Tour of California Day 1 / Stage 8

Our group, plus one journalist (not me). I'm somewhere hiding in the back. :-) Photo: Jeremy Dunn

Our group, plus one journalist (not me). I’m somewhere hiding in the back. :-) Photo: Jeremy Dunn

It’s a rather long story about how this came about, but on Monday I embarked with five other Rapha ambassadors on a mission to ride the stages of Tour of California, for which I have been training for about two weeks (!). If you are a cycling fan, you’re laughing your chamois off. If you’re not a cycling fan, watch the video below. Then pretend you own a pair of lycra shorts with a big pillow in the crotch, and that you are laughing them off.

One of the biggest cycling races in the United States, this 8-day stage race starts in Sacramento and makes its way to Los Angeles, covering around 750 miles in stages that include multiple-lap loops, point-to-point races, and an individual time trial. It is  We’re riding it in reverse order, from L.A. to Sacramento, in 7 days (skipping the TT). We are not racing. We are riding it to experience a race course open exclusively to male pros, and to inspire women across the country to try something that scares them.

Tour of California Stage 8

Tour of California Stage 8

Today’s ride was a 20-ish-mile loop with 2,000 or so feet of climbing (this ride profile didn’t exactly match what our Garmins reported). We rode it four times for a total of 80 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing (I’m rounding here).

The first lap, I was nervous. It was flat, then rolling hills, and then a long sustained climb, as you can see in the elevation profile above. You wonder what’s around each blind curve, and on every climb you think, “When will it end?” The last pitch was the toughest, but after a false summit and another climb came a swooping, roller-coastery descent that gave me an involuntary pie-eating grin and a fit of the giggles. I mean, I think I swallowed a bug because I was laughing.

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The second lap felt better than the first. The third lap, I thought, “I’ve got another lap in me!” The fourth lap hurt. And on the steepest pitch of the long climb, the filmmakers who are producing a film about our journey drove right in front of me and my riding partner, probably zooming in on the involuntary lip twitch that happens when I’m in the Pain Cave. These short films are one of the reasons I love Rapha, because it is just as much about storytelling as it is about being the Prada of road riding apparel. If you haven’t seen them, here’s one of my favorites, about a ride in Yunnan, China.

Follow us in real time on Facebook, Instagram (@kimhcross, @mmcyclist, @raelambo, @abbylwatson, @bikebeth, @krasniakjulie, and @rapha_n_america) and Twitter (@kimhcross, @rapha_n_america) – more handles later. Rushing to breakfast!

Beth Strickland (front) and Rachael Lambert tackle a climb on Rockstore.

Beth Strickland (front) and Rachael Lambert tackle a climb on Rockstore.

 

 

Rapha Ambassador Camp

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This past weekend, Rapha flew 14 women from around the country to Los Angeles for Ambassador Camp. Most of the details were a mystery, but we were told that we would be discussing the state of women’s cycling in our respective communities and nationwide. And wearing a lot of what I describe to non-cyclist friends as “The Prada of Cycling.” Rapha always tells a story, and titled this adventure “The Calling,” because that is what we all feel for this pedal-powered lifestyle.10153713_10152723700821982_1749511666_n

We convened upon a ridiculously fabulous house in Pacific Palisades that was big enough for 14 ambassadors, plus their bikes, as well as photographers, handlers, chefs, mechanics, and one dedicated SAG specialist. This house, we learned, was used for the filming of Germany’s Top Model. In addition to a pool and in-ground trampoline, it had a little feature that let you swim under the house:

We brainstormed ways to get more women on bikes in our communities and learned about sports nutrition and each other. 1920015_10152721474101982_1924040037_n

And, we rode our bikes. We cruised down the beach path through Santa Monica, to gather with locals at Bike Effect for the “Rapha ride.” We had at least 60 people join us. We even had a our own “SAG Monkey” on a motorcycle, there to refill our water bottles, take our wind jackets, and fuss at riders who pinched us into rocky corners. 1959853_10152658196655968_1300754494_n

 

Next, 6 of us are riding the Tour of California, stage by stage, in reverse order. That’s 750 miles in 7 days. Stay tuned.

AWOL

I miss my Iron Tribe.

A year ago, when I started Operation Iron Tribe, I did not think I would say this. And six months ago, when my deadline for posting final results came and went, I was too overwhelmed to realize that I would. Now, in the moments of reflection that pool together at the end of every year, I’m finally ready to write this post.

First, an apology to ITF and everyone who took interest in this project. I failed miserably in meeting my self-imposed June deadline for posting final results. Few things irritate me as much as when people flake out. The one thing that makes me angrier is when I do it myself.

Not as an excuse, but as context: June 2013 found me overwhelmed. I quit my full-time magazine job that month to make a leap of faith into freelance writing—a goal I set more than a year before and finally felt ready to realize. Three days into self employment, my book proposal went to auction in New York and landed a publisher. In the first six weeks, I reported, wrote, or edited 13 stories—filing at least two from a mountaintop during a 3-day Bicycling magazine assignment on the Colorado Trail. And then I plunged into the research and reporting of a book whose story is all-consuming: a narrative nonfiction account of the worst tornado outbreak in the history of recorded weather.

I started riding my bike again. I realized how much I had missed it in the six months of training solely via Iron Tribe. I learned that I was stronger for it, and more balanced physically and perhaps even emotionally.

The deadline lurked and festered in my subconscious. In my new freelance life, there was always a paying story that had to come first, making it easy to justify putting this off. Now, even as I write this, I have an edit, three stories, and a book chapter due in January. But it’s time to clean the slate and fulfill the promises of 2013.

So: Before year’s end, look for the results. I have to go back through weeks of notes and study the before-during-after test numbers first. But here’s my first step in seeing it through.

Happy Holidays.

The Naysayer: Bring-a-Friend Day

IMG_1416At our house, Fast Eddie (aka The Naysayer) and I have a rule: Can’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. This goes for our 5-year-old son and new foods as well as adventures and new experiences, from running a marathon to zydeco dance lessons. In that vein, he agreed to come to Iron Tribe with me on Bring-a-Friend Day.

When we arrived, I introduced him to my friend Ruth, from my Iron Tribe 101 class. She went on to place second in the 40-Day Transformation Challenge, performance-gain division. She can lift really heavy things.

“Ah, The Naysayer,” she said, giving him a knowing nod.

“Uh oh,” Fast Eddie said. “I feel like Im walking into enemy territory.”

“Thats OK,” Ruth said “The cult is pretty welcoming.”

I then introduced him to Antonio, my pal from the YMCA, where he previously worked as a personal trainer. We’d chat in the weight room after my 5:30 am Spinning class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Antonio became an ITF coach not long ago and is one of my favorites, always ready with a well-delivered technique tip or a joke or a shot of encouragement — whichever I seem to need most at that moment.

“Once you drink the Kool-Aid you’ll be coming back!” Antonio told Fast Eddie.

“Two minutes!” Eddie said. “It only took them TWO MINUTES to push the Kool-Aid!”

“Yeah,” Antonio said. “It’s in the water fountains. We put it in the food…”

I handed my camera to Damaris, the Office Manager of the downtown branch, who is proof that strength and beauty are not mutually exclusive. (Her name rhymes with “glamorous.”) I looked at the WOD and picked up the 45-pound “male” bar. (The “women’s” bar is 35 pounds.) I wanted to make sure The Naysayer didn’t get cheated out of the full experience.

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Partner WOD:

As many reps as possible of the following circuit:
* Run 200m
* 35 presses, 45-pound bar (men) or 35-pound bar (women)
* 25 wall ball shots, 14-pound ball (men) or 10-pound ball (women)
* 15 burpees

Note: 1 round = 75 reps.
Post total reps. Both partners run. One partner works on the triplet while the other rests. Partition any way you like.

Three. Two. One. Go!

A 45-pound bar doesn’t look like much–just an empty bar with no weights. But lift that puppy over your head a few hundred times and you’ll want to cry Uncle. That is, until you meet wall balls.

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Wall balls are a particularly insidious invention, particularly for those of us who avoided ball sports at all costs. Requiring a weighted medicine ball (usually 20 pounds for men, 14 pounds for women), a wall ball is basically a full squat followed by an upward explosion and a thrust of the medicine ball toward a target on the wall (8 feet for women, 10 feet for men). You must then catch the heavy-ass falling ball, which feels like catching large watermelon hucked at your face by a lumberjack. If you have the hand-eye coordination that I do, sometimes it hits you in the face.

By the third round, The Naysayer’s arms were quivering like noodles and he was exhibiting a textbook WODface. My arms were quivering, too, but I was smiling through the WODface. It was well worth the pain to be, for once, “right.”
We fell well behind the power couple we had been chasing. (The ones using the — ahem — 35-pound bar.) Ah, humility.

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Fast Eddie was a good sport, I have to admit, willing to walk into Enemy Territory and try the Kool-Aid and all. We got our butts kicked, but there’s nothing more motivating to Eddie than a dose of humiliation. Still, he refused to say the phrase that would save marriages, friendships, and maybe the world, if spouses would only learn it: “I was wrong. Dead wrong. And I see that now.”

“It was about what I expected,” he said. “My point was never that it isn’t hard or that it wouldn’t make you stronger. I just don’t think it’s more effective than traditional endurance training for the things we do.”

Fair enough. And we’ll see.

Damaris elbowed me later and whispered, “You used the 45 LB bar!”

“Yep.” I said. “I wanted to make sure he suffered. Even if that meant I had to suffer a little more.”

Later, our friend Martin (The Believer) texted The Naysayer to see how it went. Their conversation went something like this:

Believer: So, how did you like Bring-a-Friend Day?

Naysayer: If that’s what you do to your friends, I don’t even want to think about what you do to your enemies!

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ESPN Debut

How it’s Done from mary lou davis on Vimeo.

Last Friday, my debut feature on ESPN went live. It’s a 4,000-word story I wrote, more or less for my own catharsis, to find meaning in failure, to make sense of the most disappointing race I have ever, as an athlete in any sport, endured.

The lesson I learned was far more inspiring than the loss was disappointing:

Sometimes what you learn from losing is even sweeter than winning.

Read it here, and watch the video by my talented and creative friend Mary Lou Davis. If you like it, please “like it” on Facebook (or add a comment to the story), so ESPN will be encouraged to assign more of this type of feature to writers with a poignant story to tell.

Behind the Scenes: Southern Singletrack in BIKE Magazine (July 2013 issue)

Photo: Reuben Krabbe, article by Kristin Butcher, courtesy BIKE magazine

Photo: Reuben Krabbe, article by Kristin Butcher, courtesy BIKE magazine

Check out the July issue of BIKE magazine to see a 9-page feature story on Alabama singletrack by Southern-born, Colorado-based writer Kristin Butcher and Canadian outdoor photographer Reuben Krabbe. They stayed at Casa Cross-Freyer during their reporting/shooting trip to ‘Bama. We plied them with every authentic Southern food and fat-tire experience we could think of, from mud-bugs to freeze-dried okra to hula-hooping, trails-riding, gourd-banjo-making friends. They loved all of it. (Or at least convincingly pretended to.)

In planning the shoot, they asked for local “bomber-style riders” to be in the pics. I scratched my head, because I knew only two—trials-talented Chuck Lewis, and huckster Karl Peters. Which made me realize how very cross-country we are here (but that may be changing…) I asked if I could come along for the ride and do my best to stay out of the shot and not get in the way. It was one of the few times I’ve been on my bike these past 6 months, because I’ve been training exclusively through Iron Tribe.

In my nine years of travel writing/editing, I’ve learned how to be a good assistant on shoots, which can entail everything from holding reflectors to microwaving a water-soaked tampon to create a steamy mug for a cozy winter shot (a food stylist taught me this). On this BIKE shoot, it meant holding branches out of the way and pinning down young saplings with stones…then releasing them after Reuben nailed the shot. Sometimes, from the top of a tree…

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Reuben is a young phenom who shoots skiing all winter and cycling all summer and loves to go for really challenging shots, like a back-country night skiing shot lit by Aurora Borealis. He shoots bad-ass bomber riders, a category to which I can only aspire. But he’s also such a nice guy that he humored me by letting me ride in a few shots, even though my meager air-catching skills leave much to be desired.

I have to confess, I am jonesing to add the word “huck” to my riding vocabulary. I want to learn to catch air. Do a tail whip. I think full-face helmets are hot, and I covet one the way most women covet a pair of Manolo Blahniks. I started putting air between my tires and the trail, but it’s not “sick” air. Even though water-ski jumping was my weakest event—my longest jump was 113 feet at a time when the top girls were jumping 130 or more—there’s something about that feeling of flying that makes my heart race with joy.

As we rode the new trails at Anniston’s Coldwater Mountain, I studied Karl’s feet. I am used to being clipped to my pedals, attached to the bike, and the art of sticking to pedals without a clip is surprisingly elusive. And painful. Because the spiked pedal that’s not stuck to the bottom of one’s foot is a nano-second from raking the thin, tender flesh of one’s naked shin. Besides being eye-wateringly painful, the wounds look really crappy with heels and a skirt.

As we climbed a series of tight switchbacks, someone got stalled around a hairpin turn. Behind them, Karl put a foot down. And as I rode up, attempting to track-stand and sneak around him, I lost momentum and started one of those slow-mo tim-berrrrrr falls when you don’t unclip in time and topple over to the side. Which meant into Karl. As I reached out to arrest my fall, I planted my hand on the first thing in the way: his butt. It wasn’t a brief swat, either. It was a long, awkward cheek-plant which, if we had been in a cartoon with sound effects, might have sounded like a fog-horn.

Being more or less the first time I had met Karl, this was awkward. What does one say? After getting back on the bike and enduring a few painful minutes of awkward silence, I decided that an embarrassed apology or more awkward silence was worse than making light of it.

“Sorry, dude,” I said, “I’ve been staring at your ass all day, and I just couldn’t help myself.”

I think he blushed.

Here’s the really funny thing: After that, I started jumping the whoop-de-dos on that roller coastery Anniston downhill. Like, really jumping (okay, still not in the “huck” category, but both tires left the ground with a little style). I think I even did my first tail-whip. It was as if I had rubbed the Buddha’s belly for enlightenment. Karl’s jumping mojo had rubbed off.

At some point after the Magic Ass Grab, I was riding in front of Karl, and I hit a few jumps.

“You’re killing it, Cross!” he yelled.

I think I blushed.

Luckily, this did not make it into the story, which Kristin Butcher knocked out of the park with snappy writing, an eye for detail, and an ear for culture. But Karl made it in (pages 80 and 86). And Chuck Lewis. And my teammate Grace Ragland, a Leadville veteran. And Michael Balliet’s “southern drawl made out of velvet and shortcake,” that made the author “want to curl up in front of a fireplace and listen to him read the phone book.” (I love that line.) Even yours truly made a Where’s Waldo appearance on the opening spread, which is magnificent not for its riding but for Reuben’s stunning scenic shot of a dramatic S-curve on our flow trail, Lightning. (Squint really hard at the red dot, top right.)

Every issue of every magazine in existence has insanely awesome photos that, for whatever reason, don’t make it into the story. Because they’re horizontals when the designer needs a vertical. Or the colors don’t jibe with the other shot on the page. Or simply because there aren’t enough pages to show everything worth showing. There are locals who you don’t see in the pages, but served as stunning model material nonetheless. Omar Fraser rode a particularly technical section with aplomb. Jay Bradford went out in the sheeting rain. And the whole bike community came out for a brews cruise between three Birmingham microbreweries, a nighttime urban joy ride. (If I missed someone, apologies; it’s 5 a.m. as I write this.) (Check out a few additional photos from the shoot on his blog.)

My favorite part of this story? Besides the awesome words and images, it was meeting writer Kristin Butcher, who tried to teach me a nose wheelie in Chuck’s basement (check out her website, and look for her monthly column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE) and photog Reuben Krabbe, who thinks of shots that stretch the imagination. (Coming in a future issue: Karl Peters’ buck off the mandatory-air drop on lightning, which involved me throwing leaves at his torso just before takeoff.) They were fun and up for trying anything and able to describe and shoot a man playing a homemade gourd-banjo without once making a joke about Deliverance.

Download the digital edition of BIKE here or find the print mag at big bookstores in town.

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NY WOD

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I was in NYC for four days, where I learned that high-heel miles are like dog years and that one should never use the word “mugged” as a synonym for “posed for a grip-and-grin photo” because New Yorkers will assume you mean you’ve been robbed and ask if you’re okay.

I also discovered that pedicabs are considerably less nauseating than Yellow cabs (turns out you can’t get carsick on a bike).

To supplement my in-the-gym workouts, I asked The Coach to suggest some portable WODs that could be done in or outside a Manhattan-size hotel room. He adapted three WODs to mimic what folks are doing in the gym this week, keeping in mind I have little time and no access to equipment.

Because of recent out-of-town travel, I have been turning again and again to the Travel WOD app to try to maintain my 3x week workouts. These workouts use body weight and can be done either in a hotel room or a park with benches (for box jumps) and other common amenities.

Here is what I did today in a room approximately 3-lunges across:

10 min amrap of:
1 burpee
2 walking lunges (one per leg)
2 Sit Ups
2 burpees
4 walking lunges
4 Sit Ups
3 burpees
6 walking lunges
6 Sit Ups
4 burpees
8 walking lunges
8 sit ups
etc…Continue to increase the burpee by 1 rep and the lunges and sit ups by 2 reps until time runs out.

Reps: 216

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MC3 Women’s Weekend – June 29-30

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It’s my favorite time of the year—summer—and that means the MC3 Women’s Weekend! This weekend-long estrogen fest on wheels is returning to Oak Mountain State Park with a new format that includes road riders as well as mountain bikers. We’ll have a MTB clinic taught by IMBA-certified coaches, a Moonlight Banquet with catered hot food and cold libations, a camp-out, and group rides the next day.

Brought to you by Magic City Cycle Chix and this year’s title sponsor, Cahaba Cycles, the MC3 Women’s Weekend is one of a growing number of women-only cycling events, and it’s one of the first in our region. In 2011, this event drew 60 women from 8 states. We expect to sell out this year, so if you’re interested act quickly and REGISTER HERE, or visit this post over at MagicCityCycleChix.com to read more details. It’s open to riders of all levels, and we go out of our way to make it beginner-friendly and accessible to women.

We do our best to live up to our motto: Building Courage, Confidence, and Community…Two Wheels at a Time.

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Operation Iron Tribe: The Bike Test

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I couldn’t hang.

The wheel I was chasing belonged to Shonny Vanlandingham, a professional triathlete who won the Xterra World Championships a few years ago. Not-So-Fast Eddie (who has been doing a lot of office-chair riding these days) and I struggled to keep up. But we couldn’t keep up with the winningest mountain-biker (male or female) in the history of the sport.

I can live with that.

Shonny was my first “shero.” The first female athlete I really came to look up to. We met in 2010, when I had no idea who she was but agreed to do a “home stay” for a visiting pro  who flew into town to compete in the Xterra Pelham race. She later invited me to my first women’s clinic, and blew my mind with a novel concept: the front-wheel lift. I had been riding for 10 years, and didn’t even know what that was, ploughing with great speed into logs and obstacles and letting my front shock do the rest. After Shonny V introduced me to the subtleties of riding, my world was rocked. Shonny came to stay with us again for this year’s race, and as usual, she went slumming with invited us to join her on a ride.

While I am saving my final mountain-bike time-trial for the 6-month conclusion of Operation Iron Tribe, I have tested my legs on a couple of rides, both mountain and road. A few months into the case study, I rode most of the red loop at Oak Mountain State Park (the 17-mile time-trial course) and felt stronger than I have all year. I particularly noticed the difference on the climbs — I was able to power up short, steep sections without feeling like my legs were on fire, and on the 2-mile fire road climb, I stayed in my big front chain ring the whole time, never having to shift into granny gear. That’s the first time I have been able to do that since Mom got sick a year ago this month. My skills, however, have suffered from so little time on the bike. So have Eddie’s. We both dabbed and struggled on the hand-built rocky sections of Jekyll and Hyde, a favorite new trail at Oak Mountain State Park. Usually I can ride the whole thing without putting a foot down, but that ride left me feeling again like a newbie. Bike-handling skills are a perishable skill. But they can be regained with practice.

A few months ago, I entered my first road race, put on by Then-Fast Eddie’s team, GSMR. They created a special category for women, so we didn’t worry about getting run down by the Cat 4 men. To my surprise, I was able to hang with a “fastie” best friend of mine (The Scientist), who was coming off of months of traditional training for Cyclocross Worlds. To be fair, she was in “coaching the rest of the women’s field” mode, and I am certain she was not riding even close to all-out, and could have easily crushed me if she so chose. But she was pacing the lead rider in the simulated race, and I was able to hang. They toasted me in the sprint to the finish line, but I was happy to be able to cling to their rear wheels.

In my last post I noted that my V02 Max improved on the run and suffered slightly on the bike (probably because ITF training involves running, but no biking or stationary cycling). That said, I am surprised by how well the fitness gains have translated to cycling, a sport that, conventional wisdom holds, you can’t really train for without spending a lot of time on a bike. While I wouldn’t recommend training for cycling without spending time on a bike, I can say that the return-on-investment of my ITF training hours yielded gains that I wouldn’t expect to see with the same amount of time pedaling.

Today I did an iconic lunch-time ride with a bunch of very able cyclists. Had they not been kind, I would have gotten dropped like a hot potato on the climbs. My lungs burned a lot more than my legs, which means my cardiovascular fitness was the limiter, not my muscular endurance. But considering the fact that I have not ridden my road bike since, um, February, I was encouraged by how relatively well I fared.

I wonder what would happen if I kept up this 3-days-a-week ITF training, and added a day or two of cycling (or spinning) to the mix? Hmmm….

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