Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Racing The Sun

The Fat Cat shafted the other Grimpeurs at 1:00 Tuesday in favor of presiding over the Grimplets. The sitter, Grandma, was sick and their mother was working. So, all other enterprises were rearranged in favor of a day with the kiddies, cool. But, judging by the way the scale teetered ominously on the edge of 200lbs, the Cat had to get out some time, if only for a quick ride.
The other parental unit was late. She got home to her cooling dinner at around 7:00. The Cat was already in his cycling get-up when she arrived. He finished a rousing drum drop on Rock Band and the Grimplets belted out the last words of "Dirty Little Secret." Then, it was out to race the setting Sun on Snake Hill.
Considering the apalling results of his long delayed weigh-in, not much was expected of the ride. Just get home before dark, that would be just great. Still, why not give it a solid run--get a good workout.

The blue Colnago cross got the nod just because she's so pretty. She usually makes it tough on The Fat Cat on the steep half mile that starts the route, but her cranks turned round quite managebly. In fact, all the way up she let The Cat have his run of the drive train instead of flogging him with the 39x25. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, The Cat pushed it the whole 8.57 miles to Masontown.

Despite having had hill and bike seemingly at his command, weight, training loss and cycle choice surely would have put a damper on the time. Nevertheless, why not check it? The Fat Cat expected something crass like 43 minutes; that time had rubbed him the wrong way before. The time of 38:33 was just confusing. Wasn't that around the best time he rode that hill at 187lbs a few months ago on the Cervelo? Can't be! Just getting senile.

On the way back, bumps that used to sap the strenth and send the derailleur into free fall slid quietly under churning thighs. The fact that the uphill little dog sprint went from 15mph to 20mph because big dog joined the fray, was of no matter. The in -the-driveway time was 3 minutes less than the Cat rembered his best being and the Sun was several lenghts back. How bout that. You just never know.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Grimpeurs and Grimplets

As bad as it was Tuesday, that’s how good it was today. Three old hands and one new guy showed up for the Grimpeur ride on Thursday. It was Legs, Aerobinator, The Fat Cat and Justin. Don’t know much about Justin other than he had a fifteen or twenty year advantage over the rest of the riders. However, Legs did a good job of pinning him to the back with his philosophical and political indoctrination ala Socrates. Thus, at the suggestion of Aerobinator, Justin will be known as Plato. Welcome aboard lad.

The Cat was trying to lay low, still smarting from dragging his companions down with an abominable performance only two days prior. Just riding with the kids, that was about all he thought he could handle. But, believe it or not, Aerobinator tracked The Cat down. Hey, if the guy needed a punching bag that bad, who was The Fat Cat to deny him? Either that or he was concerned with Fatty’s welfare, thinking him at the tipping point and in need of a nudge…nah.

“I’ll try it but I don’t think I can make it,” whined The Cat at the suggestion that they hit the steepest, longest hill in the vicinity, Breakiron, right off the bat. He truly thought this would be the day he had to stop and push. At least it would make for a good story.

Surprise, there was a whole ‘nother gear there compared to Tuesday. Don’t get the wrong idea; The Fat Cat still carried the red lantern, Aerobinator still took the summit, and the Earth still spun on its axis. It’s just that it was fun again. Yipee!

The Grimpeurs braved dogs and pothole pocked roads on McKinney Cave. Only one tube was sacrificed. They picked across the bombed out runway of Burke road. No name roads on the north side of route 7 looped the group back around to Reedsville. Born road and all its steep little climbs didn’t bite too bad, excellent. There was no sprint for the county line. You know who just rode everybody off his wheel on the uphill run in. After that, the real fun started.

With Aerobinator leading the way, the Grimpeurs flew across the top of Summer School road. With every surprised look back, Aerobinator found the cat right there, clawing up his back. At one point he even tried to pull off, thinking he would sit in and rest a minute. No way! After watching him noodle around Tuesday with a wounded animal skulking around yards off the back, it was great to see him sweat. Only when the real descent kicked in did The Cat heed the wave through. How fantastic it was to tuck in and just blast down the road after tearing it up across the top. The Cat felt like a new man. The world was wide open just like the valley spread out below him.

So, it seems that Big Daddy may have been right—it was the heat. Blue Colnago’s wave of cooler temperatures rolled in for today and presto, The Cat was back. Will the Birdman’s prowess in all things bicycle never cease? Of course, there were confounding variables. For one, Swedish fish were flipped into The Cat’s maw every couple of minutes like a show dolphin in Sandusky. Whatever it was, thank you and it’s great to be back—you’ve been a great crowd.

PART TWO: The Grimplets
After satisfying the Grimpeurs, The Cat saddled up with his favorite partners. Who should they meet on the trail but Legs and Aerobinator. The Grimplets were so excited to ride with the senior circuit just like Daddy. They rode in a tight peleton like pros and loved every minute of it. The kids were treated like old hands by the other Grimpeurs. Legs even got them begging to do a hill climb challenge for kids that’s coming up. Thanks guys, the boys can’t stop talking about it. Even had to stop at Wamsley’s and buy them some bikin’ apparel. Life is Good.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hot or Not

The Fat Cat was going to ride alone Tuesday. That would’ve been the smart thing to do. But, he heeded the summons of Big Daddy and Aerobinator. Now, Legs, he got the same call. Being far wiser than The Cat, he had the good sense to decline. Thus, it was left to the Cat to save his faster companions from the dire depths of heat stress to which they surely would have exposed themselves in his absence. Of course, this meant plunging himself into a furnace of critical core temperature and complete failure. Hey, anything for a friend, eh.

Riding up Beulah and into the highlands of Preston County, WV in the mid-day heat lead to the now typical response from the Cat’s deconditioned frame. He gasped for air, the cranks seemed to seize up, sweat induced weather systems formed about him, Jesus and a parade of other deities shimmered and danced out from his dehydrated brain— blah, blah, blah. You’ve read it all before. Suffice it to say that the Cat had it hard and his companions had to wait a lot.

Big Daddy Birdman insists that it is not deconditioning or weight gain that has caused the Cat’s fall. He is sure that the heat is the culprit. In as much as The Cat could talk, and it was not much, conversation turned to how heat affects physical performance.

One point had to do with the blood. A truck drivin’, perpetual part time student, genetic cycling monstrosity friend of ours once told big daddy that heat induced performance loss had to do with the blood. The theory is that when it is hot, a greater proportion of blood is shunted from the core to the extremities for temperature regulation and thus is not available for the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. However, in 1979, a scientist called Nadel published a study showing that blood flow was, in fact, not limiting during exercise in hot conditions. This was followed by studies in the 1990's from Denmark which showed the same thing - there may be a challenge to blood supply during exercise in the heat, but the body is more than capable of meeting it in healthy individuals. And so, that theory was disproven.

Just before The Fat Cat started to loose the power of speech again as another grade kicked up on Nicholson, it was suggested that there may be heat related changes in oxygen binding capacity. It is true that increases in temperature affect the oxyhemoglobin curve. Heat causes hemoglobin molecules to let loose their oxygen molecules easier and would actually improve tissue oxygenation. But, the effect is not that great and, in reality, the actual body temperature is kept in a fairly narrow range and does not usually elevate more than one or two degrees in the absence of heat exhaustion/stroke. Also, the oxyhemaglobin curve is strongly affected by ph. Increased acidity equals better release of oxygen. It has been shown that there is an increase in muscle glycolosis with increased temperatures. This in turn results in increased levels of lactic acid which would decrease ph and, you guessed it, result in better release of oxygen to the muscles. So, that shoots the whole heat/ oxygen theory right in the ass.

Between wheezes, The Cat muttered something about the brain actually limiting work output and sending out pain messages and the like so as to maintain the tight thermoregulatory range. Turns out, this is probably the chief factor in heat related performance deficits. Exercise in heat causes central fatigue. That is, increasing body temperature affects brain function and the drive to exercise. With strong motivation, you might be able to get the body temperature up to 41 degrees celsius, but beyond that, it seems that exercise is very nearly impossible. Remember also that heat stroke happens at a temperature of 42 degrees. In normal individuals, the brain stops you from getting yourself into trouble. This information was derived From EMG and EEG (muscle and brain tests). Here is some stuff I lifted for you geeks if you want a little more info.

1. At very high (40 degrees) body temperatures, immediately after the athletes had become exhausted, they found that the activation of muscle by the brain was actually LOWER than when the body temperature was only 38 degrees. The graph below shows the EMG activity in the quadriceps muscles after exercise in the hot and cool conditions. It's quite clear that the EMG, which is a measure of activation of muscle, is lower when the body is hot. So that gives an indication of why the cyclists were no longer able to push out the required force - their brain simply prevented them from activating the required amount of muscle.
There was supposed to be a cool graph here but the site won't take it. Sorry.
2. There was evidence of reduced arousal/motivation levels once the body temperature rose. In fact, what was found is that there was a very good correlation between a rise in body temperature and a reduction in arousal. Motivation or arousal, incidentally, was measured using EEG and the ratio of certain brain waves which are known to indicate this parameter. The key point here is that as the body temperature gets higher, the motivation declines, and this in turn is responsible for a rise in the perception of effort. They therefore found a good correlation between RPE and a rise in body temperature, though of course, correlations are often a slightly misleading. The key is: Increased body temperature = decreased motivation/arousal = increased effort perception.

After The Cat beat out Aerobinator for second at the county line sprint, the power of logical thought left him. Talk of optimum human performance ceased. Pure survival kicked in. He hung far back from his fellow Grimpeurs and was barely able to hold onto the handlebars.

Despite his ignominious defeat in the sprint, Aerobinator proved himself (contrary to popular belief) to be one hell of a nice guy. On the run down rt. 7, he dropped back and offered The Fat Cat a fat wheel to suck on. The Benevolent One gently tugged the Fat One up to Birdman and kept him there. Thanks.
As soon as The Grimpeurs parted on their separate paths home, The Cat collapsed in the first roadside clearing he could find. He lay there for fifteen minutes swallowing Swedish fish like a drunken frat boy and seriously contemplating drinking water out of a dirty stream. Ah yes, good times…good times.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Crazy From the Heat

It was 89 degrees in the shade and at one point a cyclocomputer read 100 on the road. That was the Fat Cat’s problem assured Big Daddy Birdman.

Six riders converged on the mountain despite the Sun’s menace. Birdman, Aerobinator, Slider and Pheel rode in from Morgantown to join The Fat Cat and Legs. Let’s get right to our newest—member—Phheel’s, Grimpeur name. He is the hero “Phallose.” The photo below might illuminate the derivation. Is that a pump or is he happy to see the Grimpeurs?

From pedal stroke one The Fat Cat’s legs were of molten lead. He was bathed in his own fluids on the initial climb such that the S.S. Minnow could have followed his trail. The cool, spring water at the hairpin did nothing to refresh. It was going to be a tough day.

All along the top of the mountain the Cat did his best impression of a Duncan Yo Yo. He was repeatedly off the back and in distress even though no one was even remotely trying to put him there. From his precarious perch on the back bumper, all the other riders seemed to be feeling fine despite the solar assault they were under. What fine, brave cycling soldiers The Cat had the privilege to battle the mountain with.

Oh, glory be the three pedal free miles offered up by Kirby road. Surely, winging down the eastern slope of the mountain at 53mph would be just the right shot of recovery and adrenaline to wake a sleeping lion. Bikes dropped through the atmosphere like Apollo landers. The Grimpeurs carved across the Emory board surface of maturing tar and chip with fearless fury. Joy returned to the peleton. Alas, the respite was all too brief.

The slow climb up the valley on Wharton Furnace Road was slow torture. The Cat grabbed the wheel of heroic Phallose for a while, but started walkin the dog and other tricks again. The Cat wallowed in diaphoretic morass of cardiac contortions and muscular fatigue. Up from this bog arose a smelly green cloud of self doubt and guilt. All the other riders seemed barely able to stay upright as they drifted and occasionally turned a crank ahead of their foundering leader. Where they even getting a workout? Was mutiny fomenting up there in the ranks? Why were they all wavy looking? The Fat Cat felt heavy as an anchor.

Foolish pride reared its ugly head. Despite his deteriorating situation, The Cat bellowed out his foolhardy command from the rear. “We’re turning here boys. Make for the starboard!” It’s simple: If you are in trouble on the gently rising route and loosing the respect of your crew, tack off onto the impossibly steep Fayette Springs Road. You can see the logic here, can’t you?

The early days of barely being able to squeeze out each turn of the cranks were soon back upon The Fat Cat. Legs was going on about some, most assuredly, fascinating subject. His words only evaporated in the superheated plasma cloud that had enveloped The Fat Cat. The contents of his skull liquefied and poured from the ears like streams of molten steel. Lungs savagely clawed at the air while the heart pounded like Casey Jones on the juice. Despite a body nearing the point at which hydrogen fusion occurs, the leader from the rear pedaled blindly on. Is there not at least nobility in this? Maybe? A Little?

The Grimpeurs climbed through the door of the only source of fluid for miles around, the Christian Clay Winery. “Damn the sample glasses, woman,” they cried, “bring on the bottles!” Sorry to any MG aficionados that may have taken offense to the pirate bilge that sounded from our little corner of the barn.

Soon it was back out into the heat and up yet another grade. The legs were still heavy, but no one cared. Ahh, the early days of doping. The Grimpeurs lopped off the ambitious 20 extra miles to Dunbar and played with the motorists on route 40. Yes, The Cat was lagging again, but most of the distance was because he stopped for a photo op at the dangerous mountain sign. Really, it was that white hot.
At the Summit, The Cat found all Grimpeurs other than Legs had started up to the golf course. With a luscious descent down the divided highway unfurled before him and a complex developing about holding the group back, The Cat dove off alone into the valley. In retrospect, this may have been a real butt-head move. At the time, however, it seemed like a good idea.

The Cat put his head down along the foot of the mountains while his better companions dashed across the top. If nothing else, the valley route was proven to be fastest. The Cat waited at the car for a few ticks before the rest of the pack came out of the hills.

Thanks to those who braved the humitidy and the heat. Despite all the physical and mental travails, it’s still better on a bike than off. The Cat promises to try and get on a trainer if he can’t get on the road.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Grimpless in WV

Here a few of the things that kept The Flanders Fat Cat off the mountain Tuesday.
Too much paperwork. Gotta keep the stool jockeys and pencil pushers happy.

Too little rubber. Thursday's thrill ride ground about fifty dollars off this tire in less than 2 seconds. Even The Fat Cat isn't stupid enough to take on Mud Pike with wounded diggers. Unfortunately, Aerobinator bought up all the blue Continentals. So, The Cat will have to go black on the back and blue on the front next ride. Black and blue, how ironic.

Two really good reasons. They wanted to go bike riding with The Cat, but a flat tire and a broken seat tube collar buried those plans. Ice cream and puppets saved the day.

The Fat Cat's date for the afternoon. Annie was kinda dead, but The Cat was able to breath some life into her.

West Virginia moonshine at Midnight. That Annie sure did keep the Cat out late. This would have been a great picture with a real camera instead of a telephone.

Friday, July 11, 2008

God Bless Helmets and PennDOT.

Without a doubt, this edition of The Grimpeurs was the best ever. There were a lot of climbs and all, but it was the in the final minutes that the excitement was kicked up a notch. Hell, we kicked it right off the post. The Tour De France plays in the background as I type and I am bored with it, having lived today’s ride. First things first, though.

New Grimpeur, Marc G. joined Boy Scout (who strongly desires the due recognition he was denied in a prior post when he was incorrectly identified: he is MarK R!), The Fat Cat and Talks-With-Legs. After a stop for fresh spring water on Mud Pike, the two Marks pulled away and crested the opening climb together. Neither laid claim to the Polka Dot Jersey. My, my, it has become downright gentlemanly on the Mountain lately.

After that, everybody headed north across Skyline all the way over to Jumonville and its silky smooth descent. It was here that Marc G first challenged the Cat’s here-to-fore unquestioned supremacy in falling down mountains. The two riders traded the lead spot several times, tucking in for a top speed of 52.9mph. The scary part was that a coal truck slowed them just as they reached the steepest part. There is no telling what speed may have been attained had they hit that section at a full gallop. Honestly, the Cat was already fighting the urge to brake. The Cat and then Marc both passed the truck. Yahoo! Chalk up another one in the bikes are boss column.

An obviously deranged Fat Cat eschewed the normal lowland return route. He suggested heading North a bit towards a never before ridden climb back up the mountain. What a schizophrenic ascent. First it made you question your ability to go on. Next it had you thinking it was easy. This sort of mental and physical game went on for 3 or four miles until, in the end, the hill decided it was just going to stand up and be a real bitch.

The Grimpeurs, suffering a bit from the two bagger of Cat 1 climbs, headed back along the spine of the mountain on Skyline. A quick stop for fuel at the Summit Inn served to sufficiently delay the short but steep run up to the golf course that nobody seemed enthused about.

Now comes the fun part. The Fat Cat took his usual lead on the descent of Mud Pike. About half way down and, what tha? Marc G slid past. The Fat Cat long ago became numb to the beatings on the ascent, now content to placidly bleed. But this, this could not stand. He knew that his only chance was to try and hang close until after the hairpin and shoot by on the super steep bottom section. Now, keep in mind, Marc is an honest to goodness bike racer and he was f-l-y-i-n-g down the mountain. But, the Cat stayed within 10 yards of his wheel. The Fat One knew that a very tricky turn was just ahead. The nasty buggar quickly dropped in elevation at its apex. But, if Marc wasn’t braking, then neither was the Cat. After all, he was following an “experienced racer.” What better way to rail slide the ragged edge?

In the next two seconds, spacetime seemed to bend and slow to a crawl. All the thoughts and actions to come actually took place in that short window. If only the Cat could squeeze that kind of lightning info processing out of his graying matter under normal circumstances.

Marc hit the brakes. His tires locked up at just under 50mph. His Lemond slid sideways to the left, snapped to the right and then again leftward. The Cat watched this from just behind, momentarily alarmed at witnessing the potential disaster. The concern was short lived. It occurred to him that in the next millisecond he would be in the same straits. Somehow, the thought took away any fear. Logical thought wedged in a foot. Sure enough, the brakes were no match for the diabolical combination of suddenly increasing grade and a radical change in angular momentum. The Fat Cat may has well have been on ice. He went into the same slide he has just witnessed. Try and find max braking with minimal sliding, he thought. He worked the brake lever madly. Up ahead he saw Marc hit the side of the road and fishtail. Amazingly, he made it through the small patch of deep black ash that had found its way to the burm. Marc let out a war whoop.

The Cat knew his bike handling skills were no match. He slid and shifted weight for all he was worth. He rapidly realized he and the road were destined to part. A quick survey revealed trees and steep drops every where but that one spot in the apex that Marc just plowed through. All hope was pinned on that spot. The Cat got it down to about 20mph. Then he tossed himself toward that one cubic yard of relative safety. He started to put out and arm but had the time to think about broken clavicles and such as he floated over his bike. He tucked the arm under and flew head and shoulders into the black. His helmet plowed deep into the soft ash that had helped him climb the mountain only months ago. A wave of the stuff curled over him like a collapsing pipe crashing into Maui.

In a flash the Fat Cat was up and mounting his bike, still consumed with the chase. His twisted chain delayed him long enough for the trailing Grimpeurs to catch up. What a sight he was, a big white smile set against a head to toe gritty black coat. I ask you, what kind of a nut thinks a high speed bicycle crash is a great time. That boy ain’t right in the head.

At the bottom, The Cat felt like a rock star as the other Grimpeurs unloaded their cameras on his filthy and abraded visage. After all had satisfied their morbid photographic desires, The Fat Cat was treated to an impromptu, water bottle shower. Good times, good times…

And now, to the granting of Marc’s Grimpeur name. My first impulse was dumbass. But- who’s the dumbass: the one that hit the curve too fast or the one that followed him in and bit it? Marc, let’s just go with “Slider.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Old Farts

The Grimpeurs did not meet yesterday due to a cognitive error on the part of The Fat Cat. He thought he was supposed to do some mandated chest thumping and mouth breathing practice so as to better resuscitate anyone he might accidentally desuscitate. The staff informed him Tuesday morning that the class was next week. Oh, well. There were a million other things to be done anyway.

Being that he suffered a senior moment, the Fat Cat decided to squeeze in a ride with "The Old Farts." The Old Farts organize a congenial little affair that meets in Star City every Thursday at 4:45. It is billed as a ride for those over forty. Three riders made it out for this edition. The Cat was assured that the sweltering heat had suppressed turnout. It was, indeed, hot.

I'll tell you what; these Farts are on to something. There was no flagellation of self or others. No one tried to rip off the legs or tear out the lungs of anyone else. That is not to say that they couldn't have. One of the riders was also on the Sunday 70 mile slug fest a few days ago and acquitted himself just fine. It's just that this ride seemed more about enjoying the afternoon. I guess the sentiment was best expressed in the overriding gist of the route haggling. Of paramount importance was which roads would be the shadiest. And, find the shady lanes they did with knowing expertise.

The Cat followed as the group spun its way along ribbons of asphalt that stretched across undulating waves of tall grass and under interlacing canopies of green leaves. The high sun pushed and peeked through the verdant tunnels, painting the roads with shifting abstractions in light and shadow.

The near biblical rains this spring have really dressed West Virginia in her finest. The landscape is blanketed with life. It's so lush. It brings to mind the rain forests of Brazil. The moisture thick air and the haze hanging amongst the treetops only heightens the fantasy. Wow, it sure is nice to save some oxygen for the senses. All that and home by dinnertime! Thanks, Seasoned and Wise Gentlemen.