Saturday, August 19, 2017

NORWAY = NO WAY!!

You know that feeling when you walk on to a beach, your toes sink in to the warm sand, your eyes become mesmerized and instantly calmed by the blue water, and the breeze, always the perfect temperature, blows over your shoulders taking all of your worries with it?  That’s how I felt 15 min after leaving the Oslo airport; granted, the scenery is drastically different then a beachy island and the people are walking around in puffy jackets instead of bikinis, and I grew up in the mountains, so maybe my nostalgia for home attributed to this feeling, but I was instantly calm.  Oh, and I think the rental car I have helps to.  I have a Volvo CX60 SUV, an upgrade due to the amount of driving I would be doing and the amazing salesman at Hertz. Wish I had used his name to retain it in my sleep deprived, jet lagged brain.  He was fantastic, friendly, helpful, and helped with the above mentioned feeling of calm, or at least getting me off on the right foot, or rather wheels.



The “highways” that I drove on were 1 lane in each direction with a posted speed limit of 80 and although the roads twist and turn enough to keep you awake, there is no opportunity to pass, so it feels like everyone sets their car on cruise control, sits back, and enjoys the views, which wrap around you!  That might not actually be the case, as I discovered that I had rented a self-driving car, and an automatic (feels weird, I drive a stick 99.9% of the time at home and on the road).  So, this self driving thing is really cool, if a car slows down in front of me, the car automatically slows down too, keeping the safe distance of 3 sec. (I timed it, and is twice what I would give at home).  The car is so smooth, and because it keeps the same distance, I was rather oblivious to speed changes and spent my time oohing and awhing at the lakes, mountains, forests, and blue skies.  I had a few goals this trip and one was to get a picture of blue sky in Norway – in all my research I had come across very few pictures of blue skies here.  I was off to a fantastic start!




My first night was in a ski lodge place, or rather hiking lodge since it’s summer.  It was up a 9 km climb with beautiful views of the valley, vegetation growing on it’s roof (a Norwegian thing, I need to look up why), a Norwegian field hockey rink, and a fresh breeze.  I opened the window, relished in the cool, fresh, clean, crisp air, that would normally invigorate, but spooned me in love and happy childhood memories as I promptly fell asleep, for 12 hours.


The next day was the reason I was here, to ride in the montains.  Geiranger is a popular tourist destination, and I thought it was a mountain, a fjord.  Clearly I hadn’t done much research, all I had really done to prep for this trip was research places to ride, cool hotels to stay in, and … nope, that was it.  I turned on to route (highway?) 63 and was immediately impressed and inspired.  The mountain views, rocky landscape, and water collections where draw dropping.  The road was quiet and I enjoyed every moment.   




 Once over the apex, the other side was completely different in landscape, with more vegetation and definitely more people; then the last kilometres in to the town of Geiranger (who knew it was a town and a mountain?!) become littered with tourists.  Although I had lost my solitude and quiet, it was pretty cool to share the amazement with others, and to see the ships pulling in to the town.  My family, the Tulissi Six, will be arriving by ship next week in to this town and I am excited to approach via water, offering a completely different perspective on the landscape, and how small we are in comparison.



The climb out of Geiranger was fantastic and one of the best things about riding is you can stop any time to take a picture, which you can’t do in a car or bus, maybe a boat?  You also discover so many more gems by bike, the views are better as there are no blind spots (roof, door frames), you are traveling at a slower speed, and you can hear and smell things that make you stop and take notice.  I had stopped at one point to take a picture and realized there was a heard of goats beside me.  I started talking to them, as you do, and next thing I knew there was a stampede towards me, a happy one; I felt pretty special, one might say even like a celebrity with all these goats crowded at the gate, stepping on each other to see who I was.  It definitely lifted my spirits.



From there it was down to the ferry, well, to be truthful, a little past the ferry to where I had parked my car, and along a road that hugged the water and offered a very beautiful experience as fishing boats and kayaks floated along.  I have to say, I was disappointed with the ferry, it was a car ferry with a short shuttle, much like Picton to Adolphustown for the Ontarians reading, but the sides are so high that you can’t see anything!  Bummer.


Once across the water it was a hunt to find my hotel, a hotel that I was most looking forward to and one that I wish I could stay at for more then one night.  Unfortunately, my schedule and theirs did not allow for a longer say, so I will just have to come back, as should all of you.  The Juvet Landscape hotel quickly became one of my favourite places on earth.  I stayed in the birdhouse, one of their cottages; this one nestled in the trees.  The windows go from floor to ceiling, so you feel like you are in a tree, there is a single bed and bathroom on the one level and a loft to sleep in up a ladder.  And the floors are heated!  I spent my time on the floor and have decided that heated floors are fantastic!   But enough about the room, the views I will leave for you to discover in pictures below, and on to the food.






Dinner was a set menu, at community tables, which I was thankful for.  As a single traveler, in a small hotel, I appreciate the opportunity to sit and visit with other guests.  Our table had couples from London, Portugal, and Shanghai and we enjoyed getting to know each other.  The company was good, but the food was fantastic!  We started with beef tartare plated with a mild wasabi brie type cheese and beets, a plate that brought my taste buds to attention and saluted.  A ginger carrot soup that had my whole mouth doing a happy dance. I wish I could remember all the herbs, every dish had a locally grown herb used in a unique way.  Dinner was a cod fish with vegetable rage, delicious!  Dessert, what a surprise I had for dessert with local raspberries, meringues, what I thought was ice cream but was the most delicious, in taste and texture, cream, and blueberry ice cream, made with local, wild, blueberries and unlike anything I have tasted before.  I’m sorry I don’t have pictures, as I had left my phone/camera in my room in order to be a polite guest.  I deeply regret that, the presentation was stunning.  Instead, here are pictures of the view from the hotel's communal area.





The next day I embarked by bike for the REAL reason I was here, the Trollstigen. There have been several videos and articles in cycling publications about this climb, and I will keep my review short.  None of them give this climb any kind of justice to what it is like to being there in person.  I can only imagine how much more stunning it would be if the sky was blue; I think it would make me pass out.

I started from Valldalen, most of the stuff I watched and read started on the other side.  But I think the way I did it is better, and I’ll explain in a bit.  My ride began with 26 km uphill, not that steep, but up, and I stopped a lot, not because I needed to, but because there was something eye-catching that I wanted a picture of. I learned quickly, that when I stopped I also needed to look behind me; the view behind me was often more breathtaking then the reason I had chosen to stop.  Who knew there were so many different blues?  Who knew water created so many shapes?  Who knew waterfalls came in so many different sizes?  All of this was in abundance on the way up, and it is the other side that people talk about.









When I got to the top of the climb and started to descent it was only a few hundred feet before I had to stop. My chin had dropped to my ankles, my smile had swallowed my ears. A few hundred feet more and I had to stop again and this time I just started to laugh … and laugh and laugh.  Tom Wilson, if you are reading this, I thought of you as I think your reaction would be the same as mine.  What originally made me stop was the beauty of the waterfalls, and the surroundings in general.  What made me laugh was that you could see the road below, directly below you, all 7 km of it, wound like intestines and directly below your feet.  I was on an out and back ride, what I went down I had to ride up, and looking down it made the ride up look impossible.  And this is why I think starting at the top is better then starting at the bottom, it doesn’t have the same effect if you start at the bottom.





 



Normally, when faced with a descent, my goal is to get down as fast as I can.  Not for any reason other then I like the feel of speed, I may have a need for speed, as I showed later when I drove the same route (summits come way faster at 100 km/hr!).  But the descent of the Trollstigen is a descent that should be savoured, one in which to battle gravity and say no, no, no, the magic and beauty of this place needs to be absorbed in to my memory forever, not one detail, nor an inch, is to be passed without acknowledging how special it is.  Unfortunately this can not be caught on camera, and definitely was not caught on my iPhone, which leads to only one conclusion, you all need to come and experience this yourself, by bike.  The experience in the bike was way better then the car – but both are pretty damn good.  Following is the Col Collective video of this climb.



I am happy to say, that the climb up was very doable, dare I say easy?  Maybe because I was expecting it be worse?  I did laugh a maniacal laugh at the bottom when I realized that the cars looked to be driving vertically up the mountain; I got a bit scared at that point, but turns out it was only 9%! No problem! 


Can you see the red bus?  Looks like it's launching to the moon!
This is hands down the best climb I have done in my life, and when I am sad I will dream of riding this climb over and over and over and it will make me smile every time.

Tomorrow I pick up the Tulissi Five to complete the Tulissi Six and the bike will go in to storage until I am back in September.  I’ll write 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Rain, Rain, Go Away ....

Seems like this spring we have had more rain then we are used to.  We have definitely had more people slide out on the wet pavement then any other year; so I think it's time for some tips to stay upright and safe in the rain.

But before we go too far, just a reminder that Cycling Centre workouts don't get cancelled due to rain.  For starters, I think it's important to practice riding in all conditions, especially if you plan to race or participate in events.  But even if you don't, you never know when you might get stuck riding in the rain, and like all things, the more you practice, the better and more confident you'll be.




So lets start from the bottom up.

Road Surface:  The first minutes when the rain starts to fall is when it is most slick.  Oil and dust mix with moisture making it more slippery.  Once this first layer washes away then it is not as slippery.  Paint and metal (man hole covers, bridges) are also like ice in the rain and should be avoided.  Be extremely cautious on freshly paved roads as well, they really are like riding on ice.

Tire Pressure:  If the forecast is calling for rain then ride at a lower tire pressure, above the minimum listed on your tire, but close to it.  For most road tires this will be around 80 psi and will provide more surface area and grip which is helpful on wet roads.  To learn more about tire pressure and what psi you should pump your tires to check out this link.

Clothing:  Rain jackets are helpful in staying dry, but don't breathe, trapping in the moisture we create from working hard.  When the temperatures are warmer you might be more comfortable, temperature wise, without a rain jacket.  If it is spitting or drizzling, a wind jacket is often enough to protect you against the moisture.  Glasses will help protect your eyes against road debris that flies up in the rain, but also limits visibility by dirtying the lenses.  As the skies darken it also becomes harder to see with glasses.  Putting in clear or lighter lenses (yellow) is a good idea, or sometimes taking your glasses off and putting them in a safe place is best.



Visibility:  If you are having difficulty seeing, then drivers are too.  Bright coloured clothing and lights help make your presence known.  Also ride more in the lane of traffic as puddles form near the curbs, storm drains get backed up, and drivers are not expecting cyclists on the road.  If you can, avoid puddles as you don't know if there are pot holes, branches, or other obstacles hiding underneath waiting to do damage.  If you are riding with others, then stagger if you can so the wash from the wheel in front doesn't hit you in face decreasing your visibility and bringing up dirt and stones that might hurt on impact.

If it is raining so hard that you can't see across the street then it is best to pull over, seek shelter, and wait for the storm to ease up.  This also gives you a chance to better know your training mates and make new friends.



Braking:  Wheel braking surfaces will be affected by road grime as it collects on the rim.   This results in weaker braking ability, grinding noises, and "stickiness".  Create more distance between you and others, feather the brakes, break sooner.  If you have a carbon braking surface then it will take you much longer to come to a stop then when they are dry, be prepared.  Do some practice braking when it starts to get wet so you get a sense of how different your bike slows. Here is a video with some good visuals.


Turning:  Your bike likes to go straight, in wet and dry.  So as long as your wheels stay in alignment then you will most likely stay upright.  Most falls happen in turns or due to braking.  When turning in wet, make sure you brake before the turn, when you start to turn you should be able to release the brakes, so enter the corner at a speed slower then you normally would, release the brakes, look where you want to go, and lean instead of turn.  What I mean by that is keep your wheels in alignment, weight on your outside foot and lean on the inside hand instead of turning your front wheel.  Turning a wheel, braking, and too much speed lead to falls.  If the turn is tight and you have to turn the front wheel, then do so at a slow and calculated speed.

Post Ride:  After every wet and dirty ride it is important to wash your bike.  Dirt and grime get in to all kind of places where they can do damage when it is wet, which causes friction, awful sounds, and damage.  To make it simple,  riding a dirty bike costs you money in maintenance and parts, and it makes you go slower.  If you do't have time for a full wash, at least hose down your bike and wipe off the chain and moving parts after the ride, and re-lube, do a 5 minute bike clean.  Then schedule in to your calendar time to correctly wash your bike.  Here is a video to show you how.

Chances are your shoes got soaked too.  Stuff newspaper tightly in to your shoes.  Then before you go to bed replace the paper with dry paper sheets and place on a heating vent.  Your shoes should be dry in the morning.    If your shoes get stinky you can wash them in the washing machine with towels (to protect the washer), but let them air dry or do the paper trick.  Putting them in the dryer can lead to shrinkage.


Practice riding in the rain, take it slow, stay visible, stay upright and safe.  We didn't talk about the benefits of riding in the rain, but one is the opportunity to find a pot of gold.

Keep the rubber side down.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

UP, UP AND AWAY

Today's common question was, "my back hurts, is that normal?"  We are on week 3 of building on-the-bike strength; which means big gears, low cadence.  We have done work on our own, pulling partners up hills, and today did 20 repeats of a small hill in different gears, standing and seated.  So why are the lower backs sore?




Well, if you are seated and climbing, or pedalling at a low cadence in a big gear, it would be an indication that you are not using your glutes or proper pedalling technique.  Since you don't know how to activate your glutes you move your shoulders and body instead, pulling your back in the process.  Or, you use your hamstrings longer then needed, which pulls on the lower back.  Here is a diagram illustrating which muscles need to be used when:

Today we did more standing stuff, so if your core and/or upper body are weak, then you'll recruit your back muscles when they are not needed.  Or, if you are resisting a movement, or struggling with the technique, then you'll be moving inefficiently, and ineffectively, which can lead to soreness and injury.  Your core will be engaged, your body should be relaxed, and it's the synchronicity of the body and bike that move you up the hill fluidly.  Here's a pretty good example of how the body stays in one spot, the bike rocks, using your bike to maximize forward movement.

video

So what can you do to prevent back pain?  
Step 1: Get a proper bike fit done, and keep going back to the fitter until all fine tuning is done.
Step 2:  Work on correct muscle activation for the full pedal stroke.
Step 3: Build core strength and stability.  Here are some suggestions of exercises to do.

Ride on, ride straight, ride strong.


Monday, September 19, 2016

COL DU GLANDON, LANCETS DES MONTVERNIER, COL DU CHAUSSY, AND COL DE LA MADELEINE

As I'm writing this post, all I can hear is laughter from our group, a group that is getting along well and sharing in triumphs and suffering. 

Earlier today, we rode the Col du Glandon, a 20 km climb that averages 7% through a stunning valley before reaching the "top of the world". The scenery was breathtaking, the incline challenging, and the summit a much deserved reward! 





Col du Glandon finally gave us amazing views of Mont Blanc.
Rush hour on Col du Glandon.
Some had more energy then others at the top.

From there we climbed another 2.5 km to the Col de la Croix de Fer, had lunch and enjoyed a long descent. We then split in to different groups with one climbing up and down the Lancets des Montvernier, another continuing on to the Col de Chaussy, and another couple of masochistic riders summiting the Col de Madeleine. 


The Lancets des Montvernier gained popularity when it was featured in the 2015 Tour de France.  At only 3.8 km, it has 18 switchbacks and the view leading up to it looks like laces, hence the name.  The inside was all rock, the outside a big drop to the bottom, the road was narrow, and the experience was pretty cool.

 

The group that continued on to the Col du Chaussy experienced what might well have been one of the most beautiful descents of the week, after climbing another 10 km.  Not overly technical, it was winding and fun, with views that went on forever.  The word views has been used a lot in describing this trip, but it feels like every time we turn we are rewarded with another spectacular view.  Suppose it's one of the rewards of climbing up mountains.





Two brave souls tackled the Col de la Madeleine; digging in deep and using all of their resources.  Sharing a jar of pickle juice to refill their electrolyte losses, they mustered just enough strength to summit.












It was a pretty epic day with 6-8 hours on the saddle. After a quick dip and some cannonballs in the fountain, everyone shared stories of highlights and struggle while eating our pizza dinner.  The bond over a Col is a strong one.