Adventures in Bike Commuting: Week 2

Sunday night/Monday morning. This bike commuting takes a hell of a lot of planning, which admittedly is not my forte. First, I have to check the weather forecast on Sunday night and look at my weekly schedule to see which days will work best for my commute. Mondays are out, at least for now, because I teach mid-morning and don’t want to risk a flat tire making me late; I get Simon on the bus by 8:30. Looks like Wednesday and Friday are the best possibilities.

Monday I’m nearly late for work anyway because I’m getting all my stuff together. It feels like I carry less stuff on a 3 day business trip. Then, I hide it all around my office so it doesn’t look like Andrew kicked me out of the house.

Wednesday is commute day this week. Inwardly, I groan a little. My quads are sore. I had a tough 19 mile run at Umstead on Saturday, where I ran too fast (then came home and found out I should have dropped the mileage since the 50K is two weeks away, not three). Tuesday morning I did hill repeats with the Peeps and my legs were still sore, even though I took it easy.

Then, I tested out the family road bike Tuesday night after work. It rode like butter. Smooth and fast. It was awesome! Diane rode with me and gave me some great tips as we cruised around North Raleigh, and I had a chance to practice my shifting. But the soreness deepened, enough for me to put on compression tights and wear them to bed!

I was a little stressed getting everything together—I really wanted to attend the 9:00 meeting with the Dean, faculty and staff of the College to hear about the decision not to sell the Hofmann Forest. I didn’t get out the door until 7:40, forgot water, and hadn’t tested my 22 year old REI Novara panniers. My heel hit them on every upstroke. On the way home, I remembered that they are left- and right-specific, so once I put it on the right side, the cut-away portion was perfect [duh].

I knew the temps had dropped overnight, but 40s seemed cold. I wore ¾ length compression tights, a fleecy running shirt, my light windbreaker and my bright orange running vest. I wore a buff under my helmet to keep my ears warm, and my warmest running gloves. That seemed like a good combination; I arrived at campus in an hour and 7 minutes without feeling either too sweaty or chilled. I slid into the College meeting in plenty of time.

I’m starving by 10:15. Morning bike + long distance run training will do that to you. My lunch was gone by 10:30; my afternoon snack followed at 11:32.

The forestry seminar (which was excellent) finished late and didn’t hit the road until after 5:00. It was time to see what a rush hour commute was like on bicycle. The most distracted drivers are near NC State, which is scary because it also has the most pedestrians and cyclists. But, I’m not on the road for too long before I hit the greenway. It was cool to see how many people are out after work using the greenway system for exercise—Shelley Lake being the most popular, of course.

01 Mar 18

It always makes me happy to see folks unwinding outside after work. Shelley Lake was the most popular but there were people out on every part of the greenway. #Raleighgreenwaysrock

Riding north after I passed Shelley Lake, I saw a familiar face—a fellow bike commuter! I’d seen him on my way in that morning. I grinned and waved at the older, serious-looking Asian man, who was riding purposefully. No acknowledgment. Is there a secret handshake I was missing? Maybe just a knowing nod next time? Newbie problems.

I arrived home feeling tired but mentally refreshed—I really enjoyed the commute time to think and unpack my workday.

WEEK 2: one road ride, one commute, about 46 miles.
NOTES:

  • Planning really is key if you are committing to ride in. This week, both Wednesday and Friday looked like good weather days. With an early-ish important meeting on Wednesday, I waffled, thinking I could drive in and ride in on Friday. It ended up raining both Thursday and Friday. Go when you can.
  • My old bike bags worked great! Far superior to the sling bag. I may bring both and that way not have to bother with storing clothes at work.
  • My Specialized Crossroads hybrid was just as good as riding Andrew’s road bike with road tires. I would not chance riding the road bike on the greenways–too rough in many places.

Adventures in Bike Commuting: Week 1

Week 1, Day 1. [For the back story on my idea to give bike commuting a try, read this first.]

I’m not organized—shocker—because on Sunday night I realize that Monday is really the best weather day for riding to work.

As I scramble around trying to think of what I might need, Andrew helps me by getting my old hybrid out and dusting it off, oiling everything, and pumping up the tires, only to discover that it has a flat.

Plan B: I ride Andrew’s mountain bike with road tires. I stuff some clothes, my laptop, wallet and phone into a sling bag, designed to wear over one shoulder. It is uncomfortable and heavy. Whatever. I don’t need another reason to bail. Get out the door.

½ mile: Stop because the seat is too low.

1.2 miles: Pants leg gets stuck in the sprocket, stopping the bike abruptly. I hike it up over my knee.

2.5 miles: I’m whizzing down the hill on Sawmill and can’t believe how quickly the momentum stops once I reach the steep uphill at the bottom.

3 miles: I reach the Mine Creek East Greenway at Longstreet. It’s all greenway from here, which is totally awesome.

4.7 miles: I decide to go clockwise around Shelley Lake on the Shelley Lake Greenway, then hit the Ironwood Greenway down to Crabtree Valley Mall. This section is bumpy but flat and I am flying!

7.9 miles: I cross under Highway 70 near Crabtree Valley Mall and pick up the House Creek Greenway.

8.4 miles: Smugly, I watch traffic at a standstill on Interstate 440 as I cruise by on the quiet, lovely, and unobstructed House Creek Greenway. Suckas!

8.6 miles: I hit the first big hill on House Creek. My smugness evaporates; my sweat unfortunately does not.

10.6 miles: House Creek Greenway blessedly ends at the top of another giant hill. Turn left on Reedy Creek Greenway toward Meredith College (away from the Art Museum). More hills. It sure ain’t Kansas, Toto.

12.3 miles: Panting, I ride past Meredith College to Hillsborough Street. The Reedy Creek section is hilly, too.

13.3 miles: I arrive at Jordan Hall after an hour and 8 minutes, feeling pretty awesome. If I could just bike ONE way, this would be great.

However, it doesn’t work that way, so after I finish up my last bit of work, I pack up and head home, giving myself plenty of time. I thought it would be harder (and more uphill) going back, but it’s pretty balanced.

bike commute elevation

Elevation profile for my commute. The lowest point is in the floodplain for Crabtree Creek, where Crabtree Valley Mall was (stupidly) built.

Here’s the thing: it was awesome. It was fun! It felt like cheating—sneaking in a bike ride while I was on my way to work. Also, doing something fun and getting to call it a workout. It reminded me of the freedom I first felt when I bought that pink Huffy. And, it made me feel closer to Suzie, who never dropped her habit of biking everywhere. I found myself smiling all day. I will definitely look for ways to do this regularly.

Week 1, Day 2. Not a commute to State College–biked to coffee shop to meet a friend; about 5 miles round-trip. I would normally allow 10 minutes to drive there, so I left 5 minutes early. Totally doable and I found myself wondering, how could I ever have thought that this was too much time or trouble?

I was on Leadmine Rd., which has light traffic and is four lanes, when a guy in a pickup truck honked, startling me as he passed. He pulled into the next gas station and I turned in next to him. I was livid. I asked why he honked at me and he said I should have been on the sidewalk. Oh NO, I practically shouted. I gave him a short lecture about NC vehicle law and told him he should show some consideration next time. He doggedly repeated his statement about sidewalks. He wasn’t a cyclist hater—and I know they’re out there—but is rather a cluelessly inconsiderate person who beeps at cyclists habitually without thinking about the consequences. Maybe our encounter will make him think twice before doing it again. Probably not.

Share the roadI was glad I confronted him, but mad at myself because I was shaking. I hate confrontation, and I didn’t want him to see that I was afraid.

Next time I’ll also try waving my arms less.

WEEK 1: 1 commute, 1 errand. Total miles 31.
NOTES:
1. Wear shorts or tights, or carry a rubber band for your pants.
2. Try something different from the sling bag.
3. Stuff to leave at work (for now): washcloth, towel, deodorant, one complete work outfit, shoes, snacks.

An experiment in bike commuting

When I was in high school, I rode my bike everywhere. I had saved for and purchased a pink-and-gray Huffy 10-speed for about eighty dollars. I loved that bike. In addition to riding it 2 miles each way to school most days, I often took weekend excursions with my friend Suzie. We had a Monmouth County map, a few favorite destinations, and a host of delis along the way for re-fueling (Snickers bars). Of course there were no cell phones, but we always carried a patch kit and a couple of dimes for pay phones in case of emergency. Those were the days!

Century ride after

Hilarious #tbt, after my first and only 100 mile ride in Princeton, NJ. You can see my pink Huffy on the left. I didn’t have a water bottle cage nor cycling shorts. My cycling shoes were Keds. And yes, I’m eating Jersey tomato.

College wasn’t much different—I didn’t have or need a car there. I rode less frequently, but still didn’t think there was anything unusual about hopping on my bike for routine errands. When Andrew and I graduated from South Carolina, we’d been dating less than a year, and I’d replaced by battered and vandalized Huffy with a Specialized Crossroads Cruz. We took our bikes to Europe for four months, rode about 1400 miles from London to Genoa, and fell in love.

Life has changed. Now we live in the suburban wilds of North Raleigh. I drive my Civic nearly 20K miles a year. And I rarely think about hopping in the car—to go to the grocery store, to meet friends for a run, to go to the YMCA, to shuttle kids, to eat out—most trips less than 2 miles. Sometime after college (and after I got my first car), I fell out of the habit of riding everywhere. It seems like too much trouble, and as with most people who have complex lives (mine includes work, business, kids, activities), too much time.
All this is to say that I recently decided to sign up for the Tour de Cure. I’d been considering it for a while, actually, wanting to support my friend Diane’s Team Cheetah, but the timing had never worked out. Now Ann was signed up, and it seemed like too good of an opportunity to miss. Awesome!

bike team cheetah

I’m joining this awesome team of real cyclists, Team Cheetah, to raise money for diabetes research. I’d love your support! Donations can be made here: http://main.diabetes.org/site/TR/TourdeCure/TourAdmin?px=4863806&pg=personal&fr_id=10172

People who know me were, to put it mildly, surprised. No one knows me as a cyclist, and I refer to spin classes derisively as the “Bike to Nowhere.” I like riding alone on a stationary bike even less than spin class. Maybe it’s because I grew up riding as my primary means of transportation that sitting on a bike going nowhere fast seems like an appalling waste of time.

Here’s another thing: I’ve become terrified of being hit by a car. Sure, Suzie and I had plenty of close calls, riding Route 537 past the horse farms in Colt’s Neck and the place where they make Laird’s Applejack when we were still too young to drink it. When Andrew and I were riding in Italy, a man once opened his car door about 2 feet in front of me and I crashed my overloaded bike into it (arm-waving and shouting—in English and Italian—ensued, ending with smiles and hugs). Still, I didn’t think much about it. The term “road rage” had not yet entered the daily lexicon.

So I despise riding nowhere, but I’m not thrilled with traffic. Still, I need to get myself used to the saddle again, so I began toying with the idea of riding my bike to work. Not every day, or most days. Once a week is the small goal I have set for myself.

I don’t know a lot of people who bike commute. I have only one friend who does it regularly around here. However, the concept isn’t new, lots of people do it, and Raleigh boasts an amazing greenway system—unparalleled, really, for a city its size. It’s been exciting to watch the planning the last few years especially, as different sections are connected. You can now ride 27 miles along the Neuse River Greenway from Wake Forest to Clayton, and soon you’ll be able to ride from Wake Forest past Crabtree Valley, through Umstead, and onto the American Tobacco Trail, which will take you all the way to Durham. I have one word for the forward-thinking leaders in the 1970s who dreamed up our greenway system long before it was in vogue: Visionary.

bike commute

My route, most of it on the fantastic Raleigh greenway system. East Mine Creek greenway goes to Shelley Lake greenway to Ironwood greenway to House Creek greenway to Reedy Creek greenway to Rocky Branch Creek greenway. And then I’m nearly at my building at NC State.

I have a number of factors in my favor for bike commuting once a week:
1. It is 13.3 miles from my house to NC State. A bit long, but a good workout—worthwhile.
2. Incredibly, less than 4 miles of the route is on roads traveled by cars.
3. I have access to a shower in my building.
4. My work schedule is flexible. I work from home a couple of days a week, which buys me more commute time on the days I go in. I can choose good weather.
5. NC State has an emergency ride service, if the need arises.

I picked this week to give it a try because it’s Spring Break and I had fewer meetings and commitments. Stay tuned…

“Voice tattoo,” Career Day 2015 at Saint Mary’s School, Raleigh, NC

Stephanie Jeffries, PhD, Professor NC State, Career Day 2015 at Saint Mary’s School, Raleigh, NC.

This coming Friday, I’m looking forward to participating in Career Day at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh, NC. I’ll be speaking as one member of a panel on the topic “Understanding how my journey has shaped me and brought me to where I am today.” It will be a new experience for me!

To connect the girls with the speakers ahead of time, I created a “voice tattoo” introduction with Radiocentrix, which is linked above. I can’t wait to meet the girls and share my career journey so far.

On a related note, I do love to throw off my seniors at NC State, who often come into my office feeling anxious because they’re not sure what they want to do. I nod knowingly and sympathetically and say, “yeah, I know, I haven’t decided yet either.” It really is a journey!

Running for Clarity

Originally posted on Running with Scissors:

Why do I run? Some days I run to remember.
Do you know what I mean?
Those glimpses of clarity, moments stored away,
Hidden as they often are in the mundanity of everyday living.

Minutes swirl by each day:
Looking for keys, packing lunches, homework, what I ate for breakfast yesterday,
Or was it Tuesday? Life goes full speed, and the seconds blend into hours, days and months.
Life is good. But busy.

Out on the trail, time slows (especially when there’s pain)
But the focus on each footstep satiates my soul.
Dark branches against sky, the white foam and dark, clear water by Company Mill,
A story shared with a friend, the drum of woodpeckers and crunch of fresh-fallen leaves,
Even the sharp ankle turn that blurs my vision momentarily—all give me crystalline focus.

I savor these snapshots, and store them away for the hectic days ahead.
When the…

View original 93 more words

Something new: Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock 50K race report

I *love* point-to-point trail races. So when a new 50K opened up that wasn’t too far away, I was excited. Some friends signed up, which only made it more enticing. Unfortunately, I’d spent most of the summer nursing what turned out to be a hip labral tear. While getting the uber-fancy fluorescent MRI, I got a cortisone shot, which seemed to settle the pain enough to finish my early fall training. Once I confirmed that it wouldn’t get worse, I signed up for the 50K distance in the inaugural Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock Ultramarathons.

The trails and course were a complete mystery to me, which was exciting. The race organizers promised some crazy tough single-track, but other sections of the website described trails that sounded like Umstead bridle trails. The elevation change wasn’t horrendous, given the mileage. Much of the race was on the Sauratown Trail, part of the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail that I’d never hiked. It couldn’t possibly be harder than Uwharrie and I figured that any easy sections would be a welcome surprise. What I discovered was that the course offered a little of everything.

There were only 2 hills on the 50K. No problem!

There were only 2 hills on the 50K. No problem!

Will, Joanna and I caravanned up to Winston-Salem, where we hit packet pickup at By Foot Sports in King, NC. It poured rain all afternoon and evening. Later, I found out that some of the 50 milers dropped down to the 50K. Then, J and I hit some local attractions (read: bakeries) before having dinner and spending the night at her mom’s house.

Carb-loading is an important part of race preparation.

Carb-loading is an important part of race preparation, and impossible to resist when the original Krispy Kreme is in Winston-Salem. Thanks Mr. Sta-Puff!

Joanna’s mom, Isabelle, was a hoot. She watched us scamper around, while having the inane stream-of-consciousness back-and-forth that passes for conversation between runners when packing and prepping for a race. When Joanna went upstairs to get something, Isabelle leaned toward me and asked, “How far is this race tomorrow?” When I told her 31 miles, she shook her head in wonder. “And why do you want to do that?” She didn’t say it in an eye-rolling, exasperated way. She genuinely wanted to know.

I fumbled a bit, as I always do trying to explain why I love running long distances on trails. “Well, I love being out in the woods—and the chance to do that for most of a day, and nothing BUT that, traveling by trail on my own two feet for a long distance, flying along and covering ground, and seeing beauty everywhere—makes me so happy,” I explained, inadequately. She nodded. I couldn’t tell if she meant “I understand,” or “ah, there are others like my daughter. Maybe she is not crazy.”

I woke up the next morning at 4:30 and wondered groggily how this was required, since the race didn’t start until 8. We had to catch the shuttle ride to the start no later than 6, though, and it was an hour drive. We hit the road at 5:00. One wrong turn and some backtracking and we were suddenly behind schedule. Then, we were lost. Part of my problem was that our plan to stop to get coffee was flubbed by the fact that not a single convenience store in Stokes County opened until 6:00. I drove on in quiet desperation. I don’t need a lot of coffee, but no coffee guarantees an all-day caffeine headache.

Fortunately, we got a tiny window of cell service just as Will called, and we found the Green Heron Club, the finish for the race. We were the last people to jump on the bus that took us to the start. On the way, I ate my oatmeal and wished for some of the black juice.

We arrived at the start in a parking lot just outside Pilot Mountain at the Grassy Ridge trailhead. There were volunteers checking people in, and one of them kindly shared some of her coffee from her own thermos. Race volunteers are the best!

We are off! Me, Joanna, and Will are all in this picture. Cross the road and hit the trail. It's going to be a great day!

We are off! Can you spot me, Joanna, and Will? Cross the road and hit the trail. It’s going to be a great day!

The race started without fanfare, and I wished my buddies good luck. Grassy Ridge Trail was a supremely runnable trail that skirts the east side of the mountains section of Pilot Mountain State Park. It was easy running and the 80 or so runners spread out to start the day. Fall color was about a week ahead of Raleigh, so the oak-hickory forest was gorgeously aflame with reds, oranges and golds. For a few miles I ran and chatted with Michelle, whose longest race before #PM2HR was a half marathon. Wow, so gutsy! Love it!

It seemed like no time at all before we reached mile 10.5, where our drop bags were. I really didn’t need anything so early! I might have changed socks if I’d packed them; we had our first stream crossings already and my feet were wet. As it turned out, that would have been pointless, as we splashed across small streams many times. I dropped off my arm warmers, stuffed some extra snacks in my pack, and motored on.

The least-fun section paralleled a road and had several crossings, and there was a 2.5 mile stretch on a road, which seemed harder than the trails. There were some jaw-dropping vistas of Hanging Rock to keep us distracted. One of the landowners along the trail wanted to enjoy the opening weekend of hunting season, which was good enough reason for me to stay on the road without fuss. Great reminder that much of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes through right-a-ways on private lands, due to the generosity of many landowners. We need to be good stewards and users of the trails.

The morning started cool and foggy but turned warm and humid. I felt really good, and I was having a great race, maybe my best ever—no one passed me after mile 10, and I caught more than a dozen people on the back half, running steadily. This was the first ultra-distance where I raced—not running as hard as I could, because that would be silly, but pushing myself to run at a steady pace, move quickly through aid stations (OMG the RD’s wife made peanut butter rice krispy treats!), and keep my walk breaks short. I had a touch of nausea but a ginger chew seemed to help.

I ran and chatted with three other guys for awhile and one said he was hoping for a 6 hour finish. That sounded crazy, not that I could do the math, but someone else said if that was the case, he’d better move. I was saying I’d be sure to get a PR since it was my first 50K. Someone commented, “that’s surprising, because you look like an ultra-runner.” I laughed—this is what an ultra-runner looks like? A 43 year old mother of two, with an average build, sturdy legs for climbing, and salt and pepper hair? But it was meant as a compliment and I accepted it with pride. Hell yeah I look like an ultra-runner! I joked that we were about to pay for all this nice runnable trail we’d had. And we did, in spades.

Once past the mile 23 aid station, I saw very few runners. We were spread out. I began the tough climb through Hanging Rock State Park. Some extremely rocky trail on the Moore’s Wall and Magnolia Springs Trail, combined with steep climbs, reduced me to a steady hike. Every once in a while the trail would pop out at an overlook with some amazing views. When the going got tough, I’d admire the forest, noticing that the extreme-loving species like Table Mountain pine were there clinging to the cliffs I was climbing.

After the big climb on Hanging Rock, the trail connected to the Hanging Rock summit trail, below the summit. It was disconcerting to have been alone in the woods for over an hour and suddenly share the trail with oodles of hikers and families ambling toward the summit. They seemed surprised, too, to see a runner come flying (well, it felt like flying) down the mountain. “Excuse me! On your left! On your left, please!”

I climbed a short hill to the aid station in the parking lot, panting a little.
“Thanks for volunteering. Is there a bathroom here? What mile is this, anyway?”
“Bathroom is across the parking lot. You’re at mile 27. Fourth female.”
“What, are you serious? Geez, I can’t go to the bathroom now!”
“Well…3rd female is way ahead. I don’t think you’ll catch her.”
“I’m not worried about that! I’m in the old lady division and don’t want to be passed while I’m in a porta potty! I’ll have to chance it!” They laughed, but I was dead serious. I grabbed a handful of chips and headed across the parking lot.

The last section of trail descended through the crowded picnic area and past the waterfalls. Talk about painful. It was steep, rocky, and wet, and my legs were tired and starting to get shaky. It was also crowded, and I called out (politely, I hope) multiple times as I passed that I was finishing a race, hoping that they would not ask where it started. No time to explain!

After the waterfalls, the trail leveled out and it was smooth and beautiful, easy running. In the last mile, there were four creek crossings, which felt refreshing on my tired feet, though I grumbled, “really?”

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What a tired, dirty, sweaty, happy distance runner looks like.

I came out to the Green Heron Club and crossed the finish line. One of the race directors, Jeff, came over to shake my hand and congratulate me on my finish. I was indeed 4th female, 1st masters, with a finish time of 6:15! I was 19th of 72 runners overall, possibly my best overall placing ever. I was thrilled. I didn’t have any time goal, but that far exceeded what I thought was possible.

“How did you like the race? What did you think of the course?” Jeff asked. “It was totally wicked!” He glanced at my face–I elaborated, beaming. “I loved it.”

I loved this race and would do it again in a heartbeat. The course was fantastic, with plenty of challenge, but it was also very runnable. The medals were a cool horseshoe, and I received a nice zippered jacket as my award. The Green Heron Club was the perfect relaxing venue post-race, with places to change (even showers, if you’d brought a bathing suit), a barbeque meal, and draft beer. Many thanks to Trivium Racing for an excellent race!