Saturday, December 5, 2009

Finding My Mojo One Class At A Time

It's been awhile since I've written anything. There really hasn't been many epic biking events to write about...until this week.

I was let go from my job in September, 2009. The first thing I did was dropped my gym membership. It was a luxury that had to go. Unfortunately dropping my gym membership also meant the end of my Spinning student career. Spinning has changed my life, I was not ready to give it up, so the decision to utilize the Spinning Instructor Certification I had obtained a full year ago was a fairly easy decision to make. It was now time to teach.

Fast forward 8 weeks to the week before Thanksgiving, 2009. After several rejections (including one from the gym I call home) Maggie, one of my first instructors, has agreed to let me give it a go. I cleared my background check on Wednesday, so Thursday morning I was going to drive in after I drop Erica off at school to finish the paperwork. That week I went to a class on Tuesday morning at the new employer, and I had a hard workout + two Spinning classes on Wednesday night at my old gym. I have been given a few guest passes, I wanted to get the most out of the few visits I have left.

Thursday morning 7:30am, Maggie calls. The 9:30 am instructor is sick, could I teach? There was no way I could decline. So there it is, two hours notice until the first class of my career. Breath in, breath out. So I get to the gym, meet the director, sign my paperwork, then head up to the Spinning room to set up.

9:30 am, one student, and she knows I'm new. She lets me know immediately that she would be fine with an elliptical that morning if I didn't want to teach. I reach for what little Mojo I can muster up and let her know under no uncertain terms that I want to teach, and I want her to stay there with me. First hurdle cleared...barely.

Then she asks me where else have I taught before. Not wanting to lose my one and only student - I lie. I am a very bad liar, but she seems to buy it. I start the class, two more people show up five minutes late. Not so empty any more. So I teach the demo profile that I was using for my interviews/auditions and muddle my way through my first class. My Mojo was non-existent, but no one walked out early, and when I asked the student how she liked the class, she told me she sure did sweat a lot. I'm not sure if that was good or bad, so I'm going to hope for good.

I get home later that morning and I was drained. I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't sleep, and I felt like crap. I am taking some online courses at home these days, there is no way I am going to be able to teach if this is going to be the result. Getting my MCSA certification is a priority right now, I can't afford to let a part time job mess me up this badly.

So once I got over the initial "I'll never be able to pull this off" feeling, I decided that if I was going to make this work I was going to have to slow it down. Way down. I went on to make a playlist and a profile, and then I went looking for words. I had read a blog post earlier in the year by Melissa Marotta about creating endurance buy in. This is exactly what I needed to do.

Then I got a call on Wednesday night asking to teach on Thursday night. I would be subbing for Maggie, the very person who hired me, and by far the most experienced instructor in the building. I had big shoes to fill. I needed to be sure to bring my Mojo. The first thing I did was to immediately scrap my original playlist and I replaced it with another one that was a collection of my songs I really enjoy. I listened to it before I went to bed. Then I listened to it over and over again in my head as I lay awake until 2:00 am. No sleep. Very bad. I rearrange the playlist in my head.

The next morning as I was re-arranging my playlist I get an e-mail from Bill Germanakos, the winner of Season 4 biggest loser. I had seen him on the Today show a week earlier and he had some kind words about some other people that were being "chastised" on the commercials, so I sent him a letter letting him know how much I had appreciated his words that day. This e-mail was a very inspiring and personal reply. How cool is that. Here I am, a big loser, getting ready to help others become big losers, and I get this incredible e-mail from one of the top losers in the country. I copied his quote to my pocket PC. The I added Billy Ray Cyrus to my playlist. I was going for broke.

Six students show up to class. This is a good number. A girl in her 20's brought her boy friend for his first class, there was an older (60's?) couple, and two other ladies. I set the new guy up, let him know that everyone in the room had a first day once, and I let him know exactly how I felt after my first ride. He was a skater and was not concerned, but he was appreciative of my advice.

Warm up starts. I start the music and the walk to the middle of the room, off the bike. The first thing I talk about is control, and how I would not be in control of their resistance. It was up to them to control their ride as they see fit. Then I talked about intensity. I talked about all five of the Spinning intensity zones, and how all five have their own distinct benefits, and then I explained that the best way to control intensity is with a heart rate monitor. Then I put it all together, let them know that I would be teaching in the Endurance Energy Zone, but if they needed or wanted more intensity then they were in control. Feel free to crank it up a notch. My Mojo has arrived, just in time.

So we do some flat road speed drills, then we quitly climb to Billy Ray Cyrus - Some Gave All in remembrance of Pearl Harbor, more flat roads and seated climbs. Then I threw in some quick sprints. New guy is done after the sprints. He isn't superman anymore. Older couple is incredible.

Then I explain the rest of the class (10 minutes) will be one long climb. Older lady in front freaks out. I explain again "You are in control. Set your resistance to a level you can sustain." She agrees. I just got my first endurance buy in and she is obviously empowered and in control. Score. We finish the ride with "Careless Whisper" by Seether. Excellent cover tune.

Cool down. I read the quote from Bill Germanokos to the class: "The power to change yourself is the power to also change the world. So, go change it, even if it's one person at a time." Then I let them know I am a big loser. Anyone who was not with me before is with me now.

End of class. New guy says "Dude that was awesome, I'll be back." Girlfriend is smiling from ear to ear. Older couple lets me know they are training for a five day ride next summer. The control/intensity talk made a lot of sense to them. Hopefully they'll be getting heart rate monitors for Christmas.

Then the lady in back tells me she has a heart rate monitor, but never used it. She didn't know what to do with it. We have a long talk about using the monitor to learn about your body, then once you know how your body works you will be in full control.

First class - not so great. Second class - incredible. Two nights later I still can't sleep from all this Mojo.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Noble Efforts at Noble Canyon

My final day in California was spent riding in Noble Canyon. For this trip I contacted Laura "Sunny" Drexel of Sunny Rides LLC to guide me down the canyon. Laura provided everything for me: my bike, my camelbak, food, water and helmet. We met near the bottom of the trail where we left my car and we shuttled to the top of the trail with her car. This service that Laura provides is well worth every penny. This is the first trip in a long time where I didn't need to know where to go (I didn't get lost!!), I didn't have to find a nice rental bike, I didn't need to pack my own gear. Laura took care of all the details. All I had to do is show up and ride a bike.

We shuttled up to the Penny Pines parking lot at the Penny Pines Mounument in the Cleveland National Forest.

At the Noble Canyon trailhead I noticed a sign about the Mountain Lion Activity. I wish I had read about this the day before when I was by myself flying down Santa Rosa Mountain. Apparently if you see a mountain lion and you ride away very fast it will think you are prey and chase you. I'm glad I didn't see any. The mountain lions in the west scare me more than the bears in the east.

The start of the ride is between 5400 and 5500 ft elevation. At this time of the year there was a little snow to deal with for the first mile or so of the ride. This was not the same snow I have ridden in Ohio. This snow had an icy layer on top, so once you broke through it really slowed you down.

The scenery on this trail was superb. Up to this point the riding was all fairly straight forward smooth single track. I had an "event" with a tree stump moments before this picture was taken because I took a corner too fast as usual, and so I ended up in a pile of brush on the side of the trail. I started slowing down a little after that. The slow speed would prove to be my most major hurdle to overcome for the rest of the day.

Another scenic view from the point where Laura told me it might be best to put on my knee and elbows pads. From here on the trail was technically challenging. For the record, if it had not been for Laura I never would have brought pads, which surly would have caused me pain. Her wise advice throughout the day saved me many times from certain doom.

Here I am, a poser in the woods.

There was some trail damage here and there. We had to pull and drag our bikes under this tree.

Here I am at the "Widow Maker." Laura explains it best in her blog here. Laura could ride this like a pro. I made it this far and then chickened out. Those rocks look like they could really hurt!

More scenery from some of the best singletrack in the world. The trail had ventured out of the woods and back into the open at this point, and the rocks were getting more and more numerous.

Here I am having fun riding down the rocky trail. I was still going too slow, and I had a death grip on the handlebars, but I was having a great ride.

Back in a wooded area again, where the rocks started getting larger.

Laura wouldn't let me get up until she took a picture of one of my many falls. I thought I could get through this one, but I just couldn't get past that last rock.

The offending rock garden of the fall from the picture above.

Laura asked another rider in the area to take a picture of us while we were taking a little break near the stream.

Never in my life have I seen cacti near such a large tree. I would have thought that the tree would have needed much more water then the cacti, and the cacti wouldn't be able to survive with this kind of shade.

Just as we got out of the woods we started to get into some of the more technical descents. The video above is from one of these areas.

Another wonderful view just before a treacherous hill.

Here are a few of video clips of the ride in the more technical sections.

Taking a break at the bottom of a hill. Yes, that is the trail that you see running up the hill. I made it about halfway down before I chickened out again. Laura made it to the bottom, but then told me she had an "incident" at the end.

After we got through the technical downhill sections we hung a left at a fork in the trail and started the long climb up the "extra credit" section. This climb was not as steep as earlier in the day, and the surface changed form the football sized rocks to a desert like sandy dirt with larger rocks here and there. It also started to get very, very warm. At this point I was amazed that in one ride I could go through snow, woods, rocky hills, and now this sandy dirt. I have never been in a place where I could get all of this in just one day.

After the climb was a lot of fast and furious downhill runs with large obstacles around every bend. "Extra Credit" was a great way to end the day.

Finally I'm actually navigating through some of this trail. By the end of the day my skills had improved tremendously. The bonus I got with Laura is not only is she a great tour guide, she is a amateur downhill racer, and she is also a great coach. I learned a lot from her that day.

Of course as much as my confidence was up at this point, there were still these little rocks like this one under my pedal in this picture that would pop out of nowhere and stop me cold. The next time I'm in SoCal I'm doing this ride again, and I'll be a better rider.

Here were are at the parking lot at the bottom of the hill where we reluctantly had to end the ride. I had a two hour drive back to my hotel in Ontario, the time flew by. This was the best single day ride I have yet to accomplish.

If you are ever within a few hours drive of San Diego (I was just east of LA) I would highly suggest that you send Laura an e-mail ( and have her take you on a tour. If this particular ride looks too difficult for your skill level contact her anyway, as she knows many places to ride and will be able to set something up that suits your skill level.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Riding SoCal Style - Pinyon Flats

Once I finished on Santa Rosa Mountain Road I didn't quite feel like quitting for the day, so I drove about 3 miles downhill to the start of the Pinyon Flats trail.

I parked the car on the side of Pinyon Drive across from the entrance to the Pinyon Flats campground in the San Bernardino National Forest. You can find it on the map here.

The trailhead where I started was right behind this sign. describes a loop you can take in great detail. I didn't have enough time to do the full 11 mile loop, so I just went out for about 40 minutes, and then turned around and headed back to the car.

The singletrack here was well maintained and fun to ride. There were a few technical areas here and there, but this was just mostly fun riding. I understand that if I had gone a little further down the trail I would have been rewarded with incredble views of Palm Springs 3500 ft below.

This is the view of Santa Rosa Mountain from Pinyon Flats. At this point it was still hard for me to fathom that I had just been riding up in that snow, and now I was dodging cacti.

The bushes and cacti overlap the trail in many places. This one doesn't look like much but they can do a lot of hurt if you hit one too hard.

This picture doesn't do justice to what my finger looked like 5 minutes later. I had run into a bush just like the one pictured above and it sliced on hell of a paper cut into my finger. By the time I got back to the car my hand was a bloody mess. I don't like to wear gloves that cover my fingers, but I think I'll get a pair before I ride in the desert again.

More singletrack candy with just enough slope that you can get your speed on without having to worry about when its going to end.

This was a pretty fun way to spend a day in the sun. The real fun would come the next day at Nobel Canyon in the Cleveland National Forest outside of San Diego. Laura "Sunny" Drexler of Sunny Rides in San Diego guided me down some truly amazing singletrack. Once I get the pictures (and movies too) I'll put another post here describing it all.

Stay tuned...

Riding SoCal Style - Santa Rosa Mountain

Last week I was in southern California on business. While my family was freezing in single digit weather in Cleveland I was basking in all of the glorious sunshine that California had to offer.
I took advantage of this rare opportunity and extended my stay through the weekend so I could spend a couple days on a bike.

On the first day I chose to ride in the Palm Springs area because it was the only place I could find a bike shop that would rent me a quality bike. Tri-a-bike rents high quality bikes at bargain prices. Everyone who works there was knowledgeable and friendly. The bike was maintained to high quality standards, and the staff was very helpful in describing how to get to the local trails. It was truly a great place to spend my money. I highly recommend Tri-a-bike if you want to spend some time in the SoCal desert trails.

Upon arrival at the bike shop it was a warm 85 degrees. I would later drive to the start of the ride at 4200 ft where the temperature was a little more tolerable in the high 60's.

The first trail I rode wasn't really a trail, it was a dirt road that I read about on, a good resource for trails in the Palm Springs area, called Santa Rosa Mountain road. I really wanted to take it easy on this day, so I chose this ride so I could test my endurance without having to worry about any technical manuevers or injuries. There was nothing technical on this ride, just a long steady climb.

This is the start of the rode off highway 74 south of Palm Desert and just past Pinyon Pines in the San Bernardino National Forest. It was displayed on my Garmin and Google Maps as the "Santa Rosa Truck Trail." Start elevation was about 4600 ft.

The good news about riding a real road is its easy to mark the route on Google maps like I have done here.

The following pictures were taken every time I stopped for a rest. I paced my ride so that I rode for 15 minutes, then stopped for 5 minutes. The dirt you see in the picture above is not single track, but is the full 12 ft wide road below.

There were spectacular views in every direction.

Between the second and third stop there was a small amount of downhill relief which can be seen in the picture above. By the time I had stopped for the third time I was running a little low on water and I was wishing I had brought my camelbak instead of a lowly 24oz water bottle. It was also getting quite cooler at about 5600 ft according to my garmin.

Who says it has to be single track to be fun?!? Once I started going down the mountain curves like this provided many thrills.

The top two pictures were taken fairly close together on the road. It seemed as if at one moment I was still in the desert worried if I would have enough water to go much higher, then the next moment I was riding on ice.

This point at 6200 ft where I had to stop since the road was completly covered in ice. I had a hard time walking to this point to take a picture, there was no way I could walk up this hill, let alone try to ride up. Elevation here was 6200 ft. Total elevation gain for the day was 1600 ft + 100 ft of the small downhill run for a total climb of 1700 ft. in a little over an hour. I was proud that I made it this far, but I felt I could have done a little more had it not been for the ice. This road was a good test of my endurance.

It amazes me how quickly the scenery changes in this part of the country. Where I come from you don't see snow like this just 1/2 mile away from a cactus.

I didn't stop to take pictures on my way down, I was too busy going very fast....

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tanasi is Tana-riffic!

On the forth and final day of my trip I went to the Tanasi Trails near Ocoee, TN, about 2 hours north of Atlanta. This another IMBA Epic area. A trail map can be found here.

This place was incredible. The trails just seemed to flow very well. Moderate climbs were rewarded by great downhills. The possible combination's of trail seem endless. The scenery was majestic from every viewpoint. I could have stayed here for days.

The Ocoee Whitewater center is where it all starts. Don't Google map it, you'll go to the wrong place. This is the building you need to find. Just drive east on 64 from Ocoee and you'll find it. If you get to North Carolina you've gone too far.

Just like in Tsali, the parking lot has an envelope type fee system. Put your $3 in the envelope, write down your information, and keep the receipt. At Tsali you keep the receipt with you, here you need to hand it on your mirror. Its really easy, but it does require taking a few minutes to read the instructions.

The parking lot runs along the river. It was the first of a lot of scenery yet to come.

The trail head for the Bear Paw Loop is very well marked at the end of the eastern bridge. This trail was the most difficult climb of the day. Although it was challenging, I was able to do it without any issues.

All trail junctions and roads were very well marked. I missed a few turns, once because I interpeted the sign wrong, the other time because I was going so fast downhill I didn't see the sign. As usual, I paid for my mistakes with long climbs back up the hill, but for some reason I didn't mind. This place was that good.

From here I ran the Chestnut Mountain Loop CCW until I got to the Thunder Rock Express. I screamed down the TRE, then I climbed back up the fire road and West Fork Trail to get back to the Chestnut Mountain Loop, where I made my way back to the parking lot.

Although the trail was covered in leaves, it was always easy to find.

Trail markers at every junction.

There were sections of the trail just like Tsali. Skinny and slippery with zero room for mistakes. I learned from my nasty fall at Tsali and slowed down when I needed to. No crashes today.

These downhill runs were a lot of fun. I can imagine they are a lot better before the leaves fall and it gets so slippery.

This view at the powerline area was very nice.

This bridge was near the bottom of the Thunder Rock Express. The Thunder Rock Express is great fun, and the climb back up to the Chestnut Mountain Loop is primarily on fire roads and double track, and it really wasn't that steep.

Here is the bottom of the Thunder Rock express. It was really a great time getting here.

After the Thunder Rock Express I started up the Fire Road. Slow and steady wins the race.

At the top of the fire road is the well marked beginning of the West Fork Trail.

The caution portion of this sign warns about the Black Bears. I talked with a hunter who told me this area was a bear preserve. I ate my Cliff bar quickly and went on my way, before the bears sniffed me out.

This is the top of the fire road at the beginning of the West Fork Trail.

The West Fork Trail started out as some downhill singletrack, but then it quickly became more of the same slow steady climb uphill. It was a small price to pay for the fun I would have later.

This picture does not do justice to the scenery near the highest point for the day. It was 60 degrees and sunny, I just climbed to the top of the world, and I knew this was my last fun run for this trip, as it was time to go home for my Thanksgiving dinner. At least the trip was ending on a good note.

I didn't take any more pictures from here on out, I was going too fast too stop. The rest of the Chestnut Mountain Loop was fast downhill runs with some easy to power up climbs. Then I got in the car and drove home to Cleveland. Someday I will return to ride here again.