do this ride easily, even if you stopped at every road-side stand and little town. Even in “the best shape of my life,” there have been days at home when I would want to die after a 50-mile ride and I wouldn’t have to get on my bike for another three days. There was no choice in this endeavor — you got on your bike the next day whether you liked it or not.

This was my first experience touring and it required a completely different kind of endurance for which I was ill-prepared. You see, I am a master at cross-training. My butt has never had to endure seven days in the saddle. Or seven days in cycling shorts + humidity. I AM A DELICATE FLOWER, GODDAMMIT. I rode with my sister on Day 3 from Algona to Clear Lake. By the time I pulled into our great campsite, I wanted to write the rest of the trip off. Greg fixed me a stiff drink while I changed into my bathing suit and we rode our bikes the short distance down to the lake to cool off. I didn’t put my butt on that seat even once on the way there or back. Nosireebob. We went into town that night to hang with my sister and watch the Spin Doctors come out of retirement. I was ridiculed by many for “looking good” because I was wearing a dress. Yeah, folks. I’m not wearing this dress for your sake. Have you seen the dudes in kilts? They’re not Scottish.

COMMANDO, BABY!

My fellow PIEromaniacs were concerned about my ability to ride on Wednesday, but I was adamant. Greg and I went into an empty tent with a first aid kit and some diaper rash cream that morning. He emerged, surgeon-like, with scissors in one hand saying, “Does anyone have duct tape?” Amazingly, no one did!! We made do with medical tape… I donned two pairs of cycling shorts in addition to the “padding” he provided and swallowed a handful of Advil before starting. As soon as we loaded everything up and hit the road, I noticed I had a flat… Greg, my faithful mechanic, fixed me up and we were rolling in no time.

The only other thing I’ll say about FITNESS is that the last day required a lot of it. We were all tired. It was a lot of camping. A lot of drinking. A lot of eating less-than-nutritious food. A lot of miles. Yet, we all knew that the last day involved Potter’s Hill. I wasn’t sure what to expect (although apparently there was a lot of talk about it on the RAGBRAI forums). It was a beautiful day of riding and the terrain seemed much different than it had since just coming out of Sioux City. It almost felt like California! *GASP* There were curvy roads with big hills and descents. It was a really fun day to ride! Well, we hit Potter’s Hill pretty much as a team and it was clear that This Was The Climb. It was California-esque for sure! There was a guy at the bottom of the hill with a sign that said it was a 19% grade, but this was clearly a scare tactic. Our team made it to the top without walking — ALL OF US!! We stopped there (minus Caryn, who was pushing hard toward the finish line) for a free beer and $1 donation for a photo op. I think we all assumed — and hoped — that this would be the last hill of the day. It wasn’t. Riding into Dubuque, the final destination, wasn’t easy at all. Everyone who finished felt a true sense of accomplishment from that day alone, forgetting what the entire week had dished out.

FOOD
A lot of people ride RAGBRAI for the food. Our team name is PIEromaniacs for a reason!!  Alas, I am not one of them. Who am I kidding? Don’t forget the underlying premise for this blog is “How Many Calories Does Fear Burn?” I am not looking to gain weight on this endeavor!! If it was “worth it,” I’d be eating it. But for me, this is not the Holy Grail of food. I don’t eat red meat and I try not to eat pork because pigs are smarter than dogs and I feel bad for them. It’s why the National Pork Board‘s ad campaign says, “Pork: The Other White Meat” and not, “Pigs: They Sure Are Smart.”

When I was questioned about my no-pork-eating-and-yet-I’m-an-Iowa-native status, someone along the ride said, “I don’t feel bad about that. Only the dumb ones get caught for the slaughter.” Oh really? Hmm… I see a business venture here for the smart ones. Call it, “This Little Piggy Went To Private School” — and good luck with enrollment!

I also don’t love pie. There was a lot of homemade pie to be had, usually prepared by fine Christian women at fancy churches. There were also a lot of Mrs. Smith’s frozen pies to be had, baked by women who live along the RAGBRAI route (these women may or may not be Christian). My friends who do love pie were smart enough to ask which ones were homemade before buying. And God love ’em, they always gave a donation, even if they traveled on for the homemade goods! I do love the sugar high from Scotcheroos, though, and I said all along that these would be my guilty pleasure while there.  Wouldn’t you know I didn’t find a single one until we stopped at a gas station 50 miles after the ride?? I bought one there and it was delicious. Totally worth it.

Contrary to popular belief, I do eat breakfast every day — but rarely do I eat breakfast foods for breakfast. So, stopping to wait in line for Chris Cakes pancakes or the Farm Boys’ burritos held no appeal for me. LOOK AT THOSE LINES. You would think these people hadn’t eaten for 10 miles! I mostly ate at places that had the shortest lines. Lines became a real drag along the way… Food, bathrooms, booze, anything worth seeing, etc… Greg and I often ate dinner at a booth that sold Chicken-On-A-Stick and grilled vegetables. Their banner also mentioned something about being “award-winning.” Hooray! We probably ate this three or four times and it was delicious. Otherwise, I ate my own breakfast in the morning (banana + protein bar) and then drank my lunch (beer or bloody mary) and shared whatever Greg was having along the way.

On Day 5, Ryan and I caught up with each other and had a great ~15 miles of riding together into Parkersburg. We got there and were walking our bikes through town and there was NO LINE at the pizza booth. So I was like, “I’m getting this veggie slice. I don’t care what anyone else is doing. No line? Me + instant food = Awesome.” I felt like I had avenged the previous days’ waiting with that one incident. Ryan had to do a little bit of jockeying for his meat-laden slice, but it was well-worth it. We met up with Greg and Michael elsewhere in town and they were like, “Where’d you get that so fast?????????” Not only was it fast food, it was tasty!

If you haven’t gotten the picture by now, food is obviously a big deal and every overnight town did as well as they could to serve the 10,000+ hungry people who invaded them each night. We quickly noticed that the same vendors were in each overnight town. This was effective in accommodating the crowds, but you got less of the “local feel” for what X-Town had to offer. The churches would usually host a “Pasta Feed” of some sort and the local restaurants would try to accommodate the crowds, but it was clearly difficult. And have I mentioned that I/many don’t eat meat? These pasta dinners were largely made with meat sauce…

I was a little surprised that so many vendors followed us along the whole route. It REALLY began to feel like Groundhog Day. You woke up in a campground each morning, you rode your bike on a grid through cornfields and soybean fields all day, and were offered the same food choices along the way. I realized that it was some sort of “rite of passage” and by the end of it, Greg had gotten at least one Farm Boys Burrito, we both got Pastafari, and he got a Turkey Tom’s after climbing Potter’s Hill. Between the two of us, we didn’t get Chris Cakes or Beekman’s Homemade Ice Cream. The Pastafari was expensive ($14 or $17, depending on your choices), but it was very good. We stopped on the rainy day, so there were no lines. They served a penne pasta with either a spicy red sauce or a homemade pesto sauce. The added grilled vegetables to each one and we added on a grilled rosemary salmon. Worth it, especially on that cold day.

I know I am picky on the food front, so don’t judge the ride on my opinions…

FRIENDS
This is where every dollar, every mile, every Wet One, every Budweiser, and every Band-Aid became WORTH IT. When I signed up, I knew I was doing it with friends. This alone was worth it. I also knew I was meeting new people — the members of the PIEromaniacs. I had no idea what fun I’d have with these people!

Greg and I got a late start on the first day, so I was on the lookout for friends in the first meet-up town, Washta. I saw college friends first — Michael and Ryan. I was in a ridiculously long line for a Garden of Eden burrito (BTW – not worth it), so we got to catch up there. I was glad to see them on the first day, knowing we’d be looking for each other along the way all week long. They got an awesome lake-side spot in Storm Lake that night, and we rode our bikes down from our campsite to say hello. I got to see Marcus after 15+ years before we took a dip in the water that evening.

I saw many people from Lenox along the way: my dentist, my high school volleyball and track coaches, my high school shop teacher (yes — I took shop!), and my parents’ accountant. It was great to take note of people’s jerseys and say hello while riding. I felt the same sense of community riding among these tens of thousands of people as I had always felt living in my small town.

The overnight town on Day 5 was Waterloo, which is adjacent to Cedar Falls. A bunch of us (me, Ryan, Michael, Marcus, etc…) went to undergrad there at UNI and we were excited to be back in our old stomping grounds. My BFF Sarah drove 5 hours to meet us there, as did Michael’s wife+kids and sister. It was a great reunion! I drank so many vodka lemonades in Dike that the boys loaded my bike into Sarah’s Jeep and she drove me the final 20 miles in to the campsite in Waterloo. There, we collected Greg, our luggage, and the team’s laundry to stay at Sarah’s parents’ house that night. A REAL SHOWER! A REAL BED! We all met up at an old favorite bar on College Hill that night and had a great time.

After a rainy ride from Waterloo to Manchester on Day 6, the skies cleared and it was a nice evening in Manchester. The Nadas were playing that night and they did not disappoint. Adding to the fun, another college crony, Aaron, met us! It was just like having the old gang from 2106 Merner back together again. I felt fortunate this year, getting to see this group of college friends twice in one summer — the first time for Ryan’s wedding in June and now for RAGBRAI.

Another great surprise for me was having my college friend Kevin drive an hour to meet us in his hometown of Dyersville on Day 7. Kevin and I had partied in D’ville a few times during college, so it was great to be back there again. We had a couple of bloody marys at The English Pub before we said our farewells to him and his family and headed out of town. I was so grateful that he made the trip to see me. This is what true friendship is! Outside of Dyersville, we stopped at the Field of Dreams movie site. They built it, and we came!

In addition to hanging with current friends and seeing old friends, I know I have made life-long friends in the people on my team. Going into it, they were merely friends-of-a-friend and email aliases. After spending a week living and breathing and drinking with these people, we are truly friends. I look at it as an added benefit of the ride! We’ve already shared quite a bit of banter on Facebook and I look forward to visiting Chris for a triathlon in Santa Cruz next month and skiing with Jen and Kirsten in SLC next winter.

FUN
There were a lot of fun things along the way. It’s kind of weird because I think I “took them for granted” in a way. Having grown up in Iowa and visited most of these towns before, I probably didn’t look at everything with the same set of eyes as a newcomer. I didn’t stop to explore The Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend on Day 2; my grandma took us there when we were kids. I didn’t explore the fossils in Rockford on Day 4. I was drinking in Dike instead of hitting the water park in Waterloo on Day 5. I wasn’t with Jennifer to reapply my lip gloss for every photo op. But we certainly had our share of fun!

Our night in Clear Lake was arguably the best of the whole week. Given the less-than-great ride into town, the evening turned out to be pretty epic (which is maybe an oxymoron). My sister got to town before I did and randomly ran into Ryan and Michael at a bar. Reunion!! Bonus — that bar was air-conditioned. Then Wolfman Jeff and I met up and high-tailed it into the park and down to the third row of the Spin Doctors show, where we ran into every other member of our team. Iowa really is just one big small town! Upon seeing the shuttle lines, we all opted to hitchhike it home — a first for me!! Greg and I walked back through town to find a ride and stole a few kisses during the fireworks show. Bonus #2 — I couldn’t feel my wounds by this point. This night ended with a fantastic thunderstorm and sunny skies the next morning. It just doesn’t get much better than that!

In Algona on Day 3, we went to a bar with live music. Jeff set up an impromptu Musical Chairs game and our team played to the finish — and won sweet Bud Light wristbands for our efforts! Jennifer was mildly harassed by the musician for shaking her tambourine a little too well… All in good fun! The boys found the best swimming holes to cool off each day — Storm Lake and Clear Lake are obvious winners, but we found a small pond in Charles City and the guys found a small river in Algona. We stopped for quite awhile in Cartersville on Day 4. They had a big setup around the “town pond” here, with a trapeze-like rig for big jumps. They also had several games of corn-hole (probably not the official name) set up as well. Oh – and no lines for beer. So that was fun!

As with most things, there were some un-fun things:
Our flight out of SFO at 5 AM was delayed, and we knew we were going to miss our connection in Denver…which meant we were going to miss the team shuttle from Omaha to Sioux City. We opted to have our flight rerouted to Des Moines, where my parents left us a car and we drove the 3+ hours to Sioux City that night. Our teammate Chris suffered similar delays and didn’t get to Sioux City until after midnight.

I lost my camera on the rough road leading into Clear Lake. BOO! I even got off my bike and searched on foot for 30 minutes, to no avail. The pictures you see in the Flickr feed are from Greg’s camera and ones I’ve heisted from friends. Thanks to Ryan, Jeff, Kirsten, and Jennifer!

Greg’s rear wheel basically disintegrated on that same rough road into Clear Lake. He is pretty sure its integrity was compromised because he was riding so fast that day. Yeah, right… He stopped by the Specialized tent for a replacement, probably while I was still searching for my camera. That was an expensive day for us between the camera and the wheel.

The beer was not great. Other than what Corinne bought for us at camp, our choices along the route and in the overnight towns were not what we would usually order: Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, and an occasional malt beverage. We’re not beer snobs, per se (and I drank a lot of box wine at camp), but Greg would have appreciated a nice craft beer along the way.

Have I mentioned my ass was bleeding? Oh right, I have.

The rainy day from Waterloo to Manchester was pretty miserable. It was a ~60 mile ride and ~40 of it was in the rain for us; we left around 8:30AM. When the sun came out for us, it brought a brutal headwind with it. Whether you waited to start or not, it wasn’t a fun day of riding. The one up-side of this was that there were very few lines.

FIDO
Even with a few updates along the way from friends, we were missing Argus. Our campground in Charles City on Day 4 was in a large lawn behind the high school. We were shaded and the lawn backed up to a nice neighborhood. It was a nice spot, and close to a swimming hole! I spotted a Golden Retriever puppy across the way and made a beeline for her. Not only was it nice to get some 5-month-old puppy love (despite her sharp puppy teeth), we had a nice chat with the family. It’s always nice to interact with the locals and I didn’t do as much of that as I had hoped or thought I would. In Dike the following day, Sarah met us and brought along her Lab-mix puppy, Legend. Everyone at the golf course stopped to love on him and you could tell we were all missing our pets.

We did get a few updates on Argus while we were away. Several friends pitched in to help so that we wouldn’t have to board him. With his unpredictable aggression issues, we felt this was the best option and we were grateful that everyone stepped up to lend a hand. Pete  took him to the beach or for a hike every day and fed him at night. Melody “dog-napped” him during the day for a few playdates with Bailey at the Boat House, and our neighbors said he’d come to the fence and “talk” to them, inviting them to come get him for a visit. I was thrilled with his reaction to me being home when I finally got here on August 5. He did his playful jumping around, not knowing what to do or say first. I feel bad for Greg; he got the usual shun from Argus, letting him know just how upset he was to have been left behind…

FEAR
I ride by myself 99% of the time. Even when racing, I am rarely in a pack of people and I like it that way. Maybe it’s deep-seated trust issues or perhaps just a genuine dislike for small talk. RAGBRAI was pretty much a non-stop parade of riding ridiculously close to people. I’m fairly confident in my own riding abilities, but there were a lot of novices out there and they’re the ones that make me nervous. One false move and the whole crowd goes down.

We saw a few spills along the way, and everyone was very helpful to those on the ground. On the day it rained, I was right behind a man as his tires slipped and he went down. Luckily, there was no one immediately next to him because he went one way and his bike skidded the other. I was the first one on the scene and helped him to the side of the road and up to a seated position. He hit his shoulder hard and I was concerned that his clavicle was broken. Thankfully, it wasn’t!

Another rider wasn’t as fortunate. The whole “peloton” was brought to a stop on Thursday morning outside of Charles City. There were two ambulances on the road and a LifeFlight helicopter had landed in a nearby field. That’s never a good sign. There was much speculation about what had happened, but no one in my circle of friends knew for sure. We found out on the last day that the rider — a RAGBRAI veteran — had clipped the tire of the rider in front of him and went down. There was a lot of swelling around his brain and he died.

As a person who rides my bike several times a week and one who has survived a major accident involving me on a bicycle versus a pickup truck, I can’t let myself think about “What if?” for very long. The balance is fragile and I’m pretty sure I’d never leave the house if I focused on everything that could go wrong. While it might be a much less fearful existence, I sure wouldn’t burn very many calories that way…

FINALLY
It felt great to dip our tires in the Mississippi River in Dubuque! We can check RAGBRAI off the bucket list! We have given a lot of thought to whether we’d do it again and the short answer is no. We probably won’t ever do the full 7 days again, though we’ll likely go back when the route travels through Okoboji. We can easily see riding a few days and spending the rest of the week at my family’s lake house with friends. Knowing What We Know Now, it’s worth doing again, if only for a few days.

Just because we aren’t doing RAGBRAI again doesn’t mean we’re giving up on touring! We’ve been talking for a couple of years now about doing a ride from the Bay Area to Santa Barbara on our own. Other organized rides we are considering are the BREW ride across Wisconsin and rides through Oregon and Washington.

Fellow riders, feel free to leave comments with your favorite stories! It has been fun for me to reminisce in writing this and I’d love to hear your memories.

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The Rest of the Story

July 22, 2010 Family, Fitness, Food, Friends, Fun 1 Comment

While I didn’t love listening to talk radio in the car as a kid, I learned to perk up when Paul Harvey would provide a factual tale with a twist at the end. Here’s the rest of the story of the Vineman Half Ironman. Can you find the twist?

Greg is pretty much a triathlon machine and a man of few words, so there won’t be all the belly-aching about training and emotions that you got with my race recap. Since I’m writing it and this blog is about me, it’ll mostly be about what I felt about his training and what I felt about his feelings.

WHAT?! You’re still reading?!

If you are, good news! Of course, I’m just kidding. This is a story about a great event and the fun you can have as a spectator. After reading this, I’m sure that everyone will want to go next year! Triathlon is not a quintessential “spectator sport,” but I have a few tricks up my sleeve to prove the average spectator wrong on that front.

You might remember me talking about Mike Kidder from Kansas City. He’s the one that talked me into doing a 70.3 in the first place… He and his wife Melanie came to town as well as our friends Mike and Nancy from Santa Barbara. Mike Kidder was here to participate in the Vineman triathlon (the other Mike completed his 70.3 in Kona in June). Our friends Mike and Tiffany joined us from the Bay Area as well. We had a full house of Mikes, competitors, and spectators!

Mike & Tiff were kind enough to offer up FREE accommodations in Occidental, which we promptly accepted. The three cottages on the property were exactly what I had expected — rustic and secluded. The environment was quiet, tucked away in the trees between the coast and the real world. Melanie and I enjoyed a vodka drink at our house while we packed everything up, then made it through a bottle of pre-made sangria I had picked up from Whole Foods while in the car — and all before hitting the Russian River Brewing Co. and dinner in Santa Rosa. You might call it spectator training for the big event! In the cottages that night, we enjoyed good wine we had brought from home, served out of coffee mugs that were available in our cottage. Melanie and Mike were on Kansas City time and she was the first to, shall we say, “retire” for the evening.

We woke up in a coastal fog on Saturday morning and it was quite chilly. The rest of the gang went in to Occidental for breakfast while I went for a 5-mile run along a less-traveled road through the hills and trees. Kidder and Greg packed up their gear for the transition from bike to run (this is a two-transition course) and we finally headed out for packet pick-up just as the sun was breaking through the fog. This is the 20th Anniversary of the Vineman event and a record number of competitors were registered (remember that I couldn’t get in?). We must have hit the Expo area at the right time — or maybe wrong time, as it was in the heat of the afternoon — because it wasn’t packed. We milled about there and made our way down to Johnson’s Beach so that the guys could splash around in the river they’d be swimming the following day. The rest of us proceeded to snack and drink and soak up the rays, just as we’d be doing the following day… It was a great day on the river!

Knowing that there’s often too much to do on the night before a race, I had prepared a big roasting pan of chicken parmesan ahead of time and brought along “homemade” pasta sauce, pasta, and enough fresh CSA greens for the whole crowd to enjoy on Saturday night… but then our crowd grew, and the oven didn’t work, and we all just conceded, “Let’s go out!” We ventured back into Occidental and settled in at Negri’s Italian Restaurant. Dinner out with a crowd of 10 takes longer than you want it to and we didn’t get out of there until after 10 PM. As usual, the guys still had a bit of race prep to do before setting their alarms for a 5:30 AM wake-up call. The night before a race is never what you want it to be.

Race day! We were up early and despite the sunshine outside, I was in a bit of a fog. I honestly can’t tell you how Kidder and Greg felt… When I asked, they mentioned they were hungry and there were several jokes tossed around about me being “drunk helpful girl” before going to bed, insisting on getting up at 4 AM to fix eggs and bacon. THANK GOD THEY DIDN’T HOLD MY FEET TO THAT FIRE. We loaded up about 15 minutes later than planned and headed to Guerneville. Melanie and I sent our men off with kisses and well-wishes and made haste for the Starbucks.

SWIM
Swimming is Kidder’s strongest sport — by far. Melanie and I were standing on a foot bridge over the Russian River, so we could see all competitors pass beneath us on their out and back trips. Pretty cool! Greg’s wetsuit has a bright yellow back (and is the only one of its kind that I’ve ever seen), so we knew we’d be able to spot him quickly. Our guys were set to start at 7:58 AM and had bright red caps on. As the red caps swam beneath us, we spotted Greg and knew that Kidder should have been ahead of him. We couldn’t find him and figured we’d missed him. On their trip back under the bridge just before the finish, we spotted Mike first and Greg was not far behind. Their times were great from our estimations (30:19 with ~300 yards to go)! We found out after the race that Kidder was still in line for the porta-potty when his race started. For some crazy reason, these race officials allowed spectators to use the same bathrooms as competitors. This was “important business” so Kidder did what he had to and subsequently started the race 4 minutes behind the rest of his wave. It didn’t matter; HE SWIMS LIKE A FISH. When we were able to check the final results, it turns out that he finished the swim in 25:49 and was the first man out of the water in his age group (the timing started when he got in the water) — beating 245 other men. What an amazing feat! He finished 13th in the swim overall, among 1259 competitors! Greg finished in a respectable 33:45.

BIKE
We had a great vantage point for all cyclists coming out of the transition area and making their first couple of turns onto the bike course. Greg had a fast transition (2:45) and we saw him very quickly after the swim finish. Kidder isn’t known for fast transitions (his was 5:54) and we knew they’d be gone for about 2h30m if Greg was on track to meet his race goals. This meant a transition for us spectators as well. Melanie and I met up with Mike & Tiff to assess our own race goals. On Saturday, we had visited the Safeway and purchased enough beverages to satisfy a small fraternity. It was just after 9 AM and Melanie quickly mixed up a bloody mary (I was driving) while we all snacked on chips and dip, looking at the map for the next vantage point. We decided the best idea was to head over to the bike/run transition area, which was also the finish. We’d be able to see everyone coming in from the bike, out for the run, and in to the finish.

By the time we got over there on the back roads, the sun was coming out and we all shed a layer of clothing once we found parking. There, we fixed up Leg 2 of our drink-athlon: blueberry vodka + Crystal Light lemonade. Delicious and refreshing! We packed a bag with our libations, a few snacks, and our cameras. Positioned at the bike dismount, we got to see everyone come in — Kidder and Greg, several friends from Santa Barbara and the EDH Tri Club, and friends of Mike & Tiff. We were in the right spot! Greg finished about where he wanted to at 2:32 and Mike came in about where he expected to at 3:11. They were quick in T2 (2:47 and 3:08, respectively) and we settled in for the last leg.



RUN
After two 32-oz Nalgene bottles of vodka drinks, Melanie and Tiffany were close friends by this point, I encountered pretty much everyone I knew in the triathlon community, and the world was a very sunny place (literally and drinkatively). Unless disaster struck on the run, we knew the guys would finish with flying colors and we’d all be celebrating — as long as their stomachs held out. The three of us girls cut each other off on story after story, all the while cheering competitors out on their run (“only 13.1 to go!”) and congratulating those just finishing (“just around the corner!”). With a run split of 1:43:44, we damn near missed Greg with all of this chatter! He came by looking tired but good and finished at 4:55:47. He wanted to finish in under 5 hours and he did it! We ran to the race finish to meet him there with hugs and good cheer. After Greg grabbed some post-race food and drink, he, Melanie and I headed back out to our vantage point to wait for Kidder’s finish. It was quite a sight as both Greg and Melanie ran with Mike as he turned the corner into the final gates at the finish. With a run time of 1:59:19, he finished in 5:45:30. Hooray!

POST-RACE
We wrapped up at the finish line area and the guys were gracious enough to postpone showers and rest to grant Melanie her one wish: to visit a tasting room on this visit to Wine Country. We drove the race course back out to La Crema, a race sponsor and the winery the runners had to circle, and found their only tasting room is in downtown Healdsburg. Off we went!  In addition to great wine (our third leg of the drink-athlon), Melanie got a cute T-shirt at La Crema and Kidder surprised me with a generous gift from Stephen & Walker Wines for “taking his challenge” of completing a Half Ironman this year. I was in tears with gratitude and friendship. Keep in mind , Melanie and Mike are the ones that introduced me and Greg. They are friends of the highest order!

After the guys showered at the cottage, we headed to dinner at a favorite place of ours — River’s End in Jenner. Mike (of Mike & Tiff) was sober enough to drive the rest of us tired and drunk “competitors” along the windy roads out to the coast. We got there just in time to see the sunset where the Russian River meets the ocean. Greg’s dinner recommendation did not disappoint and we all enjoyed fantastically fresh food and a race recap from everyone’s perspective. Of note, the clam chowder was different and better than any I have ever had. Of course, there was more wine served as well.

We got up on Monday morning and, luckily, Greg and Kidder weren’t too sore to pack up everything from our cottages to head home. We all thanked our gracious hostess and loaded up in the Element. Melanie hadn’t trained properly for her first drink-athlon and was not feeling her best. To this I said, “Bloody mary, anyone? I like mine with a twist.”

And now you know… the rest of the story.

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Midday Snack

June 18, 2010 Fido, Food No Comments

We live on a quiet cul-de-sac, so we generally leave the sliding glass door open for Argus to come and go into the back yard as he pleases. We lock the gate so he can’t escape and he looks menacing (read: big) enough that most people won’t bother to enter the back yard while he’s there.

I was away from the house for a few hours on Tuesday. I left around 10:15 AM and got home at 2 PM. I came through the back yard and entered the house through the sliding glass door, as usual. This is what I saw:

Apparently Argus got hungry while I was away and had himself a little snack. He left a few “crumbs” as evidence.

My assumption is that this bird flew into the house by accident and Argus went crazy. You should see him chase flies! I was very reluctant to search the rest of the house — I feared droppings all over and/or the bloody remains proudly buried under the couch cushions. I was pleasantly surprised to find only one spot of bird poop on the counter. I began to wonder if perhaps the bird had made a lucky escape. However, based on Argus’ bad breath and sheepish behavior, I am pretty sure he’s guilty. At least he did a good job of cleaning up!

We feed him a raw diet so I wasn’t concerned about him being able to digest the bird, but I do believe that this has taken it a step too far!

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Less Fun Than It Sounds

June 14, 2010 Fear, Fitness, Food 1 Comment

I treated myself to a mock Olympic distance triathlon on Saturday and, much to my dismay, bonked during the run. As it turns out, calories matter. Who knew??

For those not familiar with the term, bonking basically means “hitting the wall” while engaging in endurance sports. In short, your body runs out of energy. It is not as fun as the word implies it to be, believe me! It had been a very busy and tiring week, starting with being out of town and drinking copious amounts of wine at a friend’s wedding in Florida the prior weekend. Saturday was my sixth straight day of workouts and I had done a hard 40-mile bike ride in the hills on Friday. I had a busy day and weekend ahead of me, but this training tri was important so I went for it.

I woke up early (6:30ish) and had a familiar breakfast. I didn’t want to overdo it since I’d be swimming in short order, but I knew I needed more than a banana. I opted for a corn tortilla with melted cheese, then I added black beans, half of a baked sweet potato and Cholula. I eat this often and thought I was doing myself a favor with the combination of carbs and protein. I left the house around 7 AM to set up my “transition area” at Mel’s house on the lagoon. It was a picture-perfect morning.

The swim was fine, nothing spectacular and nothing disastrous. There is a ton of new seaweed that has nearly reached the surface and that makes me feel kind of claustrophobic when I’m swimming. On the other hand, the water temp was great and there were no waves to speak of. I swam 31:40, which was a little slower than I’d hoped for because I had to deal with quite a few issues with my goggles (I’m concerned about this) and I changed course several times. I exited, got out of my wet suit and rinsed it, and headed out on my bike. I wasn’t timing transition areas, obviously.

I mentioned in a previous post that my cycling race course is entirely flat, so I opted to keep this training route flat. This forces me to work on pushing to keep my speed up and I knew I’d have a few “obstacles” in terms of pedestrians and other cyclists on the Bay Trail to keep it interesting. It was early enough (8 AM) that the trail traffic wouldn’t be horrible, and it saved me from wasting time getting through downtown San Mateo out to Crystal Springs and back. I felt very strong throughout my bike ride. My average speed was 17.1 mph, which included a few sharp turns and other weird slow-downs. On my last mock tri, I forgot to hydrate at all during the bike, so I was very proud of myself for finishing my entire FRS bottle and most of my water bottle. I paced myself to eat my AccelGel at mile 20 so it would kick in about the time I started to run. Clockwork!

I finished 25.09 miles in 1:28 and quickly transition into my running shoes, visor, and grabbed my hand-held water bottle. The first mile never feels good, so I’m not that surprised that I was pretty miserable. But at about 1.4 miles, I was really struggling. I brought it down to a fast walk and drank a lot of water, catching my breath. I was mentally beating myself up. Remember all that talk about, “I can do anything for…”? Well, it was no good on Saturday. My quads were cramping charlie-horse style. My stomach was cramping and I didn’t know which end was going to revolt first.

Bonk.

I walked 30 seconds and tried to run again, only to be plagued by more cramping. This went on for several minutes. I finished my entire bottle of water by mile 4 and I knew there were no refill opportunities. I pushed myself to run ONE-MORE-MILE and told myself I could walk back to my transition area from there, wherever that ended up being. It was ugly. It hurt. Not only was this so defeating, but I was putting myself really behind for all of the other things I needed to do that day. There was no time to be sick. Back at Mel’s, I grabbed a soda out of the fridge — it was cold and full of fast calories. I loaded my stuff up and headed home. Greg fixed me a protein smoothie while I showered and tried to put it all into perspective:

This was a very important lesson in nutrition. As often as I am “afraid” of calories, they are VITAL. Welcome them. Love them. Lesson: pack food in your jersey, even if you don’t eat it.

This was thankfully not an actual race day! I came home and the first thing I said to G was, “I am so glad I did not pay money to do that.” I would have been in tears if I had actually been trying to race against other people. As much as I thought my run at Wildflower hurt and looked bad, this would have been pure torture if people had been passing me and there was nothing I could do about it.

The battery ran out on my Garmin 405 so I have no way of knowing how slow my 10K run was. I have no way of knowing my average pace. This is a blessing.

I FINISHED. It wasn’t pretty and it felt even worse, but I finished.

Two more weeks of hard-core training before my July 4 race. One week of taper and travel. I rode 35 miles in the hills of Napa County on Sunday and took today as a rest day. Tomorrow, I hit it again.

Shake it off. And don’t make the same mistake twice.

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