Monday, January 31, 2011

Race to Finish

The racing season started for me this past Saturday with the 2011 Poor College Kids Road Race. This was my first competitive event and I was not alone judging by the number of entrants in my category, the Women's Cat 4. Combined with the Women's Cat 3, the field nearly doubled from the 35+ women who finished last year. I didn't do as well as I had hoped (unfounded expectations for someone with no racing experience lol...) but in the end I had a great time and learned some valuable lessons from the event.

RACE PREPARATION
When John and I arrived early at the race location near Los Olivos the sun had yet to rise and it was pretty cold--the temperature was around 47 degrees. Parking was in the field of wild damp grass and soft dirt which made it challenging to get to/from the road and car but we worked out the logistics by walking in sneakers and carrying our bikes and riding shoes. We would've gunked up our cleats and risked embedding thorns in our tires otherwise. So bring extra socks and shoes you don't mind getting muddy or park along the road as others have done (we wanted to avoid opening the car doors on the cramped stretch of road on which there was traffic of cyclists and cars).

WAITING TO START
After signing in and getting my race numbers, John pinned them on my jersey and made our water bottles while I warmed up on the trainer (it probably would have been better to warm up by riding on the road and hit the start line without having to dismount from the trainer and have my legs get cold). When the Men's Cat 5A and 5B took off from the start line, my teammate Melinda and I lined up with our friends Kaelin and Ashley along the side of the road and waited for our turn to start at 8:10 a.m. Other women on our team couldn't make it to the race due to illness or family emergency. John and I almost canceled our trip when he caught some bug late in the week; I was mildly affected.

I tried to lessen the intimidation of starting with the large pack of about 65 women by thinking of the 34 mile course as a 'group ride'. Little did I know the mindset would be taken literally.

READY-STEADY-GO (OR NOT)
The course began on the narrow Zaca Station Road. It was shaky start at roll out as I weaved around people trying to get on their bike or clip in to their pedals. It may have been a good idea to wait as close to the start line if possible to avoid getting stuck behind the shuffle and set the pace. Towards the middle where I was at, the movement was stop-and-go before we could settle in to our saddles. Around me women were riding staggered instead of picking a line, meandering across the road or swerving to avoid potholes. At times we would get going and then come to a screeching halt--for no apparent reason. Kid you not when I say women were calling out, "Slowing!" and "Stopping" around us, which is typical for a group ride. After a while I found myself verbalizing hazards through gritted teeth and anticipating a bump from someone behind me. The air was clouded in mist so I am sure the decreased visibility was disorienting, even for those familiar with the road.

No doubt the cause of this was due to nervous riders sprinting to close a gap and then slowing down abruptly to avoid hitting the wheel in front of them which in turn causes a rippling effect behind them like a yo-yo or rubber band expanding and contracting. Experienced riders know how to smooth this out by pedaling a little faster or coasting to slow down and if necessary feathering the breaks but I guess it all this is part of racing and the mingling of a mixed group of riders. The reality: it's a race and not an organized group ride.

GETTING DROPPED
It was very frustrating for me to be in the middle of the shuffling. I wanted to shotgun to the front of the pack where the group rode more steadily but the last thing I wanted to do was cause a crash by trying to squeeze by. To the left was the center line of the road which was strictly enforced and we would be disqualified for crossing it to pass. There was no shoulder to the right, just dirt and grass along the tight road.

Then I made the mistake of dropping back thinking I would have more room to avoid dodging wheels but it left me without shelter from the wind resistance. There I wasted energy struggling to find my place in the pack and a steady wheel to draft while we were slowing climbing onto Foxen Canyon. It was harder and harder for me to stay with the group. Had I kept focus and felt my best I may have hung on but I gave in too soon before the pace let up. As Phil Liggett would say, "The elastic has snapped." And that's what I did--I popped off the back and watched the peloton ride on down the road while I tried to catch my breath.

RACE TO FINISH
After that I rode alone descending from Fox Canyon to the windy flat roads of the Santa Ynez Valley catching and passing a few others who had also fallen off the back of the bunch. I drafted a couple riders for relief and then I offered to pull. We formed a paceline switching off when one got tired and gained momentum. As we passed other women we offered our wheel and they joined our train.

Meanwhile the main group looped back with Melinda among them. I cheered her on smiling for the first time since the race started.

Seventeen miles from the start line, we turned around in front of a winery and came back up the false flat. I knew we would never catch the pack, especially at the pace we were riding so I sat in. I would rather stay with our group and enjoy their company than ride alone. Now I was just pedaling to complete the race.

There's a steep climb back up Foxen Canyon around mile 27 before descending the last few miles to the finish line. I give myself a pat on the back for persevering up the hill with two others. The rest in my group fell behind. We flew through the remaining miles and caught one person who I was behind when we crossed the finish line. At this point I didn't bother sprinting to try and gain one more place. What difference would it make? What mattered is I raced, I finished and did so without crashing, getting a flat, or a mechanical mishap which have unfortunately befallen a couple of my fellow riders.

When asked what I thought of the race, I couldn't hide the disappointment on my face. I admit I nearly cried after crossing the finish line because I wanted so badly to finish with the group; to see all the excitement that would surround the first few to cross the line. Looking back, the event was a positive learning experience:
  • I got to try first-hand at bike racing (prior to Saturday I saw it from the sidelines as a spectator)
  • I had friends and teammates with me who gave me much needed encouragement and hugs--I love you guys!!
  • I got to ride on a new road and it was good training nonetheless; I felt good about overcoming the hill coming back
  • I had the chance to see other teammates and friends race (they did well - congratulations!!)
  • One of the best times was talking about the race and hanging with everyone afterward. While on and off the bike, I met other women with whom I had raced with.
In the end, the day was quite an adventure--I am so glad to have embarked on. I have to remember that it is early in the season and there is so many more races to come. Until then I will keep on pedaling and continue to train hard!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Meeting Macaroni

His name is actually Roni but John and I think Macaroni is a cute nickname. The young horse belongs to John's parents and we finally got to meet him in the stables last Sunday.
He was still very shy and would only let me pet him after slowly approaching him.
The equestrian center where he stays is really nice. There are several large and small arenas to ride or train in and the horses have plenty of room in their stalls to play. There's convenient access to dirt trails that lead on for miles and miles without seeing a person if you wanted to run off into the desert.
Back at John's parents' home, we sat down to dinner starting with proscuitto wrapped sesame sticks, goat cheese and crackers, and marinated artichoke hearts. Then salad of fresh greens and jambalaya (the recipe was published in a book and contributed by a man who was one of 27 children and had 14 of his own). By the way, I learned that once of the differences between jambalaya and gumbo is the latter is a soup, made with a base of a very dark roux and has okra. We closed the evening with home-made cherry pie, vanilla ice cream, and hot tea while watching the animated film, The Incredibles. I had a nice weekend of bike riding with my team and family time.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fair Exchange

"Wait a minute...wait a minute here. You get a bike...and I get a cute little container of apple juice? How does that work...?" Laughter ensues.

I suppose it's a raw deal ;-P but I still think it's a pretty fair exchange.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Ride

I didn't believe it, even when John told me it was ordered and shipped until it came home today. My new bike!
It is actually a men's bike in the smallest size they offer. But this small men's 2011 Felt Z5 has the same geometry as the medium women's Felt ZW5. The women's sizes are large, medium, small, and petite where the men's sizing is numeric (51, 54). John zenned my Trek bike using his Retul system to get the dimensions so we know this will fit me perfectly. By the way, there are companies that will build you a bike based off measurements that Logical Fit Retul Studio can provide.
John did a lot of research before he presented me with the choices. Even though he preferred the women's bike with the blue lines, I went with the men's bike with red accents since I have a blue bike. You must be rolling your eyes thinking, women and the basis on which they make their decisions! I didn't even realize that this is a carbon bike (my current bike is aluminum; there are advantages and disadvantages to both).
Well I knew I could trust John's selection from his research and weighing the factors. Besides, this frame has been used in the entire history of the Tour De France (with perhaps one exception or something like that; I can't remember exactly) without a change.
2011 Felt Z5 (stock)
Lastly, the girls have conducted their inspection and they also approve. There is still work to be done with the components so I will not be racing on it this weekend (even though it can be ready by that time I would still need a few hours on it to adjust). Besides, I would like to take my Trek out one more time in our first race together!
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Havi at the Vet

I took Havi to the vet today after she urinated outside of her litter box a few times. She hates the car trip but makes herself comfortable once she's in the office. Laying across the exam table, browsing the dog books, and even grooming herself. The vet confirmed with a urine test what we had been suspecting--a urinary tract or bladder infection (I can't remember which). Havi received a shot of antibotics and we left with a bottle of pills to continue treatment at home. No sooner had I let her out of her carrier in the living that she went and used the litter box, LOL. Next time I'll just take her for a ride in the car if that is all it takes to scare her in to using her box ;-)
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Sharing the Love of Cycling

Bike riding along Lake Mead
My friend and co-worker Wendy had not ridden a bike since she left China to study in the states. Hearing of my passion for cycling, her adventuresome spirit left her wanting to experience the joy of bike riding again. So I met her last Saturday at JT's Bicycle where she rented a road bike.

Since this bike was probably a different than the commuter bike she had ridden, we went to a flat area of the River Mountains Trail so she could get to use to pedaling, shifting gears, and stopping. I had asked the tech at the bike shop to replace the clipless pedals with the standard ones to save her from clipping in and out or worse--falling over as I had done the first time I was out on the road.

After she rode back and forth and was comfortable with the bike, we were ready to rock and roll! Soon we were on the River Mountains Loop Trail riding along Lake Mead. Here she is in motion!


After 2 1/2 hours in the saddle, we were hungry so we grabbed lunch at Star Burger in Boulder City before returning the bike to the shop.

I had a great afternoon sharing the love of cycling with my friend. She did really well and I am proud of her! Then I went home to get ready for my cycling team dinner.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Family Time

Havi and Elgy love snuggling up with John in the evenings after dinner.

Then they play peek-a-boo.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Inglourious Basterds


Watched Inglourious Basterds last night over antipasto salad, mozzarella sun-dried tomato stuff chicken, and grilled zucchini. Movie and dinner was AWESOME. If you have not seen the flick, I recommend this Quentin Tarantino slightly gory but entertaining flick.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to Open a Stuck Jar Lid

I fought for who knows how long to open a new 2 lb. jar of sun dried tomatoes. I tried and tried with all my might but I only ended up with sore hands, fatigued muscles, and no further in cooking. Normally John is my jar opener but he has fallen in to a nice slumber some time ago. Since sleep doesn't come easy to him it would be heartless to wake him up (though in moments of desperation and after so many unsuccessful attempts I've considered showing up at his bedside with the container to beg for help.) I tried everything: washed my hands squeaky clean, washed the jar, cleaned the jar with glass cleaner, I even put plastic wrap on the lid and the bottle which gave me a better grip but my jar-opening strength was no match against the vacuum seal. I couldn't open the darn thing! With no fighting spirit left in me I searched the web for 'how to open a stuck jar'. Low and behold, the first step in How to Open a Stuck Jar Lid | eHow.com tip WORKED. How come I never knew this?!?! When I read the tip I thought it couldn't be that easy but it is!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Pork-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

I made these earlier this week and John loved them. The recipe is from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food but the next time I make this, I would make an adjustment to how it is cooked in step 3. I've found that 12 to 15 minutes of steaming isn't enough to cook the ground pork so I would rather bake the cabbage rolls in a casserole dish. I have never made these before this time so please share any suggestions you may have.
Ingredients (Serves 4)

* 1 small head green cabbage (2 pounds), cored
* 12 ounces lean ground pork
* 1 slice white sandwich bread, crumbled
* 1 medium carrot, shredded
* 3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
* 2 tablespoons tomato paste
* 2 tablespoons apricot preserves
* 1/2 cup reduced-sodium canned chicken broth
* 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
* Coarse salt and ground pepper

Directions

1. In a pot of boiling water, cook cabbage until outer leaves are bright green and pliable, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from pot. Pull off 8 leaves. Trim thick core from each leaf.
2. In a bowl, mix pork, bread, carrot, 2 scallions, tomato paste, preserves, 1/4cup broth, sage, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place 1 cabbage leaf in a small bowl. Fill halfway with pork mixture; fold leaf over filling. Repeat with remaining leaves. Place rolls, seam sides down, in a single layer on a heatproof plate casserole dish.
3. In a 12-inch skillet fitted with a round rack, bring 1 inch of water to a simmer over medium heat. Place plate with rolls on rack. Pour remaining 1/4 cup broth over rolls; sprinkle with remaining scallion. Cover [with tin foil]; steam bake until firm, 12 to 15 minutes 40 minutes (add more water as needed). Serve with steaming juices and scallions.
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Small World

Way before I met John, he was junior cyclist; he lived and trained in Bishop, CA. John was friends with a guy named Bill (and his brother Mike) who drove them to bike races prior to John having a driver's license (he was 15 years old at the time).
Fast forward 22 years later, I came to know of this "Bill in Mammoth" through John and their childhood adventures. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be cycling (for one and secondly) with Bill's wife through Red Rock Canyon. I had not made the connection until I was riding my bike next to her. What a small world it is!
I had heard so much about her through my friend Kaelin who had introduced us. I also knew that she is a pro triathlete but it took a while for my brain to crank before I realized our degree of separation.
The three of us rode together for a couple hours, about 39.80 miles--through the Red Rock scenic loop, past Blue Diamond to Route 160 and back to Dunkin' Donuts where we met Saturday morning. It was a gorgeous day and a nice bike ride for so many reasons. :-)
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End of the Road

This past week I have been riding alone and with no agenda, anything goes. One day after I rode to Jean, I decided to continue south along Las Vegas Boulevard rather than turn west to Goodsprings. I wondered where the road would lead me to or if it just dead ends and if so, how far out. I have seen cars go to and come from that direction and so I was curious to see.
Gold Strike Casino
Just after passing the Gold Strike Casino at Jean, I saw a fire station (80 I believe) and shortly thereafter the Goodsprings Justice Court I think. The Jean Airport was also in the same area and a sky diving school. So that's where the cars were going to and coming from!
But that wasn't the end of the road and so I kept riding. The road narrowed and then the smooth surface gave way to rougher asphalt. I pedaled on for a while and there was no one around. No cars had passed me...I was out there all alone. I stopped to take a video and these photos. The one above looking south and the one below looking north, back towards Gold Strike Casino.
I did not make it to the end of the road that day for a couple reasons: I did not want to get a flat in a remote area and I was on a time constraint to be home in time to meet my friend who was coming over. I saw enough to satisfy my curiosity. One time I was stuck behind a traffic accident heading north on the I-15 which runs parallel to Las Vegas Boulevard. The freeway was shut down and cars went off road from the I-15 to the Las Vegas Boulevard so I know the what I didn't get to see on my bike ride is pretty much where those cars were...if that makes sense. I cannot articulate my thoughts right now, LOL. So that was a little adventure. 
video
Thursday I rode towards Jean again and passed John who was on his way back from Goodsprings on his TT (Time Trial) bike so I turned around and followed him home so I could get ready to meet his mom for shopping and lunch. He and I realized was nice to spend time together riding.
We saw a sea plane landing in the executive airport near where we live. I just thought it was neat so I took a photo. :-)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Fireplace Project

The fireplace is our next large project. We tore down the tiles that were orginally installed around it and haven't replaced it since. I have a couple ideas but am open to hearing suggestions if you have any.
I won't be taking on the project this morning...or today. :-) Instead I will be bike riding with some friends at Red Rock. Have a wonderful Sunday!
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Friday, January 07, 2011

Cuban Black-Beans and Rice

Made this for dinner tonight in less than 30 minutes and added shredded chicken. John loved it so much, I have to post the recipe from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food so I can make it again.

INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)

1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 red bell pepper (ribs and seeds removed), chopped
2 cans (19 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14.5 ounces) vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Garnishes (optional): lime wedges, fresh cilantro, and sliced radishes

DIRECTIONS

Prepare rice according to package instructions. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add beans, broth, vinegar, and oregano. Cook, mashing some beans with the back of a spoon, until slightly thickened, 6 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Fluff rice with a fork. Serve beans over rice, with garnishes, if desired (because they help make the dish taste SOOO GOOD!)
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Living Room Wallpaper Project

For almost two weeks I have been away from work. I requested additional time off to spend with family, get in more miles cycling, and wrap things up around the house. Now it is near the end of my vacation, our clothes closet hasn't been thinned out as planned and my home office is not much better organized than it was before the holiday craze.
However, I cannot say I didn't do much...after all there were the family gatherings and activities around Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, movies I've seen (True Grit and The King's Speech), shopping, dining, more shopping, and dining while family was in town, cooking--I had the chance to try so many new recipes, New Year's Eve celebrations, and rode hundreds of miles alone and with friends. Yet I felt restless at the closure of my time off...
Then I woke up this morning possessed by the need to complete a large task...something larger than packing away boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations, breaking my record miles in bike riding, or cooking up a storm. Since I have been so busy outside of home, I felt I needed to do something productive around the house, perhaps one of the many home projects we've been meaning to do.

Our living room is just the place to start where there's a large, blank wall. I had purchased wallpaper several months back and...well, more important things came up John and I never got around to hanging it. I decided to tackle the project after breakfast.

I had never put up wallpaper before so I got started with the help of a couple videos on YouTube (How to Measure and Prep for Hanging Wallpaper and How to Hang Wallpaper). After I hung the first strip, I doubted whether I would finish by the end of today and wondered how much trouble I got myself in to. Since John was at work I was on my own and will the furniture was out of the way and all the prepping I've done, I couldn't stop halfway so I kept gluing and hanging one sheet at a time. Eventually the wall was done--just in time for dinner! Now I can check this off my To-Do list and go back to work feeling accomplished.

(I am looking forward to the morning so I can see the wall in daylight. It is hard to see in these photos but the wallpaper is off-white; the squares are raised so the paper has a neat texture.)
Here is a photo of the wallpaper during the day.  I like it!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

How To Pick Grapes

I didn't pay attention to this detail until recently and it seems obvious in hindsight so I thought I'd share this with you (and my husband who reads my blog ;-)). When shopping for grapes (usually sold in bags in the produce section), choose the ones with green, lively stems/vine instead of brownish-green, wilted ones if at all possible. If the bag contains many grapes that have detached from the vines or if the grapes have split/broken skin, that is also not desirable.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Better Than Bouillon

Better Than Bouillon chicken base
Keeping canned chicken stock on hand is not realistic for our small pantry (besides I don't often use the whole can when cooking and the leftover goes to waste.) So I keep bouillon cubes in stock for when recipes call for it. I've never tried this pasty chicken base until now and like the bottle says -- it's better than bouillon. 1 tsp = 8 oz. chicken broth which is more or less what I usually need. I'm never going back to the powdered chicken bouillon again.

Empty Spaces

Some may look at this photo and think there's a whole lot of nothing out there but I see freedom. The wide open road and vast desert is my playground where I can ride my bike and be free. Free from chores, work, news, daily responsibilities ... however temporary. There's a time and place for all these other things but as long as my legs are spinning circles, I only think about the road before me, shifting gears, listening to wind in my ears, and the rythm of my breath and heart beating in my chest.
Sometimes my mind wanders to random thoughts I can't even remember exactly what. For the most part I am in the moment. What's in front of me -- right here, right now. The rest I will handle as they come.
This ride is towards Jean, NV. I like not having the interruptions of traffic lights and for the most part traffic and crossroads where a car could pull up and break my concentration. I wonder, does the driver see me? Will they wait until I pass safely or try to run over me? Will they pull out in front of me because I don't feel like t-boning a car today -- or any other day. To the drivers who yield until I ride by, I nod or wave to acknowledge them and also thank them for their time in waiting the few seconds until I pass. After which they accelerate past me and are well on their way.
Almost 20-miles of open road lie ahead of me. Just me and my bike...the clear skies and all the empty spaces in between. Free as I can be.
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Prime Rib Dinner

What is it about a prime rib roast that tastes so good? Probably the flavorful fat, LOL. Creamy horseradish and au jus for dipping also helps.

John has been craving prime rib since before Christmas and wanted to go to dinner on Monday night. All day I had packed away Christmas lights and decorations so cooking was the last thing on my mind. For both of us going out was the perfect idea; a win-win situation. Especially since he sold a bike on his first day back at work and it's also the store's first bike sale of the year; another good reason to celebrate!

Soon we were at the Green Valley Resort & Casino's buffet with a plate full of prime rib! Eating a large dinner is something we try not to do on a regular basis so this occasion was an exception.

Afterwards we tried our luck at the slot machine and won $58.00!! It's not the lottery winnings but it was enough to recoup the amount we put in to play, cover the cost of our buffet dinners and part of the tip. So for dinner and entertainment, we spent a dollar. Not bad!
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Monday, January 03, 2011

New Year's Day Bike Ride

Last year on New Year's Day I stayed home while John went on bike ride with a big group. When I saw the photos he took I had hoped that I would be 'seasoned enough' to join in on the next ride -- and you bet your bottoms I did not stay home this year!

Similar to the prior year all riders who wanted to participate gathered at the Starbucks on Green Valley Parkway to which John and I rode our bikes from home. He and I were bundled up in layers of clothing to keep us warm in the mid-30 degree temperatures (yes it does get this cold in Las Vegas). After we savored a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee and warm pastries at Starbucks, we (along with about 30 others) started our ride west towards Lake Mead to the Callville Bay Resort & Marina.

I didn't take a whole lot of photos along the way; it was difficult to do with gloved hands. My phone was buried in the pocket of my long sleeved jersey which I wore underneath my jacket. Riding in freezing temperatures made it difficult to pedal or even have conversations as my lips moved like molasses to form words. Still I enjoyed riding with our group.

After I had ridden 38 miles, the marina was in sight where we stopped to use the restroom, fill up our water bottles, and eat our snack bars.  Now was my chance to take some photos!
This was our turnaround point where we headed back up Callville Bay Road, Northshore Drive out of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, along Lake Mead Parkway, down Wigwam, and side streets to Starbucks. By this time it was after 1:30 p.m. so John and I stopped to eat lunch with a few others before getting back on our bikes to ride home.

4 hours and 11 minutes of pedaling, I logged 74.50 miles -- the farthest I have ridden in one trip!  I think this year is already off to a good start and look forward to the days to come in 2011.