Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Local Farmer's Markets Can't be Beat!

Dave and I took part in a workshop over the weekend offered by a local winter farmer's market. It was on raising your own backyard chickens. We were intrigued.

David's brother and other friends of ours have their own chickens, and on occasion, we've benefited with fresh eggs they've shared with us. We really enjoy them. I also love the idea of  producing our own food. We had some success with a backyard garden last year, and as we learn more, we're hopeful that we will get even better at it!

The chicken workshop was very popular -- standing room only. We were very lucky to secure two seats next to each other. There were poultry catalogs and books to browse through, and we were supplied with a lot of useful information.

Did you know that a chicken can naturally live up to 15 years, and that she will lay eggs for only about 2 of those years? After that, we can eat them... if we don't grow too emotionally attached!

We do need to come up with some kind of housing for suitable protection from predators, and then I think we might start out with 6 or 8 birds this spring.

After our workshop, David and I browsed around the farmer's market. I really enjoy the assortment of samples made with wonderfully fresh and wholesome ingredients! We tasted pasta sauce, butter, cheeses, pesto, and dips. We purchased lettuce, scallions, eggs, and a frozen seafood pie with the most incredible light flaky crust -- which we enjoyed for dinner that evening! Oh! We also bought some blueberry muffins. Baked goods are something we've been avoiding in our quest to eat better and shed pounds, but here we were 20 minutes before closing time, and those were offered to us at half price.

After the market, we planned to ride our tandem for a couple of hours. However, we actually spent more time there than we expected, and it was growing late. David also stopped to chat extensively with a man walking two Airedale dogs at our starting point. (He loves the breed, and he has always wanted to own one.) Turns out the man with the dogs also owns a Burley tandem -- just like ours!

We ended up shortening our route considerably, after the realization of our available time combined with a whipping wind sunk in. It was almost 40 degrees, but felt colder. Still, it felt great to get roughly 15 miles in.

Upon our return, we were surprised that daylight was still with us. The sunset time is now 5:35 pm ~ much later than it was just a month or so ago. We're looking forward to warmer weather -- and hopeful there will soon be sufficient daylight to allow us pre-and-post workday rides!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Anxiety on My Own

I don't know why it is, but I experience a tinge of anxiety when it comes to planning a bicycle ride out and about on the hills of Sterling when I am on my own. David is working and unavailable to ride with me.

I have a great single bicycle, and I love it. But I have to admit, I love being on the tandem more!

Before David left for work, he had me pump air into the tires. A simple thing for most, but it's something I've always relied on David to do. He showed me how the tires on my two bikes are different and use opposite ends of the pump nozzle. And they are also different when it comes to how much air I should pump into each.

I discovered too, that I don't have great upper arm strength. Of all the exercises I prefer to do -- elliptical machine, brisk walking, treadmill, or cycling -- none of those do anything for my arms. I do have a couple of workouts on DVD. I suppose it's time to admit, I should do those more often. The simple motions of pumping air into my bicycle tires made my arms ache. Geez!!

Once I am ready to leave my driveway, I feel a sense of trepidation. I worry about what-ifs. What if I get a flat? What if I can't make it up a big, big hill? What if I have an accident and fly head first over my handlebars? What if... no one is around to rescue me???

My view on the bicycle on today's ride.
 I don't know... The benefits far outweigh the risks.

It's the wind in my face, the fresh air, and the time to allow myself self-reflection that motivates me. Not to mention, the calories burned. To top it off, the way I feel so great after a ride is really the payoff. I will do it again whenever I can!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Epic! Hardcore! ~ Reactions to our February Century Ride

We did it!!!
Epic. Hardcore. Those are some of the words people used upon hearing of our desire to complete a century ride (100 miles) in upstate New York on our tandem in February!

The snowfall came down upon us for only for the last 10 miles or so. While I had previously told David that if it snowed, I would be getting off the bike and he could ride in on his own, that didn't happen.
: )

After all, we had gone so far and my butt wasn't even killing me at that point!

Our adventure began on Friday night. Because David had a full workday ahead of him, we had the van packed the night before. When Dave was free from work, we drove 3 1/2 hours to Ballston Spa, a small town not far from Saratoga Springs, New York.

Our hosts: Paul & Wendy

We connected with a wonderful couple, Paul and Wendy, who offered to host us for the weekend. We met them online through the warmshowers website, which offers hospitality for touring cyclists. These people warmed our hearts with their down-to-earth friendliness and generosity. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at their home, the easy conversation and the most incredibly amazing and delicious meals!

Paul is a professor in Culinary Arts and Wendy is equally gifted. It was our good fortune to meet up with them. In spite of our late arrival on Friday night (after 8 p.m.) we were welcomed at their table with a pot roast dinner, including mashed potatoes and homemade bread!

On Saturday morning, we awoke early. Paul was great to help Dave off to a good start with coffee brewing. I had taken along fresh ingredients in a cooler for our favorite pre-ride smoothie, and we shared some with Paul before we hurried out the door to ensure we had plenty of time before our ride start at 8 am. We were about a half hour drive away from the town of Schuylerville, where the Snowball Express event began from the Director's home.

After stopping on the way to figure out why our GPS was directing us in an opposite direction from notes we had taken earlier in the week, we finally arrived at 7:45 am. I was already dressed in multiple layers, but Dave overheats easily so he still needed to pile on some clothing. Other riders were mulling around, inside and outside of the house.

Coffee, tea, and bagels were available for pre-ride fueling. I had a half cup of coffee and a half bagel with cream cheese. There was a great assortment of Hammer Nutrition products put out for us too. Dave and I took a couple of gel packs each. We had also brought along some of our own old favorites for long rides: Clif Bars, Shot blocks, and some of our favorite flavors in Clif Shot Energy Gels. (I like the mocha and expresso flavors, not so much a fan of fruity gels.)

We took off  around 8:15 a.m. The morning was bright and sunny, and while the temperatures were said to be in the low 30's, there was little wind. I was very comfortable in my six layers!

There were six bicycles on this ride, seven riders -- including the organizer. This was my second century ride. My first was The Flattest Century of the East put out by the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen Club, and that one had over 2,000 participants. This was quite a contrast!

Dave Waldburger
We were happily surprised that one of our fellow TCC (Thread City Cyclists) members was inspired to join us. David Waldburger is a seasoned cyclist who commutes to work each day on his bicycle! He is a pleasure to ride with, as he easily adapts on group rides with other cyclists of varying capabilities.

We all rode as a pack for the first part of the ride. Everyone was upbeat and talkative. It was nice to get to know the other cyclists.

Jim Williams
One of our fellow riders has taken part in the RAAM (http://www.raceacrossamerica.org). Fascinating to talk to, Jim is an attorney living in New York City, on a 4-person team training for this year's grueling event (profiled in the movie documentary, Bicycle Dreams).  His team, Team4HIVHope, will be conducting active experiments on their members to compare the effects of endurance activity on HIV+ and non-HIV+ athletes. In 2011, Team 4HIVHope completed the Race in six days, six hours and 34 minutes and finished 8th out of 32 teams. The ride we shared with him is part of his ongoing preparation for the big race, which begins on June 16, 2012.

With the exception of one somewhat challenging hill at the very onstart of the ride, the route was surprisingly flat. Dave and I were pleased that the pace of the group was comfortable for us -- even being on a tandem. We averaged a speed of 14.5 MPH.

Along the way, we kept ourselves fueled periodically with the sports nutrition goodies we brought along. At one point, the group did spread apart. Those of us in front lost our way, and we needed to stop to look at the route sheet and turn around after crossing a grated bridge. I was thankful at that point, that it was dry road because we imagined that riding over that grating could be a little slippery when wet.

At another point in the ride, we lost sight of two riders, but they were local and knew the area well. Somewhat miraculously, we all managed to regroup again as the ride progressed. The first rest stop was at a convenience store about 35 miles in. I was ready for it! Unlike the guys, I wasn't comfortable stopping along the roadside to pee.

At the halfway point, it was about 12:30 in the afternoon. We were back at John's house, where we started. It felt good to take a more lengthy break then, as we collected inside around the dining room table. There were chips, Oreo cookies, Pop Tarts, and leftover bagels to munch on. I was surprised to see a cooler full of cold soda for us. That's one item I've removed from my diet. I enjoyed a hot cup of tea instead, and it felt good, warming me up from the inside!

A little while later, we were back outside getting on our bikes. I was playing a mind game with myself, trying to forget that I had just ridden 50 miles, and convincing myself that I felt good enough to embark on a fresh adventure!

The skies were getting more overcast, and it seemed it wasn't as warm as it felt earlier in the day. The temperatures were supposed to reach 39 or 40 degrees, but now there wasn't so much sunshine.

Mile by mile, riders engaged in lively conversation, which passed the time more quickly. There was little traffic, and I appreciated that.

Later in the afternoon, the weather turned, and we felt the occasional drop of water hit our faces. We were hoping for it to hold off, but gradually, it became colder and before we knew it, it was snowing!

In spite of my warning to Dave that I was prepared to hop off the tandem if it started snowing, we were so far along at that point! We had 10 miles to go when it first started to get wet, and 8 miles left when it was actively snowing.

As the weather changed, our group spread apart greatly. The faster guys (Dave W. and Jim) broke away from us. The three others fell behind, and as a result, Dave and I were on our own for a while.  

The snow started to fall more heavily and it was accumulating on grassy areas, but seemingly melting upon contact with the road. We were advised earlier in the ride that the way back was continuing straight, but we came upon a fork in the road. Our glasses were covered in wet snow, and our clothes were starting to soak through. Being on our own, we were suddenly unsure of which way to go, and we didn't want to delay our return by choosing to wrong way.

We stopped to give John a call on the cell. Come to find out, he wasn't too far behind. However, while we were stopped, another rider made his way up to us. Ross is an older cyclist, a marriage counselor. We enjoyed chatting with him about his work, and we joked about couples who ride tandems, and how doing so tends to make or break a relationship.

Ross rode with us in the snowstorm!

Ross has gone this route before, and he knew how to get us back. He was encouraging -- it wasn't too far to go, the roads weren't all that much slippery, and we had come so far already!

As we continued onward with Ross, Dave's cell phone rang. I retrieved it from his rear pocket to answer. It was John. His wife had called him, stating that it was snowing pretty heavily back at the house. She offered to come out to get him with their minivan, and he was going to have her do that. John offered us the same escape if we felt we did not want to continue riding in the harsh weather.

There were just 8 miles to go! No way. We had to keep moving.

We approached a stop sign, and Ross stopped and we followed suit. He took off his gloves. He asked us for our camera. This was the 100 mile mark, and Ross was helping us to capture the moment!! (Photo at the top of this page.)

By then, we had two more miles before we were back at our starting point. It's likely that our earlier detour lengthened the overall mileage tally. As we pulled into the front of John's house, Ross yelled out a hearty, "Congratulations!!" to us.

Dave W., Scott, Jim, John, and my Dave after the finish!
Ross had just left for home.

(Not sure why the reflective stripes on John's jersey caused a blur, but it happened in four shots!)

We congratulated him as well. Dave W. and Jim were already inside, and John was brought home by his wife. A few minutes later, Scott arrived safe and sound. We clapped and cheered for him too!

Inside we warmed up and peeled off our wet layers. It was 5:30 p.m. As much as we were feeling drained and wiped out from the last few miles, we felt proud of having done it!

Back with our van loaded, we phoned Paul and Wendy back in Ballston Spa. Such wonderful hosts, they were preparing another memorable meal! The menu included Chicken Marsala, couscous salad, and grilled asparagus. For desert, walnut tarts from Paul's class. Incredible!

In the morning, we were served a breakfast we had never experienced before -- aebleskiver! They are traditional Danish pancakes in a distinctive shape of a sphere. Somewhat similar in texture to American pancakes crossed with a popover, æbleskiver are solid like a pancake but light and fluffy like a popover. Paul invited me by the stove to view the unusual cast iron pan designed especially for this dish. Served with powdered sugar and maple syrup, we enjoyed the new found delicacy!

Before heading home, we wanted to see some of the sights of the area. We checked out the Schenectady Greenmarket a winter Farmer's Market. We picked up some fresh bread, jellies, almond butter, and raw honey. Afterward, we headed over to the town of Saratoga Springs where we walked and checked out some of the eclectic shops to be seen.

All in all, this was an adventure that began with kind-of-a-crazy idea from the man I love! This century ride in February is part of our goal-setting process, where we decided to mark out certain key events to challenge ourselves throughout the year.

We've met some amazing folks and learned a lot along the way. We're super-excited to experience more! This is all in support of our desire to be more fit and healthy, and to stretch beyond our own pre-existing ideas of what we are capable of doing!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Getting Ready for a Big Weekend!

It's a rainy but mild day in Connecticut. Temperatures should reach 50 degrees. Tomorrow is set to be somewhat colder, but sunny. Dave and I are happily anticipating the weekend ahead. This will be my second century ride. I hopeful that we can make the entire distance!

Our rear tire has been replaced. The old one was toast. Dave gave the tandem a detailed inspection and a good wipe-down to combat some of the muddy splashes that had accumulated in its crevices. We have the van preloaded so we'll be ready to roll!

We are looking forward to cycling in a new environment. The course will be a rolling figure 8 loop through Saratoga County and will take us along the Hudson River and around Saratoga Lake. We've been told that this part of New York is very pretty ~ although that is during the warmer months!

We're also excited to meet new friends. We've tapped into the WarmShowers.org website again (the last time was in September for our California honeymoon!), and we've had nothing but positive experiences! Our hosts for this weekend seem to be very pleasant and most certainly gracious to open their home to us.

We've also had a couple of conversations with John Ceceri from Adirondack Ultra Cycling, who is the organizer for the Snowball Express ride. He has been extremely helpful with information he has shared about the event, as well as the surrounding area. The Adirondack Ultra Challenge series fills in the months between other Adirondack Ultra Cycling events with centuries, so that a cyclist can accomplish the goal of riding a century every month for an entire year.

With this year's mild winter enabling us to continue riding on the road without any lengthy interruptions, we've decided to focus on improving our overall fitness and riding skills, and setting goals is exactly our strategy! Dave has been exploring the possibility of getting into bicycle racing again. I want to be be more fit and lose weight for an overall sense of well-being. We're prepared to take on each challenge and enjoy the journey and new adventures along the way!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Preparing for a Century... and Unexpected Happenings!

David took a vacation day from work today so that we would have an opportunity to get some serious miles under our belts before this Saturday's 100 mile century ride. The plan was for 54 miles and we did it!

However, this was not a stress-free ride.

A strange thing happened to me with my heart rate monitor. It beeps when I am out of my "zone". The zone is where Polar suggests my heart rate should be when I want to have an effective workout. My watch alerts me when I am not within in the targeted range.

At roughly the 12 mile point, my watch was beeping. We were climbing a pretty steep hill, so I assumed I was over my zone ~ which goes up to 149 on the high end. I couldn't resist catching a glance to see where it was. To my disbelief, it was reading 111 at the peak of the climb! The watch was alerting me that I was under my target zone. Now that was strange. Then, as we leveled out, my heart rate dropped to 48. Wow, that's really low. What was going on?

That triggered a pattern of scarey thoughts about what could possibly be happening with my health.

I had a health scare back in April 2010 that began with an assortment of unusual symptoms. The doctors eventually discovered a blood clot in the portal vein of my liver. They also found gallstones. My symptoms leading up to the diagnosis ranged from an itchy rash on sun-exposed areas of my skin, to dark urine, to light-headedness, to vomiting and fainting, and then severe abdominal pain on the right side. They did not do a gall-bladder operation because I needed to be on blood thinners to resolve the blood clot. After being hospitalized and  fed only liquids through an IV for a while, most of my alarming symptoms faded away, and I was discharged from the hospital. I was left with lingering symptoms of a different sort. Mainly, occasional bouts of dizziness with a sense of my heart racing. This happened most often when I was standing for prolonged periods of time, for instance, when shopping. If I immediately left the store and sat in my car in the parking lot, it would sometime subside. I was referred to a heart specialist who determined that my heart is perfectly fine, but my blood pressure was low. I may have been on too much of a dosage of my blood pressure medication (I lost weight and since I was exercising, the dosage prescribed to me when I was heavier and not as active was too much).

That feeling of dizziness happens less frequently now, and it is much less intense. I do occasionally get episodes of abdominal pain -- approximately every 6 to 9 months. Sometimes vomiting comes with it. A pain-killer eliminates the discomfort and puts me to sleep, and then it doesn't happen again for a while.

Now I am losing weight again. While I am on a different blood pressure medication, I've been told it is a very low dosage. But since my diseased gall bladder is still inside of my gut, I live with an ever-present fear. Also, I have never been given an explanation as to why I was experiencing the dizzy spells... although fewer and far more milder now. This all leaves me with my mind running through strings of possible traumatic health conditions I might have whenever something unusual seems to be going on.

David advised me to pay no attention to my heart rate monitor. It was probably just missing beats.

Hmmm... it's never done that before.

Eventually, my heart rate does seem to return back to normal ranges. But suddenly, I need to pee. We pull into a nearby cafe. It is closed. There are no other stops nearby. We end up riding another 10 miles or so until we reach a gas station where I can use a bathroom. I am relieved and we continue on our way.

The day was cloudy, yet mild -- temperatures in the mid-40's -- for most of our time spent riding. Occasionally, the sun would peek through the clouds, and eventually it did warm up a bit. I was feeling overheated. We pulled over to stop so I could remove my gloves, my outermost jacket, my neck-warmer, and knit headband.
Concerned about my daughter arriving home on the school bus at a specific time, I express concern over the length of our route. We had about an hour and a half and about 20 miles to go. David modified the original planned ride to give us more of a comfort zone in getting back to our house in time.

The ride went well until we were roughly 4 miles from home... and facing three sizable climbs, with about 20 minutes before the school bus drop-off time. David asked me if the rear tire seemed soft. I hadn't felt anything unusual. But preferring to err on the side of caution, I suggest that we pull over to inspect the tire.

It was soft. David pumped it up. We continued onward towards home.

At the top of our first lengthy climb, we pulled over to check the rear tire again. We had 8 minutes before drop-off time, and David needed to inflate it again! We had a slow-leaker on our hands that wasn't quite slow enough.

We descended two gigantic hills on the main road before the turning point onto our street. As we began our final 3-part climb at the base of our road home, we get the obvious flat tire sound of, "blumb, blump, blump...".

David pulled over again to re-inflate the tire. I was getting panicky. The bus would be at our house any minute! I phoned a neighbor to escort my daughter off the bus in case we didn't make it back home in time. Whew! What a relief to know we have wonderful neighbors.  : )

David had the tire ready to go again, and we hopped back on the tandem.

We weren't three houses further when that familiar, "blumb, blump, blump..." was happening again. Fortunately we made it into our driveway before the bus arrived! I phoned our neighbor to let her know we were safely home. The bus was four minutes late, and my little girl was cheerful and happy -- blissfully unaware of any unusual circumstances.

That was the conclusion of our ride. It was 54 miles. Being mid-February, I'm glad we had a chance to ride. And being that we have a century ride to tackle in a couple of days, I'm really glad we were able to put on a few base miles. Now, we just need to get that tire fixed!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Looking Beyond Limitations

Last night David and I went to a spin class at the gym, and we shared our plans to do a century ride (100 miles) this Saturday in New York. The collective reaction of our friends was astonishment!

Here we are after finishing our first ever century ride, in 2010!
It's funny. If anyone had asked me (even a few months ago) if I could see myself doing a century ride in the month of February, I'm pretty sure my answer would have been, "No way!"

I think back in time to 1999 when I had just moved to a rural area of Johnston, Rhode Island from a more city-like neighborhood. I'd often see groups of cyclists ride by my home in sweeping blurs of spandex colors. I remember watching in amazement. I was in an unhappy marriage, raising four kids, working long hours, and not nearly as active as I am today. If anyone asked me back then if I could ever see myself as one among those riders, my reply would have most certainly been, "No way!" as well.

But here I am now, in a place and time that has turned so positive. I am grateful.

I am in a close and loving relationship with a man I adore. We have a good home and wonderful family. Life has thrown a lot at us, with a health scare, financial stresses, and a horrible loss with the death of my oldest son. But, we've been there for each other as we seek out to gather strength in the lessons of it all.

David's support and encouragement has been steadfast, and it has shown me that there is much ahead for us -- much of which is beyond what we ever could have imagined for ourselves!

Case in point, earlier this year -- with lots of hope, pure desire, meticulous planning, and incredibly generous family and friends -- we were able to have the cycling honeymoon of our dreams in San Francisco!

And somehow in our lives today, we are losing those extra pounds, eating healthier, exercising and accomplishing goals we've set. We're feeling more energetic and positive, and we are loving this life.

The road ahead is unknown, but it is sure to be an adventure. We're up for it.
After all, I'm a stoker who has great trust in her captain!

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Century in February? YES!!

Our opportunities for wintertime cycling have been great this season. With the exception of one snowy weekend in January, we've been out riding on the road at least once or twice per week. In addition to that, we are now attending a new spin class designed especially for cyclists. Some participants use spin bikes, others bring in their own bicycles and trainers, and a few even use their own bicycles on rollers -- David included! Instructor Chip O'Lari has designed the classes with focus areas, such as high intensity interval training and improved pedaling techniques. We are learning a lot, and the group enthusiasm is keeping it interesting!

I continue to record everything I eat in an online food and exercise journal. I've also been doubling my workouts and doing two different activities each day. It might be a brisk walk, time on our elliptical machine, attending spin class or cycling outdoors, or doing a workout DVD using hand weights (or a kettleball) in our living room. I am considering taking a yoga class as well.

Dave's weight loss has been steady, and mine has finally budged a bit in the right direction! We feel really great about that.

Dave secures our tandem with bungee cords.
Another new happening is that we traded in our old Dodge Caravan for a newer model. As evident in this photo, our tandem fit nicely into the rear cargo area of the old van. The back seats came out, giving us lots of room! With the rear tinted windows,  we also had a good space for changing out of our riding clothes after a ride. Additionally, it was great for allowing us the freedom to do after-ride activities such as shopping or getting a bite to eat, without the worry of our bike being seen.

Our new minivan is the same make and model, but a much prettier color -- red! We are very pleased with the longevity of the Grand Caravans (our old van had over 200,000 miles on it!) and we realized that most of the other minivan models were not long or high enough in the back. One feature we really like is the Stow n’ Go Seating. It's so much more convenient than lugging seats in and out of the vehicle and storing them when they're not being used.

We are looking forward to taking our first road trip with our new van -- to New York next weekend. Last month, we reviewed our calendar together and planned out our cycling goals for the year. As crazy as it might sound, it all starts with a century ride in February!

The ride is called the Snowball Express, a figure 8 loop that travels through scenic Saratoga County and features rolling terrain, with just enough climbing to help keep us warm. Dave and I spoke with the event's Director, John Ceceri, by phone, and he was very informative and helpful in providing details on the route itself as well as things to do in the surrounding area. 

To be honest, I'm not 100% confident that I am up for a hundred mile ride at this time of the year. I've done only one century ride ever.  But heck, we've been riding continuously (although not as frequently) throughout the colder months, and it's not like we've been hibernating by any means. Plus, it's happening on my birthday weekend. In the spirit of celebration, I want to make an attempt to reach beyond my own limitations. I watch The Biggest Loser on television and those contestants truly inspire me! They are pushed to go way beyond what they ever thought they would be capable of doing, and many have found their hidden athlete within!

Here's a call out to all of our cycling friends -- if you're brave enough, join us and plan to ride 100 miles on a Saturday in February!