Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Graciela in Portland

biker with tango master
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
Graciela Gonzalez is one of Argentina's most significant teachers of Argentine tango technique. Many tango performers and teachers have studied with her.

I first met Graciela at Nora's Tango Week (in the SF Bay Area) in 1998, back when I had only been dancing tango for one year. I liked her approach to the dance and her style of teaching, and ended up (along with Robert Hauk) inviting her to teach workshops in Portland in 1999.

Carlos Rojas organized a subsequent visit from Graciela to Portland in 2001.

I saw Graciela in Buenos Aires in early 2002, where she got up from her seat at Salon Canning (one of the nicer tango dancing venues there) and walked out to the center of the dance floor to greet me. A nice welcome to tango mecca for a gringo like me! I ended up going to her practica in San Telmo a few times, even though it wasn't on the itinerary of the tour I was on.

What I like about Graciela's teaching style is her deliberateness. Rather than bombarding you with information, she meters things a bit more slowly, allowing concepts to seep into your body more thoroughly.

Luisa Zini organized this month's visit of Graciela's to Portland. I agreed to dance a demo with her at the Thursday night milonga at Urban Grind. We danced one tanda (set) together beforehand, and then performed to Donato's "La melodia del corazon." I think it went okay. I basically tried to give her space to be expressive.

The next day I took a private lesson from her. Boy was it humbling ... but in a good way, methinks. We worked on frame, posture, turns, and calisitas. Graciela's main message to me was to "stay with my follower." (Not unlike what Chicho told me 8+ years ago!) It's like you think you're doing it, but in reality you could be doing it a lot better.

Graciela at work
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

I attended Graciela's "leaders' workshop" at Paradise Studios the next day. Wish there had been a few more guys there ... her technique is so solid ... but those who were there seemed über-appreciative.

Graciela also taught at the Sunday Afternoon Practica. Even though it's billed as an "all levels basic technique" class, the level ended up being a little higher, as she catered to the majority of people in attendance.

Cool to have Graciela in Portland! Thank you Luisa!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Desert Rivers 600K brevet: a personal victory

Don’t know if I made “Super Randonneur” status, as I was a little late to the second-to-last control in Goldendale. (I flatted 7 ½ miles out of town.) But if Matt from Seattle finished in 39 hours and 57 minutes, then I finished in 39 hours and 58 minutes. And that was after I took a wrong turn from Hwy 97 to Hwy 14 before realizing The Dalles was the other way.

I have never worked as hard on a bicycle as I did on that 7½-mile approach to Goldendale, and then again on the rolling 17-mile stretch of Hwy. 14 approaching The Dalles. Nothing engages the endorphins like meeting a deadline in an incredibly strong headwind. The fact that my knees supported that effort amazes me.

And that I was still riding at all, close enough to finishing on time to even think about “going for it,” was a personal victory.

This was my 3rd attempt at a 600k brevet.

First two attempts

The first try (Hot Springs & Dune, June 2007) ended at the overnight control in Newberg with knees that would no longer pedal. This DNF could be attributed to a bike fitting the week prior, which left me using muscles not accustomed to long distances.

The 2nd attempt (SIR Four Passes, June 2008) ended in Selah, WA (outside Yakima) with too much exhaustion and soreness to continue. I think sleep deprivation was the main factor in that DNF.

But that didn’t address the general soreness I feel when riding over 200k. Just 3 weeks ago I experienced a bunch of knee pain that slowed me down on a 150-mile ride. This left me less than über-confident about my chances of finishing the Desert Rivers 600k. But dangit, I was sure gonna give it my best shot …

… which meant a lot more mental preparation and planning than is my nature.

Rewind a few years

About 8 or 9 years ago, I took a private Argentine tango lesson from a hot shot teacher from Buenos Aires. After complementing me on some facet of my dance improvisation, she said, “But Bill, sometimes you need a plan!” She was talking about tango, but she could have been talking about almost any facet of my life.

I was more up for the Desert Rivers 600k than any brevet to date, at least mentally. And I planned. I scheduled time off from work on the previous Friday and made a point to sleep in. I commuted over the Sylvan Hill (between Portland and Beaverton) four days during the prior week to keep my legs active. I had my cleat angles re-adjusted a week before. In other words, I took a little more control over the things I could.

I guess planning doesn’t guarantee success. But lack thereof inhibits it on a ride of this magnitude. A 600k is just too challenging for someone of my riding ability to take lightly. Sure, I had ways of not feeling devastated if I DNF’d (again). After all, there were quite a few wild cards to deal with (knees, wind, etc.)


I planned on the first day to stay inside myself, and not to try to keep up with anybody. I wanted to be able to ride on day two (from Richland), even if it wasn’t all the way back to the finish.

So that’s exactly what I did. I lost sight of all riders well before crossing the Columbia River. There were 2 guys started a little later than me; they both passed me on the bridge before Hwy 14. This was going to be another solo brevet.

The Ride: Day One

Seven hours and 104 miles into the brevet, I arrived at the 3rd control in Umatilla. That was an
unbelievably fast time for me to do century. “Is this what it feels like to be
Del?,” I wondered. But then I realized that the tailwind shortened everybody’s times significantly. A girl at the Subway deli estimated the previous rider was 40 minutes ahead. Before I left Umatilla, Chuck Hoffman arrived (on his Surly Long Haul Trucker). Said he overslept through two alarms (that’susually my trick) and got a ½ hour late start. I left Umatilla feeling pretty sure he would catch me again before Pendleton. But I didn’t see him again.

lotsa liquids!
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Reith Road
(between Hermiston and Pendleton) was for me the scenic highlight of the brevet. There are train tracks that parallel much of the road, and at one point, a freight train flushed out a whole bunch of deer onto the road right in front of me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough with my camera. The deer didn’t seem to at all intimidated by the wildly honking train whistle … they were much more engaged watching a solo bicyclist.

Reith Road ...
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

I never saw a “Blue Mountain Express Fuel” control in Pendleton, so I continued an extra half mile to a Dairy Queen, where I poured some coffee over the smallest size ice cream I could buy (infant’s size, methinks). Spent $1.75 there.

It was raining and dark by the time I arrived at the Holdman info control, but the weather mostly dried up by Hermiston. Bought two Odwalla drinks at the Safeway control, drank one, emptied the other into a water bottle.

In some aspects, the most difficult part of the brevet for me was the 12½-mile ascent up Plymouth Road. I had none of the adrenaline working for me that kicked in the next day … it was just a long, tedious, uphill ride in the dark with no visual end in sight.

The eventual descent on Clodfelter Road was fun (although I may have worn down some brake pads a bit). I missed the Interstate crossing and Leslie Road, though, and ended up making a detour through Kenewick. Amazingly, I was eventually able to find Richland and the Days Inn with the help of a convenience store clerk and two policemen.

I arrived at the Richland control well after 2:00 AM. Paul Whitney said “you’re all even now!” Yeah, with a lot less potential sleep than everyone else. Nevertheless, I think it was good for him to say that, as I ended up not feeling tired on day two with just the one hour of sleep. (I think this is where my sleeping in the previous Friday morning paid off.)

Before my nap, I took a bath to soak my thighs, and then applied two heat wraps to them. Philippe Andre had helped me purchase these heat wraps 15 months earlier in Stayton during the Hot Springs & Dunes 600k. These heat wraps didn’t seem to help much at all during that painful ride back to Newberg in June ’07, but they sure seemed to work on this brevet! I kept them on the whole 2nd day … didn’t remove them till my shower in The Dalles.

Day Two

The 2nd day was amazing for me … particularly for how much I was able to stand in the pedals. I don’t know how much was attributable to the cleat adjustments, or to the heat wraps. But being able to keep going up those hills and into those headwinds was surprising. I knew 600k would be challenging, but not this challenging. And to still be pushing it on Hwy 14 at 9:30 PM against those headwinds back to The Dalles was … well … oddly exhilarating.

I started at 5:30 AM with Cecil, Sal, and Andrew, but fell off their pace soon after leaving Richland (with their three bright red DiNote taillights pulling away). Later in the day, I passed them as Andrew and Sal were having issues with flats.

I used Starbucks for the control in Prosser, and an independent convenience store in Sunnyside. This area of Washington is a big wine-producing region, but this brevet was not a “Tour D Vines,” although there were quite a few hop fields and vineyards to be seen between Sunnyside and Mabton, and beyond.

Originally uploaded by tangobiker

It’s beyond Mabton where the brevet got interesting, with a nice, big, winding ascent to Bickleton. It was here along
Glade Road that Cecil caught up with me, then after a while, charged on ahead.

Cecil ...
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

For some reason, I thought Goldendale would be lower in elevation than Bickleton. If it is, it sure didn’t feel like it. Relentless false summits and headwinds is all we encountered. No wonder Cecil was worried about making the Goldendale 6:20pm control in time way back around
2:00. I was blissfully unaware of the Goldendale control time, only conscious of the 10:00 finish time in The Dalles. Nonetheless, my legs were still hanging in there, and I was on track to make Goldendale on time, when “psssssst.” A big gouge in my rear tire.

Sal passed me, and later Andrew, as I fixed my flat. Narayan caught up and announced that we weren’t gonna make Goldendale on time. And I (with naïve optimism) said “sure we will!” … and took off like a mad man. I still thought there might be a sizeable descent into Goldendale. But the descent wasn’t that sizeable, and what there was was well disguised by the wind.

The effort I put into the 7½-mile approach to Goldendale was like doing a time trial that meant something to you, or a 15 kilometer event at the velodrome … with no drafting. As I passed the 1-mile marker heading into town, my watch said 6:20. The cashier at the control wrote 6:25 on my brevet card.

Sal and I left Goldendale at the same time, but then I had to make some minor wardrobe adjustments. He’s a fast enough rider that it was a real effort to catch him. Having done so a few miles down the road, we tried doing the mini-paceline thing, but I was still worn out from my sprint into Goldendale, and let him go.

I was still on track to make The Dalles on time, except I made the mistake of believing the “L” on the cue-sheet, and forgetting that The Dalles is actually West of Hwy 97. Fortunately, I caught my mistake about half mile into it. Unfortunately, the return to Hwy 14 West required an additional difficult ascent into the hills above the Columbia River. And then there were the continuous 17 miles of rollers into the headwind … in the dark … with 18-wheelers buzzing by. Clearly there were some motorists who didn’t think I belonged there. Perhaps they were right. Not the passenger in the white pickup with two huskies in back, though, who yelled “fagot” (And Washington is the highest rated bike-riding state in the country?) I put in the same kind of effort on this stretch of road that I did on the approach to Goldendale, and amazingly, my knees still held up.

I guess there were 3 other cyclists who turned left onto Hwy. 14, Sal among them. He might have caught up with Cecil had he gone straight to The Dalles. As it was, I was fast asleep in the Motel 6 check-in room when he arrived.

After those 17 miles, the bridge back towards The Dalles is thankfully downhill, and it seemed as though 10:00 was still make-able. Of course, the Motel 6 was much farther West than I remembered from 39½ hours earlier. Around this time, Matt from Seattle caught up with me, and we foraged our way towards and down 6th Street. Matt was able to churn a bigger gear on his new Surly Pacer than me, and led the way the last few blocks to the finish.

Thanks to Paul Whitney and the volunteers for putting on this ride, for finding such cool roads, and for the encouragement. Next time, though, they need to be given access to the wind machines’ breaker switch!

Matt's blog
Cecil's blog
Andrew's blog
Narayan's blog
Sal's blog
my flickr set (9 photos)

Monday, September 22, 2008

What does one think about on a 375-mile bicycle ride?

This question was posed to me about a week before embarking on the Oregon Randonneurs Summer 600km brevet. And for the first half of the ride (18 hours), I spent time thinking about what I was thinking about.

It occurred to me that a cyclist could make significant headway into authoring a novel if he/she was properly wired to a dictaphone-type machine. The inspiring scenery coupled with the constant churning of legs allows one to reflect on a lot of life experiences, which can metamorphose into phases, sentences, and even paragraphs (in the rider's head). Could these narratives become interesting to anyone else? Hmmm.

On other rides, I've dissected many life decisions. I've catalogued most of the things I would do differently ... let's say within about the last 30 years ... if given the opportunity. Kinda like practicing extended solo psychiatry.

But on this ride, I created a blog. Not a blog entry about the brevet (that’ll come later), but a blog itself. What will it look like? What should I name it?

After many hours in the saddle, I came up with “rändo adagio.” With the obvious nod to long-distance cycling, the added umlaut is meant to encourage a pronunciation closer “rondo,” which relates to my previous life as a musician. “Adagio” reflects my natural gait as a cyclist (relative to other cyclists), be it at the velodrome, doing cyclocross, road racing (ha ha), or randonneuring. (I usually lose sight of other cyclists after the first turn or mile of whatever event.) The irony here is that the rondo form in music is generally known for its brisk character.

Randonneuring is a very conducive to journal writing, methinks, hence the many "blogified" brevets on the internet. Ironically, I stopped blogging soon after I started cycling over 3 years ago.

But I do like journalizing. And with the just-finished epic 600K on my brain (and the pain still in my legs), my re-entry into blogville commences.