Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve in New Mexico

I have driven a lot in the past few days.  I believe at this point right around 2400 miles.  If I had timed things differently I could actually already be in Tucson, but I can't get into my condo until 1:00 tomorrow afternoon so I figured I might as well stop and have an extended rest somewhere and not be driving. 

It seems that I do my driving in much the same way that I deal with long trainer rides or bike rides.  I start early enough that it's like you're not even awake enough to notice the first couple of hours.  That, coupled with crossing time zones on occasion makes it seem amazing to me when I do the math and realize I've already been driving for six hours or whatever the case may be.  Day 1 began super early.  I had set my alarm for 4:45 to be on the road at 5, but I woke up at like 3:45 and couldn't fall back asleep so just decided to get up and leave.  I was in Pennsylvania by 8am after having crossed New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.  Of course then the states get really long. 

One of my best friends from college happens to live just over the border from PA in Ohio who I only get to see every few months, so I figured why not take the opportunity?  I got there at about 1:30 and was a great house guest initially as I almost immediately went and took a nap.  That was about 640 miles on day 1, although I was thinking to myself that had I kept going I probably could've made it past Indianapolis. 

Day 2 began about the same, this time I slept until my 4:45 alarm and was in the car 10 minutes later.  I did this drive four years ago with a friend and I knew that time we almost made it to Indiana on day one and then got west of Oklahoma City on the second day, so my goal was to close the gap.  Which I did.  I figured it would be 1000 miles and obviously a lot of time in the car, but I was also gaining some time with a time zone change, the weather looked good and the speed limits increase as you move west, so I had high hopes.  That, along with the fact that I am very efficient in my stops which include less than 10 minutes at each gas station in which I fill up, use the bathroom and buy whatever available to eat in the car and continue on my way.  Efficient?  Yes.  But I'm sure it would annoy anyone else who might want to join me. 

Day two involved a lot of state line crossing again, but all much bigger states.  Ohio to Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma.  I left blizzard conditions to drive into what looked like well-worn snow, and that second day began with some light rain that turned into real rain through Indianapolis and a bit in Illinois before it was just overcast.  The snow slowly but surely disappeared and the temperature steadily rose.  This wasn't so much because I was slowly heading south, there was just a front of unusually warm air moving through the middle of the country.  It wound up being nearly 70 degrees at the warmest points of the day. 

One thing I definitely noticed driving across the country is that there are trucks everywhere.  And they drive me nuts.  Why?  Because they are always trying to pass each other.  It's just like in a triathlon when on the bike the guy in front of you is trying to pass someone, except he won't complete the pass and move over and you get stuck.  Another anomaly I found was that while the speed limits steadily increase as you move west (75 in Oklahoma and west) it seems like people actually start to drive slower.  In New Hampshire it seems that while the speed limit is 65, everyone is driving at least 75.  Here, the speed limit is 75, yet someone is in front of me in the passing lane going 65.  What is wrong with you people?  At times on I-44 especially I would come across what seemed like a dozen trucks all bunched up, some passing each other, and taking a while to get around.  But the further west I went, the less traffic there was and the less of an issue anything was. 

You'd think that driving 1000 miles by yourself for over fifteen hours might start to drive you crazy.  I don't know why, but mostly it didn't really bother me.  I never said to myself, man, I can't stand being in the car anymore!  Initially I was nervous because I don't think I've driven more than 4 hours or so by myself, but it's been fine.  And something tells me that it will continue to be fine for the final 200 miles.  I guess I'm just used to spending lots of time by myself, so why should this be different? 

So last night I had made it through Oklahoma City and it was about 7:00 (8:00 from where I'd left) and dark and I finally decided to stop.  I actually felt fine to keep going, but my mother had called and my phone was roaming and I couldn't answer it, so I figured I'd better stop and call her so she wouldn't think I was stranded by the side of the road somewhere.  So I got a room in El Reno, Oklahoma and didn't realize how tired I was until I actually stopped and lay down. 

Unwittingly, we hit I-40 and made it several hundred miles before somewhere in Texas, of all places, the roads were completely covered in ice.  There was a bit of snow on the ground, about the same amount that we'd hardly even notice in New Hampshire.  But the roads were just a complete sheet of ice.  It was bright and sunny at the time, but cold.  There weren't a whole lot of other cars on the road and we just had to drive probably 30mph for a while until finally we hit New Mexico and the roads cleared up.  I'm guessing the problem came from the fact that it's likely they just don't have the amount of plows and salt trucks that we do.

So, we thought we'd made it through the worst of it.  We'd stopped at a gas station that said that 40 had re-opened from the day before.  We never even knew it was closed.  So we kept driving... until the traffic just stopped.  So we sat there for a few minutes before realizing that this wasn't just slow traffic, I-40 had literally become a parking lot.  The thing that was strange was that at that particular spot there was no ice and the roads were fine even though there was snow on the ground.  But apparently that was not the case further west, and the interstate had been closed. 

I don't know, this seems odd to me that the interstate just closes like that.  We've had some pretty crazy snowstorms back home and the interstate doesn't just close.  You just have to drive slower.  So after sitting and not moving for a couple of hours and fortunately having Olive Garden leftovers in the car, my friend Kate had made friends with some of the truck drivers who were going to lead us on an alternative route so we would not me stuck in New Mexico indefinitely.  Finally we were led off a nearby exit by the police and we proceeded to follow two semi trucks and a couple of other cars from the northeast who also happened to be heading for Arizona. 

I really have no idea how we got anywhere.  We were on dirt roads passing nothing but an occasional farm for probably 100 miles.  Once we hit pavement we lost the truckers and had already come across a couple more roads closed due to snow, but fortunately I can read a map so I was able to navigate us the rest of our new alternative route.  This included going through Roswell, New Mexico.  I saw no aliens, but I can understand why they chose that particular spot.  You just go miles and miles through nothing and then suddenly there is this random city there.  I think if you wanted to go to the "next town over" you'd have to make it a day trip.

So the last time we did that, that was a very long day.  And this time I was determined not to wind up in that same predicament.  So I took out my lap top and very quickly found out that I-40 was unbelievably, once again, closed for about 80 miles in the exact same spot as last time.  Is this normal?  Does it snow there all the time?  Does the road just close anytime it snows?  Why does it always snow there when I am supposed to drive through it?  I think there is some global conspiracy that is trying to keep me from ever seeing Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was unclear whether or not the road would be open the following day, but I decided that the last thing I wanted was to find myself stranded on the interstate for hours or days or whatever.  Granted, there are enough Powerbars in the car to keep me alive for at least a few weeks, but still.

So, right off the bat I devised a new route from my hotel down through Roswell once again but minus the scary, dirt back roads with no names that aren't on any maps.  The funny thing was, when Google maps gives you the options, of course it usually shows you the interstate routes but also sometimes gives you some options.  Oddly, the second choice route, which happened to go through Roswell and avoid all of that closed roads business, was about 100 miles shorter and was estimated to take less time.  Why was this not the first option?  It was like taking the hypotenuse of the triangle, and I was ready for that different route. 

I slept in a bit more and didn't hit the road until 5:40 after one more check of the weather and deciding that, no, I wasn't going to risk going I-40.  The road conditions looked slightly iffy where I was headed, too, but no sign of road closures, which is of course what I was most concerned about.  So off I went.  The first couple of hours in the dark were a total blur.  I think the sun was up by the time I crossed into Texas.  I had a brief concern when I burned through an entire tank of gas in a mere 150 miles, where it had normally been about 240 or 250... also sad as the Xterra gets terrible mileage.  My Sentra gets 350 miles to a tank and holds six less gallons!  Anyway... I realized just before I pulled off to get gas that while I had the cruise control set, for some reason it was sort of stuck constantly accelerating with high RPM's, which burned through the gas fast.  So I had to pay attention to that the rest of the time, but fortunately that was the only 150-mile tank of gas. 

The worst part about that gas stop was getting out of the car.  It was nearly 50 degrees when I'd left my hotel in Oklahoma.  It was about 24 in Texas and WINDY.  Maybe the 40mph headwind didn't help the gas mileage, either.  I passed the restaurant in Amarillo that serves the 72oz steak and totally would've stopped to try it if it wasn't 8:30 in the morning at the time.  (no likely; I haven't eaten 72oz total of steak probably in the last ten years)  And that was where I got to defer to my new route.  I-27 to... other roads.  On the map they look like total back roads, but they're almost exactly the same as the interstate.  Four lanes, medians, 70mph speed limits.  I couldn't figure out the downside. 

I guess one thing was that at times I seriously felt like I was the only person left on Earth.  I mean, there was nobody anywhere, no houses in sight, no buildings, no cars.... just road.  In Texas it was incredibly flat and then suddenly this one, big mountain showed up in the background and a whole bunch more weren't far behind that one.  I did make sure that this time I didn't wait until the gas tank was near empty, but rather stopped at almost any gas station I found because, well, you never knew when the next one was going to show up.  Fortunately I never came close to running out. 

I'm very curious to know how bad the snow was a bit further north and whether or not the road was closed again because where I was, you never would've known anything had happened.  If I ever drive this way again I would definitely choose the route I drove today, because it was no big deal at all.  It was great, actually.  It did progressively get colder, down to 17 degrees (I thought I left that behind!)  and at 6000' there was some snow, but we're talking an inch or two, and nothing that slowed down what little traffic there was.  I saw some houses in some interesting places in the middle of nowhere.  How do you grocery shop?  Do you even get electricity?  And a couple of the post offices... how do you staff something literally in the middle of nowhere? 

So, after winding through the mountains of New Mexico and leaving the little bit of snow just as quickly as it had shown up, I was down the other side and found myself 700 or so miles from my starting point yesterday in ten hours.  I love you, 75mph speed limits.  I opted to stay in the exact same hotel as the last time I drove through here, and stopped just before 3:00 mountain time.  Obviously I could've kept going... heck, I could've made it all the way to Tucson by now, but I can't get into my place until tomorrow afternoon and I've been pushing and pushing the last few days, so why not take some extra time to sit down and relax and maybe get a full night of sleep?  Plus a nap?  It's still freezing cold and windy, again, exactly like the last time I did this, but it should warm up in Tucson in a couple of days. 

So, this is where I spent New Year's eve 2006 into 2007.  2006 was an amazing year for me.  By far the best in recent memory and honestly, possibly my favorite ever.  '07 wasn't as great, but not bad.  Now, I wouldn't say this if it wasn't true, but 2010 was, by far, the worst year of my entire life.  I don't think there is any particular other year that I would've considered bad as a whole.  Some not as good as others, but none that were just plain bad... until now. 

First, the clearest example as to why 2010 was awful: my father died.  That in and of itself is plenty, thanks.  I can't tell you how often I think about how much I still just can't even believe that happened.  And it's probably going to be another 9 months of "first time" things without Dad.  We had the first Thanksgiving and Christmas, not looking forward to the first summer without him, but we've probably talked enough about that kind of thing...

So the tri season.  Oh, the tri season.  Wow.  We're talking epic bad.  In 2008 I had a horrible season also, but this one surpassed it by leaps and bounds.  I set new personal worsts in several categories and pulled off my two worst Ironman finishes by far (1 and 2 hours slower than the previous worst) one of them with more time on the marathon than the bike and the other one darn close.  I somehow only did 1 half ironman this year and while that one wasn't the worst one I'd ever done, it was still just generally not a good experience.  I had my worst 5K, slower than my best Ironman marathon pace-wise (there's a real feat, isn't it?)  worst 10K, did manage to avoid my worst half marathon.  Two years ago when I had that other rough season due to injury I at least managed to pull out a win at a really small sprint race on the lake.  Not only was the race that day a complete disaster for me this year, but of course that was the day Dad got in his accident, and otherwise would've been out on his bike that morning instead of watching me suck at racing.  I did finally remember that there was actually one bright spot to the year as far as racing goes, and that was the BTTITT (Boston Triathlon Team Indoor Time Trial) back in February that I managed to win.  I got there late because I got a little lost and I seem to excel at racing without warming up.  I got a pair of Oakleys out of that deal, definitely my best prize for winning a race and the shortest duration of effort for the wins.  10 hours for your win?  Have some Ironman socks! 

There wasn't a whole lot else specific that sucked about this year, at least not that I can think of.  But in general I just wasn't quite my usual self.  Maybe I knew already it was going to be a bad year so I was pre-emptively depressed.  Yeah, that's it.  Needless to say, I'm looking forward to moving on from here.  That is why I am in New Mexico right now, almost at Tucson for a winter of being focused on nothing but training.  I felt a little bit guilty when I packed up the car and left the snow behind, and I don't think I'll need to do this every year (my best season came about after suffering through the snow and cold)  but for now, I need a change of venue, a clean slate and a fresh start. 

Somewhere along the line things started to go in the wrong direction, and that's where they keep going.  What is that saying, that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing but expect different results?  Yeah, that.  So, warm weather, different training grounds, a totally fresh way to jumpstart my 2011.  I've got a lot riding on the next three months.  One thing that definitely happened the last time I trained in Arizona: I definitely got in really good shape.  While the race at the end of that stint was a disappointment, that was the fault of race execution and maybe slightly too-high expectations (looking back now I'd just about kill to have a race like that again!)  I'm hoping that this one will end on a higher note. 

So that's it, now I'm going to sit back and continue watching this Saturday Night Live marathon on VH1 before I fall asleep.  Do we really get to start over completely just because the calendar says so?  I'd kind of like to be able to start 2010 over again and do it better (and lock my dad in a closet on September 5th) but I guess we just have to take what we've got and move on, right?

Hope everyone else has a great 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Leaving in the morning...

I will post about Christmas later, but for now, just a quick note that I am finally leaving for Tucson in the morning.  At first I thought I'd leave the 27th, but that seemed kind of early so I decided to leave the 28th.  Then I woke up yesterday morning to the blizzard and decided to give the roads an extra day to clear out from the mess and am now, honestly leaving in the morning.  It doesn't seem real.  Again, I did do something similar in 2007 but that time I went with someone and I think it is just now dawning on me that I am about to spend several days in the car by myself and another 3 months the same way.  Well, the idea anyway is to just completely focus without distraction, so I guess I am at least set up to make that happen.

After spending some time braving the wind and cold I have to say I am not sad to be leaving winter behind this year.  I don't think I'd want to skip it every year, but I was just about to go completely out of my mind last year, so I think this will be good for me.  The car is packed, gassed up and ready to go.  I am, unfortunately, driving a bright yellow Xterra for the next few months.  My brother wound up with my father's car (my sister and I both decided we didn't want it and didn't mind if he took it, being given a car is one thing, but having to pay to maintain it and put gas in it is another entirely) and my mother seems to think it is a bad idea to drive a 2001 Nissan Sentra across the country, so '04 Xterra it is.  Strangely, the Sentra has less miles on it.  I think I often ride my bike more miles in a year than I drive my car.

I will try to post often, hopefully with some pictures of the fun I will be enduring over the next couple of months.  It will be an experience, for sure, just hoping that it is a fun one. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Ten days to go.  As usual, I started to feel complacent since I did a small amount of my Christmas shopping kind of early (for me this means the beginning of December).  But then it's like I forgot that I have several people left to buy for and not a whole lot of time in which to do it.  However, I have at least learned that the mall on Christmas eve isn't crowded at all.  I will do what I can to make sure that a Christmas eve trip is not required, but, well, at least I know it's an option. 

And, hey, I've got one less person to buy for.  And in looking through some of Dad's stuff I did happen to discover a shirt I bought him for Christmas last year, still all neatly folded with the department store cardboard inside it.  I've bought him clothes in the past that he has worn, but apparently missed the mark last year. 

So, let's state the obvious that I am not looking forward to Christmas all that much this year.  I mean, who looks forward to the first holidays without a parent?  Especially one who left way too early?  Now, I do think it could be harder than it probably will be.  Dad was always more of a background figure at the holidays.  Every Christmas of my entire life has been spent at my mother's mother's house, and my mom has a whole lot of brothers and sisters who are a whole lot more vocal than my father ever was.  Dad was never one to talk unless he really had something to say, and he definitely wasn't one to fight for attention at a table of thirty or so Irish in-laws.  In fact, back when we had a dog he used to use that as an excuse to make his quiet exit. 

Of course, just in our house, he was a major player in the Christmas morning rituals.  My father used to get up at like 4:30 in the morning every single day... except Christmas.  It used to drive me and my brother insane.  I'm sure at some point it bugged my older sister, but by the time I was old enough to remember this kind of thing, she was old enough to not be quite as enthusiastic on Christmas morning. 

My brother and I shared a room for a while when we were younger, and even in the years after I had moved into my own room I would usually sleep in the extra bed in his room on Christmas since he was upstairs and "away from Santa".  It just seemed wrong to sleep on the same floor that Santa would be coming on.  I rarely slept at all on Christmas eve.  I just remember lying awake all night and wondering when it was going to be time to get up.  We never went downstairs until everyone was up and we could go down together. 

I don't know what time it was that my brother and I would start knocking on my parents' door to get them to wake up so we could go downstairs.  I like to remember that it was more like 6, but Mom tells me it was a lot earlier than that.  Either way, it always seemed that we couldn't go down until closer to 7:00 when they finally got up.  Again, my mother I think tells me that they probably relented a lot earlier than that, but I know it wasn't 4:30, Dad's usual time to get up, which was what made it frustrating. 

My sister would come upstairs and we'd wait impatiently until Dad finally led the way downstairs, to the right of which was the living room complete with the Christmas tree and three large piles of presents.  They were never under the tree, we each had a designated spot.  And we weren't the kind of family that sat around and watched each person open a present before moving onto the next person.  It was just a free-for-all of ripping through the paper as fast as possible to find out all of the stuff we'd gotten.  Then, when the dust settled, we'd go around and see what everyone else had gotten. 

Eventually we'd sit down to breakfast and Dad would make freshly squeezed orange juice. This was all long before we'd finally go over to the chaos at Nana's house, where aunts, uncles and cousins made for a very full house and plenty more presents. 

Obviously Christmas hadn't been exactly the same anymore, at least not the beginning part.  It still winds up very similarly at Nana's, except now there are great grandchildren.  I think this will be Christmas #54 at that house.  We now go to my sister's house mostly to see the kids and their toys, because Christmas really isn't much fun unless at least somebody gets toys or is excited about Santa. 

So, that was what Christmas used to be all about for me and my family.  It's obviously not going to be quite the same.  You know, a lot of times I can sort of ignore the whole thing because hey, it's not like he'd be around right now, right?  Well, you can't really ignore it at Christmas. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

2011 begins tomorrow

Tomorrow is the beginning of my training for the 2011 season.  I had a good conversation with my coach about a week ago and we have laid out what should be a very busy schedule, but hopefully a good one.  I have to say, at the moment I feel so far removed from any racing that it might as well have been years ago that I set foot on the start line.  In fact, it was three months ago today... and that was also the day of a pretty horrible event, but let's not get into that right now. 

So my key race for the year will be Ironman Cour D'Alene.  I have to admit that when I heard this was the race that most of my fellow teammates would be doing, I wasn't really that excited about it.  I don't know why.  In fact, I wasn't going to sign up for it.  But then, when it came time to figure out my schedule for next year, I couldn't really figure out which other race to target.  There was always Utah again, but let's just say that although someday I would do that race again, I'm not incredibly anxious to revisit the sight of the longest time I've ever spent on a race course.  And that was with perfect weather.  Just imagine that course with less-than-favorable weather conditions!

I guess there was that new race in Texas, but that didn't really spark any interest in me either.  There was always Lake Placid.  But seriously, that would make it my eighth year in a row going there.  Isn't that just a tad bit excessive?  While it is the sight of my greatest triathlon accomplishment it is also the sight of my most bitter disappointments.  So, what was left?  Cour D'Alene.  Ok, so I guess I'll be visiting Idaho for the first time in my life. 

Aside from that there will be a lot of 70.3's which will be nice because just as I was typing that I realized that I did exactly... ONE of those this year.  The plan for next year?  If all goes as scheduled, five of them.  That's a bit of an increase. 

Also on the docket of course is that three months I'll be spending in Tucson.  I can't believe that I will be leaving in three weeks.  I need this excursion right now more than anything.  I don't think that at any point in my starting to do these races that I have ever felt like less of a triathlete than I do right now.  While that is certainly the case, I can also say that I have probably also never been more rested than I am right now.  Usually I finish up a season with an Ironman when I'm exhausted and sick of my bike and never want to drink Gatorade again for the rest of my life.  I couldn't tell you the last time I had some sports drink. 

So, this could all be a really great place to start or a really terrible one.  I don't know.  I'll let you know in April.  Actually, hopefully I will be a much better blog updater when I get out there.  If for no other reason than to make those of you riding your trainers while it snows outside insanely jealous.  That, and I'll be there by myself, so what else do I have to do while I'm not training? 

So tomorrow is the beginning of what I guess I can consider my last chance season.  If it goes well, fine.  Good.  Let's keep at it.  If not?  Well, I don't know yet.  But hopefully I'll never have to figure that out.