Friday, February 27, 2009

Comcast's enhancement, part two

The words look somewhat similar, but disenchantment and enhancement mean very different things. I have not been having fun since I was informed by Comcast that they were improving my service by switching from analog to digital cable. I've continued my research and discovered that AT&T's new service is not available in my area (which is odd since I live about a mile from their national headquarters). To get a dish of any sort would require approval from my homeowners association for size, color and placement, which could take months. Also, a dish normally means putting a hole in your roof and I'm not too happy about doing that. That means I'm stuck with whatever my local cable monopoly was willing to offer me.

I attempted several times to use the website noted in the original letter but an error message told me I had to call. I did so, and discovered that all they could do at that number was issue digital converters. They could not issue dvr's, could not discuss rates, could not do anything else. I was told I could be transferred to a salesperson if I wanted anything except a converter. I declined at that point. I checked the website and saw the rates being offered to new subscribers and wasn't happy. I procrastinated.

After my first post here I received a nice letter from Comcast's National Customer Operations. In addition to repeating most of what was in Comcast's original letter to me, explaining that they do offer DVR and reiterating that the internal Comcast transition had nothing to do with the government analog to digital conversion, he offered to see if there were any promotions for which I'd be eligible. To preserve his privacy I will not quote his letter, but I will show my reply. It took me several days to respond, simply because I wanted to be less enraged cooler and more collected than I'd been over this issue.

I'm very impressed that you took the time to write, although I think you missed a few of my points.

I am aware that the converters themselves are being offered free (for now) to the people being converted to digital cable. It is exactly this piece of equipment that will render my VCRs obsolete and will require the use of a DVR to time-shift programs as I currently do. According to Comcast's website these DVRs are available for $15.95 each (I would need two, so this would be a monthly charge of $31.90, plus tax, that I did not need to pay previous to the enhancement). (I didn't even speak of the nightmare of trying to connect my vcrs and dvd players after installing the set-top box or digital adapter.)

The current promotional price shown on Comcast's website for the digital version of the exact package I have now is $29.99 per month for a 6 month period (which together with the cost of the DVRs will bring the total monthly service to $61.89; $2 more than I currently pay). In six months this exact same package will increase to $59.95 per month (plus DVRs will equal $91.85 per month; $31.90 per month more than I'm currently paying).

I am also quite aware of the difference between Comcast's analog to digital conversion and the Digital Broadcast Transition. I was pointing out that the people to whom the massive federal advertising campaign is addressed, i.e. the elderly and the nontechnical, might have trouble differentiating between the two changes.

I have spent substantial time recently researching my options and have unhappily discovered that beyond Comcast Cable, the only other television programming in my area is available through a satellite dish. Because of homeowners regulations it could be 6 months before I could get approval for any type of dish installation so that leaves me with no choice at all, except the choice of discontinuing viewing.

One thing of which I wasn't aware when I posted my blog entry was that I am unable to use the simple website to order equipment; I have tried repeatedly using both my Unique Digital ID# and my account number (xxxxxxxxxxxx). I will need to set aside considerable time to wait on a phone line so that I can continue to watch television beyond Channel 35, and I will need to do this almost immediately to receive equipment in time for the conversion on March 9th.

I appreciate your offer of assistance but I don't think, other than ordering and delivering the equipment yourself, that there is much you can do.

When I got home that evening I had a message on my phone from a local Comcast representative saying she was returning my call and to please call her back. I did so the next morning (last Friday), while I had the website open showing current prices for a new subscriber in my area. Ms. EM (name withheld to preserve her privacy, although I don't know why I'm bothering) told me she could offer me $39.99 per month for one year for the basic digital service. The website was offering $29.99 per month for 6 months. She told me that the website was not actually Comcast, it was a reseller so she couldn't match any of their prices. Over the year her offer would save me $59.76. But that was just for starters.

I needed the 2 dvrs, since I would no longer be able to use my vcrs to tape programs. Ms. EM tried to convince me that I could indeed continue taping with my vcrs in the same manner to which I was accustomed, it was just a matter of how they were installed. I disagreed, having had that experience several years ago and having read everywhere that it had not changed. She put me on hold a couple of times to discuss the matter with her colleagues and although they agreed with me, she wasn't entirely convinced that she was incorrect.

She told me the first dvr is $15.95 per month. On the website, they didn't show a price for a second one, but it implied that it was the same $15.95. Ms. EM offered the second dvr for $15.95 plus $6.99 ($22.94) per month. She told me I should go to my local Comcast outlet to pick up the equipment; the hours were highly inconvenient for me to go there. She offered to ship the boxes to me but by that time I was frustrated and wanted to see what my options were on-line. I told her I'd call her back later. I was not angry or loud during this conversation, but I was forceful and determined to get the best deal available. I didn't yell, didn't swear, didn't cry in frustration but I also wasn't giddy and chipper.

I called her again on Monday, gave her my name and case number, and she put me on hold while she brought it up on her computer. She then left me on hold until I finally hung up 20 minutes later. Twenty minutes later! I was doing something else and there was lovely music in the background but still, twenty minutes on hold and no indication that she would ever return. I hung up, called back, got her voice mail and left a message. I called again a couple of hours later, left another message on voice mail. For the next two days I called, from different numbers in case she was caller id'ing me, and left messages for her. Not a single one was returned.

Yesterday I left work early and went to the local Comcast outlet store. I arrived there just after 5 pm. There were 2 people ahead of me in line, 2 people working at the counter, and 4 gentlemen in Comcast shirts wandering around the store, talking with each other and ignoring anyone who walked in. I waited in line for about 10 minutes for my turn, getting increasingly annoyed. I reached the counter and the woman at the computer, told her I was there about the enhancement, told her I needed dvrs and asked what kind of deal she could give me. She told me the same $15.95/$15.95/$6.99 for the dvrs that I had heard before. I asked what kind of a price I could get for monthly service; she was befuddled that I'd even think I'd get a lower price than what I had been paying for the analog service. I started getting more annoyed and told her that the website had $29.95 per month ("that's only for new customers") and that I had been offered $39.99 by a special representative who would not return my calls. She said she couldn't match that either. I said that I had gotten that offer because I had made a loud stink on the internet; she told me she was sorry, she wasn't authorized to do anything special. I replied (ok, almost yelled): fine, I need the dvrs, there's nothing I can do, go ahead and screw me, I'll just write about it.

She went to the back, got the equipment, typed away on her computer, returned to the back of the store, then came and told me that her supervisor said she could offer me the $39.99 per month for a year. Well fine, but why did I have to come unglued for that to happen? She gave me the two big boxes, the cables, the remotes and I left. I didn't get the new service prices in writing since she said she couldn't do that, so I'll have to wait and see if I actually receive them. My new "enhanced" service will cost me $78.84 per month; my unenhanced service was $59.95 per month (plus, of course, taxes, surcharges and fees which have been $4.15 per month and I'm sure will increase). I'd like to know in what way an additional $18.89 per month ($226.68 per year) enhances anyone except Comcast?

Now I just have to hook up everything and figure out how to use the new equipment. "Just." In the family room I need to also attach my combo dvd/vcr and the ancient stereo, in the exercise room I need to attach separate dvd player and vcr. I will not give up my vcrs because I have many movies and many exercise tapes. I don't understand most tvspeak, most electronictalk, most technobabble. I can't decipher the difference between all the connectors and connections. I was very happy with what I had and I'm not looking forward to trying to figure out something new right at the time when I'm trying to finish up my training for the century, and when I need to give more time to my family. I wish they hadn't done this.

I wish I had other reasonable options.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's really not Thursday?

This week, for some reason, is confusing the heck outta me. Yesterday I was convinced, convinced, that it was Wednesday. Today I'm carrying on the trend and can't remember that it's not Thursday. I'm not sure if it's because I was going to take Friday off of work and now I'm not, or whether it's because I'm a tad stressed these days.

Friday was going to be my go to Stitches day since Saturday I'll be on a bike all day and Sunday I'll be celebrating my mom's birthday with her all day. I was going to spend just a couple of hours yarn gazing (and buying), targeting toward some yarn I've been coveting since last year. But then I found out that I'll have to leave work early on Monday for a dentist appointment, and I'll have to take off the entire day on Tuesday (next Tuesday, which will really be Tuesday) to take my mom in for some minor surgery. Then the next week I'll be taking off Friday to drive to Solvang (so soon!) and the following Monday to recover from the ride. I'm very torn about missing Stitches. On the one hand I have enough yarn to last me my entire life; on the other hand you can never have too much stash. Those of you going, have fun!

This morning I had a lovely drive to work. It was lightly drizzling directly overhead with the sun shining from the east and low clouds floating through the hills on the west. The hills are finally green with lots of yellow mustard and they sparkled with the rain and the sun. Rainbows appeared here and there as the clouds moved. I had a lot a time to admire the scenery since people in California have no idea how to drive in anything except clear, dry conditions. My commute took twice the normal time today. Oh! And I saw an egret on the hillside! That bird was seriously lost.

I still haven't figured out what to do about my television service. I'll write a long post about it when it's resolved, but despite a very nice email from a Comcast representative, and despite calls with two other representatives (one of whom put me on hold for 20 minutes before I hung up and now won't return my calls) and lots of additional time on-line, I'm still uncertain of my path. I don't particularly want to put holes in my roof for a dish, so that returns me to the cable monopoly. Yes, I've thought of just disconnecting entirely, but I like watching local news and there are a few programs I still follow. Oh, what to do, what to do?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Best ride yet!

I wish I knew why Saturday's ride went so well. I'd like to recreate every action, every thought, every move that made this such a great ride. I'm hoping it's because I'm so well trained now (HA!).

We'd been watching the weather all week since a big storm was predicted. Another "storm of the year" was coming, forecast for later on Saturday. Torrential rains, high winds. We hoped it would stay clear enough to ride and we got our wish.

I got out of bed at 4:45 am to get ready for the longest ride I've done for 10 (or so) years. At 5:30 I was out the door headed to Bree's house. At 5:50 am I came to a dead stop on 580, right next to the Castro Valley BART station - traffic was halted while (I found out later) a shooting was cleaned up. I sat there on the freeway with my car parked, getting very nervous, and then saw two patrol cars exiting the freeway by going off the on-ramp. Cars resumed forward motion and I got to Bree's only a minute or two late.

We made good time to Half Moon Bay and unloaded our bikes in the chilly morning. Our group gathered and we set off at close to 8:00 am (only a half hour late ...). We headed south on Highway 1 in a nice little paceline. At least I think it was nice, I was near the front and didn't see what was going on behind me. It was cool and overcast, not much in the way of a breeze (yet) and the sun was lifting over the mountains to our left. The ocean vistas were spectacular with the intermittent reflected sun. Great to look at as we hit the rollers.

Here I again have to take exception to the term "rollers." In cycling terms a roller is a hill that you speed down, gathering enough momentum to get over the crest of the following hill without having to downshift or work on that uphill. With that explanation I've ridden very few rollers. I just ride up and down and up and down hills, trying my best to go fast and hard enough to cruise for part of it. I actually end up working harder than if I'd just coasted downhill and pedaled uphill.

We rode along, stopping once at a convenient beach outhouse, then took a left and headed away from the coast into the backroads. There were more "rollers" and some of the prettiest scenery that we've gone past on any of our rides (and that's saying something). The road felt like a remote little park lane (except when some jackass would come speeding through at too miles per hour in a car or on a motorcycle). There were small streams, fields, woods; a little of everything. Then we started to climb.

We knew that a hill, a real hill, was coming. We're now getting worried if the coaches call something a hill; they tend to say things are flatter than they really are ("rollers" my ass). The hill before us even had a name, never a good sign. When we stopped having any downhills, any relief, we knew we had reached Haskins Hill. This was, without a doubt, the worst bitch of a hill that I've ever had the displeasure to ride. I hated it. I was cursing, silently since I had no breath. I climbed, and rode, and climbed and finally had to pull over and stop. I caught my breath, continued on, and realized that my heart rate was still too freakin' high and I had to immediately stop once again. I paused, had a drink or two (unfortunately not vodka, it was just Ultima).

I finally kicked off again and continued climbing for another few hours. Or minutes. After a while I had to take one final break. I walked around a corner because I had stopped at a blind spot, then I waited while my breathing got back to normal and my heart stopped threatening to jump out of my throat. Did I mention that my ears kept popping while I was going up that hill? It was that steep. While I stood there looking forlorn (and probably pretty pissed off too) several cyclists passed me. Many of them spoke to me, telling me the top was right around the next corner (and the check's in the mail and there's a prince in Nigeria who wants to leave me money and Madoff has a great investment opportunity for me). I was quite impressed with how encouraging complete strangers, not just my teammates, were to me.

I took a great big breath, sat back down and pedaled my way the rest of the way to the top of that damn hill (and I was right, it wasn't around the next corner. Or the next). Our team had a rest stop and when I pulled in my teammates and coaches were worried about me, afraid that was where I'd have my weekly meltdown. But no problem, I was too angry to even talk with them. At what, I'm not sure. It's stupid to be mad at a hill, even stupider to be mad at our coaches for planning that route. But I was full of adrenaline and just wanted to finish the ride. We were told the worst was over.

The worst was over, but the hills weren't. The downhill wasn't bad at all, even for a downhill weenie like me. Sure, I did lots of braking and slowing but I had decided to push it, to see how fast I could go while maintaining control. I even passed a couple of people, which I've never done before. Still, I was happy when the steep downhill was over and the flatter area began.

After the last rest break our group decided to skip the last hill so we just ... climbed another hill? Huh? We took a detour out and back, then returned to the "rollers" on Highway 1. At one point ahead of me there was a long, open, straight downhill with a wide shoulder on the road. I decided to take that stretch without touching my brakes, passed the rider in front of me and started to fly. Then I saw ahead of me, waiting patiently on the other side of the road for traffic to clear, a big (really big) deer. I hit the brakes, called back to the rest of the riders that I was slowing, and watched first one, then another deer leap gracefully across the road and into the trees. Huh. So much for my sweet downhill.

Because I wanted to get 65 miles and we had taken the little hill-less shortcut, I rode around the neighborhood before going to the parking lot. My legs were tired, it started feeling like I was wading through tar, and I returned to the car just short of 65 miles. I was tired, achy, and strangely exhilarated. I felt ... good! How very ... strange!

As we started putting the bikes in the car I realized that my front tire was very soft. I had gotten a bit of a flat tire during the last few miles, a major reason I felt like I had to work so hard. I don't even know how long I was riding on it that way.

So. 64.8 miles (a metric century plus!). Close to 4500 feet of climbing. Five Pop-Tarts, 4 Gu's, 4 bottles of Ultima, and 7 hours from when we started (only 6 of that actually moving on the bike). No meltdowns, no screaming (where anyone could hear me), no crying. I hated Haskins Hill but enjoyed the rest of the day and couldn't understand why my mood was so improved from our previous rides. My hands hurt, my neck and shoulders were pained, my lungs were scratchy, my eyes itchy and my nose stuffed. But I felt great.

I'm telling myself this is a trend. The next three rides will be our 80 mile training ride in Mill Valley next week, a 50-ish mile training ride in the East Bay and the 104 mile event in Solvang. Just 3 weeks until it's all on the line.

I've always known I could ride the 104 miles. Now I think it's possible I just might have a good time while I'm doing it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Twenty two days

If you look at that little countdown timer up above, you'll see that it says I'll be riding the Solvang Century in 22 days. Twenty two days. That's twenty two ohgoodgriefIcan'tbelieveit'sthatsoon days. Just over 3 weeks before I get on a bike from sunrise to sunset (and hopefully no longer) and ride said bike for a distance longer than I like to drive. Whose idea was this anyway? (shhh -- don't tell me it was mine)

I'm feeling remarkably unready for this. I haven't yet ridden over 60 miles, although we're scheduled for 65 miles tomorrow and 80 miles next Saturday. One little rainstorm more and our longest training rides will be a forgotten wish and we'll be stuck on the Solvang area roads singularly unprepared. I've been getting in most of my workouts during the week, watching my food consumption and sleep patterns and stress, all those things that you do as part of training for a long event. But without the long rides it's a wash and the entire ride will be on guts.

I know I'll finish the damn thing, that's not even questionable (disclaimer: if I have jagged bones poking through my skin I just might have to quit early). If necessary I'll get off and push my bike the last 20 miles. Carry it, if needed. The only thing I don't know for certain is the time I'll be out there that day ("long") and the way I'll feel afterward ("tired" "sore" "crappy" "relieved").

Tomorrow I'll know if this mid-ride meltdown thingie is a pattern, or if it was just something during the the past 3 long rides. I've warned co-riders, coaches and captains to ignore me if it happens, and to leave me alone until I get over it. I'm looking forward to seeing the Half Moon Bay area, to riding along the ocean and through forests and fields and up hills and down hills and all over the place. Tonight before I fall asleep (if I actually fall asleep) I'll do visualization and imagery and see myself having a fabulous ride. That should translate to a great time Saturday. That's what I'll keep telling myself.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An open letter

Dear Mother Nature,

Thank you very much for the lovely rain you've been sending. It's helping enormously to alleviate the terrible drought we've all been dreading.

We would appreciate it, however, if next year you could manage to spread out our entire year's worth of rainfall over the full annual rain season, instead of giving it all to us in two weeks.

Thank you kindly in advance,

Love and kisses,
Northern California

Weneedtherain weneedtherain weneedtherain

I am officially tired of the rain. Over and over again I tell myself that I like showering and I like to water my lawn in the summer and the reservoirs are dry and the snowpack is meager, but a couple of weeks of cold rain are making it very hard to be happy with the wet. The timing of this weather is bad, but I suppose for people who like to recreate (or work) outside it's never good.

Our planned 65 mile ride at Half Moon Bay was canceled. While I wasn't too upset about not having to get out of bed at 4am, I was totally displeased that we'd miss the mileage. Truly, I thought it was a wimpish decision to cancel on Friday afternoon without knowing exactly what was going to happen on Saturday. Since it ended up being very very ugly, but not rainy, on Saturday morning, I think we could have done at least most of the ride. We wouldn't have been particularly happy about it because it was cold, windy and overcast, but we could have gotten in the miles. Wusses.

Speaking of wusses, Bree and I decided to get in at least some miles on our own. We rode from my house to the staging area of Las Trampas, a ride I remember as being very uphill and very difficult. Imagine my surprise when the "big hill" at the end seemed to be more of a sharp incline. I still managed to drop my chain, but once we fixed it (it had gotten stuck, again, and was hard to extricate) I just zoomed up the "hill." It's probably just in comparison with the real hills we've been riding, because although I knew I was going uphill, it was so much easier than the many many times I've ridden that way before.

We wanted to ride to the bike shop to see if they could adjust my chain but the sky got darker, it got windier, we got concerned and turned around a mile short of the shop. We didn't want to get caught out in a downpour but we needn't have worried, no rain came until much later in the day.

I was very productive the rest of the weekend but didn't manage another real ride because of the weather. I did some time on the trainer (I can't believe how uncomfortable my old bike is) but not the hours in the saddle that I need. Our century is in 4 weeks. That's 4 weeks, people! Only enough time for the previously planned 65 miler in Half Moon Bay, the 80 miler in Marin and a taper 50ish miler in the East Bay somewhere. If any of those get rained out, which is possible now that winter has finally arrived, I'm in trouble. Yes, I've done a couple of 50ish milers but you can't go from 50 miles to 100. That would be like saying hey, I've run a half marathon a couple of times, lets go run a marathon next week.

I'm concerned.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thoughts on a wet Friday

Anyone else who thinks all this rain we're having is the fault of the Amgen Tour of California raise their hand. Yep, I see lots of hands waving out there. It can't be a coincidence that we've been dry as baby powder all winter and now that we have teams of professional cyclists speeding along our roads, we also have winter storm warnings. While in theory I'd find the racers slogging through an errant California snow storm amusing, in fact I'm not too thrilled about it. Especially since I look to be one of those slogging (not a racer mind you, just a slogger). I've been looking forward to our Half Moon Bay ride all season and now it looks like it'll be soggy, at best. Fingers crossed for a break in the weather on Saturday. And for a patch of sunshine to lead the pro boys along the roads all week.

It's come to my attention that today is Friday the 13th. Ooooooh, spooooky. Actually, not. I don't have superstitions, I have phobias instead. I'm much more likely to tiptoe around a cow than I am to avoid walking in front of a black cat. I don't have a lucky -- well, a lucky anything, now that I think of it. I don't knock on wood and I don't throw spilled salt over my shoulder. I don't walk under ladders but that's because I don't want anyone dropping a bucket of paint (or a box of nails) on my head. A date on a calendar doesn't mean much to me and if something goes wrong today, it'll have nothing to do with Friday the 13th.

It has also, quite forcibly, come to my attention that tomorrow is Valentine's Day. There's no way to avoid it if you (1) listen to the radio, (2) watch television, (3) step inside any type of store, or (4) get email spam. Even when I was in a relationship I wasn't impressed with the day, created by retailers to sell pink and red stuff and shiny and sweet stuff. Now, since I love red things I've normally been able to pick up something for around the house in my colors, but my house is full and I don't need anything else, red or not. (Heh, I typed that "read" and yes, I buy lots of things that need to be "read.")

V-Day doesn't make me sad I'm single, doesn't make me long for romance and flowers and la-di-dah. What it does is create obstacles to my walking into a store. For a bearaholic like me, it's like waving a bottle of scotch (or vodka, or rum or tequila) in front of an alcoholic. Stores are filled with bears. Red bears, pink bears, little bitty bears, bit honkin' bears, cute bears, dainty bears, overbearing bears, bears bears bears. I'm trying so hard to limit my bear buying to medal bears and its --- so --- hard --- to --- resist. I've been strong, so far.

This week has been a wash, exercise-wise. I only took off a couple of days, but the days I did things, they weren't necessarily the things that are on my training schedule. I can't stress enough how much I miss having a running buddy, someone that I feel obligated to meet up with, someone who makes an hour run flow past like minutes. I've never had much get-up-an-g0 and on dark, cold, damp evenings I have much less. Throw in several nights in a row with little or no sleep, and I just want to curl on the couch with a blankie and a good book or my knitting. Not good for conditioning, not good for health, not good for weight control. Oh well, maybe next week I'll do better.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Can't change my mind

Since so many of my friends have registered for the Chicago Marathon, and we'd all like to stay in close proximity to each other and the race, we decided to get our rooms while some were still available. The race will have about 45,000 runners, along with their families and supporters, so rooms are sure to book up quickly.

We decided to bite the bullet and pay the exorbitant price for the host hotel since it's the closest to the race. None of us particularly wanted to walk a couple of extra miles before and after a marathon. Especially after a marathon. I discovered that the special rate for the marathon is completely sold out. Of course, I could have gotten a small room for $499 or $599 per night. Yes, per night. Nothing like price gouging.

So a few of us scurried around on our computers and phones and decided to go with a different hotel where not only is the price less than the marathon-reserved price at the host hotel, but if you're willing to pay 100% non-refundable up-front money you can get a suite for less than the regular rooms. I thought and thought and thought and decided to go for it. So I pressed the button and now I'm tempting fate and I will absolutely be going to Chicago in October. Hopefully I'll be strong and healthy and ready to PR, but if not I'll cheer on all my friends from the luxury of a suite.

Now I just have to get past the century ...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Just beyond 60

This is the profile of Saturday's ride.

Although 60 was how old I felt after my ride on Saturday, it actually refers to my mileage. We keep increasing week by week and 5 Saturdays from now we'll be at 100. Oy.

My ride on Saturday was long, hard and hilly. The end.

What? More detail is requested? All righty then. My ride on Saturday was long, hard, hilly and absolutely beautiful. The end.

More? Fine. My ride on Saturday was long, hard, hilly and absolutely beautiful. Our team met bright and early in Robertson Park in Livermore. I was looking forward to this ride for a couple of reasons. It was very close to home, travel time being less than a half hour in each direction. That meant staying in bed a bit longer and getting home earlier. It was also almost entirely on one road, thus lessening the chance of my getting lost. During the week I did lots of visualization and imagery to help me keep focused and happy on the ride. Didn't work too well.

We headed out in a nice tight paceline which was ok, but I'm still not used to riding with several of those women and I don't particularly trust all of them enough to just go with the flow. I was concentrating not only on the woman directly in front of me, but the women in front of her and the one directly behind me. Because of this I didn't take a drink for the first half hour or so of the ride, not a great idea.

After we turned onto Mines Road we stopped while Coach Beth gave us a few hints for the hills ahead. I took off my jacket and glove liners knowing I'd start sweating soon enough. Our nice paceline blew all to hell after about five pedal revolutions, all of us proclaiming that no no, I'm the slowest and have to go to the back. As it turned out, I was truly one of the slowest and remained at the back.

On the very steepest hills I can out ride a few in our group, but otherwise most of them are faster on the flats, the lesser inclines and definitely on the declines. I didn't have to worry too much about the declines on the outward direction though; they were few and far between until the last 5 miles. I remembered to eat my Pop Tarts and my gels, remembered to drink, remembered to look at the gorgeous scenery around me. Easy to look around when I'm spinning along at about 5 mph uphill. Not as easy when I'm trying to turn the pedals while my eyeballs burst out of my head on the steep hills.

I never had to walk but I did take momentary stops at the top of several of the hills, to catch my breath and return my heart rate to something approaching normal. It was very challenging but I was doing fine. My happy mood from the start was getting a little soured, but I was ok. Ok even when we rode past the little baby cow ("little" being relative, of course) in the middle of the road, bleating for his mommy cow. I had a bit of an adrenaline spike, but nothing like last week when the cow was grazing in my bike lane. I continued on until our turnaround at the 30 mile mark. I was tired, not looking forward to the next few miles of steep uphills, but doing ok.

At this point I lost most of the rest of the team. I knew they were out there, knew there were people not too far ahead of me and not too far behind me, but climbing was very much an individual pursuit. At one point on one of the steepest inclines a teammate passed me on the hill and told me "take deep breaths through your nose" and seriously, I felt like punching her since my nose had been both stuffed and dripping since about mile one. If I took a deep breath through my nose I would have had snot shooting out my ears. Er, sorry for that visual. So in my breathless state I just replied "nose is stuffed" and waited for her to pass me.

My mood plummeted between miles 35 and 40. We had another rest stop at mile 40 and I had my weekly meltdown. I don't know what's causing them, but they've happened each damn week for the past month. I was fighting tears and weepily told our captain that I just couldn't see riding another 60 miles. She quizzically corrected me and said I only had another 20, but I tearily stuttered "I m-m-m-mean in 5 w-w-w-weeks at S-s-s-Solvang!" Poor woman, I fell apart on her last week too and I just couldn't help myself. I felt miserable and my pity party burst into full celebration.

I couldn't hang around there too long because I just didn't want to be around people. I knew the rest of the ride was generally downhill with only a few uphills and a couple of grades. Still, it was 20 more miles and at that point my overall average was about 8 mph (damn hills). I wasn't in the mood for 3 more hours on a bike and I was dreading the whole thing.

As I rode along my mood and my energy gradually improved and I actually started feeling ok. I continued to eat, continued to drink, continued to pedal. I told myself that I could take a break at each hour mark but no more frequently than that. I really started to pay more attention to my surroundings, to the gorgeous hills and fabulous scenery around me. There were a lot of white-knuckle descents that I didn't enjoy too much, but for the most part I could just pedal easily along.

I realized it was great being out there and hearing just the three W's: wind, wheels and wheezing. Even riding easily my breathing wasn't very good. I had hoped that the rain would have cleared the air, and that being in the middle of nowhere there would be no wood smoke, but I was wheezing nonetheless. Around mile 50 I just stopped caring and started having a great ride again.

When I reached the end of Mines Road I realized that I had to follow the map back to Robertson Park. Uh-oh. Luckily there were signs so even though I wasn't sure if it was the way we were supposed to go, I could get back there. My mileage when I reached the parking lot was short so I continued down the road until my odometer read 60 and then headed back. I was glad to finish and except for being exhausted and sore, I was feeling remarkably chipper and good.

So I don't know what's with the meltdowns in the middle of each of my rides. I don't think it was a hydration or blood sugar or hunger thing since I'm pretty certain I was doing well in those areas. It could just be something I'll have to realize will happen and deal with and try to convince myself that I'll come out of it a hour later. It's embarrassing as hell to fall apart in front of not only my teammates and the support crew, but also in front of two of our injured who I'm sure would give anything to change places with me and be out on a bike. I don't like being the pain-in-the-ass on the team and as we all know I don't like being a stand-out in any way. Having very public breakdowns is not a good way to stay anonymous. I've been trying to keep it to myself, but it's obvious that I'm having trouble and the simple kindness of the people around me make them want to try to help me. Hopefully I'll be better at hiding it if it happens again.

My recovery this week is going quite well. My body is responding well to the abuse training and I'm hoping to get in a couple of good workouts this week. I'm looking forward to (and scared to bits by) a new location on Saturday: Half Moon Bay here I come!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Comcast, that isn't my idea of "enhancement"

Dear Comcast:

I am not pleased by your "exciting news" about my cable service. Your "enhancement"* of your network, transmitting all standard cable channels 35-76 exclusively in digital format beginning March 9, 2009 is not good news for me, nor is it good news for what I hear is about 25 percent of your current subscribers.

Several years ago I tried your digital cable service and discovered that it rendered my recording device almost totally useless. Making me use a converter or set-top box which cannot be programmed to change channels at set times make it impossible for me to record any different programs on different channels at different times. I returned your useless equipment and happily used your analog cable service.

What's that you say? You provide access to a digital video recorder? How very convenient (for Comcast's bottom line) that thousands of people will now have to pay an additional (high) monthly cost to record the very programs that they recorded for free in the past. In my area this new "convenience fee" will only be $15.95 per month.

I find it highly suspicious that you are making this change right at the same time as the government mandated digital broadcast transition. It is likely that many of your non-technically inclined subscribers of analog service will believe that you are switching because you must, not because you want to sell more services to the customers who are happily spending less money.

I also don't believe that your company has seen any televisions lately. Calling this huge piece of equipment a "set-top box" is ridiculous. The top of my television is about 3" deep. Trying to balance a "set-top box" might be good for an initial giggle, but impossible to do. I'm sure that because of ventilation of heat issues the "set-top box" can't be placed underneath a set, even one of the lightweight modern flat panel sets.

And how convenient for Comcast that after a 6 month promotion my monthly rate will increase to $59.95 per month (plus the $15.95 per month dvr charge) for exactly the same set of channels I have now. I know you're hoping that I upgrade to a larger package, since I need to "upgrade" the equipment, and how startling that the cost to include HBO is $103.94 per month and the cost to include Showtime is $118.94 per month. Plus the dvr charge. And all of this exclusive of taxes which I can only assume will add another $10-15 per month.

In your next "Important" letter to me I'd like to see how many of your previous analog cable subscribers have switched to the AT&T service which is less expensive and (at the moment) less deceptive in their intentions to make huge bundles of money. I doubt that people will change every service they have to your "triple play" and will instead join the U-verse. I believe that I will stay with my phone, internet and cell provider and dump your company.

Comcast, I don't appreciate the additional time and aggravation that this will cause me. Consider me a former customer who will not be enjoying your "enhanced Comcast network" in my area.

Disgruntled customer #1

*Comcast, your usage of the word "enhancement" confused me until I discovered the second definition in the on-line dictionary:
2. to raise the value or price of
Oh! You're absolutely correct! You ARE raising the price. I get it now. And thank you so much for the delightful browse through modern meanings of the term. I need to go scrub my eyeballs now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Since I joined the TnT cycle team back in November, 12 weeks ago (has it really been that long?) I've been working diligently to keep up with the training schedule. Not just the weekly teams rides on Saturdays, I've been trying to follow the schedule during the week too. It hasn't been easy and up until now I haven't accomplished much.

There have been several impediments. First, I didn't have a way to do intervals until I received and set up my new trainer. Then, I caught the cold from hell that wouldn't go away for weeks and didn't leave me with enough lung power to exercise. In the middle of that was the holiday season messing up schedules. Then our longer weekend rides started and the seat on my new bike caused so much pain that I couldn't sit on a bike seat except for the necessary long rides, and even that was agony.

That's not to say I've been sitting on my ass all week, I just haven't done what I'm supposed to do. I've been running (a little), walking (a little), cross-training (a little) and doing core exercises regularly (that counts for something, right?). I'm just afraid it hasn't been enough to get me through 100 miles so now I'm going to start following the schedule. Better late than never! I still have 5 weeks to build a little additional endurance and strength. Holy Bike, Batman! Only 5 weeks!

Last night I decided it was time to try out my fancy-schmancy trainer that I bought at the beginning of the season. Except for trying to see if I could sit on the bike between weekend rides, I haven't used it at all. I looked at the schedule and saw we were set for intervals; 20 minute warmup, 4 x (5 hard/2 easy), 20 minute cool down. Since this was my first set of intervals I decided to change that to 3 x (3 hard/2 easy) so as not to kill my self on the first outing.

The first thing I discovered is that my old bike is horribly uncomfortable; it doesn't fit me in the slightest. I have the old bike on the trainer since why wear out the pretty new one. I had no idea how much difference a well-fit bike makes. There just wasn't a good way to ride comfortably. I'm thrilled that I bought the new bike; there's no way I could have ridden the old one for 100 miles without being all crippled up afterward. How I ever used to ride 100k rides all summer I'll never know (of course, I was 10 years younger then ...).

So I ignored the discomfort of the bike, turned on the television and pedaled away. Imagine my surprise when I finished that workout and was soaking wet and pooped. Good grief, it was harder even than running intervals around a track, harder than climbing a hill. My legs were fatigued, my arms were fatigued, my teeth were fatigued. Uh, maybe that's why they're such a good idea, right?

As much as I want to run a couple of times a week I think I'm going to have to do as much of the bike training as my sit bones will allow. I don't think I can cycle 2 days in a row, there's still too much sitpain. So for the regular mid-week ride I'll run, then do the scheduled intervals around that, building up to the correct number of sets and times. Five weeks isn't much, but I'll get it done.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I registered for a marathon

This time, I'm hoping to actually RUN the marathon for which I spent the time and money registering. The race in question is the Chicago Marathon, the big one. The one where I'll be running with 45,000 of my best and closest friends. Or at least a half dozen of my best and closest friends, stuck in the middle of 44,994 strangers.

I'm pretty jazzed about planning another marathon. I'm also pretty concerned about running another marathon. I haven't had a good run over 13 miles in more than a year. Yes, I've had several runs over 13 miles, just none of them good ones. These days I'm hardly qualifying for half marathon distances. But I'm staying in shape with the long distance cycling, the cross training, the walking and the itty bitty runs that I'm fitting into my schedule. Everything should be fine. After all, I have more than 8 months to train. Actually, 7 months to train since I won't re-focus on running until after the century.

I don't know if I'll plan a September marathon as a long run for Chicago. Even though I have no intention of getting a PR I'd like to keep my time on the lower end, which means doing a 26 mile training run. Right now I'm too busy focusing on whether I can sit on my bike for 10 hours. Planning will come soon enough, as will the marathon.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Crisp, clear and hilly

Saturday was another long ride with the team. While technically a buddy ride, we had full course support and good attendance. Bree and I carpooled over to Fairfax, this time putting the bikes in my car. We arrived nicely on time, got ready, and headed off to face the hills.

Part of the route we had ridden before, both last week and a few weeks ago. I managed to not remember most of it from the last times so it was nicely all new to me again. I think I'm concentrating on riding and overall pictures of the route and not memorizing specifics of where we are, where we've been and where we're going. Which is kind of nice since I can't dread hills I don't remember.

The new seat and new lowest gear both worked like a charm. The first big hill was hard but I was able to spin at a decent rate for almost the entire thing. I took a very short breather at the top and headed on down. This was one of those nice downhills; straight and not too steep. I let it out, settled into my top gear and pedaled strongly and happily away. Then I noticed that cars going my direction on this 2 lane road were slowing and stopping, so I braked and slowed to see what was going on. At first I thought there was someone in the middle of the road and was afraid it might be a bike crash, but it was worse. It was a big frigging cow, wandering directly into the bike lane to graze on the fresh green grass growing there. Blocking my lane, as I'm barreling down at over 20 mph. Standing there, in my way. A cow.

Since traffic had slowed down from the 40-50 mph at which they were originally speeding along the road to about 25, I pulled directly between 2 of the cars, away from Miss Cow, as far away from her as I could get without crossing over to the other side of the street. My heart was speeding along as fast as traffic and I was happy to put her behind me. Far behind me. I slowed down to let my adrenaline ease back and about ten minutes later Bree caught up with me. She was cracking up, and told me she had expected to find me curled up in a ditch in a fetal position sucking my thumb in terror. Yeah, it was close.

After the encownter we merrily pedaled along toward the first rest stop in Nicasio. This was the opposite direction we had taken before and in fact was the part where I didn't ride at all because I was sick. Very pretty out; sunny, green, breezy, clear. The hills weren't quite as green without my amber lenses (no wonder they looked so pretty last week!) but it's definitely spring out there. Wildflowers and mustard are blooming, birds are soaring, roadkill is stinking (what's up with all those dead skunks??).

Bree and I joined up with two others in our group and the four of us headed toward Stinson Beach. There was one hill so steep that it became the first hill of the season where I came to a total and complete stop because I couldn't turn the pedals any longer - I had to hop off and trudge to the top. Even with the new gear I couldn't make it, very disappointing. But I wasn't the only one walking, two of the others were too. We got back on our bikes and continued on what the coaches insisted on calling rollers and I called flat out hills. Rollers are up and down and up and down. These were up up up up and then down down down down down down. We rode through a forested area where the road was downhill, twisty, steep, cracked, partially shadowed, dropoffs down cliffs to one side. Totally freaked me out. I have falling-down-cliff issues anyway, and going where I couldn't see well (my eyes were watering and the light changed quicker than my eyes could adjust), on a crappy road, with lots of other riders and cars and that darn cliff and I was most unhappy. After about 40 miles of this (ok, it was really just about 8 miles) I was in the middle of a melt-down.

I kept going and when the hills ended at the bay, and the others were waiting for me, I waved them on. They're just a bit faster than I am and beyond my ability to keep up in a pace line so I headed into the wind by myself. Melt-down proceeded until I made it to our next rest stop at Stinson Beach. I literally couldn't talk to anyone because I knew I'd burst into tears and I was trying to maintain some semblance of normality. I finally caught my breath, ground and centered and managed to get myself together. Luckily most of them hadn't noticed how freaked out I was.

At this point several of us decided to weenie out and get a ride back through those damn hills. I could have ridden the uphills, they weren't the problem, but I couldn't face the downhills again. Luckily we had enough sag vehicles that about a half dozen of us got lifts through the 10 mile stretch back. We didn't realize that we had the cars drop us off right at the bottom of another long uphill, but it wasn't horribly steep and we were all rested so we took it slow and easy and had no problem.

At the bottom of that hill we were to turn off onto a bike trail. After some difficulty we found it and headed that way. It was quiet, peaceful and beautiful in there, then a teammate got a flat tire. We all stopped for the change, then headed out. Although we had the coach who had designed this route with our group, we didn't really know where we were going. This was very apparent when we ended up on the bike path that was no longer paved. Yup, we were now riding on a muddy rocky dirt trail on our skinny-tire road bikes, having to slow down to just a couple of mph as we slogged along. It was pretty amusing, but annoying at the same time.

We found the real road and the faster group sped off while we slower riders headed back for the final 10 miles or so. I was starting to get tired and sore and wanted to just be finished. We stopped briefly at the top of a couple of hills and finally, finally got back to our parking lot (and I almost got lost because I was alone and with my lack of directional skills wasn't sure where to go). It ended up a total of 55+ miles for those of us who cheated on that one batch of hills, and was the toughest ride yet.

I think I've worked out the nutritional side of my riding. Last week in the grocery store I searched for a good food, since the gels just weren't cutting it. I wanted something easily digestible and easy on my stomach (since I'm having some of the same problems from last summer); it needed to be low fat, low fiber, easy to chew, tasty, calorie dense. Close to the opposite of what I'd normally want to eat in real life. I wanted the highest calorie bang-for-the-buck I could find so I could get away with eating very little. And I found: Pop Tarts! I can't believe people feed these to their children on a regular basis. A single Tart has 200 calories - that's per pop tart, not per foil package of two. They're just moist enough to go down easily, they crumble and don't need much chewing, they're surprisingly low fat and they have no fiber at all. The blueberry was very tasty and I ate the 2 I had with only minor stomach discomfort. I think I'll plan on 1 for every 2 hours or so and fill in with gels. For the first time I didn't bonk at all during the ride so I'm on to something.

And I love the new seat. If I was coming to it fresh, without an existing problem of bruised sit bones, I would have been able to go the entire ride without any issues. As it was, I made it about 50 miles before it became very hard to sit at all. The week before I was in pain as soon as we started riding so this is a good thing. Now I know I'll be able to do 100 miles without being in complete agony. I love my new low gear too. I was afraid I wouldn't notice the difference but it was exactly what I needed, just that little tiny bit of ease going up the worst hills.

The good part of the ride was the incredibly beautiful scenery. I got up close to the ocean, saw the sand and breakers. Wildflowers are blooming, grassy hills are green, wildlife is plentiful (and often squished on the road in front of us). The air quality wasn't great, especially when we passed through areas where people were burning wood smoke, but it looked clear and pretty. It was warm enough on the second half of the ride to toss our jackets in one of the cars and to take off our glove liners. Once again I'm grateful for living here, happy to get the opportunity to see such wonders, thrilled to be healthy enough to be able to spend all that time in an athletic pursuit. The fact that we're raising so much money for an important cause makes it all the more worthwhile.