I should be studying…

but sometimes I just a need break. And yes, writing can be a break for me—fun writing anyway, so I believe a little update to the blog is in order!ferrisbueller_069pyxurz

It’s Labor Day weekend and school is out, but really it just began two weeks ago, so I sort of feel like I’m skipping out with Ferris Bueller. What a great opportunity to log some serious mileage on the bike though…well, that would be the case if I hadn’t crashed my bike the previous weekend.

Yes, I finally got my first (road) bike crash over with. It’s always when, not if it will happen. The story goes something like this:

Kristine has actually been coming out with me on the Saturday ride with Pearland Cycling Club (yay!), and last weekend I talked her into doing the full 60 mile route. Everything was going great until about 20 miles in when a little chihuahua ran toward the group determined to claim the entire road as his turf.tumblr_lo25n9EVPA1qgnp30o1_500_large

You gotta give the little guy credit for being brave. Not really a smart thing to do though as we were bearing down on him at 20+ mph. I went off the front attempting to chase him off the road; however, I cut it too close and my front wheel slid over the edge coming out from under me quicker than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking competition. I don’t even remember actually hitting the ground, but I remember vividly the excruciatingly long slide across the chip seal surface as it ripped layers of skin off my shoulder, hip, elbow, and fingers. Kristine was behind and saw the whole thing happen. She said I slammed on the ground hard, then just slid while I was stuck on my left side.

Another element to this story is that I just got a new bike only a couple of weeks prior. My old Tarmac frame was cracked which the mechanics noticed while installing some new components I had bought. What was going to be an upgraded crank set, rear derailleur, front derailleur, and brake calipers, turned into a new frame as well. Fortunately, Specialized honored their warranty and not only sent me a replacement for free, but they also upgraded me to a Venge frame. Very cool!

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It was also fortunate the new frame and components were undamaged in the crash. The left shifter got a little scratch on it, but otherwise there was no damage—not even the saddle or bar tape was torn!

After the crash, I took a little time to lick my wounds (not literally of course) and collect my thoughts. Physiologically speaking, I just waited for the adrenaline and the shock to wear off. We also waited for an animal control officer to show up to ensure the dog owners were cited for failure to keep their dog on a leash or behind a fence. The group was really great and stayed with us to make sure I was OK. I sent them on their way while Kristine and I got back on the bike and rode home. It was painful, but at the same time it felt good to finish the ride.14107863_10153718260191631_5690632712564917285_o

They say the shower after a crash hurts something fierce. I can confirm that. They also say things are more sore after the second day. I can also confirm that. A week later and my road rash is healing nicely. My hip and elbow are still sore, so that any motion that involves twisting my torso or laying down happens slower than a Sunday afternoon, but it is getting better. I also have some pain in my lower back, which ties into the sore hip, so I have schedule a massage with my good buddy Noel. Anyone looking for a massage should absolutely schedule with him; he is excellent at what he does. Stop procrastinating and treat yourself to a massage already!

Although I am sore from the crash a week later, we still got out there and rode with the club this weekend. I am staying disciplined and working back up to the high mileage and intensity after healing, so for now we kept it around 40 miles. It may not be the Labor Day weekend of riding I envisioned, but we always manage to make the most of it.

As a bonus, I have an opportunity to get ahead on school work for the Fall semester. This will be my final semester and it is a busy one with classes like Biology, Comp II, Statistical Methods of Psychology, and Public Speaking among others. I’m looking forward to wrapping up my degree and putting in my application soon, but I’m also a little sad that it has gone by so fast. I have really enjoyed my time in school, the people I have met, and the great professors who I have become friends with.

Until next time, stay safe friends, and enjoy your Labor (hopefully free) Day weekend!

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Share the Road

A week ago I posted a video on my YouTube channel which was a collaboration with two other students at Alvin College for our English Composition class. The group project was to create a graphic with text that presents an argument. We chose to create a video about sharing the road and the impact that a moment of inattention can have.

Why We Do This

As our tires hummed against the surface of the road, our legs fighting to keep the pedals moving, the brutal cross winds threatening to drive us into the ditch with each passing gust, I began to question why are we seemingly so eager to put ourselves through an agonizingly painful experience with friends. Are we really just some sick individuals or is there something more to it?

My get your ass out of bed alarm went off this morning, but I had forgotten why I set it. Thinking there was no school or work today, I said “what the heck is this thing thinking waking me up at this hour on a Saturday??” Apparently I turned it off completely; it was 30 minutes later when Kristine rolled over and asked if I’m still planning to ride. <insert expletive!> There is nothing like a mad rush to make a bike ride. Our weather forecast looks terrible for the next four days, so it was no time to excuse missing a good ride.

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Photo credit: Rosanna Campos

Today marks three weekends in a row that I have made the group ride! It feels good to be on the road with friends again. But why do we wake up to only put ourselves in so much pain? The accomplishment of surviving a group ride with fellow hammer heads and not getting dropped—even though I nearly did on several occasions today—is a good feeling indeed. It was extremely difficult during the ride to prevent my brain from finding any excuse to drop and just let the pain stop. It is incredible the amount of mental power it takes to tolerate just a few more minutes of pain in order to stay with the group. We push our bodies further than sometimes we ever thought possible, and when that happens we learn more about ourselves each time.

In my last post I confessed that I had gained some weight; however, I have since lost a little weight and increased some muscle mass. The gym is helping with muscle definition, but the miles on the bike have helped the weight come off. I’m still aiming to build more muscle definition, but one benefit I am already experiencing is from squats. I noticed an improvement on the bike having strengthened my hamstrings and glutes, which have always been a weak point for me by contributing to a muscle imbalance as they worked against my stronger quads. More to come, but it is exciting to see results taking shape. My weakness now is stretching and rolling out my IT bands. Maybe some yoga in my future?

So, the next time you’re hurting on a group ride and asking why we do this, just remember that what we treasure most is not given to us, it is what we work for the hardest. Keep fighting that wind, those tired legs, and that brain trying to persuade you to give up. Tell yourself to hang on for just another minute, another mile, and another ride.

Confession Time

It’s confession time.

A little over a year ago, with Christmas only a few days away, I posted about a change in direction. My plan was to attend college for the first time in my life in order to begin a new career in law enforcement. It has been a pleasant surprise to see how well I have done in college. After this spring semester, I will have 34 out of 60 credits necessary to graduate. Because of my achievements, I was honored on the Dean’s List for the fall semester of 2015. I also accepted an invitation to join the Mu Upsilon chapter of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society this semester. 12806102_1265854173426192_4954070660957403113_n

School for me as an adolescent was harder than it needed to be. I just didn’t have the motivation to obtain the same level of achievement I have today. Things are quite different attending college as an adult. We tend to be more focused, and we maintain the ability to cogitate the larger picture. While learning a new subject is intriguing, I propose the most important skills from college are time management, effective study habits, improved writing abilities, and professional ethics. I strive to succeed at all of these endeavors, not only for academic achievement and more prosperous career opportunities, but also for psychological fulfillment. If you are interested, I created a blog for publishing my academic essays throughout my college years.

I have to give much credit to my wonderful wife for her inspiration which has driven me to be a better student, and a better man. I was also extremely fortunate to have a wonderful history professor in my first semester. Her friendly personality and enthusiasm for teaching is evident in the classroom. She has genuinely enriched my college experience, and she has become a good friend.

So what am I confessing? Well, it’s nothing as serious as the Sacrament of Penance.

Clearly I haven’t been active on my blog, but sadly I also haven’t been as active on the bike. I found that going to school full time, owning a business, and still having a semblance of a personal life really takes a lot out of you. To compound matters, my job involves physical labor; thus, when I have school and work in the same day, it has been difficult to find the time or energy to don a kit and hop on the bike. Honestly, these are just excuses for the fact that I have gained weight—nearly as much as my pre-cycling days. However, in my defense, the Huffington Post Canada reported a study published in the Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism journal “[which] found that in over four years, at least 70 per cent of students gain weight, according to Auburn University”. Although there have been contradicting results from other studies, at least in my case, it seems the ‘freshman 15’ theory holds—er—weight.

It is now time to hold myself accountable. At this point, I still have no immediate plans to race my bike, but it is time to get back on the saddle, or as Willie Nelson would say, “on the road again”. For the first time in my life, I have joined a gym. This is something I never thought I would do. Admittedly, I have enjoyed it so far! The classes are good for motivation and they are helping to develop muscles I never knew existed.

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Put simply: Squats. Are. Evil. In the wake of a body pump class, the simple task of nimbly sitting on the toilet turned into a lumbering collapse on the seat, accompanied by a painful shriek. But, things are improving. I’m beginning to feel stronger which will surely help me on the bike when I can get outside.

So, the goal for this year: Get back in shape. More specifically, to develop muscle definition—particularly in the core, shoulders, and arms—ahead of police academy training. And finally, to find the cardio fitness I once had.

Compassion Shines After Frightening Crash

In the evening hours this week, with the promise of spring in the air, it was set to be a beautiful end to the day as Local Bike Racing hosted a weekly criterium here in Houston. However, we were all devastated to learn about a tragic accident involving Chuck, a good friend of the cycling community. Erin Urban, a local competitive cyclist with Haute Wheels Racing and a great blogger, published a post about the incident saying, “last night a friend, staunch supporter, avid race volunteer, and all-around good guy was severely injured during a local race. This news hits hard with deep sadness because we all know and appreciate our cycling buddy, Chuck”.

Indeed, Chuck is genuinely a great guy who does not deserve the pain he is experiencing right now, but it has been truly inspirational to see the community come together in support of a fallen friend.

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Chuck on the front. Photo credit: Corvin Alstot.

Chuck is a successful entrepreneur; he is a selfless and hard-working individual, someone who never complains when the going gets tough. I recall riding next to Chuck on many occasions, often struggling to breathe at blistering speeds, my legs agonizingly painful as I’m telling them to ‘shut up’ in my best Jens Voigt expression, yet Chuck would always greet you with a warm smile. His diligent and altruistic character is visible not only in his career, but also with his involvement in the cycling community—all of whom have a great deal of respect for him. In her blog post, Erin Urban adds, “Chuck has volunteered quite a bit of his time and energy to the advancement of the cycling community and competitive cycling events. . . . Chuck has been there when he didn’t have to… and today, our cycling community is there for him”.

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Photo credit: Creative Cycling

While those of us who race are aware of the risks, a fact that we have to be comfortable with to some degree, it is never easy to completely push the fear of injury to the back of our mind. As it has been brought to the forefront this week, I would like to reach out to my friends and followers from all walks of life. Please, if you are able to, consider making a donation on his Go Fund Me page—no matter how small—to help our friend recover. This accident will impact his life beyond the time we all share with him on the bike as he faces the road to recovery ahead.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of experiencing the open road on two wheels; that intimate connection between man and machine as one foot turns over the next. It’s almost a meditative experience at times. As cyclists, we share a unique bond in this sport. One of trust, respect, and compassion. There are those who stand out among a group of good people—those who are genuinely great. Chuck is one of those great people. Let’s help him get back on the road, and most importantly, back to his life.

Thank you for taking a moment to read his story. I hope you will consider making a small donation.

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Be sure to check out Erin Urban’s blog and read more about her here. Special thanks goes out to Corvin Alstot and Creative Cycling (Ray ‘Trey’ Currid) for granting permission to publish their photos on this blog.

California Vacation

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When we visit a beautiful place, it’s always hard to come home, no matter how good it does feel to be safely home. The long lines at the airport and the inconsiderate person who jams their seat back into your knees on the airplane is all worth it when given the opportunity to visit California.

We stayed in the Sonoma area for four days, followed by three days in San Francisco. This was my second trip to California, having been to San Diego about two years ago. I really enjoyed California on my first visit; this trip would also prove to be rewarding. However, I much prefer San Diego weather. I didn’t realize how chilly northern California was in late May to early June!

We landed in San Francisco and drove a rental car to a beautiful home rented through Airbnb. It turned out to be a really nice area with a spectacular view of the valley below. Although not technically in Sonoma or Napa, it was within reach after a drive equivalent to the distance across Houston—minus the chemical plants and smog of course.

I was looking forward to the next few days in which we would tour the area, and of course drink some wine! I didn’t bring my bike on this trip, but I did bring my gear so that a bike rental was possible.

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Delicious and oh so bad pastry from Bouchon Bakery.

Yountville is a quaint little town nestled between Napa and St. Helena where we enjoyed fine dining and delicious pastries at Bouchon Bakery. I can highly recommend the cream cheese blueberry jam pastry which I had already begun to devour as the picture here shows. North of Yountville, we toured several wineries, including Beringer and Inglenook. I personally love a red zinfandel, so it was quite pleasant to relax outside with a glass of wine on these beautiful vineyards.

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Obligatory picture of grapes!

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It was hard to contain my excitement about the chance to ride in California again. I had mapped out a challenging route that included a lot of climbing. The ride was a blast, but some of the climbs were extremely hard and very steep, which caught me by surprise when I struggled to get over them. I rented the bike in Yountville and rode to our house in Novato. It ended up being 60 miles with about 4,800 feet of climbing. You can view my ride data here and watch a video of my ride below. The following picture gives you an idea of the elevation and gradient profile over the route, with the hardest and steepest sections at the beginning.

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On Monday morning, we packed up and drove into San Francisco. This was quite an experience to see such steep hills in the middle of an urban environment. After settling into a new house, also rented through AirBnB, we headed out to explore the city. Of course I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get a panoramic picture of the Bay Bridge.

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IMG_3260We walked 4 miles observing the diverse cultures throughout the city, though admittedly I was more excited to reach the bike shop! I finally reached my destination after what seemed like 20 miles of walking to rent another bike, this frame fitting me much better than the first. I planned to ride 100 miles down to La Honda the following day. While riding the bike to the house that evening, I found Filbert Street, one of the steepest in the city at 31.5% gradient.

lombard6This seemed like such a cool challenge to climb. I was pedaling in the smallest gear I had while standing up and leaning as far forward as I could, yet the front wheel was STILL lifting off of the ground as the bike rocked from side to side! It was a unique and scary experience. I couldn’t have stopped if I wanted to or else I would have crashed right there, and then likely slid to the bottom of the hill. You know it’s steep when the side walk has stairs in it!

Although it was great seeing San Francisco that first day, I knew the entire second day would be spent on the bike as the ride out to La Honda is quite a haul with a lot of climbing. It was definitely worth it though, with stunning scenery and challenging mountain climbs and descents. I rode 105 miles and climbed just over 9,000 feet. You can see the route and data here and the elevation profile below.

Screenshot 2015-06-05 10.56.40I tried to stop and take pictures and video often, but I also had to navigate with my phone. I felt good for the first half of the ride and over the mountains, but I was really struggling on the trek home. The wind kicked up adding insult to injury as I attempted to finish the ride. I was determined to do it, even though I haven’t actually gone 100 miles in quite a while…not to mention with all of that climbing too. At the end of the day, I was tired and my legs hurt bad, but it was totally the good kind of hurt.

Reflecting back, you could say that I missed out on some of the touristy things to do in San Francisco, but I’m having a hard time believing that I truly missed anything. I look forward to seeing more of the state in the future, but for now I can say that once again California has been good to us and provided a wonderful vacation experience.

Houston Grand Criterium

After racing at Coldspring the day before, my legs felt better than expected for another race the following day. Once again I did the straight cat 4 race and fully expected it to be fast and furious—and it was, with a 25.1 mph average speed.

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This year I focused on riding smarter to ensure a better position each time through the hairpin turn. While I didn’t manage to get near the front through that turn on every lap, I did so the majority of the time. It made a difference in the end as I didn’t have to sprint as much to catch back on to the peleton.2014HGC-002

On the first lap I did a little work with Scott Cryan on the front, but for the most part I just tried to stay hidden from the wind. On the first prime lap I thought I’d gauge the sprinting strength of the field. I was near the front through the final turn as we accelerated for the prime sprint. A moment later I found myself on the very front. This was bad. I felt that I could have sprinted hard for the line and possibly taken the prime, but I knew that would require digging deep into my reserves which I was not prepared to do. I wisely saved that for the end of race.

On one of the following primes a small group of riders got a decent gap which I decided to chase down, pictured below. They ended up going no where of course. My thinking at the time was that someone had to chase them before it developed into a race winning break. In hindsight, that was a waste of energy because the nature of this course does not favor a break, particularly in the lower categories.

Chasing a small breakaway.
Chasing a gap.

Just over half-way though the race, I was approaching the hairpin again on the front. So far there were no crashes in the race that I’m aware of. However, that thought happened too soon when I suddenly heard carbon hitting the ground behind me. Thankfully no one was hurt when one rider slid out in the turn.

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Smile for the camera!

There were some close calls during the race, but nothing that stands out which I remember. The usual jockeying for position in a cat 4 race. It was on the final lap when I knew I was standing good. I felt better at that point in the race than I did last year. As we approached the last two corners in downtown, I hear someone to my right scream FLAT! I relay the message and move ahead to avoid any problems there.

Going through the final corner I’m about 10 wheels off the front and I feel like I’m positioned pretty well. As the sprinters began hammering for the line, I made it a point to stay in the saddle and pedal as hard as I could trying to stay on their wheels. The fastest of them slipped away, but I did very well keeping pace with most of the pack. I managed to finish 14th, which is my best result at this race.

Pack finish in 14th.
Pack finish in 14th.

The Houston Grand is a sprinters delight, which I don’t consider myself, but I can definitely feel and see improvement in that area so far this year. I need to continue working on my accelerations while staying in the saddle as it seems standing up only hurts me more.

I’ve now made it 3 straight years to this race, with 2012 being my first ever bike race. Kristine had a great time as this is really a great race for spectators too. Of course a special thanks to her for capturing all of these pictures!