Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tree hugging

Hey Canadians - did you know that it's National Forest Week?

Go for a wander in some woods - the fall colours are incredible this year!


If anyone needs me, I'll be in the forest.



Friday, September 19, 2014

Go YOU!

As always, while racing at Lakeside last Sunday and passing competitors on the way out of the race site, I shouted some words of encouragement to the athletes out there giving their all to reach the finish line. I got word yesterday that one of the lovely ladies at whom I hollered a bit of motivation was a friend of a friend, and this wonderful person (who apparently recognized me) actually took the time to send some thanks my way. Apparently my friendly words had come at a time when they were much needed.

Here's the thing, though: there's never a time on any race course, in any gym or pool, or on any sidewalk or trail where someone couldn't use a kind word as they work toward their goals. It doesn't matter if they're looking to drop that last couple of minutes off their marathon time, pursuing a nigh-impossible leave interval for a set of fast 100s, attempting a 1.5 x bodyweight squat or simply managed to motivate themselves to get off the couch for an evening walk. Everyone's journey is different, but every single person who embarks on the road to improving their health and fitness is worthy of praise.



So if you see someone out there getting their sweat on, why not offer them a kind word? Something as simple as "looking good!", "hey, nice pace!" or "great job - keep it up!" will cost you nothing and might just make the difference between that person getting down on themselves for not being stronger/faster/fitter or feeling great about themselves. At the very least you're almost guaranteed to bring a smile to their face, and that to me is its own reward.

So get out there and work hard in the pursuit of your own goals, but also take a moment to spread some love around. You never know when a kind word might come back to you at the time you need it most!

I've got a thumbs up and a high five waiting just for beautiful, glorious YOU!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lakeside Olympic Triathlon - Sunday, September 14th, 2014

I keep telling myself you can't fake your way through a 3-hour race.

Someday I might actually stop trying to do so.

Having taken two out of the five weeks prior to Lakeside completely off training (because neither canoe touring, glamping nor motorcycle touring has much application in triathlon), it's not like I had any right to expect to do well...especially with an extra couple of missed swim sessions after we got back, because all the pools were closed for maintenance (grumble mutter whine kvetch).

As I told Tanker the Wonder Sherpa going in, I'd be happy if I could make it through the bike course without having to get off and walk, and if I could run the entire run course. This all assuming I didn't drown, but at least I'd be able to get up and stagger around the turn buoys in between laps on the swim.

Or freeze to death first.

We were late getting on the road - I shouldn't have hit that snooze button, but who the hell wants to get out of bed to race when it's 5c/41f out? After a cinnamon raisin bagel with some almond butter & honey, a tiny bowl of cereal and hitting up our nation's iconic chain for coffee, Tanker drove like a madman and managed to get us there just 10mins later than I'd originally planned.

Still in wool pants because it's still effin' cold.

Having been hit between the eyes with pre-race nerves and not having actually toed a line in almost 2 months, I tried to be methodical in my prep. Despite my late arrival I was pleased to find an end rack position (so I might actually find my stuff in under 30mins while transitioning), had thoroughly checked the bike the day before, and even managed to rack in a nice easy gear with the correct pedal up. Hell, BodyGlide even found its way onto my neck to prevent wetsuit hickeys (can't we just stay friends?) and my nutrition was actually safely stowed in my bento box, unlike the last time I raced at Lakeside. With my gear all laid out in idiot-proof fashion & my aerobottle full of water, it was almost like I knew what the hell I was doing. You'd think I've been doing this for 6 years or something...


Yep, that about says it all.
(including how difficult it is to draw on the back of your own leg)

Despite the now BALMY 8c/46f air, I managed to persuade myself to remove all warm clothing in order to bodymark and then stuff myself into my rubbery coating, leaving enough time before the start to get in what I'll laughably refer to as a "warm-up".

Yes, I paid for this.

By which I mean I talked to a lovely young lady who recognized me from the blog (thanks for reading!) whose generous compliments were almost certainly the result of advanced hypothermia, then I dove in and half-assedly flailed at the water for about 50m before turning around and paddling back.


"But I was using my whole ass.."

Wave 1 went off, with pros, elite age groupers and men <44 taking to the 18c/64f water like so many fish. I waited with the second wave, adjusting my wetsuit as best I could and hunkering in the water to try to keep myself acclimatized until about 30sec before the horn sounded.

While this gentleman apparently addressed some issues with his junk.

At the signal, I essayed a few dolphin dives to get into deeper water, then started stroking away. As always, my favourite Slowtwitch quote of all time came to mind:

"I swim like a machine!
Like a lawnmower thrown into a lake." 

And I set about proving just that on the way to the first turn buoy. Seriously, I ran into a bunch of traffic and (for the first time this season) actually had some navigation issues. Tanker helpfully calls it my sailor instincts kicking in, as I started tacking back and forth like the upwind leg of a damn boat race. Fortunately I managed to get that sorted out and cobble together something resembling a decent stroke in between the two far buoys, but man was I tired. I though about what I'd have to lose by getting the hell out after the first lap, but the hard coin I paid to enter and my meagre cache of self respect turned out to be dearer to me than just going the hell home.

Noone ever said I was a good decision maker.

Approaching the big yellow banana buoy that funnelled us toward the turn to loop 2 and sorrowing as I watched some of the faster swimmers in wave 3 pass me, I consoled myself with the fact I'd at least be able to stand up and get some real oxygen into myself as I got into the shallow water. As I approached the big green turn buoy that had served as a starting line, though, reality set in: while I could easily get to my feet and wade through the water, I wasn't even touching bottom with my hand as I stroked away. That meant I'd be faster continuing to swim than I would be walking.

Crap. Off I go for loop two, with no rest for the wicked.

Sighting on the first turn buoy again, it was about this time that I finally realized I was feeling awfully fatigued for a 500m loop because it's actually 750m per loop. Well done, K. Very accountantly of you. 

Spoiler: I did eventually make it.

At least I'd managed to get my lats working for me by this point, but my shoulders were already unhappy with all the lousy technique I'd employed in loop 1 and my body was not reacting well to the amount of time I was spending swimming freestyle in my wetsuit in cold water. My lower back complained about the body position forced on it by the buoyancy of the suit's legs (shut up - without that we'll only be out here longer), and I actually started to lose the feeling in my hands & feet. Wheeeee! I did notice the sun seemed to be starting to break through the cloud cover a bit, but couldn't fool myself about just how much colder I'd be once I was in the wind on the bike.

I CAN'T FEEL A THING

Eventually - with much fewer issues than the first loop but a whole bucketload more fatigue - I made it to the swim exit and forced my legs into something resembling a run. 

Whaddya mean I'm not done yet?

1,500m swim: 32:19 @ 2:09/100m
5/6 in W35-39


Unzip and swim cap/goggles removal went ok, and I had plenty of time to get my suit down to my hips as I ran almost to the furthest point of the transition area to reach my bike. Off with the rubbery coating at the rack, then I did this weird "put left bike shoe on, then remember I usually put on my race number belt, sunglasses & helmet first, then put on the right bike shoe" thing that felt really slow but seems to have worked out ok. I actually grabbed my bike correctly from the rack (left hand on saddle) for the first time in I can't remember how long, and set off.

Just gonna take this out for a stroll..

T1: 01:28
1/6 in W35-39


I am the total dork package.

Up to the mount line, puffing away, I had one of the easiest mounts I can remember - just swing my leg over and GO! I hadn't bothered with any additional clothing to try to keep warm - I used to bring that stuff to races, but didn't even pack it this time because I've never been stuffed before to try to don a bunch of gear while I'm all wet and dumb. I'd just have to TRUST THE CHUB.

Smiley face made it through the swim!

It took all of about 30sec for the first of the issues to crop up. I'd had to replace a dead battery in my speed/cadence sensor earlier in the week (discovered it dead on Sunday, while riding the bike for the first time since Belwood), and apparently I'd knocked it a bit such that the cadence sensor wasn't reading. I had time & speed, but no idea how fast my feet were moving with a whole hockey sock full of hills to come. Just as I was sighing about that, I hit a really nasty bump in the road and suddenly I could barely turn pedals! Apparently my rear derailleur jumped down about 5 cogs on me, and did not want to come back up. NOT GOOD.

Just before the madness began.

After a second or two, I figured out that I could keep it in the larger cogs if I held the bar-end lever up in the position I wanted. Better, but still not good - I didn't like the idea of having to manually keep it in place for the whole 40k to come, especially as I knew the pavement wasn't great and I dropped another cog or two even hanging onto it as I hit another rough patch. Fortunately, it seemed to resolve itself - I have to wonder if the cable got caught on something or just bound at the ferrule, and the subsequent jostling broke it loose. All I know is I breathed a serious sigh of relief as I tried to get up to speed and grab a couple of sips of water, while the feeling in my feet faded away in the cold air.

Into the out-and-back section, you ride up and over a hill, then turn around as you start to climb again only to have to pedal up the first hill once more, because race directors are cruel sadists that delight in the suffering of spandex-clad dorks. Back through to hit the course in earnest, my legs actually felt ok as we headed out toward Medina. All of a sudden, though, the road changed colour and a sign confirmed my worst suspicions. "CAUTION: fresh tar and gravel." 

Bloody, bloody chipseal. About 8.5km of it, stretching all the way to the first gravel-strewn turn North, which I took at a pace barely sufficient to keep my bike upright in an effort to prevent my rear wheel from skating out from under me.

Ooh, this was going well.



I had managed to get a gel into me around 4km in, which took an inordinate amount of effort. Y'see, I'd run out of my usual EFS Liquid Shot after Belwood, but had a whole whack of single-serve gel packs around the house. I had stuffed my bento box with 3 packets of Hammer gel (urgh) plus a precious, precious salted caramel Gu (Srsly. Stuff is like crack, only way tastier with less life-destroying side effects. Go buy some, do.) to get me through this business. Only problem is I'd been living in this idyllic world for so many years where taking a shot of gel is as easy as a quick squirt from a flask - trying to tear open a little packet, get it to your face, and then squeeze all the contents into your mouth is WAY more complicated while down in aero! I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm one of those anal retentive types that feels like they need to get every single drop out of the packet, so I roll it up from the bottom like a tube of toothpaste. Doing this while balanced in the aerobar pads was bloody fiddly - like trying to roll an (ahem) cigarette by hand while riding a really twitchy bicycle on rough roads. 

Lesson learned: save the single-serve packets for running, and buy some more EFS Liquid Shot.  

So now I'm headed North and still feeling pretty decent. Of course, the first 15km feel mostly flat and the wind from the Southwest was very light, so not a hindrance. Nonetheless, I kept to the small ring because I know I simply don't have the bike fitness I should for a race of this distance and elevation profile. Speaking of which, had I checked that out before the race, I'd have known those "flats" were actually "downhills" where I could have been hammering in the big ring. Le sigh.

So much wasted speed.

Now heading East across 96, I faffed another gel into my face because I'm not good at doing math while riding. I had it in my brain that a gel every 10km would be one per 30mins, but that's only true if you're riding at 20kph/12.5mph and even I'm not quite that slow. I wasn't looking at the clock on my cycle computer (I was barely looking at it at all, because all it showed me is how much I suck at riding bikes), but at 25kph/15.5mph a 10km interval works out to 24mins between gels. Eeh, that's a little excessive. No wonder I started feeling a bit off, having to control burps that wanted to turn messy, especially since I think that second gel may have been expired or something. There was definitely some chunkiness to it that didn't improve the overall experience.


This is not a good position in which to experience GI distress.

I'm sure it didn't help at all that the pavement through this section was gnarly enough that I wished I was back on the chipseal, especially as the climbs began to appear. The legs were hanging in there pretty well, but I knew there was a really awful one somewhere around Harrington, so I was on the lookout for it. I came up the huge stepped hill around 20k wondering if that was it, but knew I'd had far too easy a time for that to be the one. The shorter, sharper one around 22k left me a bit breathless before the massive descent into town, during which I took a bee to the glasses at almost 50kph/31mph. Fortunately it didn't shatter, or I'd have been blind in one eye - it'd be d√©ja vu from a couple of instances while motorcycle touring a couple of weeks back!

As if this wasn't enough to contend with.

I was also spending this time playing Airborne Caterpillar with 3 other female competitors, trying desperately to stay out of the 5 meter draft zone until I could muster enough zip to come past. Fortunately, some of the downhills afforded me the perfect opportunity - my chubby arse is good for one thing, and that's momentum! I can descend like a madwoman, tucked down into a tiny package zooming past these willowy little things who look like they'd float away on a light breeze. GO GIANT BUTT GO!

So I'm boppin' along with a Dead Kennedys track stuck in my head (no fun in a fluffy chair for me yet!), then finally come through Harrington and commence to try to eat another gel while climbing out of town. Don't ask me how it worked. I probably shouldn't even have eaten it at all, but I was trying to stick with my idiotic and overblown nutrition plan. Yeah, the chick that does Around the Bay on 180cal has now plowed back 300 calories of Hammer gel in an hour. Whatever - keep pedaling!

Somehow making it to Oxford County Road 6, I turned South and finally made the decisive passes on the girls with whom I'd been trading places for almost 15km now. I whizzed past on the downhill, then put in a solid effort on the hill that followed and somehow made it stick. Of course, this meant that I'd pretty well roasted myself by the time I turned back West on Road 92 and was faced with the most horrible rollers of the whole bike course.

Ow.

The hills from 32.5-37.5km are relentless, merciless and leg-wrecking - the perfect mix of long, steady climbs and short, sharp bits to reduce my poor, undertrained self to a gasping, whimpering mess. I tested the limits of my rear derailleur, searching for just one more cog to ease my pain, but had to resort to sitting up on the horns and churning away when none appeared. I unleashed a vicious belch that seemed to come from the depths of my broken, withered soul, leaving my belly feeling better but my legs still roasted. As always, I snarled at the "Happy Hills Resort" signs - I wasn't very bloody happy about them! I'd seriously like to kick whoever put up that sign in one of their softer, squishier areas. Around 36k I managed to finagle the contents of that sweet, delicious salted caramel Gu into my gaping maw, and it may have made more of a difference to my race than simply the calories: my calves had been feeling like they might start to cramp in the cold air and I wondered how they would hold up on the run, but after ingesting the elevated electrolyte content of that particular flavour of gel they seemed to settle down & didn't give me any further trouble. 

All over but the crying now, I made the turn South on 25 to head back to the resort as the sun broke through the heavy, grey clouds. Great - it was going to get all warm and sunny just in time to beat me down on the run! At least I had a neat sighting to lighten my spirits - a tiny little turtle, maybe only 3" from front to back of his wee shell, went scuttling across Sunova Cres. toward the lake right in front of me! I sure hope the little fellow made it to the water without getting run over by a bike, as he was clearly just a baby. I pulled toward the dismount with a smile on my face, then had to face the very real issue of trying to get off this infernal machine with ice blocks for feet.

Um..

No walking on air today - I swung my leg over but came to a full stop before stepping down. I'd rather look like a n00b than meet the pavement at speed and start the run with a bloodied chin!


Safely off

..and running.

40k bike: 1:29:34 @ 26.8kph
4/6 in W35-39


Time to ditch the pointy hat!

Into transition again, and it's anyone's guess how the rest of the race is going to go. I'd been running really well (for me) in training since the astonishing performance at Belwood, but I wasn't sure how badly I'd overcooked my detrained legs in the hills.

Now where'd I leave my shoes..

Wrong order again. Shoes should come off before helmet.

I blundered my way through T2, finding it damn near impossible to stuff my huge frozen lumps of feet into the laceless tri loafers I favour for short course racing. Nearly fell over in the attempt - thank gawd for bike racks! At least I managed to get myself moving in the correct direction at the last second before taking off from the rack, 'cause there's nothing worse than having to turn around when you realise you're trying to run out the wrong exit.


Figured it out!
T2: 01:19
2/6 in W35-39

So I'm death whistling before I even make it out onto the run course proper, and wondering if I'm going to make it through this thing without walking.

If only I could float the whole way..

I jogged along, trying to get settled in but feeling about as coordinated as a newborn water buffalo calf on ice - an illusion which my frozen feet did nothing to dispel. Departing the pavement for the dirt road, it seemed to take forever to reach the 1km mark, which came with an unwelcome surprise. You see, I remembered that there's a nasty hill at the turn-around of the 5k loop, which you have to do twice. I did not, however, remember that there's a smaller but very real hill in the middle as well.

Not cool.


Straight illin'

Up and over, I ran right past the first aid station and headed for the turn-around. It was still on the low side of mild out - the temperature only made it up to 16c/61f that day - but I was starting to feel warm from the sun on my awesome black Vanderkitten trisuit.


Volunteer wonders what's up with the crazy lady in the kitty suit..

I made the left turn toward the evil hill to the turn-around, and did a self check. Bad news: I was already running pretty much at capacity, my death whistle probably annoying the hell out of everyone around me, and I was having zero success at trying to calm things down to save any capacity for dragging my sorry butt up a hill.

I strongly considered walking. Then I said "SCREW THAT" and just ran up the damn thing anyway.

Rounding the pylon, I headed back down and grabbed a cup of water from the 2nd aid station. Nice of them to put it on the downhill this year: it used to be just before the turn-around, which I always thought was an idiotic place for it. Much better now! I tossed a couple of sips in the direction of my face and hoped I wouldn't drown (that's about as good as it gets when I try to drink from a cup while running), then chucked the rest down my back. As the chilly wind hit me I now had some extra incentive to get this thing done - try to finish before I catch pneumonia!

Back I plod, over the idiot hill in the middle, back onto pavement and hit the aid station at the turn-around for a cup of HEED. After my 400cal binge on the bike I'm feeling oddly fine - not a single moment of GI distress on the run - and figure a little sip or two of some good old-fashioned CHO might just get me through to the finish.


Off for another loop.

Seriously feeling the powerful sun and fatigue now, it's back up and over that stupid little hill, hook another left to go up the even bigger hill, and I'm seriously struggling. I consider the very real possibility that I'm going to blow myself up and have to do a walk of shame to the finish. Funny thing is, I'm actually passing quite a number of people now - some stopped to work out cramps (thanks, salted caramel!) and some just plain walking. Despite the growing warmth of the day, it still takes until almost the 7k mark before I fully regain the sensation in my poor, frozen feet. I try to stick to the meagre shade on the side of the big incline to the turn-around, but I can feel the sun beating down on my neck and shoulders as I power myself up to the pylons and make the u-turn through sheer force of will.


Hurt. Bagged.

Just 2.5km left to go, I grab another cup of water and dump all but two sips on my chest to try to cool myself. Past the 8k marker and around the right-hand turn back up Sunova Cres., I've got that wind at my back and can tell myself that I only need to keep this up for 12 more minutes before I can collapse into a crumpled heap. It was a little disappointing to have a lady in my age group come past me with just a kilometer left to go, but I managed to hold off the other 3 girls whom I'd passed on the bike course! It's not like I figured I'd be in contention for a podium finish anyway.

I heart finish chutes!

Making the right turn into the finish zone, I pass a volunteer with a couple of pizza boxes waiting for me to pass so she can cross the run course - got a laugh as I feigned taking them from her yelling "Hey perfect, pizza! Thanks!" then turned my attention back to the matter at hand. I'd hoped to bring this business to a close in under 3 hours, but as the clock came in view I saw that I was already about a minute late for that. Nonetheless, I kicked with all I had left, and indulged in a bit of silliness once I got across the first timing mat.

10k run: 56:51 @ 5:41/km
4/6 in W35-39


WHEEEE!

Official time: 3:01:28.8
5/6 in W35-39 - 19/41 Women - 111/152 Overall


I was utterly spent after the race. My chest/pecs, shoulders, lats, legs, lungs - every single bit of me was completely DONE. 


There's a difference between looking fit and BEING fit.

In truth, it appears that it's possible to fake your way through a 3-hour race, but afterwards you may wish you hadn't. I walked to cool down a bit, but rapidly started to get chilled - damp and exhausted is the best recipe for hypothermia there is, and they'd opened up transition for people to start removing their gear, so I headed for my bag to get into some warm, dry clothes.


Via some inappropriate public nudity, right in front of the ongoing GT12.9 transition area.

While my overall result was pretty meh, I can take some pride in the fact that I stayed hard on the gas pedal for pretty much the entire race. I do think that I could have taken more advantage of the downhills in the first portion of the bike course - probably could have even found myself an extra 90sec to bring it in under 3hrs after all. However, I can take some solace in having set a 1sec run course PR for the Olympic distance (excluding Wasaga last year, where I only rode 9k of the bike leg): I'd run 56:52 on the way to my Olympic distance PR at my first Lakeside in 2011. If I'd biked harder, it might not have happened.

Really, the best part of the day overall was getting to see some wonderful people with whom I don't often get to chat. A fellow Cantabrigian was out smoking that same bike course that gave me so much grief as part of a relay team (great job Brad!), a gent I'd met at the Runner's Den indoor tri back in 2012 had himself a good day doing the full Olympic course (nice to see you again, Gerald!), and I got a handshake at the finish from a fellow Team SmackTalk member who has become an integral part of the awesome MultiSport Canada team (cheers, Adam)!

Even those don't compare to seeing a good friend (and another TST member) keeping his 30 year triathlon streak alive despite a massive health scare just 2 scant months prior to race day. So glad you're still with us, Kent, and even better to see you back out on course!

You'll never be as hardcore as this guy.
NEVER.

It was one hell of a way to wrap up my 2014 triathlon season. I may not have made any podiums this year (Southern Ontario is a really competitive scene, and as the sticker on the fork of my tri bike proudly proclaims I'm only among the upper echelon of mediocrity), but I hope I did my Vanderkitten suit some justice through working hard and never backing down...even when it probably would have been the smarter thing to do.


Fortunately this guy loves me no matter how much I suck.

Next on deck is a not-exactly-super-secret-but-still-kind-of-under-wraps adventure before the traditional season-ending Horror Hill 6-hour. At least I'm done getting in the water at races for the year!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tourable - Part 2

(See Pulling it off - Part 1 for the events that precede this post)


Day 5 - Fayette Historic State Park to South Higgins Lake State Park via US-2 & Mackinac Bridge. 376.8km

We awoke to a frigid, overcast morning at Fayette and proceeded to wolf down a pot of coffee and a huge quantity of bacon & eggs to ward off the chill.

Campsite on the North shore of Lake Michigan

Neat stairs cut into the rock in the forest between our site & the lake

A cormorant taking flight from the Big Bay de Noc

We were making good time with getting ourselves packed up and moving to check out the historic village - it looked like we were actually going to get our earliest start of the whole tour! Then, a couple of fellow campers stopped by on their way down to the lake and we got chatting. Then the friendly folks across from us who'd given us ice and offered their campfire were up and chatting. All told, it took us an extra hour to get everything strapped back on the bikes - it was past 11am by the time we fired them up for the 3min ride from the campground to the parking lot above Snail Shell Bay.

The naturally sheltered harbour that made Fayette possible.

We parked the bikes & walked down to the Visitors' Centre, which has an incredible scale model of the town at the peak of its activity. A narrated history is available at the push of a button, and the model lights up in various areas as they are discussed individually.


Fayette from 1867-1890.

After learning a lot about the life of this single-industry company town, we walked down to check out the original buildings that housed the iron smelting operations, company store, hotel & livery stable, machine shop & employee residences.

The enormous charcoal blast ovens for smelting the iron ore
Smelting complex and the remains of the company store

The limestone cliff were quarried for building materials and flux for the blast ovens

Many buildings have restored & fully furnished interiors.
 
Interpretive panels all over the town offer facts about the history and restoration work in the town.

Many of the trades required at Fayette no longer exist.

Some residents remain the same.

We walked miles around the town in our full leathers, as it was still chilly and we intended to be on the road as soon as possible. As the day wore on, though, the clouds broke and the sun beat down on us. By the time we were finished checking out all the village had to offer we were tired, sweaty, and astonished to discover it was nearly 2pm! Time to make some miles.

Pulling out of the park

After 17 miles of riding due North, we once again rejoined one of the prettiest highways I've had the privilege to see. US-2 runs along the North shore of Lake Michigan, and its numerous scenic turn-outs and views are a testament to the lovely sights that pepper the roadside.

Epoufette Bay from a scenic turn-out

The seemingly endless dunes just West of St. Ignace

The Mackinac Bridge:
a triumph of engineering soaring high above the strait between Lake Michigan & Lake Huron

As we rode back East, stopping to take photos where we pleased, we knew the day was getting on. We had a final destination for the day at a park we'd visited & enjoyed last year, but we needed to hustle in order to make it there with enough time to set up camp before dark.


Riding across the world's 5th largest suspension bridge

Across the bridge and down I75, we had to stop for gas then grip'n'rip past a bunch of confusing signage in order to reach South Higgins Lake around 6:20pm. We needed to drop all the gear off my fender before we could go get firewood & ice at the park store, which I was sure closed at 7pm. Fortunately we were able to relax a bit when we checked in and were informed that the store was now open until 9pm, but we still missed all but the last of the sunset over Higgins Lake.

Known as "Michigan's Most Beautiful" lake.

Camp set up as darkness falls
We also had to run out to get some groceries to make dinner, and were disappointed to find that the IGA around the corner from the park had closed its doors. We had to make do with some tinned goods from the party store (chicken breast, corn & mushrooms) added to some pasta I still had left - better than it sounds, actually. After a hectic day I finally had a dram or two of rum to wind down as we made dinner & lit a temperamental fire in the dark before finally tumbling into bed.


Pain in the arse fire that wouldn't stay lit.
That's twice we've got lousy firewood from the park store here.

Day 6 - South Higgins Lake State Park to the 2014 Great Lakes Rally. 392.0km

I woke up before dawn to a spattering of rain on the tent. I needed to dart over to the comfort station, and when I emerged (much relieved) it was only misting with the first of the daylight beginning to spread over the lake.

It really is a pretty place.

As I climbed back into the tent, though, the rain started up again. Unable to get back to sleep, I pulled up the radar and saw that we were on the leading edge of a huge system that would be pelting us for the next few hours. I changed the alarm from 8am to 9:30, rolled over and promptly lost consciousness.

We took our time emerging from the tent as it was precipitating in earnest later in the morning, then made a sustaining breakfast in leisurely fashion under the tarp over our picnic table.

Pancake breakfast sammiches. That'll fill the gap.

For courage.

We finally got everything wiped as dry as possible & packed back onto the bikes in time to roll out around 2pm. We were supposed to be to the farm outside Detroit by 5pm to ride with our friends to a local spot for dinner, but that would prove impossible without making a special arrangement with either physics or the police. I messaged with our host and got directions to the restaurant so we could meet them there instead, then we saddled up and hauled due South down US-127.

After an hour and a half we needed to stop for fuel, and did so with all the efficiency we could muster - less than 10mins out of the saddle, which included chatting with a couple of folks who asked about our bikes. Back on the highway, we ended up in stopped traffic at Lansing where we hopped on I96 East, then again at the junction with I275. The long weekend traffic and the closure of I96 East of I275 were major annoyances, but once through it we were able to roll hard down past the Motor City to our destination. Stopped again for a huge freight train just a few minutes from the restaurant, our butts were killing us - we finally arrived for dinner having been in the saddle for 2.5hrs and 240km straight, badly in need of fuel and a good walk around!

All complaints were quickly forgotten, though, as we were now among friends.

Days 7-9 - GLR & the way home. 205.1km / 93.0km / 332.8km

I won't say a lot about GLR. Not much needs to be said.

Ready to rock

Rolling along

Bird's eye view

We rode to Hell and back (literally)!

Taken by the owners of the shops & posted on the Hell, MI Facebook page

Uphill

Back at the farm
I did finally have a bit of time to get a run in on Saturday & Sunday - my first after 8 full days of no training! But of course, to offset any good I may have done myself, there was a bit more rum flowing around the fire on Sunday night.

Our hostess, whose birthday weekend it was!

Don't ask. 

Mildly inebriated in the garage with two of my very favourite people.

Monday (after 3.5hrs of sleep and overnight rain - whoops) we went out for a final brunch with the remaining party-goers before saddling up one last time for the long haul home. We only made 2 stops (apart from the very easy border crossing) and managed to stay just ahead of the giant line of powerful thunderstorms that dogged us at every step. Despite lightning crashing away every few moments to the North of the highway during the last dark half-hour of our ride, we arrived home safely around 8:45pm without being hit by a single drop of rain!

A torrential downpour started about 5mins later.
Total for the trip: 2,932.0km over 9 days, with a science centre, a museum and a historic village in the mix.

The best of times in the best of company!

Dorks on bikes!
Unfortunately, the lack of training during that time and thereafter (took Tuesday off to unpack & get some sleep then couldn't find an open pool until Saturday) is almost sure to have an impact, and not a positive one at that. This wouldn't be a big deal if I'd scheduled my racing a bit better, but since I can't resist the lure of one last late-season tri I will be toeing the line at the Lakeside Olympic this Sunday in true ill advised fashion.

They've pushed the start time back by 1 hour because of the sudden unseasonably cool turn the weather has taken, so at least I won't drown until at least 10am.

Won't that be nice..