Posts made in October, 2012

Race Recap: AACX

Posted on Oct 28, 2012 in Cycling | 3 comments

Don’t mind if I do… again.

Another cyclocross race in the books.

This weekend’s event, an inaugural, AACX, took place east of DC in Davidsonville, MD, a sleepy town that reminds me very much of Northern VA in the early 80s. Lots of farms, old homes, and great roads. I knew this so I took the road bike with me to get some extra miles, but it got cold shortly after my race so it merely gathered dust.

Upon arriving, I met a guy named Andrew (we were parked next to each other) who was also new to cross. We ended up pre-riding and starting together… Was also helpful to have someone help with pinning on a number. Despite arriving very early, we were a bit too casual with getting to the start and ended up on the back line just as the race began. I went to start my GPS, noticed it was still on my warmup, messed with it for a few seconds, and was on my way 5-10 seconds behind everyone else, but no matter as the start featured a technical hill followed by a massive hill, which means being in the pack would be a liability. Also, long race on an open and fast course = time lost now mattered little.

Through the start, up the first little technical hill, around a bend, and up a massive hill, which I opted to run up following my pre-ride. It was big and my easiest gear isn’t all that easy (1×9 setup with 42 front and 12-27 rear) so I figured I’d use less energy running. Not ideal, but nobody in my race (that I saw) rode up it.

It was pretty fun starting in the back as it meant picking folks off the entire race. At 46 minutes, this race was twice as long as my last. My heart-rate was just as high, but somehow this hurt much less. I had a really healthy battle with one guy the entire race. He was quite a bit smaller than me so at the start of a lap he’d put time on me with the hills (hauling 60 fewer pounds up a hill is quite a bit easier), the corners were about even, but I’d out-power him on the flats, which accounted for the last third of the course. When I initially caught him, I figured I’d pass him with ease, but it occurred right as we went by the announcer who told him we (there was another guy around at the time) were holding him back, which lit his fire and he took off. It took a full lap to reel him back, at which time he pushed it again, and opened a gap that would take me awhile to close. Together, we passed another handful of folks, but kept going back and forth. I was quite certain he was leaving something in the tank with the speed at which he attacked the hills so that was a major concern.

On the final lap, I was just ahead of him at the start. He crushed me on the two initial hills and the chase was on. He opened a bit of a gap, but I bided my time and energy by slowly reeling him in. As we hit the flat section, I poured it on. He had a handful of seconds on me as we entered the final third of the course, but from previous passes I knew I had the power advantage by a good margin. We passed another racer together and I chose that to be my starting gun. The second I put a wheel in front of him, I gave it all I had in order to break his will. We weren’t racing for a podium position, but it sure felt like it. My tactics worked and I created a sizable gap that I held through the finish. We shared congratulations after the race and that was that. Great competition; he pushed me, I pushed him, and we finished with nothing but smiles.

Results

I ended up 13th of 45 starters. My GPS says I had a faster lap than the race winner, which is very odd; maybe starting in the back affected me a bit more than I thought? I’ll have to try not doing that next time.

The bike held up nicely on a set of “new” (they have a few thousand miles on them) wheels (Shimano RS80) I picked up this past week. They’re much lighter than what I was using so that had to help a bit, but the bike is still a pig. I’ve been having issues with the new wheels staying cinched to the frame, but I must have gotten that ironed out the night before because they were flawless through the race. I still need to trim my handlebar about an inch and hope to get to that this week. I also want to pick up the “race” Ergon grips because I’ve been getting a lot of finger numbness on my commutes and people seem to swear by them.

The course was… interesting. Following the pre-ride, I was pretty worried about the hills, but they turned out to not be a big deal. Excruciatingly tough, but not too bad. The barriers I managed much better than last week; I’ve found that the less you think about them, the better they go. Before last race, someone told me they account for ~1% of the race and that has proven correct. Nothing to worry about at all. The third of three sets of them I didn’t need to dismount for, which was awesome and saved me a seconds per lap and only put me at a minor risk for an endo, but all worked out. Apparently common for these races in farms are serious ruts from farming equipment. Pretty painful stuff. Also painful? Walnuts. Damn those things hard… Especially in corners.

Race organization was good. Effortless registration and one-day license sale. Beer selection left a little to be desired and was hard to find (nobody knew where it was despite being right in our faces, relatively unmarked), but was still welcome once I got to it. Food was decent. Had some chicken (maybe?) chili with a hefty helping of cheese, sour cream, and a bag of Fritos on top… Awww yeah.

The weather held out nicely with temperatures just below 60 and only a few short gusts of wind. Thank you for holding back, Sandy.

I had expected a bunch of friends to be there, but only two showed. Was looking forward to some more friendly competition, but maybe next week.

Another great race in the books. Next up? Ed Sander Memorial up near Frederick, MD next Sunday.

Working from Bourbon Coffee

Posted on Oct 24, 2012 in Coffee Shops | 0 comments

One down, 35 to go.

Yesterday, I spent my workday at Bourbon Coffee on L Street in DC. My format for these reviews still needs some thought and work, but here goes…

The Ride: A cool autumnal morning. Mid-50s, a light dew in the air (ok, I’ll stop). I chose to wear jeans for the ride as I was pretty certain I could keep the power low enough to not sweat much on this 7.5-mile downhill ride into the city. I was right. Unfortunately, I forgot to account for the 13.5-mile uphill ride home on a warm afternoon. It wasn’t too bad, but I looked the goof with my pants rolled above my knees. That plus the numbness I encountered mean I really need to bring a change of clothes on these journeys. I also need to figure out a solution for a lighter backpack. I didn’t weigh it, but lock + laptop + iPad + Nexus 7 = a load. The immediate plan is to skip the Nexus 7 (I always know in advance if I’m using it) and leave the laptop at home (enabled by purchasing a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, an item I’ve been eyeing for a bit, but now really have a need for). That will save (+.72lbs for keyboard – .32lbs for smart cover4.5lbs for laptop – .75lbs for Nexus 7) 4.85lbs on my back. Not insignificant, but my u-lock is what really weighs a ton and must remain. I suppose I could mount it on the bike, but that’s just another item to install and remove (this is my cross racing bike on the weekends). I also need to think about picking up a waterproof backpack. It’s pretty easy to watch and know the forecast, but if I do ever screw up or get surprised, I don’t want to be stranded wherever I am with thousands of dollars in technology in my bag.

Parking: Space for eight bikes right in front of the shop on four bollards. The busiest I ever saw them was half full. Parking for cars you can forget about. L Street is busy as hell and only has parking on one side. I never noticed a vacant spot. Most of the store’s traffic was on foot.

Food: The menu was pretty limited as they don’t cook much of anything onsite. For breakfast, they had a variety of baked goods from an outside source. I had a croissant and low-fat blueberry muffin (the tasty ones were all gone). Both were excellent. The lunch menu was limited to whatever baked goods were left and grilled cheese made with one of many cheeses on sourdough or white, and optional were tomato and/or pesto for an additional fee. I got mine fully loaded with cheddar on white for about $5.24 including tax. It was pretty good, but I wouldn’t go in there strictly for food.

Coffee: In case you forgot, I’ll be ordering a cappuccino everywhere I go. It’s a staple , I like it and varies very little, (unlike a drip coffee that depends on whichever bean they happen to have in at the time). It was very good. I’ve not yet figured out a rating scheme, but am thinking about taking on a wine one. They’d receive a 91. It was great, but didn’t really speak to me beyond that. It also came VERY hot and in a to-go cup despite ordering “for here.” Not a big deal, but noting both. Also, their beans are their own, which earns them a high-five. Combined with my two breakfast items, my bill was $10 and change; about average, but leaning to the cheaper side of this city.

Seating: Room for about 32 folks on a variety of couches, chairs, and benches. Table space was a bit more limited with only about half of those spots having a working table height. I *think* they also had some outside furniture as well, but it wasn’t clear to me if it was their’s or the bagel shop next-door’s.

Decor: Kind of “Starbucksy.” Lots of rich browns, reds, and oranges. An african theme. Not my preference, but not a negative, either… It was nicely done and clean.

Restrooms: Two units, both unisex, same decor as the rest of the place. Clean and fully functional.

Sound: Loud as hell when busy. When not busy, a singer-songwriterish mix is played on the radio.

Network: Still working out how best to rate this, but I took a sampling from Speedtest.net and Pingtest.net. If the results had varied more than they did, I’d have taken more samples, but they were consistent between AM and PM so I only took two and averaged them. I know, VERY scientific. WiFi was free and used a key. You need to ask for the password at the counter. Their ISP is Comcast. I received .77Mbps down and 3.76Mbps up with 1% packet loss, an average ping of 140, and 56 jitter. Pingtest gave it a ‘D’ in the morning and a ‘B’ in the afternoon so I suppose that would average to a ‘C’, which is “average,” but as a human user as opposed to some algorithm, I’d rate them below average. Pretty slow and enough packet loss to cause web-apps and remote desktop sessions to be a little bit painful. I made do with low resolutions and 256 colors, but I shouldn’t have had to.

Clientele: Beautiful people. Man and woman alike. I don’t know what to attribute it to, but maybe a proximity to GW? I’d say the breakdown was 40% students, 30% suits, and 30% in-betweeners such as myself with an average age of 30ish.

Overall: Excellent coffee, good scenery, clean, but their network needs some love. B+

Race Recap: DCCX

Posted on Oct 21, 2012 in Cycling | 0 comments

Can’t breathe, but a beer? Don’t mind if I do.

Ever heard of cyclocross? Chances are if you’re not one of my riding buddies, my wife, or your name rhymes with Bulmer, you haven’t.

Cyclocross is… Well, to understand cyclocross you need to understand cycling in general. For the better part of the year, most “roadies” (folks who take cycling and racing very seriously, but do not define themselves as mountain bikers) ride their road bike on the road. The miles are long, the speeds are high, and the tan lines are otherworldly. However, once it begins to get cold, the idea of facing 20mph (or more) winds for hours at a time several times per week is not a good one. Enter cyclocross.

I may not be entirely accurate on the history, but I’ll give it a shot without looking things up. Europeans recognized this massive gap in the season, love them some beer, and had road bikes gathering dust in their homes. Thus, cyclocross. Off-road racing on road bikes (they’re purpose-built now, but still most closely resemble road bikes) with beer. Sound lacking? Yeah, they thought so too so they added hurdles. Hop off your bike, jump over, and hop back on as quickly as possible. The racing is hard, fast, nonstop, and the focus is on fun.

Click for pictures from Heather

Friends have been berating me to try it out for years, and I missed out on the road and mountain biking seasons this year so a few months ago I did some bike maneuvering and ended up on a cyclocross bike. Took a few weeks to get it pieced together, it’s still a little bit non-kosher (has flat bars as opposed to road bike bars because those are the parts I had sitting around. This is illegal in elite-level racing for no other reason that I can find other than it breaks from tradition), but I’ve put a couple hundred miles on it, have a great little practice loop setup in my local park, and jumped in.

As far as the race goes, it was an absolute blast. I entered the rookie race as I couldn’t make the earlier race (hosted a 5k in Herndon) and well, I’m a rookie. My nerves weren’t too bad, but I had some serious concern of the barriers; I don’t have any hurdles at the park I practice at and realized how silly I look hopping around on a bicycle to simulate them so I didn’t do more than a handful of dismount/mounts in the weeks leading up to the race. Luckily, it worked out pretty well. I fumbled a couple of times figuring out the correct foot to remove from my pedals, but didn’t fall or lose too much time. DCCX goes down as a top-notch racing event. Great organization, great course, great spectators. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Now, back to the race… The course was intense. Nonstop sprinting. Definitely not a type of riding I practice… Ever. I can do long, powerful rides and short stints of power, but this was gogogo the entire time. My race lasted about 22 minutes (lost a lap due to the day’s schedule being behind and us being the easiest race to cut short) so I got in three laps. My heart rate monitor confirms the intensity with 98% of my race being in Zone 4 (pushing it) and my average rate being 92% of max. Layman’s terms: toughest workout I’ve ever given my heart. The site at which I upload my data termed it a “sufferfest.”

I went back and forth with a few folks the entire race, but think I stayed in 6th place the entire time (click for results). As soon as someone would pass me, I’d pass someone else. I was making a heck of a move on the two guys in front of me (were gassed more than me and I could tell), but just didn’t have enough and finished eight seconds and sixteen seconds behind them. With another lap, I surely would have gotten the closest one and finished in 5th/gotten a spot on the podium, but it wasn’t meant to be. On the bright side, I can run more rookie level races because I didn’t get on the podium 😉

My bike turned out to be great. Despite being a few pounds too heavy, it functioned better than expected. I need to cut my handlebar down about another inch (I knew this before the race), but otherwise no changes planned before my next race, next Sunday and the Sunday after that. Yeah, I’m hooked. As rookie races don’t really ever happen, I’ll be riding with the big boys at both events. Would be more than pleased with a top 50% finish, but have no idea if that’s realistic.

Click for pictures from Brian

After finishing the race, Heather and Brian were there to greet me with a beer ($1 for a cup of quality stuff… ridiculous). I happily grabbed it and managed to get half of it in me. The other half? Well, I opted to take it on a cooldown lap and it spilled all over (note to self: bike is sticky; wash it). Also on the cooldown lap, I took the chance to take a cupcake hand-up from some folks in the middle of the course. They’d been offering one the entire ride, but I couldn’t do it with the podium in sight. I slowed, opened wide, and a guy stuffed it in (slow-clap if you thought TWSS). Turned out far better than I think either of us expected. One of his friends got a photo, but slim chance I’ll ever get my hands on it (slow-clap again).

Seconds after downing the cupcake and beer, I was nearly run over by a pair of guys on a tandem bike going about 30mph down a hill. Had the crowd not warned me and I moved out of the way, bad things would have ensued. Yes, a tandem bike… and they were wearing skirts. And probably drunk. Silly. Silly awesome.

Special thanks to Heather and Brian for coming out to support me/be available to drive me to the hospital and another thanks to the McDonald crew (friends from HS whom I’ve linked back up with through cycling) for shouting mean/inspirational things to me throughout the race. The tuba taunting can continue, but the leg hair comments must stop 😉 Next time I’m sure there won’t be a podium in sight so I’ll happily accept that beer hand-up.

Cross rocks.

Go linkblog?

Posted on Oct 16, 2012 in General | 6 comments

Already with two jobs, a few too many hobbies, and a new marriage, I’m faced with not having enough time do devote to content creation. I have ideas for dozens of articles and my list to to-write is ever-growing, but I’d be living with one fewer job [or wife] if I took the time to expand on the ideas (or would/could this turn into a job too?). I’m pretty happy leaving this as a tertiary gig, but that turns this place, my little spot on the web, into a ghost town when I’m not writing  (I get about 100 hits a day on days I post, but only about a dozen when I don’t), and I don’t like that. This can last for a week or more, but it doesn’t have to.

I’ve got a story to tell, I read many items that I think others would find interesting, I view many items that others find funny, I often have a quick opinion on something that someone else has already put better than I could hope to… Do I dare adopt the linkblog format? I love the idea of presenting more and shaping what I share to create a voice, but am cautiously optimistic of it; what if it causes me to get lazy in my own writing? Keeping this place active with links and commentary is almost too easy. On the other hand, it could lend me more time to put into quality creation as I’ll be less rushed to keep the cobwebs from getting thick.

Some reads on the subject:

So what say you, hearty half-dozen keep up with me on a regular basis? Do you want to see me post with a bit of commentary about external links that I find interesting? Or do you want this place to remain slower-paced and entirely by me? My vote is to up the pace and share more, but I’ll listen to your opinions as I write as much for you as I do for me.

New Project: Coffee Shops

Posted on Oct 15, 2012 in Coffee Shops | 8 comments

I came up with this project last night. Working from coffee shops. I know, I know, nothing new, but I do it fairly often, typically go to the same spot or two, realize there are many more spots out there, and have an opinion to share anytime I go somewhere. And you want to hear it, right?

The plan is to visit many/all of the coffee shops in the DC area that one can work in. I will not be visiting Panera, Starbucks, or Caribou as they’re all more or less the same low quality; it’s not worth my time and doesn’t make for great reading. I’ll order the same thing if possible: a breakfast sandwich, a cappuccino, and finish off with lunch. The planned “menu” is deliberate; I want to be able to review their food (assuming they serve some), and cappuccino is “my fave” and varies less than a drip coffee (still bean dependent, but varies less).

In addition to noting what goes into my mouth, I’ll give a rundown of vehicular parking (two and four-wheeled), seating, music, hours, clientele, workability, bathrooms, and anything else noteworthy.

I will attempt to ride my bicycle whenever possible so as to make this a green project. I greatly devalue/dismiss shops that aren’t easily accessible by two wheels. Not that they aren’t any good, but I don’t want to make the effort to get to them (isn’t it funny that I consider driving more effort than riding a bike? Hah.)

I will attempt to work at least six hours.

I will do this once a week. I had originally planned on simply doing a full week of coffee shop work, which evolved into this… Easier on me and likely more useful to the world (assuming anyone other than the usual few reads this). Between weather, meetings, and general life demands, finding a full week that I could devote to this would have been really difficult. Finding one day per week? Cake.

I’ve pseudo-started the project today with a visit to my go-to, Northside Social in Arlington. According to Yelp, this is my 60th visit. Prior to Yelp’s new method of ranking (they now weigh your visits as they age), I was the Duke. I’m now the 4th regular after a long stint of not visiting. Regardless, I’m a pretty big deal.

I did order the appropriate items (bacon and egg sandwich, and a cappuccino), but I’m not going to do a proper review today as this day instead serves to formulate this project plan and it wouldn’t be too fair to review my go-to without first seeing everything else this area has to offer. Oh, and I also drove my car due to forecasted afternoon thunderstorms. Of note, didn’t have to pay for parking, though, due to some gem of a person mixing up her schedule and giving me her unused 4hr parking ticket, but I digress… This wouldn’t be a proper review experience so it won’t be one.

Below is a list of major areas in… the area and the shops I plan to visit. If you know of any I’m missing or if I listed anything erroneously (i.e. you can’t actually work from a place), please do tell; this list was made from Yelp browsing, Googling, and my own head.

DC

  • Baked & Wired
  • Big Bear Cafe
  • Blind Dog Cafe
  • Bourbon CoffeeWorked from on October 23, 2012, B+
  • Chinatown Coffee Co.
  • Columbia Heights Coffee
  • Cup’a Cup’a
  • Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse
  • Filter Coffehouse and Espresso Bar
  • Flying Fish Coffee & Tea
  • Jacob’s Coffee House
  • Java Green
  • M.E. Swing Co.
  • Peregrine Espresso
  • Pound The Hill
  • Qualia Coffee
  • Saxbys Coffee
  • Sidamo Coffee & Tea
  • Sova
  • Tryst Coffeehouse
  • U Street Cafe

MD – Couldn’t find anything. I’m pretty much limiting this to the western red line area as the rest of Maryland is terrible. Regardless, I couldn’t find squat.

VA

  • BeanGood (Courthouse)
  • Boccato Espresso and Gelato (Clarendon)
  • Buzz Bakery (Ballston)
  • Grape & Bean (Alexandria)
  • Java Shack (Courthouse) – Worked from on November 8, 2012, B+
  • Misha’s Coffeehouse (Alexandria)
  • Natalia’s Elegant Creations (Falls Church)
  • Northside Social (Clarendon)
  • Rappahannock Coffee (Arlington)
  • St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub (Del Ray)

Burbs and Beyond

  • Cafe Nemooneh (Vienna)
  • Caffee Amouri (Vienna)
  • King Street Coffee (Leesburg)
  • KSB Cafe of New York (Herndon – FOX MILL!!!)
  • Market Street Coffee (Purcellville)
  • Plush Gelato and Coffee (Vienna)
  • Shoes Cup & Cork Club (Leesburg)

36 spots. I would have been doing myself a great disservice had I instead gone ahead with the one-week project. That’s a neat project idea in itself, but people do it all the time and it was simply not for me. 36 spots = 9+ months. I hope to finish by the end of 2013.