Sunday, June 22, 2008

Monkey Wrenches

There are a lot of wrenches in my life. There are torque wrenches for headsets and seatpost screws. There are allen wrenches when you decide to raise or lower or raise a centimeter or lower a millimeter your seat on a ride. There are pedal wrenches for getting pedals on and off. There are gut wrenching cramps that appear once a month and after very long rides with bad sports drink. And then there are monkey wrenches. A real type of wrench but figuratively the kind you don’t really need for anything yet have a way of showing up anyways.

This weekend threw me several monkey wrenches. Let us begin on Friday night. I was a bachelorette for the weekend with Chris shipping himself and his bike off to Colorado to canoodle with the Red Bear in his Fort Collins cave. And what’s a single girl to do with her Friday night? Eat chicken wings, drink beer, watch baseball? No. No, she preps for her Saturday morning bike ride and goes to bed by 9 pm.

9 pm

My nonexistent social life slowly dies a little more every day. Oh that’s right – it started dead. So now it begins to rot. And I begin to pack gels, bars, shoes, gloves - I was so prepared for my ride I was overprepared. Which is never a bad thing. Except if you overlook one thing – the one thing you really need to ride…

Your bike.

I find it on the trainer in the basement with the rear wheel flat.

FLAT.

Now, if I hadn’t flatted last Saturday on a ride and hadn’t nearly thrown the rear wheel across Fermilab into the buffalo range because I was so disgusted with the tire levers that were designed to infuriate me rather than help me and left me standing there cursing into the wind which apparently the security patrol heard because they pulled up alongside me and asked,

Are you ok?

That depends.

If I hadn’t gone through that I might be a little more inclined to change this flat. But not today. Not this early in the morning; 5:30 am or 5:30 BC. That’s before coffee. And even if I was inclined to change the flat – could I? No. Because where are the spares? Have you been to our basement? How would I know. I know I have one in my pack but if I use that one what do I use if I get a flat on the actual ride? How would I explain to Boss where Elburn was and how to pick me up if I flatted again?

Psst…..Boss is a dog.

The risks were too risky so I decided to grab my road bike instead. Normally not a big deal except for that the fact that I recently was fitted to my road bike. And while the seat and pedals were correctly fitted to me – the front end required new handlebars on special order. So, it’s safe to say I am riding a road bike that is 50 percent ergonomically correct and the other 50 percent (as I have learned on my last two group rides) set up for excruciating crotch pain.

Totally not ergonomic.

Turns out the best thing for that ratio is to do a 4 hour hilly ride with a 45 minute time trial and after that 8 hill repeats. Important lesson learned out there: a 45 minute time trial is best done on a time trial bike. And – wait – that’s not all. Another important lesson you learn: what makes a long ride even better is if you also have a 90 percent chance of getting caught in the 50 percent chance of precipitation. Balance out all of those ratios, subtract the sum and carry the three and you find me standing on the side of the road in pouring rain somewhere west – who knows where – while shouting I get the pointI GET THE POINT. It was time to go home where I finished up the ride in the basement and then went for my swim.

Afterwards I had to get my time trial bike ready for the race. You see Sunday was another “racing as training experience.” The plus side of this is that you don’t have to take it too seriously. The downside is that you still have to have a fully functioning and assembled bike. Clearly a challenge for me today. Requiring yet another wrench. Since I have only one pair of pedals right now (that’s right, about 8 bikes with 1 set of pedals that are not even mine – please don’t ask) I had to take the pedals from my road bike to the time trial bike. Enter the pedal wrench. The right pedal cooperated. The left pedal did not. It must have some type of conspiracy with my angry left foot. 15 minutes, many hot tears, one thrown pedal wrench and a bloody hand (chain’s fault – not mine) the pedal finally came off.

I got my TT bike ready. I even cleaned it. And without any orders from coach to collect data during this race I gave myself permission to use my disc wheel. I even got air into it. Oh you can poo poo me all you’d like but husband is just better at these things. Has husband ever broken a derailleur putting on a rear wheel – NO. Has husband ever bloodied his hand getting a pedal off – NO. Has husband ever deflated the tire entirely before putting in air – NO. I know my strengths and weaknesses and bike mechanics are just not my thing.

(note to self: I will pay for a statement like that at some point down the road...)

But after this weekend I’m beginning to think I better learn not only how to use many different wrenches but also how to reassemble my bike. And learn how to do it with a monkey wrench because that’s all that seems to be on hand this weekend.

Sunday morning I showed up at the race and brought my bike to the bike tent. This is the local shop that knows me and they probably didn’t expect me to show up in the tent since I live with the world’s biggest bike tool (that is a compliment). I explained that since Chris was out of town I needed someone to go through my gears. One small problem though…

Liz, this is a 9 speed cassette.

Ok. Part of me suspects this should be a problem but the other part of me has no idea why.

Liz, you have a 10 speed bike.

Again, I hear what you’re saying but I am not sure what it means.

Liz, even if I adjusted your gears they would still click and not slide.

So what you’re saying is that I might spend my entire ride in the 11 gear at 50 rpms. Perfect. That’s exactly where I want to be. I take my gear masher to my transition rack, set everything up and get ready for the race. Or the workout. Whatever you call it. One goal from my coach: “have a good swim, eh?” In his defense, that questioning at the end is simply Canadian speak for get your ass moving on that swim or I’ll make you swim 9 days a week.

But Paul there are only 7 days.


I don’t care, Liz. We’ll find more. Cheers! Paul.

(he didn’t really say that but I could see it happening one day)

Point taken. I was suited up and we were knee deep in the water ready to go. We, as in, the elite wave at the local women’s triathlon. This was my first triathlon ever back in 1999! Many special memories here and it had been years since I competed in it. This year joined by top competitors Lauren Jensen, Jenny Garrison, some gal with her name on her butt which is always a good (not really) sign (ITU! ITU!). Again, knee deep, count down starts counting down and….rain delay. One hour. Lightning, cold rain. In that hour I proved you could shiver in a wetsuit in late June while wondering if you could find warmth by wrapping yourself in your mother’s tote bag.

Only problem was she wouldn’t give up the tote bag.


Short race even shorter race story – finally in the water and I have my good swim. Not first without a cleverly planted woman to my right who decided she would slap me repeatedly for the first 200 yards. I’ve lost a piece of my hand to a pedal wrench, my crotch died about 70 miles ago but please take this opportunity to slap the only good part of me left – my head. Wait, that is still the good part, right? Exited the swim to the world’s longest transition run, entered transition to find my wetsuit would keep me in a death grip, finally got loose and then ran another…..2 miles?.....to bike out and then fought with my new pedals that are not really my pedals to let me in dammit. Let me in!

My bike cooperated, it was mostly operational except for about half of the gears. But really who needs all their gears? My legs, they were feeling the ride the day before but it was fun to just be out there on a now sunny day pushing the pace. Off the bike, I left transition with Jessica Starykowicz. Her brother, uber-biker triathlon pro Andrew, gets the award for most maniac spectator. I have no idea how but I swear I saw him all over the place – my favorite time at run out as he shouted get on her feet Jessica, it’s war out there – WAR! Holy crap! With a warning like that I ran like my feet were on fire and hit the first mile at 6 minutes – ok cowgirl! Slow that pace down – well, that was taken care of as my body slowly drowned in lactic acid from too much zone 25 way too soon.

From there it was a downhill run to the finish line. A 4th place finish and just an all around good time. I found myself on the run thinking I really like to race. I just like the sport. It’s fun. It’s a good feeling. Forget the times, splits, placement – it was about the there, the now, putting it all together, taking risks and having a good time. The spectators, the crowds, the spirit, my mom at the finish line, my friends – despite a few little things this weekend that went in a not so good way, it was an all around good time today.

I realized this weekend that you learn a little something new with every wrench thrown in your plans. You learn to prepare yourself with more than one spare inner tube, you learn that you might like (or need to) take a class in basic bike maintenance, to bring an extra towel to your next race, to spray your body down with Pam to get out of your wetsuit, and to always check the radar before you set off on a long ride. Your learn good wrenches from bad wrenches and how to deal with one the next time you find it in your plans.


And now I will set about to pick up all the wrenches I threw around the basement in frustration before Chris gets back home.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is how my relationship with Jerome WAS (past tense). I would wake up every day and for every race AND MY BIKE was clean, sparkling, worked perfectly and even the tires were pumped up to the perfect PSI. Then, he got mad. I guess he was expecting 'something' in return and I didn't understand that. ha...anyway, then, after we had kids that "free time" went away and I learned VERY quickly how to do everything on my bike. I have since called Jerome in a few near panics at big races when I am by myself, but for the most part, I can do it all. So, tell Chris to have a mini-bootcamp with you on how to change everything - and the 9 speed 10 speed stuff...ANYWAY, I can just picture you doing all of this all weekend. Oh fun. Congrats on your race! Jen H.

Flatman said...

"I found myself on the run thinking I really like to race. I just like the sport. It’s fun. It’s a good feeling. Forget the times, splits, placement – it was about the there, the now, putting it all together, taking risks and having a good time. "

That is some awesome advice...I get so much out of your writing (laughter... and other things too!).

Jennifer Cunnane said...

As soon as you figure out how to use all those wrenches, could you come down to 'ole St Louis and give your boys and I a hand? Great job racing and having fun at the same time.

Roo said...

I'll admit it- I paid one of the guys at the local shop to come to my house and teach my how to work on my bike. Definitely the best money I ever spent!

rr said...

You have got Paul down pat. Love it.

I miss the fun of a race - and I am freaking dying about the WAR comment. Next time I spectate I am yelling stuff like that for sure.

RR