Sunday, September 06, 2009

Bike Ride to Little Itlay, or How I Spent my Summer - Part 3

Stories from the summer…

Many mornings, after the first bottle but before the first nap (the baby's, that is), I load up Jane in the car or in the Burley trailer behind my bike and head to Donny’s Cafe, the local hangout for coffee lovers, cyclists, or anyone who enjoys talking over coffee with friends and acquaintances.

There are a number of little groups who gather regularly at Donny’s, and somehow Jane and I found ourselves joining the table of local retired men, many of whom are cyclists. Most mornings, a handful of them will be sitting, sipping coffee and talking about boats, model trains, Jim’s most recent escape from the Kaiser facility (I mean visit to, visit to...), or about the other people who aren’t there.

After seeing their group every other day at the cafe at the same time that Jane (about four months old at the time) and I would arrive, I asked if we could join their table. I’m sure they thought it would be a one-time occurrence, and politely invited us to sit down. Within no time at all, Jane had worked her magic on them and one or another of them would make faces at her, or bounce her on his knee.

Still, I didn’t consider that we were accepted as “Honorary Old Farts” until we returned from a family reunion in Texas in July. As I carried Jane up to the patio where they all sat, I was greeted with calls of, “Well, where have you been?!” “You didn’t tell us you were going out of town!” and facetious “Who’s that?” which was answered promptly with, “That’s Jane’s mom.” I smiled and thought to myself: Nice! Like Jane Goodall with the great apes, they have come to accept me as one of their own.

On Thursdays, the whole gang of them (often six or eight men) will show up for a bike ride from the cafe to downtown San Diego or to the Chula Vista marina to have lunch. Although I would sometimes show up to the cafe on the bike with Jane in tow behind me in the trailer, they never asked me to join them on their bike ride. I hoped that they would, but I wanted to be sensitive to the “guy time” thing. After all, I’d already infiltrated the ranks AND brought an infant with me.

Then one Thursday in mid-July, I showed up to the cafe with Jane in the trailer, expecting to take a 45-minute ride with her around the golf course after coffee, when one of them looks up and says, “So! You’re coming with us today?”

What? Today? Me and Jane? “Um… sure!” I stammer, “ We’d love to come. Where do you guys go?”

“Little Italy. We have lunch at Filippi’s,” Kevin tells me.

Little Italy is about 13 miles away, and might be the farthest we’ve ever ridden with the trailer. But the route is simple, mostly flat, we have plenty of diapers and formula, and if it gets to be too difficult, we can always turn around and go home. Excited about the sudden adventure looming large before us, Jane and I load up to go.

As I write this, it occurs to me how much my life has changed. “Adventure” used to mean traveling alone across Spain, continuing over to Israel following my husband’s ship (the USS Austin that time) into three ports on a Mediterranean deployment, or hitchhiking alone from a remote part of northern Russia back to St Petersburg. Now, with a baby in the Burley trailer, “adventure” is taking a bicycle day-trip with a bunch of retired guys. I reflect on these adventures with equal fondness and gratitude that I can be in the right place at the right time. I wouldn’t miss any of these adventures for anything.

Riding up Harbor Drive

Mike, Jim (in yellow)

Coming into downtown San Diego

On the bike path across from the convention center

Mike, Tony

Laura and Jane make it to Filippi's (and yes, I carry a skirt in the trailer)

The Old Farts: Kevin, John, Bob, Dave, Mike, Jim, Tony

Stephanie and Dave (it's Dave's birthday)

Jane plays under the chairs. I'm hoping she will tie some shoelaces together...

Mike across from the tall ships (Star of India)

Leaving Downtown San Diego headed to the Embarcadero.

Mike, Tony on the Embarcadero at Seaport Village

We all have a wonderful lunch at Filippi's and I meet Stephanie, their very patient and obliging waitress. I find that Jane is very well-behaved and content as long as she is dry and not hungry or thirsty. Although we leave the house that day at 9:15am, and don't return until after 3pm, Jane seems to be happy to be along for the ride.

Another great adventure for me, and a first of many for little Jane.

Friday, September 04, 2009

It's Official: Jane Loves Bike Rides, or How I Spent my Summer - Part 2

Jane has been riding in the Burley trailer since she was five weeks old. I've always assumed she liked it, or at least didn't mind it. The morning after I get my handlebar-friendly wrist splint, I go out to the garage to ready the trailer for a splint test-ride.

I unlock the garage door, leaving the door to the house wide open. The trailer is already hooked up, all I have to do is load up. I need water, the diaper bag, a bottle for Jane, and sunscreen. As I head back into the house I see Jane, who has followed me out of the house and is crawling towards the garage door. Knowing she does not like to be anywhere I am not, I assume that she will play outside near the door, or follow me back into the house rather than venture by herself into the dimly lit garage.

I move quickly to the kitchen, fill a water bottle for myself, and start to prepare a bottle for Jane, when I pause a moment and glance out the window to the place where I left my little girl. I stop. Jane is not outside at the door playing. I rush to the garage, the scenarios flooding my brain one after another: my bike has fallen on her and she's pinned; she picked up a nameanyitem, put it in her mouth and is choking; she's eating kitty litter and doesn't care... etc. Why would she go into a darkened garage without me?! She never does that. She always keeps me in eyesight. Why can't I hear her?!

The moment I'm inside the garage I see Jane. She's standing next to the trailer, holding onto it for balance, babbling to herself. Jane has crawled all the way to the front of the semi-darkened garage to wait for me beside her trailer. I think she would have crawled in, but her legs are still too short to make it over the arm affixed to my bike. She hardly notices me when I enter the garage, her attention fixed on the Burley.

"C'mon, Mom! Let's go!"

Wow. Jane really likes the bike rides after all. How cool is that?

(Up next: the Ride to Little Italy with Jane's geriatric playgroup. Stay tuned!)

How I Spent my Summer - part 1

I've been battling "new mom" tendinitis in my wrist since mid-May. There's a longer name for it, but it's less... memorable evidently. This specific tendinitis is very common among new moms, dentists, and people who bear weight on a cocked wrist. It's more painful than I ever ever imagined.

Tendinitis sounds so harmless and almost trivial. Nothing like "distal radius fracture" or "A/C separation" or even "hematoma." I've experienced all those things and they weren't nearly as painful. OK, maybe the shoulder. But tendinitis is like that unassuming red-headed chick at the martial arts tournament who's five foot nothing, kinda quiet, looks like she just fell off a charm bracelet... you know the one. You dismiss her almost immediately, but man, she attacks fast, hangs on like a badger, and will lay you low before you know she's even there.

The good folks at Physical Therapy tell me the remedy for tendinitis is immobility, so that the inflammation will go down and the tendon will work as normal. So for two months, I wore a splint. Kinda. Unfortunately I only half-heartedly kept my thumb immobile, so I suppose that's why it only half-heartedly attempted to heal.

In early July, I got a hard splint from Physical Therapy at Balboa Naval Medical Center that was molded specifically to fit my wrist. This would really keep the thumb immobile. I remarked as they were making the splint that it would be really sweet to have a splint that was molded against the grip on my mountain bike, so that I could ride in the splint without fear of additional injury. To my amazement, Alma looked up and said, "Oh, we could do that."

Alma tests the grip in my new splint.

New grip-friendly splint.

Eeeeexcelent! I'll test it out tomorrow!

(More on how I've spent my summer to come, including the bike ride to Little Italy with Jane's geriatric play group. I know you can't wait!)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Home remedies - don't leave home without them

Recently I traveled with some of the LUNA Chix to San Francisco for a weekend summit. One of the girls was suffering so badly from a head cold that she could hardly breathe. I pulled out a couple bottles of oils and asked her if she wanted to try a home remedy for sinus congestion. She was willing to try anything.

I heated water and poured it into a bowl, got a towel, and told her to put the towel over hear head and put her face about 6 inches from the bowl after I dropped the oil in. I dropped a few drops of Eucalyptus oil and a few drops of Whiteflower oil in the bowl of hot water, and Denise leaned over the bowl to breathe the steam. I had told her she would come up choking after a couple breaths, but that she should continue to breathe the steam as much as she could.

To her surprise and delight, breathing the eucalyptus and menthol steam did the trick. Her nose started to clear and she could breathe again.

People have asked me about these home remedies and the things I carry when traveling. Here's my quick things I almost always have with me or that I have quick access to. Most of these oils are available at a good health food store. The sports supplements can be found at a good bike shop or online. Always check with your physician before taking any supplements or medications.

ome remedies for common ailments

For bruising and general antiseptic - good to have on trail rides

Arnica oil for bruising

Apply arnica oil directly to a bruise (but not to broken skin) immediately after an injury to minimize bruising. Arnica sublingual tablets work well too.

Tea tree oil - Antisceptic for almost all skin conditions; gargle for sore throat
Apply Tea tree oil directly to a cut, scrape, fungus, insect or spider bite.
To relieve a sore throat, drop a few drops of Tea tree oil in warm water and gargle with it (but do not swallow it).

Eucalyptus, Wintergreen and Whiteflower oil

Eucalyptus oil and *Whiteflower oil (or menthol) for stuffy nose / nasal drip
To clear a stuffy nose, pour boiling or very hot water into a bowl. Drop a few drops each of Eucalyptus oil and Witeflower oil in the bowl, cover your head with a towel and lean over the bowl with your nose about 6 inches from the water, breathing the steam that rises from the bowl.

*Whiteflower oil is a mixture of Wintergreen, Menthol, Camphor, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, and Lavender.

Sports supplements I always have with me.

Sportlegs and Eletewater for cramping
Cramping is often caused by electrolyte imbalance.
Prevent and relieve muscle cramps by taking calcium, magnesium and potassium, the electrolytes found in Sportlegs capsules and Eletewater liquid supplement. Follow the directions on the bottle. For immediate relief of muscle cramps, break open two Sportlegs capsules and down the contents with 6-8 oz of water.

To prevent monthy cramps, drink 8-10 glasses of water with Eletewater the day before your period starts, or drink 16 oz of water with Eletewater at the first sign of cramping or menstruation. Keep drinking 8-10 glasses of water with Eletewater daily to keep cramps at bay. I used to get debilitating cramps before I discovered this, and I promise you it works. Eletewater also is available in capsule form (Tablytes).

Hot pack/cold pack

Apply a cold pack to new injuries to reduce swelling and slow blood-flow. Often the post-trauma swelling causes additional injury. Use a cold pack for the first 48-92 hours after an injury.
Reusable cold pack: two parts water or ice and one part rubbing alcohol in a zipper freezer bag. Refreeze as needed. You can also use a bag of frozen peas. Reuse the bag of peas, but mark it so you don't eat it.

Add heat to get blood flowing. Use heat after the third day or more following an injury.
Reusable hot pack:
put a damp wash cloth in a zipper freezer bag. Microwave for 30 seconds. Instant hot pack.

For additional information on pharmaceutical-free treatments and sports injuries, I recommend the book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Phyllis Balch, and The Best Natural Sports Medicine Book Ever by Dr. William Wong.

If you have any of your own home remedies that you would like to share, please tell me about them in the comments section. I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My first Midnight Madness (from 2007)

Last night I attended my third San Diego Midnight Madness bike ride. Because people want to know where the pumps came from, here's the story of the first Midnight Madness I attended. Enjoy!

Midnight Madness, San Diego

18 Aug 2007

"So, are you going to Midnight Madness?" my friend Lauren asks me.
"What's Midnight Madness?" I ask.

"It's this bike ride in downtown San Diego that starts at midnight and goes for like, 20 miles, and people dress up in costumes and there's a lot of general silliness."

"Cool. I'm in. When?"

As I think about what kind of cool costume I could wear, the days tick down to Saturday. Thursday afternoon on a group ride, I tell one of the girls about Midnight Madness, comment that I don't have a costume, and admit that I might just have to go in bike clothes. But, as I think about it, I realize that I go to the "office" (the bike shop where I work) quite often in bike clothes. So, it would only be fitting if I go to the bike ride in office clothes. And the little wheels inside my head start turning...

That night I come home and enlist the help of my husband, who is only too eager to pull out the power tools.

Because the shoes really do make the outfit...

I sacrifice a pair of old pumps for the ride, and take the seam ripper to the skirt portion of an old business suit. Totally worth it.

Although I try to run the Time cleats and pedals that I'm used to, the SPD's with the adjustable spring tension are easier to get out of.

SPD pumps

The whole ensemble with my Lemon fixie.

My "Lemon" used to be a LeMond, but... hmmm. Yeah. Now it's a Lemon. It was almost an Emo Lemon, but... meh, there's always time for that. (For you fixie aficionados, I'm geared for commuting in hills at 64" - 38x16).

DHS and JonKranked, my riding buddies for the night.

We pick up our ride numbers and a route map at registration.

The staging area early in the evening. In short order there will be about 2500 people and bikes crowding the space.



Laura the Cycling Business Commuter (with the obligatory banana in the back )

(and of course, I had to pin my number on like I was in some crit or something...)

Kranked on his fixie with a mask that serves the dual purpose of restricting air supply and limiting one's field of vision. Ideal for a 20-mile night ride.

In the pic below, Jon tries to pet his furry friend. DHS says he was "petted" four or five times, and had no idea who in the crowd had done it.

Hey! Hands to yourself, buddy!

My friend Lauren (who got me into this) with her friend Les

Just before the ride, DHS, Kranked, and I get on our bikes and go to the Gas Lamp district of downtown San Diego in search of food. Of course there are lines to get into everywhere. We finally decide to cut our losses and go to Hooters. The guys want food; I'll settle for French fries.

After a quick meal and minimal libation (because it is so slow trying to get a pitcher of beer; you'd think guys go to Hooters just to, like, hang out or something), we head back to the venue. I don't want to miss the costume contest. As I understand, no one has done this ride in pumps before.
I'm hopeful I'll place in the contest, which is completely unrealistic. I have never seen what people do to decorate their bikes and themselves, and when I get there I'm stunned.

The winning entry is actually a functional bicycle built for six in a Hawaiian theme, with people in grass skirts, a built-in cooler in the middle, and a bubble machine. Yep, they did more prep than me.

A bicycle built for six...

Once back at the venue, it occurs to us that we have only another 20 minutes before the ride begins and we're all sober. Time to remedy that situation. With no time to spare, we hop on our bikes and head out into the dark. We find a package store a few miles away, grab the necessary supplies, and dash back to the staging area, where we have about 5 minutes before the gun goes off.

Brent in a kilt, looking for trouble

DHS at the ride start

The ride about to begin

They count down the start time, and riders take off. It's a really slow start with so many people trying to squeeze through the entrance. Unfortunately they are not letting us run traffic lights, so groups of people get separated.

The first light we come to, I call out, "OK, everybodeeeeee... Trackstand!" Just then this guy to my right falls over clipped in. Ooops.

The general mood is fun and playful. People chat with those around them, making jokes about costumes, and laughing in delight at the creativity around them. We're all feeling just a bit mischievous; after all, it's after midnight, we're wearing silly costumes and riding our bikes in the middle of Pacific Highway. I mean, do the adults out there know we're doing this? The puckish mood of the evening grabs onto DHS right as a rickshaw rolls past us. It's just too much of a temptation to pass up...

DHS skitching a ride. The rickshaw driver was not happy... We thought it was hilarious.

More interesting people...

Yes, he did the whole 20 miles on that bike.

Fat suit guy

Girl wearing her teddy...

Mostly it was fun talking to people on the ride and just enjoying being out amongst the craziness, and being a part of the craziness.

The looks on people faces when they saw me in a business suit was pretty good, but seeing the look when they realized I was clipped in with the pumps was priceless! And while it was really rad to do a 20-mile ride in SPD pumps, by about mile 18, I was feeling it.

"Aw, man, these have got to be the WORST cycling shoes I have ever worn!" I exclaim to no one in particular.

"Hmmm, whatcha got?" some guy asks me.

"Prada!" I answer, and clip out for him to see the SPD on the bottom of the pump. He nearly fell over. It was a great time.

Thanks Lauren, for convincing me to go, and thanks DHS and Kranked for being great riding buddies. :)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Riding with Children - Fun for Everyone!

(cross-posted from Sunny Rides)

Several years ago when I first started cycling, I thought that "bicycling with children," meant that the kids would all be on their own bikes, I would be on mine, and we would have to go as slow (fast?) as the youngest could manage to pedal. Oh, and we would have to stay within two blocks of the house, because kids have a low tolerance for activities lasting longer than ten minutes (at least this is what I remember from the forced marches my dad used to take us on, that, in reality, were only a half-mile). I thought riding with kids would be somewhat... tedious.

This was before I learned about the many possibilities out there for riding bikes with children.

Riding with children: the first year or two
From about five weeks old, I had my baby in a Burley bike trailer. Burley makes an infant snuggler, which they tell you is not intended to be used with the trailer when it is attached to a bike, but only with the unit used as a stroller. Blah blah blah... whatev. Jane and I have been having great bike experiences for months!

Jane at 5 weeks in the Burley trailer with the infant snuggler.

I like this trailer because it's light-weight and has 20-inch tires. Most trailers come in one and two-seater models. If you have two kids, consider whether one will antagonize the other while in the trailer. If they ride from infancy, you will have less issue then if you start when one is
three and the other is 12 months. A better option in this case might be: child seat attached to your bike and a trail-a-bike in addition (more about that in a moment).

Helmet note: If your child is in a bike trailer, he may not not need to wear a helmet. Most trailers come with a rollbar and 5-point safety harness. If the child is not protected by the trailer, make sure he is wearing a helmet. Since Jane is protected by the trailer and reclines while in it, she does not wear a helmet in the trailer.

If you do it right, by the time they can express opinions, your kids will let you know it's time to saddle up and go. I opened the garage one morning to ready the bike, leaving the house and side garage doors open. Jane crawled outside the house as I darted back inside to get water. By the time I returned, Jane had crawled to the front of the garage and was waiting for me next to the trailer.

C'mon Mom! Let's go ride!

Riding with children: 12 months - 3 years

Once the child's head is large enough for a helmet (48 cm in circumference) and he can safely sit up and hold his head while wearing a helmet without his neck getting tired, he's usually old enough for the bike child seat.

The bike child seat fits onto a rear rack that is bolted onto your bike. Advantages over the trailer are that a child seat costs significantly less than a trailer, you have better maneuverability, and you are not dragging a 28 lbs trailer in addition to the weight of the child. However, I like being able to give Jane a bottle and let her play with toys as we ride. We can ride when it's cold, because I can cover her with a blanket. Were she in a bike kid seat, bottle and toys would be dropped or thrown long before we reached the first mile marker, and we would have to curtail our activity in really chilly weather.

If you anticipate 45-minute rides in moderate weather, or have two small children who might not do well together in a trailer, a bike kid seat is probably your best option for the younger one. Most bike kid seats have a weight capacity of 40 lbs.

Riding with children 3 - 10 years old

When my little 8-year-old friend Esther was in town from New Mexico and asked me if we could ride bikes,
I found her a loaner bike of her own, but even better than that, a friend lent me his Trail-a-bike. A Trail-a-bike allows the adult to be in control, allows the child to rest when she gets tired, and best of all, makes the ride much more predictable, knowing that the child will not get distracted and ride into traffic - she's connected to your bike.

The Trail-a-bike gave Esther and me tremendous freedom! We were able to take water and snacks and ride 3 miles down the bike path to the stables and see the horses. We were able to ride for short stretches on the road in the bike lane without me having to worry about Esther riding into traffic. Suddenly riding with a kid was really fun!

Given the choice of her own bike to ride and riding on the Trail-a-bike, Esther usually chose the Trail-a-bike. She especially liked going really fast down the hills!

Regardless of his age, there's a bike or bike attachment that's right for your child. Start them early, and ride often!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Cycling and an Instant Community

One of the great things about riding a bike is that you have an instant community of people who share your interest for cycling and the outdoors. Regardless of your skill level, you can find people to ride with and learn from if you just look around a bit. Wait, wait! I know what you're saying: But I'm slow/not very good... there's not really anyone for me to ride with.

Au contraire!

When I learned how to mountain bike, I had the good fortune of being about as self-aware as a puppy running in a park. I had no idea that I was going out riding for my first time with a couple of guys who were Cat 1 (Expert level) downhill racers. Even if I had known, it would not have occurred to me that I might be slowing them down, and that they might enjoy their ride more without me tagging along and crashing all the time. They asked me to go riding, so I went.

Good thing I was more excited about mountain biking than worried about what other people were thinking, because the assumption that I would be a damper on their fun would have been completely wrong.

People of different abilities do things together all the time, and the more skilled have just as much fun as the novices. For example, my mom enjoys the outdoors, but is not very athletic. But if she asked me to take her hiking, I would jump at the chance. Not because I could show her how nimble-footed I am, or how much gear I can carry, or how I could make it to the top first. No way. I would enjoy just being with her, doing something challenging together, and I would delight in her triumphs up the hill. We might not even make it up to the top, but that wouldn't be important. The important part is just getting outside with good company.

Similarly, when someone of greater ability than you asks you to go bike riding, it's not because your he is looking for a hammer-fest training ride and wants to see how fast he can drop you. Especially if it's someone who knows he is a better or faster rider than you. Most people enjoy the company, and truly don't mind helping others along or waiting for them.

There will always be people better than you who will be delightful to ride with, as well as others who are miserable to ride with. Don't let your fears about holding people up, or a past bad experience with a particular rider interfere with your getting out on the bike with others. Of course, you should know what you're getting yourself into and be careful not to get in over your head, but also know that when someone asks you to ride, she usually hopes you will come along.

If you are the one doing the asking, tell the more experienced rider that you want to do a relaxed ride, and what duration you'd like the ride to be. If your hammer-head friend turns you down with no encouragement, she may be one of those who only takes long hard rides; don't take it personally. You might ask her if she knows someone you could ride with.

Finally, if you are looking for someone to ride with and simply know no one, here are a few resources:

Women's specific:
For any cyclist looking for road or mountain riders: Bike Meet-up
Just enter your ZIP code on the right for the list of groups in your area. Or try this one.

Good list of Bike Clubs

If you've tried these places and still can't find a person or a group, contact me. I'll find you someone to ride with or gather a group of people myself. :)

Now go outside and play!

Laura is a member of the San Diego Team LUNA Chix, a group of eight women who organize and lead local bike rides, sports skills and informational clinics, and host charitable events benefiting the Breast Cancer Fund. For information on LUNA Chix bike rides, please see:, and click on San Diego.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Friday Night at the Track

So I did my first track race at the velodrome!

Photos courtesy of Mark Bermal (his flickr page)

Note of explanation for Mom and Dad: As the photo indicates, I was not on foot running the 100m like high school track; I was on a special bike designed to be ridden at a velodrome, affectionately called "the track". Believe it or not, grown people regularly gather together after work, get on bikes with no hand-activated brakes, and race each other till we are too tired to continue. We even pay for the privilege of doing so. Only $5 for Velodrome members - what a bargain!

Let me start by saying that till now the thought of track racing scared the buh-jelly beans out of me. Which is kinda surprising since I race exert downhill.

My impression of track racing up till now:
groups of highly competitive riders get on fixed-gear bikes with no real brakes and travel at high speeds mere inches from one another just waiting for that ill-timed sneeze, unfortunate fly down the throat, or other unspeakable catastrophe that will send riders into a pile of muscle and bike parts.

It just seemed so wrong on so many levels, and certainly not my cup of tea. Give me
a fat-tire bike and a steep, rocky, rutted-out switchback with a run-out of about 2 feet before the edge of a 30-foot cliff any day. At least I can reasonably calculate my chance of survival. On a track, I'm at the mercy of... OK, God, ultimately, and subject to the skill of the least experienced rider out there, who... OK, fine, so it's me.

So what possessed me to go to the track in the first place?

*cue the harp making "long ago" sounds*

It started as an innocent little product knowledge class at Specialized Bicycle Component University back in Dec 2006, and an enthusiastic instructor (Hi, Jon!) who told everyone in the class that their riding would improve dramatically if they rode just ten miles a week on a fixed gear.

Eager to test this theory, and looking for a challenge, I converted my old road bike with semi-horizontal dropouts into a fixed-gear.

The bike when it still had derailleurs.

As it was December, the guys in the bike shop where I worked were eager for something more interesting to do than organize derailleur hangers. No sooner had I expressed my intentions to convert the bike to a fixie than I find it in the bike stand almost stripped of parts. To "fix" a bike that's not broken (ahem), you remove the derailleurs and replace the three front chain rings with a single one. My mechanic and good buddy Steve removed the cassette from the rear wheel and spaced out the hub to allow for a single cog. Finally, a heavy single-speed chain was put on and I was ready to go.

Modifying the paint job, so that I have a "Lemon"

Finished product - commuter fixie ready to rock and roll.

I put a commuter gear on there to start - a 36 x 16 - so that I can climb hills. I ride the bike that way for fun for almost two years, including at Midnight Madness. Because chances to be silly and outrageous should never be passed up lightly, I dress in a modified business suit and cleat-compatible pumps to ride the fixie downtown.

Midnight Madness on the Lemon fixie. Ah, good times!

Then in Aug 2008, I decide to take a class at the velodrome. The instructors, Pam and Lisa, throw me into the "Advanced" class (and I use that term liberally) because I've been riding a fixed gear for two years. I have a great time, and by the grace of God, manage to remember most of the rules of the track and don't hurt myself or anyone else.

I would not have considered track racing, but then last week I got this email from the Velodrome
Association talking about a Friday Night Race for Sprinters, Women-only, Juniors, and D-grade. They promise a relaxed atmosphere, little to no pressure, and beginner-friendly races. Intrigued by the idea that I wouldn't be thrown into the track racing deep-end and expected to swim, but can just wade in a little at a time, I make plans to go to the Friday night races.

On Friday, June 5, I show up at the velodrome and
see my good friend Kim. Cool! A friendly face! I see other people I know, including one entire family whose teenage son races. The daughter would be racing too, but they don't allow ten-year-olds on the track tonight. Ten-year-olds. Just... wow. It would be so great to see Jane racing at the track when she's ten. Big props to parents Jacqueline and Jeff!

I'm assigned a number, and Tony and Kim help me pin it on my jersey.

Tony pins my number on my jersey.

Warm-up begins and we all line up on the wall, then peel off one by one to follow the motorcycle who will pace us. Women and juniors ride together, and after several laps we suddenly seem to speed up, then slow down. The effect ripples through the group, and by the time I recover, I'm more than two bike lengths away from the guy in front of me.

I fight to catch up, pushing the pedals for all I'm worth. Then I hear a teenage voice behind me, "Take one hard pedal stroke!" Some kid I have never met is coaching me. I smile inwardly and follow his advice pushing hard for one hard turn. I'm still behind and struggling. "Now take two hard strokes," he tells me. I take two hard strokes. He continues to coach me till I start to close in on the rider in front, but I still can't catch up. "Are you out?" he calls to me. Ugh. It is definitely not a good sign when you get dropped in the warm-up. Knowing there's no way I can keep this pace, I concede defeat. "I'm out!" I call, and pull up-track and away from the group. Looking on the bright side, I just learned a pedaling technique for catching someone in front of you.
I will not find out till the following week that my chain is too tight and is binding, causing me to work much harder than I should.

After the group warm-up, the racing begins. Juniors first, then the women are called to line up at the wall.

Lined up on the wall. Photo: Mark Bermal

I have no idea what to expect, but I figure I can watch Kim and just do what she does.

Our first race is six laps, with the sprint in the last lap. Before we even get to lap two, I am SPENT trying to stay up with the other girls (that's me in the back in blue). Before the race is over, they will lap me. Sigh.

Women's race Photo: Mark Bermal

After this race I realize several things:
1. This wasn't nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be.
2. It was really kinda fun!
3. There is nothing like getting really smoked in a public place to motivate you to get more serious about your training.

Muscles rebelling and out of breath, I limp back to the staging area, as well as you can limp on a track bike, and rest before the next race. There will be three or four more races before the night is over, with each race category taking turns on the track.

The next race is a three-lap race that we will repeat three times. Knowing I am clearly out-classed, I do the best I can, and then get out of the way. On the third repeat, Kim tells me to stay on her wheel, which I do.
On the last lap when we approach the final turn and head into the straightaway, she calls to me, "OK, Laura! Sprint!" "What?!" I call back. "Attack now!" she says. "You want me to pass you?!" I call to her. "YES! Try to pass me!!" she says.

With every ounce of strength I have left, pull to the right of her and push hard to pass her. Involuntarily, my mouth opens and I roar, "RRRRRrrrrrAAAAAAAA!!!" and I push even with her. Startled and surprised, she stands and pounds away, unwilling to yield her lead. We cross the line nostrils flaring as the crowd looks on, not knowing quite how to react to a woman roaring across the finish line, but liking it nonetheless.

All in all, it was a great night of fun, learning, camaraderie, and pain (the good kind). Maybe this track stuff isn't so terrifying after all.