Fitness week recap – 9/23/2019

Week Starting 9/23/2019
Running:
 11.4 miles
Biking:
 74.1 miles
Steps: 73,442
 (34.5 miles –  23.1 walking)

Impression: I wasn’t kidding when I said that this blog would get some neglect in September, including my fitness recaps. I’ll post a longer review of my adventures in the coming weeks, but since I was back home starting on the 23rd, I could actually track my fitness correctly again.

This week was minimal running, recovering from 75 miles of running/hiking in the mountains. However, it was also the weekend of my annual 50 mile bike ride. So my biking totals are really high this week, while my running took a back seat. Things are moving back to normal around here so the next few weeks should be pretty on-target.

Place Review: Lake Tahoe

Last year my wife got to visit Lake Tahoe with her mom. After spending a couple of days there she was determined that I should visit as well. She felt it was the type of place that would really resonate with me, that I would enjoy it quite a bit.

Fast-forward to summer this year, and we both were presented with an opportunity to visit. Our friend Julie was going to be doing the Tahoe 200 mile race and she welcomed us aboard her team as crew and pacers. This would give us an opportunity to be there and see a lot of the area in a short period of time. This review isn’t going to be about the race, but about my impressions of the place itself, as a tourist.

One of the things that I discovered very quickly was that the entire lake is dotted with small towns that all have a very NorCal feel. Small cafes, bike shops, kitschy arts and crafts, were all over the lake. There were a couple of larger cities, such as South Lake Tahoe, that had more of your standard suburban fare, but most of the towns we went through were quite small.

These types of walkable villages are my jam. The morning after the race finished I woke up in Tahoe City and walked over to a small coffee shop a block away, Syd’s Bagelry and Espresso. This place was the perfect place to spend a quiet morning. I got my usual decaf Americano and a breakfast sandwich and simply relaxed. As I left, I noticed a back door to the establishment that led to the lake walk. I headed down and breathed in the fresh air.

I got to spend a nice relaxing morning watching waterfowl, and looking at the sunrise over the mountains across the lake. I enjoyed it so much that when Lisa woke up, I dragged her over to the cafe for her breakfast and a walk as well. We even went back to this same coffee shop the next day! It’s relaxing little places like Syd’s that feel like a vacation to me. Somewhere I can decompress, watch the water, and maybe do some writing.

The entire town of Tahoe City reminds me a lot of towns along the North Shore in Minnesota. When we were doing out laundry at a local laundromat I reminisced about when I was doing laundry up in Grand Marais. Doing the little chores of life in a small shore town seems like a silly thing to enjoy, but in many ways I do.

We also got a chance to explore many of the natural features of the lake both during the race, and after. As part of my pacing duties I got to visit Snow Valley Peak which had one of the most striking views of any of the points around the lake. It’s a long, slow, 7 mile climb to get to the top, but the reward was so worth it. We also visited Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm on the southwest corner of the lake. These are two very hot tourist destinations, but the beauty of Emerald Bay is totally worth it.

I can certainly see us coming back to Tahoe someday. It’s filled with things that we love and enjoy, and that make us feel relaxed. It’s a long way to travel, so it may be quite a few years before we return, but I don’t think this is a one-and-done type of place.

Anxiety in the mountains and learning to overcome – part 2

This is part 2 of my story of being in the mountains with anxiety. You can read part 1 to get the context.

As the morning of my pacing duties approached (Sunday) things got a little bit better, despite a few moments of panic. I started to feel more acclimated to where I was, and simply looking around at the big hills didn’t evoke anxiety the moment I saw a huge peak. I still didn’t feel perfect, but I felt good enough to start.

PC: Julie

Julie arrived at the Spooner aid station and got herself ready to go, and we were back on the road around 11am. This aid station is at 7200 ft and immediately climbs to the highest point of our segment at 9100 ft. I buckled in and we started making our way up the mountain.

We moved steadily through the trees, and were lucky to have a segment of trail that was completely buffed out. As we climbed I took a moment every now and then to look around. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush of the race, getting to hang out with Julie again, or the fact that my mantra was starting to actually work, but I felt fine. We climbed higher and higher, and the ground became more and more distant, but started to feel exhilaration rather than panic.

PC: Julie

Eventually the trees grew thin and we approached the top of the climb. For about a mile we would be hiking along a ridge line, just under the summit. We were exposed, and there was nothing stopping us from seeing everything. I looked over my left shoulder and there before us was almost the entirety of Lake Tahoe. It was amazing.

As we progressed, the view just got better and better, and once we were past the peak we got treated to an amazing meadow that allowed us to look around and soak up the view. As I looked around I realized where I was… and felt fine. I looked down at my feet and saw them planted firmly on dry, dusty, dirt. To my left and right was more ground. It was no different than what I was standing on, or the ground that I was standing on in the morning.

My brain finally realized, there was no reason to be anxious.

We continued on our way, up and down various peaks, and I never thought again about feeling anxious. There was one climb later in the night that I was glad was in the dark (damn powerline section), but otherwise I never struggled again.

This isn’t a report on Julie’s race, as that’s her story to tell. What I want to do with this blog was to share how I dealt with my anxiety and overcame it. One of the key hallmarks of anxiety is a complete sense of hopelessness. As I laid in my tent having an anxiety attack I felt nothing but hopelessness. My anxiety told me that I wasn’t good enough to do any of this. I was better of sitting at home and never challenging myself.

Anxiety is a jerk, and a liar. As I stood on top of Snow Valley Peak, at an elevation over 9000 ft, I found the truth. I’m capable of a lot more than I think I am, and anxiety doesn’t need to win. It came down to facing the lie that anxiety was telling me, seeing it for the lie it is, and finding the truth. I’m so grateful that I didn’t let anxiety win.

Anxiety in the mountains and learning to overcome – Part 1

This is part 1 of my experiences this past weekend on dealing with anxiety around heights. Part 2 of how I overcame in a few days

I’m currently writing this from a tent near Lake Tahoe where I’ll be pacing my friend Julie through a few segments of the Tahoe 200 race. Currently my wife is out with her, about to start a segment that will take them over the highest point in the course, around 9400 ft. Thankfully, my sections don’t go much over 9000, but it’s still much higher than I’ve ever been in my life.

I’m not a fan of heights. Despite the fact that I love traveling, I hate flying. The idea of having nothing under my feet except the body of the plane, causes me a lot of anxiety. The first part of this trip involved two flights to get to Reno, not my favorite way to start my day. Thankfully they were smooth and easy and I felt like I was able to relax a bit more than normal, but it still wasn’t my favorite thing to be doing.

Now, cue the mountains. I’ve been near some high mountains, but for the most part I’ve never been more than 6000 ft in the air. One of the things that causes me a great deal of vertigo and anxiety is looking out over a vast valley between mountains. Seeing something as tall as myself in the distance, but with a gaping chasm in between, makes me very uncomfortable. Needless to say, this trip has been full of challenges for my anxiety.

Upon first arriving, I questioned if I had made a mistake. As soon as we’re done at Tahoe, I head to Colorado to pace my friend Mike in a 100 mile race which will put me up in the 9000-10000 ft range. Yet another bunch of time spent in a place that I’ve never been comfortable. However, maybe this entire experience is a way for me to learn how to overcome all of this. There’s no reason that I should feel anxious when climbing nicely laid out trails that go up high. Hundreds of people a year take the same trails that I’ll be on, and are never in danger of falling off the side of the mountain.

Since I don’t run until Sunday, I’ve already started to work on processing all of this. One thing that has gotten better already is driving the mountain roads. After a solid two days of driving up and down various mountain passes, I’ve started to be able to relax more and be less distracted by my feelings of discomfort. I’m no longer the timid driver who’s holding up the lanes of traffic and getting honked at. That’s not to say it’s still not a challenge, but with exposure, I’ve gotten more comfortable.

I’m trying to keep a mantra in my head when I’m up high… “I’m still on the ground”. The same dirt I’m walking on when I’ll be up on those hills, is the same dirt I’m walking around in town. Just because that dirt is higher up, doesn’t mean I’m any less connected to the ground. Unlike an airplane, my feet are still solidly planted on Earth. The ground isn’t going to come crashing down thousands of feet from underneath me. It’s solid.

As I wait for my opportunity to test myself, I had to deal with a bad anxiety attack last night. I laid in my tent wanting to run away as quickly as I could. I was coming up with every excuse in my head as to why I couldn’t do this and I just needed to bail on everything. Yet, I’m still here, and after the attack, I’m starting to feel better. Soon I need to put my feet on the ground and see what I’m capable of. How that goes will be part 2….

How to buy a bike… Jamison style

A couple years ago I decided to start looking for a fat bike. It took me almost two full seasons before I pulled the trigger on a used Framed Wolftrax. I was methodical in my analysis and spent hours looking over frame geometry and specs. In the end I decided to settle on a price I was willing to pay, and then based my choices off of that, based on the models I was interested in.

Fast forward a bit and I just bought a new gravel bike to act as my daily driver. This is another purchase that has been about a year in coming. I once again pulled out spreadsheets and calculators to go deep into what makes each bike unique. I also availed myself of sites like bikecalc.com and bikeinsights.com to help me do comparisons, and get into the nitty gritty of gear inches and “speed at cadence”. This is all on top of test riding bikes whenever I got an opportunity. In the end, I test rode around 8 bikes before deciding what to get. More on the bike later, and in my full review, but I wanted to shed some light on the process I went through, as it might help others, or just help my friends understand me more.

I had first heard of gravel bikes through various YouTube channels. At first blush they look like road bikes with bigger tires, but there’s actually a lot more going on. I would actually classify gravel bikes as closer to touring bikes, but with more aggressive geometry and maybe a few less mounting points.

What I was really looking for was something to replace my daily hybrid bike that I had been using for 9 years with something better. It had to both serve my desire to commute by bike more often, and my desire for adventure. The idea of bike packing takes multiple things that I love and puts them together. No longer am I restricted by how far I can hike in a day, but I could actually lay down some serious miles before camping for the night. At least that’s the dream right now.

This led me to start my analysis by looking at the gravel bike market and learn what makes these bikes tick, and how the different brands are approaching the product space. First, I started looking at the basics of frame geometry. There appears to be a couple different directions that manufactures are going. One of them is closer to the road bike world with bikes that are more aggressive in their wheelbase, trail, and chainstay length. These bikes seem targeted at folks who want to go fast… off-road.

I tried a couple different models of these, notably the Trek Checkpoint and the Specialized Diverge. Both feature a fast, aggressive geometry that lends itself to power. When I first tried the Trek Checkpoint I really enjoyed it, as it was a comfortable ride and the feeling of speed was awesome. The Diverge was similar, but due to the lower end model I was testing, I was left with a poor taste in my mouth.

Soon though I got to try some gravel bikes on the other end of the spectrum which were more relaxed and supple, yet had a geometry that was still much, much closer to a road bike than my hybrid. One of the first ones I got to try was the Raleigh Tamland. This was a steel frame bike that was on clearance from 2018 at a local bike shop. It had a nice soft ride, and great components for the price, and after riding it back to back with the Diverge, I knew that it was the style of gravel bike I was looking for.

Sometimes though we have criteria that aren’t based in specs and measurements. As silly as it sounds, I had two decision points that were purely aesthetic. One was that the bike should be from a Midwest manufacturer, preferably from Minnesota (Raleigh is west coast). Secondly, it needs to have a frame color that appeals to me. On both of these counts the Raleigh was mediocre.

Because I was interested in Minnesota bike makers I then moved on to test some Salsa’s. Salsa is a part of the QBP empire which is headquartered in Bloomington, MN. My first exposure to their gravel bikes was when my wife got to test ride the Journeyman. I also took out a Journeyman for a test ride and we both agreed that these were really great. They had a nice feel to them and were off-road and long-haul focused. Additionally, for my wife, they fit really her really well.

After a couple of test rides at a couple different shops my wife decided on the Salsa Journeyman Sora in a lovely bluish-teal color. She found a size that worked well for her, and she was quickly able to identify what she didn’t like about the other bikes she tried in comparison. That left me, the one who originally was the one looking for a new bike, still taking my time and contemplating what I wanted to do.

This is where things get a little silly. Despite enjoying the Journeyman there were a couple things that I didn’t care for. First, I was not the biggest fan of the drivetrain options. The high end model was a 1x SRAM Apex 1, and despite some folks loving these, I just don’t enjoy their double-tap shifters. I’m sure I’d get used to it soon enough, but it was certainly a mark against the bike for me.

The second item that was a problem was the color. The Journeyman color I absolutely loved was the olive green model. However, it only came with a 2×8 Shimano Claris drivetrain and that just did not appeal to me at all. My hybrid was a 3×8 and I wanted something that was markedly different. There was a lighter teal frame that wasn’t bad, but it was the Apex 1 groupset that I wasn’t 100% sold on either.

I decided to sit on things for a bit as there were still a couple more bikes I wanted to check out. Two of them in particular were the Salsa Vaya and the Salsa Warbird. I happened to find both of them in stock, in my size, at a local bike shop and so I headed out one afternoon to give them a try.

When I got to the shop I also tried an All-City Cosmic Stallion, but due to their weird sizing it just didn’t feel right at all. Then I hopped on the Salsa Vaya 105. Immediately I was struck with how nice this bike felt, and how well it fit me. The Vaya is a steel frame bike and comes with a Shimano 105, 2×11 drivetrain. This is exactly the type of drivetrain I’d been looking for. The shifting was smooth, and the 48/32 crankset on the front is a nice balance between the 50/34 road compact double that’s common on gravel bikes, and the more lax 46/30 of the Journeyman.

dsc01587As I took the bike for a spin around the neighborhoods it just felt “right”. The size was good, the geometry was comfortable, and it had just a small bit of aggressiveness that was lacking in my old hybrid. I got back to the bike shop and they had a full carbon Warbird ready for me to try. This bike was way more expensive than I was interested in spending, but I figured this would at least give me a sense of what’s possible.

The Warbird is a really amazing bike. The carbon frame is SO light, and I was climbing hills like they weren’t even there. It did have a SRAM Force 1x groupset, but this was a much nicer component level and I actually didn’t mind the double-tap quite as much in this quality level. I pulled the bike back into the shop and hopped right back on the Vaya for a quick reaction comparison.

As nice as the Warbird was, with it’s light frame and speedy feel, the Vaya just grabbed me. I knew within seconds on my second test of the day that this would be the bike for me. Plus, it had a nice green-teal color frame that really popped. I finished up my test ride and headed home to think about it a bit more. The bike shop I had visited was doing a sale and so I called up my regular shop to see if they’d price match it. They said they certainly would and so the deal was sealed.

I took the bike out for its first long ride last Wednesday on my usual Beer & Bikes casual ride. On the way home I took a route that is similar to my commute home from work and has some substantial hills. When I loaded the ride in to Strava I had clocked 5 PRs, many of them by quite a margin. Not only did I find the bike to be a bit faster, but the challenging stuff was easier and I was able to power through things in ways that I never could on my hybrid.

I’m excited to eventually post a full review once I get a few more miles on the bike. But for now, I’m loving it. I realize that to some, my process might have seemed tedious (I didn’t even mention all the other bikes I tested), or my love of spreadsheets comparing bike dimensions a bit weird. Yet it’s worked for me, and I know that I’m happier with the outcome when I take my time.

Now to decide on more accessories…