05 October 2009

Living in Comfort (Cross Post)

I am an erstwhile writer for the UT Cycling Team Blog as well, and wrote this piece for it after a weekend getaway in the hill country. I decided to cross-post it here with the original publication date, since I haven't been writing here often, even thought much of my life still occurs "Sur Le Vélo". I hope to write again soon, but many of my experiences lately in life have been hard to express in a way that agrees well with the intended purpose and style of this blog. That's to say the blog has been on hiatus, and may be undergoing a re-evaluation of sorts. While my writing in this idiom is temporarily on hiatus, life keeps rolling… See you out there! (Hopefully soon, back here too!) ~ Cameron, March 2010

This last weekend of September saw the team take a wonderfully enlivening trip into the wilds of Comfort, TX (nestled snugly in the Hill Country between Fredericksburg and San Antonio, just off of I-10) for the SCCCC mountain bike race hosted by our cycling club, held at the delightful Flat Rock Ranch.

When they call it a ranch, they're not just borrowing the title as an affection of rusticity; as they do legitimately raise goats and cattle on the property, the sounds of which made us feel very close to nature the entire weekend. The owners of the ranch are very friendly to cyclists like us and genuinely concerned themselves with our well-being, and also took time to look into the races and how they were proceeding. They struck us as being genuinely interested in the race and are true patrons of the sport. Their ranch fits these ideals, has a lot of well-planned facilities for cyclists, and hosts many other non-collegiate races throughout the year. The ranch heads are very hospitable, and spared no effort in making us feel at home. They personally found firewood for us and brought it to the fire pits at our campgrounds, as well as starting the fires in the early evening before sunset. All in all, it's the most I've ever felt at home so far from what this Austin native has grown up around; and it set the stage nicely for a very relaxing break from academia, traffic, and the city hustle.

On Saturday after we arrived and made camp, The Mountain guys got down to racing the first stages of their Omnium (beginning with a Time Trial and the a Short Track stage); and we roadies headed out on what ended up being a fairly exhausting road ride, with a bunch of hills placed so well after a good 30 miles or so of initial effort. We came home to Comfort tired and ready to celebrate our survival, and to catch up with the mountain team and see their results. Unsurprisingly, we had a lot of success for our team that weekend! Our C-Team Superstar, Kenneth Day, finished First in the Time Trial and thereby secured the Omnium lead! He had a competitive placing and was holding position in the Short Track race later that day, but unfortunately got on the bad side of a stray piece of bailing wire mid-race and flatted out.

Ken Day vs. Bailing Wire: SHOWDOWN!

In the long run, this didn't end up hurting his standings too badly, even though he was initially upset about it. He managed to recover from a DNF in the Short Track stage and still come in Third overall in the Omnium standings! We're all very proud of his success in his first mountain bike race. He's written his own race report on his blog that bears reading if one wanted the real dirt on what the race was like.

While the mountain bike squad did their business, the road racers went out on what ended up becoming an exhausting 50 mile excursion through parts of the scenic Texas Hill Country. Needless to say, by the end of the day, everyone was beat. We all looked forward to the evening's meal and wandered into nearby Fredericksburg to find it. Myself and a few of the road guys ended up at a small local brew house and sampled the traditional German cuisine that Fredericksburg is renowned for. I ended up having a Reuben made with the strongest sauerkraut I have ever eaten in my life (feeling very authentic to me), and I got to sample some of the House Porter that's exclusive to that establishment, and found it to be very pleasant!

Afterwards, we all meandered back to camp in Comfort and began to unwind for the evening and make camp. We pitched out tents, sat around telling stories and talking about nothing and then got down to serious business around the campfire: S'mores!


We all began to wind down and get to bed around Midnight or so, but I personally stayed up a bit and perfected my marshmallow technique, drinking in the stars with my eyes. They're so overwhelming that far away from the cities without any artificial light to drown them out. It's breathtaking if you've forgotten what it looks like to see the heavens in full force.

After a while I, too, had to retire. We all slept very well, despite the best efforts of a certain cow in the pasture that had some sort of bizarre problem with it's throat. It would start mooing and then have that turn into some sort of screech that was quite reminiscent of a whale call. Rest assured, that was quite unsettling to hear late at night in the pitch black.

Whale-cow aside, we found our sleep restful and awoke the next morning ready to roll. The mountain bike team woke up, ate, and prepared for a grueling day of cross-country racing. We, the road group, planned our ride for the day. Most of us were still exhausted from the hard ride the day before, so we decided to make our Sunday short & sweet. We decided to take it to a well-known restaurant in the area halfway between Comfort and Fredericksburg, the Alamo Springs Café. This little place is in a scenic location and apparently was rated the No. 3 Cheeseburger in the state by Texas Monthly! Having eaten said cheeseburger, I can say that title makes sense. It was juicy, perfectly cooked, and well-matched with its bun and toppings. Seasonings were creative and livened up what was already a near-perfect burger. I'm not really sure how to compare it with the best works of Austin, but the same publication's No. 2 burger is apparently local to 6th & Lamar, so I may have to do some investigative journalism for fact-checking purposes on my own sooner than later.

Aside from the delicious meal, the staff were friendly and very welcoming of a bunch of sweaty cyclists still in Lycra at their establishment.

Stephen and Our Fearless Leader, Sean Kearns

Trent and Robbie are winning the Smugathon!

It was Kaitlin's Birthday! Yaaay!

After that, we made the return trip to camp so that we could shower, pack, and get back to Austin. Despite some initial car trouble, we all made it back safe and sound. Weekend Accomplished!

20 July 2009

J'ai Retourné !

Cet été a été assez dur ! Le monde n'aime pas les jeunes, pauvres, et fougueux !

I've not written something here in almost two months! It's been a really trying season here in the Texas heat. I've been trying ridiculously hard to get a job all year, and I've stepped it up even more in the last two months. I was racing and training harder in June, putting in about 150~200 mile weeks, but eventually money just got too tight, and I couldn't juggle the stress anymore. I haven't even been on a bike lately (I ruined the third wheel on my commuter this year last week), and I'm really missing it.

I need to move at the end of the month, so I'm taking some time to re-evaluate priorities and such, and re-organize in preparation for all of the coming changes. This is an intentionally short post, I'll take the time to write more about the Summer in short order.

I hope everyone is well, especially if it's been tough for you out there too.

17 March 2009

Toutes Les Choses que font on heureux.

Well, my spring break commenced this week, and I've been genuinely enjoying how it's gone so far.

I really went into the holiday with absolutely zero plans, and it's all played out very well in seemingly serendipitous ways. I decided on a whim Saturday evening to return to Dallas, see my parents, and celebrate my upcoming birthday with some old friends; chiefly my best friend from high school who I rarely see, and my good friend Jon. I had a wonderful time there, and my friends and family really helped make me feel special. I had reservations about making the time and spending the money to travel, but I'm glad I did now. Outside of that, I've fared on the side of audacity recently in some other facets of my life, and I see the rewards coming already.

(Note: This was written over spring break and never finished. Life became very busy soon after that. I have decided to publish it as written with the original datestamp. Normal posting will resume soon. I will continue with a short summary of spring break written congruently with the rest of the post.)

Spring break has been quite busy. It's during SXSW (South by South West) for me this year, and my good friend Eddie came into town and has been staying with me. I also found time to work on my bike and get it rebuilt with it's new Groupset (the wonderful SRAM Rival). My man Drew at Austinbikes also sold me some delightful high-end Mavic wheels that he was letting go for a good price so that he could upgrade to some Fulcrums that run tubeless tires. The finished bike is now depicted in the header.

After that, I stumbled upon a used but virtually like new Digital SLR that was perfect for me. I snapped it up, which will bite me in the ass later as that was all of my savings pretty much, but it's worth it, as I got lots of SXSW pictures. Eddie is hobbyist photographer as well, with a penchant for Concert photography shot with high-speed film (he really likes how grainy and vivid the colors become). I got to seriously play with my new camera, and it's readily apparent by the quality of my work over SXSW that the learning curve was present, but ascended fairly fast.

All in all, Spring Break was wonderful, and I got to do a wide variety of things and spend time with wonderful people. What more could you ask for?

14 March 2009

Le Projet du Vélo Jaune

After something catastrophic happened to my commuter bike two weeks ago, I've been looking for a solution to its replacement or repair. It's a bike so old and worn that it's barely worth fixing, and I couldn't justify retail price for any replacement components; chiefly the rear derailleur and the rear wheel, which had the rim bent so badly that it can't be trued.

When the most economical replacement to be had was found to be about a $125 used bike, I decided to investigate Yellow Bike, as I mentioned earlier in the week. This ended up being a wonderful experience, as the people there are truly helpful and honestly willing to assist a person with a bicycle in need in whatever way they can. With their assistance, I managed to replace my wheel with a used wheel (after overhauling the hub) and, with a new chain, get the bike running single speed with a few hours of work over the past few days. The derailleur will require a bit more work, as it was all an integrated piece with the old derailleur hanger (which fit into the sliding dropouts of the frame), and I've had to acquire a new hanger. I will return on Monday to attempt to repair the shifting system with another derailleur.

Anyway, I know this entire entry reads like a plug for Yellow Bike (and they have definitely earned that sidebar link), but they are a seriously great group of people who just want to help everyone with bikes. Even though I'm almost done there with my bike, I think I'll be back several times to volunteer and refine my mechanic skills. I highly recommend stopping by if you want to learn a lot about bikes, or keep your beater bike running. They are currently working on a new location, so let's hope that their transition goes off without a hitch so that this valuable resource for cycling in Austin grows and becomes available to even more people.

11 March 2009

Il Fait si beau.

Yesterday was interesting, and I'm really enjoying this extra hour or so of light, so I ended up taking an evening jaunt about Shoal Creek for two hours. Little League season has begun, and so it was lively at the baseball field with families and their children enjoying the weather and the season. Most of the people at the field were nice, and the people in the concession stand will fill up your water bottles for you, which is super nice. I also passed by a duplex I've begun looking into renting in the Shoal Creek neighborhood, so if you read this and are interested in splitting a 3bed/1bath duplex, drop me a line.

I'm going to start including the data from my cyclocomputer during training rides in the journal entries specific to rides, and maybe even for races. Here's the data for Yesterday:

March 10th, 2009:
Trip Time: 2 hours, 7 Minutes
Trip Dist: 31.1 Miles
SpeedMax: 30.5 MPH
SpeedAvg: 14.5 MPH
CadMax: 174RPM (must be wrong)
CadAvg: 64RPM (I need to stop coasting)

This reminds me, I actually acquired a Polar computer a while ago, but I've been putting off installing it until I finish a bunch of other work on my bike, including a rebuild and a refit. The heart rate information should prove to be a valuable training tool.

This afternoon, I need to go by Yellow Bike and see if they can help me with my commuter bike, which got seriously damaged the other week, and needs at a minimum a replacement rim, chain, and rear derailleur. On top of yellow bike, some people at UT are trying to launch "Orange Bike", and there are some other community bike shops in the area, but I don't know much about them. I'm actually quite fond of community bike projects, and I really love these organizations, because they go back to the simple beauty of the bicycle: a machine that allows a person to go exponentially further than they could on their own, with very little materials cost (relative), and a lot of ingenuity. The reason I actually got into cycling was a concern for community development and city planning; what with the way that cities in Texas are built around cars and driving, and are incredibly difficult to traverse in other ways. Riding in heavy traffic with apathetic or animous drivers still frightens me considerably (though I am much better than I was), but a bunch of more seasoned cyclists I know (such as Miguel and the T4K People), can easily hold their own and commute almost anywhere in Austin par vélo.

While I've thought that yellow bike was a cool idea for a long time, I've never really participated in it, even though I've been living in Austin again for over half a year now. I'm not sure why. It probably doesn't help that most of the bikes assembled for "community use" without any compensation at all by the volunteers usually end up stolen, and that makes me quite sad. For the time, the project is in a transitional period as they try to relocate, and only one of their shops is actually operational, leaving them sort of hard to find.

My living situation is rapidly deteriorating, and it's creating a considerable amount of stress in my life. I'm trying not to let it affect my schoolwork and training, but it's hard to balance it all, and I'm expending a lot of my time and energy that could be spent studying or riding on trying to sort this out.

Wish me luck.

10 March 2009

La Journée après hier.

C'etait dur. Je n'ai pas l'envie de parler sur ça.

Since I didn't get to ride today, I'm going to try to relearn how to ride on rollers. Hopefully, being able to do that will help me fine-tune my form in a way I can't in the real world.

On the upside, the premier Driveway Crit is this week, and continues almost every week through the season, so I should be able to get a lot of experience at relatively little cost ($10 entry fee for students, and I don't have to drive there, hooray).

Bonne chance à tous dans la vie.

08 March 2009

Après La Duxième Course, et ma santé.

I unquestionably did very poorly at the A&M Criterium, having been pulled 9 minutes into a 30 minute race. It was a bit discouraging, to say the least. As a rather analytical person, I have trouble with judging myself in a kind light after a failure that must be attributed to me in one way or another.

Well, what went wrong? Daylight Savings, waking at 5AM, and my natural propensity for insomnia got me a full two hours of bed sleep, so that could have definitely been better. Also, when we got there, I had trouble registering, since the guy doing that didn't show up until about 20 minutes before the race; and I accordingly spent a lot of the time leading up to it running around instead of getting ready or mentally prepared, and then ended up on the starting line while hearing nature's call. None of those situations are ideal.

I suppose a lot of skill in dealing with this will come with more race experience. Either I will become better at preparing for races, or I will become better at mentally dealing with that sort of physical and mental stress caused by those sorts of pre-race conditions. (Hopefully, both of those skills will develop).

Outside of that, my leg (the injured one, which has atrophied a bit and has a calf full of scar tissue) is bothering me. I dunno why, it comes and goes. I hate wondering if I'll be in pain like that forever. Additionally, today I felt more strongly the emotional problems in our team structure, which isn't always super supportive. Sometimes I feel like I could just hang up my jersey indefinitely and some people wouldn't miss me. I know that's not entirely true, but a more psychologically developed team would have devices in place to prevent those feelings from occuring. I wish I had the resources to change our team for the better in that respect, but the saying "it takes a village" has validity. One person can't make a team. Regardless, I definitely appreciate the support from people like Sean, Michael, Jacob, and Miguel. (Update: also guys like Clay and Kenneth. I feel compelled to complete a name list when I start one.)

On the Upside, I really enjoyed meeting people from all the other teams. I met some nice guys from MSU, and I really enjoyed meeting the Texas State team; which is full of friendly, laid-back people. I'll enjoy seeing them again, and as always the A&M guys were great. Also, I met one of the photographers shooting the race, and I look forward to seeing his work from today. (Update: I found some pictures of me.)

I should chill out on judging myself so harshly, but it is discouraging to see teammates who have been racing and training as long as I have meet with seemingly immediate success. Then again, most of them haven't been injured, don't have maladaptive physiologies, or have come from more athletic backgrounds. All I can really do is note the things that prevent my success and attempt to overcome them. Hopefully experience and time will make me fast.

Sois Courageux !

Well, the A&M Collegiate Criterium is tomorrow (well, Today).

The team finally got the situation with the NCCA registration straightened out, so we were able to register licenses on Friday. In lieu of finding an extracollegiate team, I've signed my club as Austinbikes/Revenant, their shop club. That's a great group of people on that roster, and I only hope I can do their spirit justice in the community and on the road. For the future, I'm checking out AT&T (also sponsored by Austinbikes), and I need to ask my teammate Brenna about her team, San Jose. I always run into the AT&T people on rides, and they seem like a really down to earth bunch.

This week went a bit smoother for training. I didn't have class on Thursday, so I really pushed it, and got in an aggregate 3-4 hours of riding, including a morning hill climb in Far West. Try that instead of coffee one morning, it's a real eye-opener. After that, I went to Physical Therapy and got some good advice from my PT, Steve, who's also a competitive cyclist. We went over my posture (I have some pretty pronounced scoliosis / skeletal posture problems), and I got a thorough explanation on how my posture needed to change so that I could ride better, and how I could work towards that. I got to try that out this evening on my pre-race spin through Shoal Creek, and I can really feel the difference.

Also, the UT Kit came in (Made by Hincapie); and it's really a clean looking, classy and functional. You just feel more competitive when you put it on, it's really nice. The way the bib shorts are cut is really supportive of your body's musculature.

Anyway, I just finished my compulsive cleaning of my bike and the changing of my tires, meaning it is now bedtime. Wish me luck!