A Different Kind of Endurance Challenge 
Sunday, March 29, 2009, 08:55 PM
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It was a weekend jam-packed with happy events and reasons to celebrate. And so I had to pace myself.

Pre-Wedding Run
Denise picked me up at 7 a.m. on Saturday and we headed to Reid Park for a 4.5-mile run with the bride, Billie, as well as Heather and Amy. Then it was bagels, fruit and wedding talk at Billie's house before her salon appointment.



I managed to squeeze in a little time in the hot tub to loosen up before...

Birthday #1
At noon, I entered Peter Piper Pizza for the first time in my life to celebrate the 1st birthday of little Jake. Not wanting to hit the wall or risk GI distress this early in the weekend, we passed on the arcade games and pizza, but had a nice time catching up with friends.

Birthday #2
We couldn't let the day pass without commemorating the 10th birthday of our boys, Rex & Mielo. While they may not have recognized the significance of the day, they seemed to appreciate the slice of fine, Greek cheese that was served with their kibble that evening. Our little boys are all grown up.



The Wedding
This was our second wedding at The Oasis at Wild Horse Ranch. It's a beautiful venue and Billie and Tom had a nice ceremony, including some inadvertent comedic moments when the minister said, "with this wing" instead of "with this ring"...twice.

We enjoyed prickly pear margaritas during the cocktail hour (proper hydration is so important at these events) and then were pleased to be seated with a group of our trail running friends. You know you're at a table of athletes when no one seems to mind dinner discussions about vomiting during races.



We laughed a lot and even danced a little before calling it a night. The weekend was not yet over and we needed to rest up before Sunday's festivities.



Birthday #3
Despite a late evening, we found ourselves awake before 6am. I hit the hot tub once again to warm up for the day ahead, but decided to multi-task by calling Susan, a wonderful friend from college, to wish her a happy 35th.

Birthday #4
The final party of the weekend was a noontime birthday potluck at Catalina State Park for our friend Jim. We decided to arrive a few hours early and go for a trail run, as this is simply what we do when we find ourselves so close to beautiful trails. That and I had a sneaking suspicion that last night's dinner of breaded chicken covered in white sauce was not a low-calorie meal.

We did our standard 10-mile loop at Catalina. However, to satisfy my need for variety, Paul humored me and we ran it counter-clockwise. My legs felt heavy, but it was one of those perfect Tucson spring days, and so we just took it slow, enjoyed the beauty and tried to ignore the sound of gunshots from the nearby firing range. That's a little disconcerting.

When we had first arrived at the park, the group picnic ramada was completely deserted. When we returned after our run, it was full of birthday guests and yummy food. Now that's how you finish a long run!



We are already looking ahead to next Friday which we're taking off of work to enjoy a full three days in a mystery location which has yet to be disclosed to Paul. That's right, it's Mystery Weekend #2, planned by me for Paul! Check back next weekend for the full report.


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Dave's Run for ALS 
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 11:29 PM
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Riding up Mt. Lemmon just wasn't enough and so, to round out the weekend, we ran a 5K this morning. Actually, I'd been planning to race at Dave's Run for ALS for months, as it benefits MDA.

While the race didn't start until 8:30 a.m., I arrived at 7:00 to set up an ALS info table. Paul came later with our three dogs in tow, much to the delight of the crowd.



It was quite a social morning with all of my worlds colliding - MDA co-workers and families, Tri Girls, Better Then Ever friends, SAR friends. My kind of day! I was especially excited that my two MDA co-workers were running their very first race. Sure, it's inspiring to watch the elites, but I find it just as inspiring to watch someone step out of their comfort zone and onto their first race course. Big congrats to Katrina and Tim!



Paul and I both planned to take it easy as we were tired from yesterday's ride, but Paul brought the dogs for insurance. They started at the back of the pack and then slowly worked their way up, making for a nice, easy jaunt. I, on the other hand, got carried away and really pushed myself.

I started off with my friend Denise who typically runs a little faster than I do. I stuck with her as we ran up a gradual incline and then cruised down a gradual descent. At the turnaround, my watch read 14:36 and I started thinking that I just might be able to crack 30:00 - something I've only done once or twice. Of course, now we were headed uphill again and I knew I'd need to work hard to make this goal. So, when Denise's plantar fasciitis flared up and she decided to walk a bit, I decided to keep on truckin'.

At the top of the hill, I caught my breath and began picking up speed to take full advantage of the long, downhill finish. I kept glancing at my watch and knew that it would be close. Sure enough, when I turned the corner and saw the finish line clock, it read 29:40. I began to sprint and gave it all I had. As I ran across the line and under the timing clock, it read 29:58. Victory!

While gasping for air and trying to bring my heart rate back down to an acceptable level, I grabbed the camera from my car to catch some photos of friends crossing the line. I got back just in time to see Paul and the kids finish. That was a first. When we both run a race, it's he who always has time to get the camera before I finish!



When results were posted on the wall, I was slightly disappointed to see my time listed at 30:00.04. Apparently, I need to work on my lean at the finish. That's okay - more motivation to actually do some speedwork before the next 5K!
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Conquering the Lemmon 
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 12:03 AM
Posted by Administrator
Halfway up a monstrous hill during our recent San Francisco bicycling trip, Paul said, "If we can do this, then we can definitely climb Mt. Lemmon." We debated a while and then decided we had nothing to lose. Unlike on an out-of-town cycling trip, there would be no pressure to make it to the next lodging destination before dark. Our worst case scenario would be turning around before reaching the top. I could live with that.

My only stipulation was that we drive to the corner of Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway to begin the ride. When Paul rides Lemmon on his own. He typically starts and finishes at our home, making for a 100-mile trip. My version cut it down to a much more reasonable 60 miles. I would have had a second condition, but Paul beat me to it by promising to keep the speed at a maximum of 35 mph on the way back down the mountain. He knows that the danger of the fast, winding descent amongst crazy drivers scares me much more than any pain that could be brought on by the slow grind of the ascent.

We got a later start than intended, but had our feet on the pedals at 9:30am and, after a 5-mile warm-up on the Catalina Highway, we started to climb



It was a gorgeous day and there were lots of cyclists on the mountain. In fact, there may have been more bikes than cars on the road - a beautiful thing.

We took it easy and paced ourselves as the only goal of the day was to make it to the top. After about 10 miles of climbing, I could feel my IT Band start to tighten up. My lower back was complaining a bit as well, but I got some relief during a stop at Windy Point to stretch and take in the views. Here, a guy told us that he promised to buy his wife a cabin on Mt. Lemmon if she could ride all the way up with him on their tandem, without stopping. Now, why didn't I think to make a deal like that? (In case you're wondering, she did not take him up on that challenge.) As we were headed back up the road, a motorcyclist told us to "keep the rubber side down." Good tip.



The magic of Mt. Lemmon is watching the scenery change from gorgeous city views to towering saguaros to desert scrub to crazy rock formations to pine forest...and even a little snow! My legs began to fatigue, but I tried to zone out on the amazing views and then would celebrate with each mile marker.





With just a few miles to go, we topped out at about 8,000 feet and then enjoyed some downhill into Summerhaven. My jaw dropped as we turned a corner and the town came into view. I realized that the last time I had been there was a number of years ago, shortly after a devastating forest fire had destroyed much of the town.

There is a beautiful new Community Center, new cabins all over the place and a much improved parking situation. It's heartening to see that Summerhaven survived the fire and is going strong. However, the new cabins surrounded by blackened, stick-like remains of a pine forest is rather sad. It will take more than a few years for that to change.



We enjoyed a hearty lunch at the Mt. Lemmon Cafe where lots of fellow patrons asked, "Did you really ride all the way up here on a bike?" There were usually a number of follow-up questions, some alluding to the quality of our brakes for the ride back down...as if I needed to be reminded of the possibility of careening off a cliff due to worn brake pads.

As the only cyclists up there, we were something of a novelty, especially with the tandem. While the attention was surprising, I have to say that it felt pretty good to have total strangers tell you how impressed they are with you.



After eating, we bundled up for the ride down. It had taken 3 hours and 50 minutes to ascend, but we knew it would be a much quicker, and colder, ride from this point on.

My previously mentioned concerns about the descent turned out to be unnecessary. As always, Paul was a skillful, safe rider and I just held on for dear life. I also concentrated on keeping as still as possible, as the balance of the tandem was already being upset by some strong wind gusts and I did not want to add to the problem. While our max speed did reach 44 mph, I never felt unsafe. I had expected cars to be whizzing by us, but we were only passed a handful of times. Actually reaching the posted speed limit on a bike does have its advantages.



We reached our car about one and a half hours after leaving the Mt. Lemmon Cafe, and this included a stop to strip off our extra layers once we got to a lower elevation. I was tired, but felt great that we had succeeded. The whole adventure took the better part of the day, but what better way is there to spend a beautiful Saturday in Tucson?

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Mystery Weekend - San Fran Part 2 
Sunday, March 15, 2009, 07:18 PM
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Have you ever wondered what kind of view the tandem stoker has? Here you go - I took this as we were riding:



On Saturday morning, I got my sore, chafed bottom on the saddle by 8:00 a.m. and we were on our way back to San Francisco. I felt mentally refreshed after a solid night of sleep, but my physical state was another matter entirely. My quads were still quivering from those hills.

Our plan was to backtrack on the previous day's route until Olema and then, instead of heading inland which was the way we had come, continue down the Pacific Coast Highway. As beautiful as Friday's ride had been, I love variety and was excited for "the unknown." Had I known that "the unknown" involved relentless hills of insane grades on a winding road with a sheer cliff a mere few feet away, I might not have been so eager for the new scenery.

From Bodega Bay, we pedaled straight through to Point Reyes where we stopped at the Station House Cafe for a yummy (and large) lunch. We had learned our lesson yesterday and were stocking up on calories every chance we got. For Paul, the highlight of Point Reyes was seeing this Tesla. I had no idea what a Tesla was, but, apparently, it's a rather expensive and exclusive electric car.



We decided to be a little smarter about tackling the hills today with a plan of just going ahead and walking the really steep ones instead of waiting until exhaustion had set in. You may wonder, "What is really steep?" We defined that as the hills which we could climb faster by walking, rather than riding. However, now that it was the weekend, there were more people on the road to notice us. During one of our first walk breaks of the day, a police officer pulled up beside us and, over his loudspeaker, asked if we were okay. We wondered if he was responding to a call from someone who was concerned about a roadside, bicycle-involved domestic dispute.

We took a break at Stinson Beach to enjoy the ocean view - a rarity for us desert dwellers - and then continued on for a few hellish hours of hill riding...and walking. Was the scenery beautiful? Gorgeous. Did I care? After a certain point, not much. Paul had shown me an elevation profile of our route and I realized that we were now on the section with tall, sharp spikes - kind of like a gigantic "M" towering above the rest of the profile.





During a "walk break," I came upon a car pulled over to the side of the road. I was about to casually stroll on by when a concerned woman jumped out, ready to provide aid or a lift. The offer of a ride off of the mountain was tempting, but I couldn't leave Paul with a stoker-less tandem...which looks like this:



Eventually, we reached the top and my spirits soared as we flew down the other side. Then, devastation set in when I saw we had another climb ahead of us. Yes, I should have been ready for this as, after all, an "M" does have two peaks, but, apparently, I was in denial. I was crushed to realize that we still had a lot of slow, hard climbing left to do.

This was the point when I became very quiet. This was also the point when Paul started apologizing. When planning the trip, he had looked at the overall elevation gain and felt that it would be very do-able for us. He now realized that he should have looked at the grade of the hills, which turned out to be 10 - 15% in areas. Good Samaritans continued to stop and check on us and, while it was comforting to realize that there are good, caring strangers out there, it also made me feel that much more defeated.

Alas, we eventually reached the summit of the final hill and rode, white-knuckled, down the steep, winding descent. In hindsight, we should have taken a moment to don another layer of clothing. We were warm and sweaty after the 7 mph uphill slog, and were like Popsicles after the 30 - 40 mph descent. At the bottom, we pulled into a convenience store tired, cold and hungry. But, amazingly, just minutes later, I was a new woman, ready to get back on the bike and finish the ride. You wouldn't believe what a banana, a Coke and a jacket can do!

We made our way back to the Golden Gate Bridge where, over and over, Paul called out "on your left" as we made our way through the throngs of slow-moving sightseers. We came upon a large group of Asian tourists and, assuming they did not speak English, Paul hollered the universal "BEEP BEEP." It got their attention and we soon had the whole group laughing, waving and calling "BEEP BEEP" back to us. Quite a sight!





At 5:00 p.m., we pulled into Blazing Saddles and gladly handed over our ride before walking down to Fisherman's Wharf for some fresh shrimp and clams. Like the previous day, I was totally spent from the full day of riding, but felt fantastic about the accomplishment.





We caught a taxi back to the Red Vic where we were handed the key to the Flower Child Room which, we were happy to see, was much cheerier than the drab Redwood Forest Room in which we had previously stayed.





Sunday, our final day in San Francisco, brought a steady rain and so, over breakfast at the Squat and Gobble, we planned a day of indoor activities.

First, we walked to Golden Gate Park and visited the Conservatory of Flowers where I was fascinated by the carnivorous pitcher plants. I assumed they were designed to catch water, but the pitchers actually catch insects and, in some cases, small animals!







Next, we checked out San Francisco's newest museum, the California Academy of Sciences. Not having children, it didn't occur to us that parents consider a museum the perfect place to take their kids on a rainy day. It was absolutely packed! I got crawled over and walked on by lots of little people, but did manage to claim a spot (briefly) at the hands-on tidal pool exhibit. We also got tickets for the 3D showing of Bugs! which was pretty cool, although I feared the not-so-Disney-like ending might traumatize some kids.





At this point, our time had run out and we caught a taxi to the airport for a 6pm flight. Paul said that he felt like he owed me another surprise weekend after what I had been through on the bike. This was, after all, my Christmas present. But hey, I survived and didn't even shed any tears (which I can't say for our honeymoon bike trip)! I have a great story to tell and found a whole new level of strength and endurance within myself. And while you could say that the route he planned was overly ambitious, Paul was my rock the whole way - always upbeat and encouraging; never complaining when he was pulling more than his fair share of the load...which was most of the time. I have no regrets and look forward to our next great adventure together.

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Mystery Weekend 2009 - Part 1 
Tuesday, March 10, 2009, 11:38 AM
Posted by Administrator
Paul had been leaving hints for a week and I was pretty sure that we were on our way to Texas for a tandem rally. So, I was quite surprised when I got to the airport gate and discovered that the mystery destination was actually San Francisco. I was thrilled! I had never been to that area and was excited to check it out. Also, I love surprises and would have been a little disappointed if I had guessed correctly. Here I am, on cloud 9, looking up fun things to do in San Fran on Paul's IPhone.



Just before midnight, we arrived at our hotel, the Red Victorian Inn, in the Haight-Ashbury district. On the website, it looked like a fun, unique, hippie kind of place with bright, cheery rooms. In reality, it was a neat old building in desperate need of a make-over. We spent two nights in the "Redwood Forest Room." Everything seemed musty, the threadbare towels had holes, and the lace doilies and fake flowers looked like they had been there since the "Summer of Love." But, hey - we were in San Francisco! We fell fast asleep after laughing quite a bit about the hotel...and checking the sheets for bed bugs.



We were up early on Thursday and just started walking. Golden Gate Park was just minutes away and is phenomenal. We grabbed a nice breakfast at the Herbivore before taking a walk through the Castro. As it was still early, not many shops were open, but it was cool to be there, especially after recently seeing the movie Milk. Next we returned to the Red Vic to don our cycling gear and then took a cable car (how could we pass up this San Fran tradition?) to Fisherman's Wharf.









Paul had planned to rent a tandem from Blazing Saddles which turned out to be a large business with multiple outlets and thousands of bikes. Their typical customer rents a bike for a few hours to experience cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge. Upon arriving with cycling clothes, saddlebags and our own helmets, it became evident very quickly that they didn't often see our kind. Hmmm...not a good sign.

A very pleasant woman first offered us a beach cruiser type of tandem with big, cushy seats and mountain bike handles and tires. Oh no. Luckily, the manager caught sight of us and immediately brought us over to a very nice Co-Motion road tandem. We left for lunch to give them time to put on our pedals and my bike seat.

We wanted seafood, but the choices were overwhelming. Although we had discussed getting crabs from the street vendors, I was too chilled and needed to get out of the cold. (Apparently not all of California is sunshine and warmth.) We asked for a recommendation at a visitor center booth and were directed to the Franciscan Restaurant right on the water. We were not disappointed - it was absolutely delicious!

Full, but still a little chilled, we headed back to the bike shop and discovered that they had not been able to fit my "Thud Buster" seat tube on the bike. We took it anyway, planning to swap out saddles before our ride the next day, and cruised around Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. My favorite part - the Sea Lions!



But, we were not having the smoothest of rides. A few times, the bike suddenly jerked to a halt, almost dumping us off. I began to think that Paul was losing his touch as a tandem captain. He began to think that this tandem came with secret rear brake handles that I was using. Paul finally figured out that one of the brake cables was too tight, causing the rear brake to engage every time we took a right turn. Great.

We returned to the bike shop where they decided to just swap it out for a new bike and then we made one more stop before heading back to the hotel - Ghiradelli Square. By this point, I was absolutely frozen from standing around in the open-air bike shop and so we just bought a bar of chocolate (dark, of course) and hopped back on the bike. We rode through Golden Gate Park, but got lost when we exited and found that we were not where we expected to be. By this point, it was dark and we had no lights - not a great situation. But, thanks to Paul's handy-dandy IPhone and it's mapping application, we finally figured out where we were and, eventually, got back to our hippie hotel.



At the suggestion of a Red Vic employee, we dined at the New Ganges that evening. We were looking for fabulous ethnic food and he promised that this Indian restaurant would be "an experience." And that it was! We ordered an eggplant dish that was quite good, as well as saag paneer that was, hands down, the best I have ever eaten. But it was the owner that made the meal so memorable. He is obviously very proud of his food and told us, many times, "You don't like, you don't pay." After delivering food to the table, he would hover and wait for our approval. I saw him actually take a fork from a woman at a neighboring table, feed her the first bite from her plate and demand her reaction. As we prepared to leave, he gave us business cards and made us promise to write reviews on Yelp and CitySearch. It was a dining experience we won't soon forget!

Although the Red Vic offers breakfast, we never got to try it as they didn't start serving until 9am - apparently hippies like to sleep in. We grabbed a quick bite at the Pork Store Cafe (yes, quite a switch from yesterday's vegetarian breakfast choice) and were loaded up and pedaling by 9am.



It didn't take long for a rattling sound to start driving Paul crazy. He stopped to investigate and discovered that a screw was missing from the saddlebag rack, causing the rack to shift around and constantly bang against the bike. We detoured to the bike shop, with me trying to calm Paul down, so that he didn't actually kill someone when we got there. About 15 minutes and a new screw later, we were finally on our way and biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately, we had lost an hour on this detour and were a little nervous about getting to our destination before dark. But we had lights this time and were prepared.



We cruised across the bridge (very cool!), through Sausalito and up and down some hills before stopping for lunch at the Half Day Cafe http://www.halfdaycafe.com/ in Kentfield. We shared delicious fish tacos and a yummy salad, although, in hindsight, we should have eaten more. Little did we know that we'd be on the bike until 6:30 that evening.

Not long after our lunch stop, I asked Paul to stop, so that I could put on my knee brace. That was disappointing. I have struggled with IT band issues off-and-on for years, but haven't worn that brace in at least 18 months. I think all of the climbing aggravated it and was beginning to cause some inflammation. The brace helped and I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. I loved biking through the small towns and the gorgeous Samuel Taylor State Park - so green!





At this point, I was really feeling those hills and looking forward to reaching the Pacific Coast Highway because, just a few days prior, I had heard Paul tell a friend that the PCH is fairly flat - after all, it's along the coast at sea level, right? Paul rode the PCH about 20 years ago but, apparently, since that time, the state of California decided to add in some hills - because we quickly discovered that it was HILLY! I admit, I had some low moments and this realization was one of them. We still had 35 hilly miles to go and my ass was killing me because we forgot to swap out the saddles. But, then we'd pass an amazing field of yellow flowers or a rare flat section and I'd perk up again.



We stopped in the tiny town of Tomales for snacks and Ibuprofen, and I asked the shop owner how far it was to Bodega Bay, our final destination. I think he could see that I was on the edge of a breakdown and he was very kind. He took some time walking me through the remaining 17 miles on his map, pointing out the four remaining climbs and wishing us luck.

When we hit that very first climb, I was so tired and I know I wasn't pulling anywhere near my fair share of the weight. When the bike speed dropped below 6 mph, the bike became very unsteady. Paul decided that, for the sake of safety, we should swallow our pride, get off, and walk the bike. Honestly, it felt so good to get my sore butt off of the saddle and stretch out my legs that I didn't care what passersby thought. We did a little more walking over the next 90 minutes, but, the closer we got to our destination, the more giddy I became. Light at the end of the tunnel does amazing things for your psyche.



We checked in at the Bodega Harbor Inn and were pleased with our little cottage right on the bay, complete with a hot tub. After quick showers, we walked right next door to the Tides Restaurant whose claim to fame is that part of The Birds was filmed there. All we cared about was that we didn't have to get on our bike to get there.

We ate seafood chowder. We ate crab cioppino. We ate a lot. Usually, I refuse the bread basket as Paul cannot eat it due to his allergy and I hate to see so many pieces go to waste. That night, I devoured almost the entire loaf of sourdough by myself. Note to selves - eat a heartier lunch tomorrow.





After relaxing in the hot tub, we turned in for the night and slept like the dead. Having biked about 85 miles with 7,000 feet of climbing, this was my longest and most challenging day of biking - ever. There were points when I silently cursed my husband for planning this death ride, but, after a hot shower and a warm meal, all was forgotten and I reveled in the feeling of accomplishment for surviving the day!



To be continued...
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