Monday, March 25, 2013

Race Report: True Grit Epic 50. A heck of a season opener!

Last year I was about ready to hang up the racing chamois.  I enjoy racing, but I was thinking there might be more to life, right? :-)  But as we were finishing up our Southeast Asia tour last month, Drew registered for the True Grit 50 mile mountain bike race to be held on March 16 in Saint George, southeast Utah.  So I figured, what the heck, as long as I was most likely going to be in Saint George with him that weekend, I might as well try it too.  I at least had sense enough to wait until the weather looked decent before registering.  I had the online form all filled out for the 23 mile option, but at the last minute decided to throw in my helmet in for 50.  My thought was to treat it like a long training ride.

And that is what I did.  Race day dawned with perfect weather.  We started at 9 AM in shorts and short-sleeved jerseys.  I started in the last group with all the female racers, including the pros (Open category) and collegiate racers, so I had no idea how many women were in my category.  I had entered the sport category, since I obviously wasn't training in Asia and I obviously didn't have the mindset of a pro racer!

Not only did I start in the last group, I started last. Dead last.  I and another gal moseyed along for a couple of miles, taking it easy.  What was up with all the rabbits off the start line?  I was going to play the tortoise today.  A few miles into it I started to pass some guys, then a gal or two. 

At this point I still had my happy face on.  Photo by Crawling Spider Photography pictured in the Saint George News.

By 2 hours in I think I had passed 4 women, so at least I knew I wouldn't be in last place - if I finished that is. Which was still a question given that my total time on a bicycle outdoors since last fall amounted to about 4 hours, tops.  Gym time on the spin bike - maybe 20 hours.  Nice training, Lucy.

This race is billed as a tough, technical course, and it is.  What I didn't realize is that it is so much fun that the whole "I am so bored riding this stupid dirt road that I can't think of anything besides how much my lower back hurts, how tired my legs are, and how stinkin' much I really want to be off this bike" thing went away.  I found myself thoroughly enjoying almost every minute of the 5 hours 58 minutes and 48 seconds I was racing.  The other riders were friendly, the scenery was jaw-droppingly beautiful, and I was pushing it just hard enough to feel it but not so hard that I hurt myself.  All in all, it was a lovely long bike ride.

I don't have much problem fueling on the bike.  For about the last half hour, my stomache was not feeling great, but other than that, no complaints.  Here is my food intake for the day: (Readers, I document this so that I can look back and figure out what I did well and not so well.) Oatmeal with walnuts, milk, and banana for breakfast at 7:30. Race start 9 a.m.  On-bike food: 1 bottle Carbo Rocket with a vial of Elete in it. 1 Gu. 2 bottles of Carbo Rocket 333, 1 with a Hammer Fizz tablet in it. A handful of trail mix. About 100 oz water.

Given my lack of killer competitive instinct and dearth of training miles, imagine my surprise when I looked at the results board and saw I came in 2nd!

I should 'fess up and say that had I raced in the Open category, which I hope to do later this year, I would have come in last.  However, I'll still claim the gigantic trophy for today and I'll still strut around after a future ride in the super cute post-ride skirt I won.  Ya gotta take it when you can get it!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

SE Asia - reflections on our 3.5 week vacation

I realize that I get caught up in documenting our trips while they are happening and don't get time to write about how those events make me feel or what I learn, so before the Southeast Asia trip is a foggy memory, I want to write down the highs, lows, and take-aways of the trip.

The friendliness of the people, especially the Thais and the Khmer.

Food, especially the nice restaurants we went to in Cambodia and the meal we had at the home stay in the Sapa region of Vietnam. I also enjoyed most of the street food we tried.

Meeting other travelers and comparing their perspectives on things we had all seen.

Hiking in the hill tribes region. It was great to get away from all the tourists and really get some exercise. Our guide was a sweetheart who enhanced the trip.

Getting authentic Thai massages and listening to the massage therapists talk quietly among themselves in their beautiful language as we were stretched and rubbed.

Seeing the temples of Angkor Wat. Despite all the tourists, the tour and cultural significance were worth the trip.

Seeing Halong Bay karst. That landscape is uber cool.

The boat rides in Thailand and Halong Bay.

Cambodia. Even though we only spent 4 days there, mostly filled with highly touristy activities, it was my favorite country and one I would like to go back and explore more fully.

Swimming through the traffic in Hanoi. I couldn't get over how cool it was to watch how the crazy traffic flows around pedestrians.

Experiencing a completely different culture. I especially enjoyed the contrast of northern Vietnam's socialist government with the explosion of capitalism there.

The mass transit system in Bangkok. Not driving a car for almost a month.

How cheap things were. Our average lodging cost was about $20 and food for both of us was about $30 per day, I think.

Spending a lot of time with Drew! His work takes him away from home about half the days of our lives. To be honest, I was a little surprised we got along so well being together 24-7 since we are so used to more time apart. Three and a half weeks together gave us time to reconnect.

Trash and litter.  We both had a hard time with how dirty the streets and waters of Vietnam are.  With 9 million people, centuries of history, and until 20 years ago, 80% of the population living below the poverty level, I suppose it should be no surprise that trash pickup is not on high on the list of daily chores, but we were disappointed when we would see sewer going into the gutter or someone throwing out their plastic and food garbage into water.

Large tour groups. The large groups of Korean, Japanese, and Chinese tourists in Cambodia and Vietnam were annoying in their slowness and rudeness.

Crowding. SE Asia is a highly populated place. For this one-time country girl accustomed to working solo in the wide open spaces of the West, there were way too many people around almost of the time.

Food: although we had some really good meals, I was a little disappointed by the lack of spice in a lot of the Vietnamese dishes. By spice I mean any spice, not just hot spice.

Spending so much time in Hanoi. Great city but we didn't need 5 days there.

Not getting to see Halong Bay on a beautiful sunny day.

Getting to Vietnam. The visa process was a drag and consequently we missed seeing the central or southern parts of the country. Vietnam missed out on some tourism dollars there.

Not feeling a sense of spirituality at any of the temples or wats we visited. I am a highly secular individual, but at other religious places I have visited (stupas in Nepal, Machu Pichu in Peru, churches in Europe) I had a sense of how holy the places were to the people worshiping at them. Perhaps it was because of the almost constant presence of tour groups and other tourists, but I didn't get that feeling at any of the places we visits, with the possible exception of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.

Long bus rides. Drew listed this one. He is too tall for Asian buses!

Shopping. Drew listed this one too ;-). We did spend a lot of time in markets. There was the guided tour in Chiang Mai, but I was also drawn to other markets just to see the mind boggling array of food items for sale.  I did not really buy all that much, I just liked to walk around.

My impetus for doing this trip was to have a similar experience to the one I had when I was 28 and went to Nepal.  On that trip, my mind was completely blown by the utterly different culture, religion, lifestyle, and landscape that a developing nation like Nepal projects.  The problem is, I am no longer 28 and I've been to a handful of other developing nations, so the newness factor is no longer there.  To be sure, I was shocked when the pregnant woman on the bus let her child pee on her like it was common practice, but I know more now about Buddhism, Hinduism, poverty, and traffic on streets that are 10 sizes too small for the number of vehicles traveling them.  So while the cultures of the places we visited was certainly exciting, it wasn't as exotic as I had expected.

I feel like the three+ weeks we spent in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam gave us a very good feel for the parts of those countries that we visited, and some appreciation of Asian culture in general.  I may go back some day, but not for a while.  Although I sound somewhat negative about the trip, I assure you I have no regrets about going.  I had a great time learning about the history and culture of the places we visited. The scenery was beautiful in most places. Trying new food is always memorable and fun.  Even the difficultly in transportation and scheduling was just another aspect of the trip that made Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia to me.

I am very glad we did this "culture trip", as Drew called it once.  Since I met him, we have spent most of our big vacations on bikes or racing bikes.  We needed to try something different.  When I look back at the entire trip, some of the best moments were hiking with Drew and our guide in the mountains of northern Vietnam and kayaking in Halong Bay, proof, at least to me, that I enjoy time off best when I am moving in the natural world.

With that said, let the next active adventure planning begin!

SE Asia Days 22 & 23 - 2nd chance at Bangkok

Our flight from Hanoi to Bangkok and subsequent Skytrain ride to the central city put us navigating the streets of Bangkok at about 8 pm. The wise thing to do would have been to accept the offer of a tuk tuk ride and let the savvy driver take us to the hotel, but for some reason we insist on walking. That only served to make us hungrier, thirstiest, and crankier. We were glad to check into the Centre Point Petchburri residence inn, on the 25th floor, no less. Here is a picture looking down to the lobby from the hallway outside our room. There are no safety guards here; I could have base jumped down to the lobby.
The room was large and nice, although the shower temperature control was nearly useless.

We went back out to the street in search of food, but street food was not looking good to either of us, so we got beer, yogurt, and water at the Kwic Mart and some fruit from a street vendor and called it a night.

The next morning we enjoyed the first real sun we had seen since leaving Cambodia almost two weeks ago. The pool was great.
Then it was off to check out one of the major tourist destinations in Bangkok that we had wanted to see last time but ran out of time. We took a canal speed boat for $0.10
That zipped along a pretty dirty canal, but the sights were interesting and the challenge of keeping the spray off our faces while still trying to look around was entertaining.
Next was a tuk tuk ride to the Royal Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, the route of which took us by elephant topiary. Neat-o!

We had seen a lot of wats in Chiang Mai, but nothing nearly as massive and glitzy as the complex of Wat Phra Kaew. Everywhere we turned there was another building covered in colorful tile, mirrored tile, bells, gold leaf, and statues.

The color of choice for religious temples and statues is gold here.

Well, not all the statues were gold. Some were stone,
And some (one) was emerald! This is the current house of the Emerald Buddha, seen as the little lighted speck in the middle doorway in the picture below.
Here is a telephoto view. Pictures we not allowed inside - too sacred? A lot of people were inside worshiping. This Buddha is a very special statue. I was glad to see it because one of the big temples we saw up in Chiang Mai was the former home of this Buddha figure. The journey here was reportedly difficult for the statue. It was disguised in plaster, but was stolen anyway, only to be returned much later.
Adjacent to the Wat is the Royal Palace. The royal family used to live here.

To get back from the Wat we took another form of water transport, the water taxi on the Chao Phraya River. It was really fun, cheap, and exciting.

Plus we scooted by another cool looking wat, Wat Arun

Yes that is a monk in front of me. I was riding a water taxi with a monk.

After a 45 minute break from each other (our first time apart from each other in the entire trip) for me to make one last run through the shopping stalls and street food vendors and for Drew to plan our last meal, we walked to an oasis of a restaurant called "Once Upon a Time" located in the middle of all these gigantic high-rise hotels and office buildings. The garden setting was romantic and the food was good.

Drew had a chicken curry served in a hot pineapple
And I had mussels. I asked for spicy, but either I have fried all my taste buds on my homegrown habanero peppers or the restaurants here have a different scale of heat.
Either way, the meal was delicious and the company I had was magnificent. I couldn't have toured Southeast Asia with anyone more accepting of my need to seek culture and street food while keeping me on track than my best travel buddy and husband, Drew.

Today, we just lazed around the hotel, had a good breakfast and one last poolside siesta before heading to the airport, via tuk tuk to the Skytrain this time.

So now we are on a plane bound for Seattle and our vacation will be over in less than 24 hours. I guess I am ready to get back to everyday life - I know Drew is anxious to fly again and we are both looking forward to getting back on the bikes to train for another season of racing.

I will wrap up this post with one last totally Asian picture - the everything toilet! Seat warmer, two different wash cycles, air dryer, and sanitizer. And yes, I did try them all ;-)