Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Weeks #7&8: The Year of the False Spring

The tourney at Harrenhal, also known as Lord Whent's great tournament, was held in 281 AC, the year of the false spring, at Harrenhal in the riverlands. It was hosted by Lord Walter Whent to celebrate the name day of his maiden daughter. Spread over ten days, it was the greatest tourney of its time. - A Wiki of Ice and Fire

With the weather regularly vacillating between 30 and 70 degrees this month, the phrase “the year of the false spring” keeps popping into my mind. Game of Thrones fans will know this as the year that there was the great tourney at Harrenhal, where a bunch of stuff went down, leading to the conception of many of the series’ main characters and all of the old grudges that are still simmering when Ned Stark leaves for King’s Landing in the first book/episode. As I prepare for the great tourney at Seven Mountains Boy Scout Camp (the TSE), I’m finding that this year of the false spring is presenting very little of the winter monotony that I was expecting to blog through in January.

Helping a new teammate practice her descending position

After migrating south to clear trails in Harrisonburg a couple of weeks ago, the local weather was kind enough to allow us to mountain bike right here at home a couple of times since then. The weekend after we went to Harrisonburg offered two days of sunny 60ish degree weather. Saturday of that weekend was spent in Philly helping out with a Team Laser Cats beginner women’s MTB ride, but on Sunday I got the opportunity to really put Brienne (my new Liv Hail, named for a character who had an entirely different fight at Harrenhal) through her paces on the TSE enduro course.

A post shared by Lindsay Hall-Stec (@slowpoke2320) on

We hit all of the stages except for Greenshoot, which I’ve ridden up many times, but have only gone down a couple. There’s nothing particularly difficult about it, although it will require some improvement in my cornering ability to truly go fast, but going fast on Greenshoot won’t matter until I’m much faster on the more technically difficult stages. Furthermore, after riding Croyle for the first time since it was redone in the fall, I’m also feeling like the resulting 30-40 minute climb back up Gettis isn’t really worth my time until I get a lot better on Sand Spring, Wildcat, and Old Laurel. The beauty of those trails is that once DST starts, I can get all of them into a single weeknight ride and concentrate on the longer TSE stages on the weekends. After several months away from these trails, new bike magic couldn’t counteract my rustiness or the thick layer of leaves that have fallen since the last time I was out there, so I’m looking forward to getting back to weekly practice and start progressing again.

Last week offered 60+ degree days on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but with the sun still setting at 6:00, that wasn’t super helpful for Wednesday and Thursday. Friday was the warmest day at 70 degrees, and I had no important meetings that day, so I took a vacation day and rode most of the Tussey stage of the TSE. It was a little crazy riding 4.5 hours of actual mountain biking in shorts and short sleeves in February, and it was kind of nice getting the harsh reminder of how hard it is early in the year rather than later. I was a lot slower than I was expecting, and quite the tired puppy by the time I was done, but I’m still far ahead of where I was in March last year. I can’t even compare it to any previous February, because before this month, I’ve only ever mountain biked in February once in my entire career. This year it has been five times already!

Given my objective to make big improvements this year in the skills realm, I was glad to finally get to do the things I’ve been imagining myself doing for months. Of course, things don’t necessarily play out in real life the way they have in your head all winter, and I was far from the smooth operator I’d been imagining once my wheel hit actual trail. At least now I have a couple of things that I know that I was doing wrong in the past that I can start attempting to do correctly now that I’m getting in trail time again. The first is that my “attack” position is more squatty than it should be and my butt is not actually as far back as I imagine it is. So now when I’m descending, I’m concentrating on hinging at the hips to get lower and further back, rather than bending my knees. I haven’t quite gotten comfortable with this yet, but I’m working on it. On Friday I noticed myself mentally saying, “booty like whoa” whenever I started to get into descending position. It was really silly, but served as a good reminder.

I’m also working on looking further down the trail and planning multiple moves ahead instead of just staring at what’s directly in front of my wheel. This seemed to help on John Wert until my brain got tired around the time I hit the really big rock gardens. I still have a lot of work to do there, but admittedly, I only rode that trail twice in all of 2016. I plan to spend a lot more time there this year, and in addition to speedier, cleaner descents, I also want to finally clean John Wert and Tussey Ridge both before the summer is over.

I know that the problem with false springs is that there are still several weeks left when it could still be cold and I really won’t really have any room to complain about March being March. We could even perceivably have more bad snow before spring has sprung for real, but I sure hope not. No more days on the trails aren’t guaranteed for quite some time, but the bug has bitten me, and I’m definitely hoping for more rides soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Week #6: Southbound and Pointed Down

Last week was full of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively.

It began with the arrival of my new Liv Hail 1, named Brienne the Beauty in keeping with my Game of Thrones themed mountain bike naming convention. I know you may be thinking, “Hail, what?”, since a few shorts months I devoted a three-post series to my pursuit of the ultimate Rothrock-worthy quiver killer. I still stand by my Specialized Camber 650b aka Tormund Giantsbane, as the best all-around bike for “Rothrock XC”, but the more I was able to push myself on bigger and scarier descents with Tormund’s help, the more I was struck with an ever-increasing case of big bike FOMO. Frank ended up buying a Camber of his own about a week after I bought mine, but kept his BMC Trailfox and would regularly remind me how much fun it was to just plow over stuff at full speed during our enduro rides. Even though I did find the single best all-around Rothrock bike in Tormund, “N+1” are the ever-resounding words of House Stec, so finally I was like…

Now I have an appropriate bike for trying out some bike park riding later in the summer, and if I still suck at enduro racing this season, at least I won’t be able to blame the bike. Tormund will still be my go to for the Tussey and Cooper’s Gap stages of the TSE, and Brienne will get the enduro stage in the middle.

The joy of my new big-girl beauty quickly turned to frustration mid-week when the previous week’s dump of snow had completely melted off by Wednesday and the temperature rose to a mountain-bikeable 50 degrees. But, you know, work. I probably should have had the forethought to “get sick” on Tuesday evening after pedaling Brienne to the local park in the rain and hucking her into the wood chip-covered drop into the playground a few times before dark. Then the temperature dropped and six inches of snow fell during the night on Wednesday. The weekend temperatures were predicted to be in the mid-to-upper 40’s, which would be just enough to turn the snow into a slushy mess but not actually clear it. Luckily, Frank pointed out that the weekend forecast for Harrisonburg, VA was 62 Saturday and 69 on Sunday. A call to a local bike shop confirmed that the trails were clear, and our weekend plans were set.

We had a bit of trouble planning our routes, since our bike choices favored non-technical and preferably not-too-steep climbs and technical descents. Not knowing the area at all, we had to rely on MTB Project suggested rides, which all seemed like 6-9 miles of climbing and then 6-9 miles of descending per loop. I guess their mountains are just bigger down there, but I think I prefer our 1-2 mile climbs and descents that allow you to fit a few runs per ride. Still, you take what you can get in February, so upon our arrival in the George Washington National Forest, we proceeded to climb the 8.5 paved miles to the top of Reddish Knob.

Our hardest-earned #scenicvistaselfie to date

For the descent that followed, imagine this video with less snow, more mud, and the riders arriving at the windy, overcast top sweating in their shorts and short sleeves from grinding their 30 pound bikes up for over an hour and a half, then getting hypothermic.

Stokesville from Salsa Cycles on Vimeo.

Needless to say, I didn’t look that cool bumbling through the first section of singletrack with my numb hands and bike that I hadn’t quite learned how to handle. “Big floppy bike!” became the rallying cry for the weekend every time I went off line in a slow rocky section. Bri was definitely made for high-speed plowing, not low-speed finesse. Sadly, we didn’t get as much of the latter as we had hoped, because we took a wrong turn shortly after getting to the actual good downhill singletrack and ended up at the road we had originally climbed up instead of the good descent we were supposed to go down. The good news was that we weren’t really lost or far from the car, but the bad news was that the 3-mile paved coast back to the car wasn’t the reward we were hoping for when we set out on our 8.5 mile climb. With less than an hour before sunset, we resigned ourselves to getting dinner and beer earlier than planned and hoped for better navigation on Sunday.

Sunday’s ride was more successful navigation-wise, but even less Big Floppy Bike appropriate. First we rode the Lookout Mountain Loop, which only had 7.5 miles of mixed pavement and gravel climbing before some rolling, rocky benchcut, and finally a mostly-sustained descent at the end.

We then jumped in the car and headed a few miles down the road for the Narrowback Loop, which was very obviously not Big Floppy Bike appropriate, but it was highly rated and looked like a relatively easy way to get a couple more hours of riding in before we headed home. It was actually a pretty fun loop, although it might have been more so on the Cambers. It started with a more-reasonable length gravel climb up to a rocky ridgetop trail that rolled along for a while before descending to another gravel road. Another gravel road transition took us to the next section of singletrack, which upon our arrival, I recognized as the section that Harlan took us on during the women’s MTB camp last fall. I knew that the climb up to the top of the ridge was tough, and with four hours of Big Floppy Bike riding already under my belt for the day, my ego was not above walking a lot of it. I rode the little droppy-jawn that we’d sessioned during camp without hesitation, and proceeded to the long, screaming descent back down to the car.

Said Droppy-Jawn

All in all, it was really awesome to escape winter for a weekend and get some Big Floppy Bike acclimation in with Brienne, even if she wasn’t quite in her element. So far the forecast is looking good for this weekend, so I’m hoping to introduce her to Wildcat on Sunday and really see what she can do. Since I haven’t seen Wildcat in five months, I’m afraid that I’ll have lost some of the nerve that I built up at the end of the summer, but I think last weekend was good for blowing out some of my MTB cobwebs. I’m really excited for the possibilities that this season presents now that I’ve fully achieved by my mountain bike #squadgoals. Now it’s just up to me to make sure they reach their potential.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Week 4.5: Wrapping Up

I had intended to reintroduce the weekly Monday update format to my blog as I began my journey leading up to the Tran-Sylvania Epic mountain bike stage race in late May. I have to say that my first month of preparatory training has actually gone pretty darn well under the circumstances, so I haven’t really needed the Monday posts to keep me honest as much I thought I might.

As I’ve mentioned in my last few posts, the beginning of 2017 has really been a lot more focused on getting ready for my Certified Business Analysis Professional exam and wrapping up tests and treatment decisions regarding my DCIS diagnosis from back in December. Because of that, Monday provided very little material to post nor time to in which to post it, as I was in final CBAP cramming mode, but today I can report happy(ish) conclusions to all matters, save the TSE.

On Tuesday I completed my CBAP exam. Because they overhauled the exam in September based on a new version of the BABOK, they are doing a six-month evaluation period when they look at examinees’ actual performance on the new exam before determining what the passing score will be. Basically, they're grading on a curve. So I found the actual exam to be pretty challenging, but based on as much as I studied and felt like I had a good overall grasp of the material, I’m guessing that everyone else found it just as hard. I won’t find out for sure until the end of March, but I think that when it’s all said and done, that I will most likely pass. Until then, I have an embossed piece of paper saying that I *took the test* as solace.

Today also marked the end of my DCIS journey, or at least this phase of it. My Oncotype DX score came back and said that I was at low risk for recurrence, specifically 14% overall recurrence and 6% for invasive cancer over the next 10 years. I met with a radiation oncologist today who confirmed that, per standard guidelines, I was officially “supposed to” get radiation based on my age alone, but given all of my other factors and test results, that forgoing radiation and sticking with regular monitoring was as also a reasonable approach if I felt like that was the best choice for myself. So I will have one more visit with my surgeon in March and then mostly likely find a doctor to oversee my long-term monitoring, which will consist of annual mammograms and/or MRIs to hopefully catch any future recurrence early.

It’s honestly a little weird having my two biggest stressors of the last two months suddenly lifted. Since I’ve been doing a great job at keeping my training up during all of this, as well as pretty much not drinking and limiting myself to one non-home cooked meal per week during the month of January, being back down to just having a job and training for bikes sounds pretty easy. Apparently this morning the groundhog said that there would be six more weeks of winter, but this winters’s been okay so far, so right now I’m feeling like February’s got nothing on me.