Monday, August 22, 2011

From the Department of the Blindingly Obvious

This is going to be my Age Group Nationals race report, but since I sense it's going to be kind of long, I figured I might as well put the major bullet points up front, blindingly obvious though they may be:

1) There are a lot of very fast people at Age Group Nationals.

2) If you are swimming in a wave of 100+ people, most of whom are faster than you, one of whom is an Olympic medalist, and at some point during the swim you find yourself swimming a completely different line than the other 99+ swimmers you started with, the odds are not good that you and you alone have identified the best line for the swim.

More on #2 later. Back to #1: I knew this before I went, but there's a difference between knowing something on an intellectual level and experiencing it in reality. What I had never thought about is how different a race would feel with a different level of competition--in other words, I expected to get beat by a lot of people, but I didn't think much about how that would play out during the race.

Before I get to all the self-involved details of my race, here is the end result: 2:35:14, 63rd out of 108 in my AG. In a totally non-thinking, round-numbery sort of way, I wanted to go under 2:30. I had hoped to make the top 1/3 of my AG and qualify automatically for next year, but you don't have to be a math genius to see that didn't happen either. This goal had seemed reachable through some complicated transitive property analysis: I looked at last year's results, saw that the last woman to make the cutoff was 10 minutes behind someone I raced this season, and since I finished 10 minutes behind her in that (Olympic distance) race, I figured I could do it. Two problems with that analysis: 1) I didn't finish 10 minutes behind her this time (more like 16 minutes), and 2) the woman who DID finish 10 minutes behind her still didn't make the cutoff this year.

Based on what I've said so far, if you are still with me at this point, you are bracing yourself for a downer of a race report. But actually, I may have had my best race this year, probably my best Olympic distance race ever (OK, out of 5 tries, but still). Quite a plot twist, isn't that?

One thing I did NOT do well at this race was take any pictures. So to break up the prose here I'm going to have to go back to the day before the race, when I drove up to Montpelier and stayed with my friend Erika and her family. Erika and I met way back in 1994, when we were both in a running club in Boston, the (now defunct, I think) Boston Running Club. Erika is a vet, and she lives in an awesome house on a dirt road with this for a back yard:

What you can't see here is the hot tub on the deck, where we sat and watched the stars Thursday night.

One of Erika's family members is Amy, The Most Awesome Dog in the World:

Amy once visited our house with Erika and her husband (Erika's husband, not Amy's), and she was so well-behaved that our cats literally didn't realize she was there until 12 hours after she'd arrived. This might just mean that our cats are idiots, come to think of it.

Friday morning I had a lovely breakfast in downtown Montpelier, which, if you haven't been there, is way cooler than you think it is. Then I drove up to Burlington and plunged right into Triathlete Central.

Here I have to explain that, since I don't do ironman or even half-ironman events, I am just not used to hoopla. I have done running events with hoopla (Boston Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon, Tufts 10K), but those are relatively easy. You just have to get yourself to the start, and you are pretty much wearing everything you need. Triathlon hoopla is a lot more overwhelming, what with all the race numbers to stick on your equipment, race number tattoos, and of course the bicycle that you have stuffed into the back of your car and that you eventually need to get to transition, if you can ever work your way through all the traffic and find a parking spot.

Luckily, just as I was about to have a complete breakdown about what I was supposed to do with two sticky-backed bib numbers, I got calls from 3 of my teammates who were coming to the race. (I also got a call from my son's camp director to tell me he'd had a bit of a bathroom accident, but I happily forwarded that message to the Parent in Town.)  Two teammates were already in Burlington, and one was on her way, and just like that, we had a plan. I met up with Joellen and John to go ride the run course (seemed like a good way to make sure everything was functioning on the bike) before we racked our bikes. I think I made everything about 3 times more complicated than it needed to be, with various shoes in various cars, but somehow we got our bikes put together, found the run course, managed to ride it AFTER a rainstorm blew through the area, left the bikes in transition, and split up into two cars with 4th teammate Dena to scout the bike course.

In the middle of all of this, while I switched shoes for like the 13th time, I ran into Ange and Mary. They were walking their bikes down the street, one of them said something about my cow bike, and I said something clever like, "Aren't you Mary?" What I really wanted to say, based on Mary's last blog post, was something more along the lines of, "Nice rack," but a) I was too strung out by all the hoopla by that point, and b) I was sentient enough to realize that I'd never actually met Mary before, and maybe that would be sort of a creepy thing to say to someone you've never met.

And then in some kind of freaky twist of bloggy fate, it turned out I had the number right between Ange and Mary, so our bikes were racked next to each other. Which was great, because I got up the nerve to ask them what I was supposed to do with the two sticky-backed bib numbers, thinking this was some normal big-triathlon-thing I'd just never run into, and it turned out they were as unfamiliar with this as I was and were planning to do the same thing Joellen and John had come up with, which was to stick them together and poke holes in them for the race belt. Plus Mary went on at length about how she doesn't leave her shoes clipped into the bike, which made me feel way better about my inability to accomplish this particular goal of mine for the year. (I can't believe I made that goal #1, by the way. What a recipe for public humiliation.)

Driving the course made me realize I'd completely misread the race elevation profile, which looked super-hilly on paper but was, as it turned out, just on a very expanded scale. The course was full of rollers but no massive climbs, and the road surface was better than anything I've ever raced on. So with that comforting thought in mind, I had a nice dinner with Dena and went to bed.

Time for another picture, chronologically inappropriate: here's Dena back at the hotel, after the race:

There is absolutely nothing interesting to say about the time before the race the next morning. Except that when I did a short warmup jog, I got a side stitch. But soon enough I forgot all about that, because I was too busy trying to figure out how the swim course worked. You couldn't go onto the course beforehand (either that day or the day before), and the exact details of the course were not entirely the same as the map, so like many of the competitors around me I was squinting out at the buoys and trying to figure out where the course actually went. Luckily I was in the 11th wave, so eventually the swimmers in the earlier waves mapped out the course like ants on their way to a picnic.

Finally, the race! Although our wave was big (108 of us), it was easy to line up just behind the front, and no one was being pushy. When we started (from treading water), there were more people around me than I've gotten used to recently, but it wasn't bad. I had some stops and starts as I looked for a clear line, and then I just followed the churn ahead of me to the first buoy. At that buoy there was a massive holdup, but once we got around it, things were fine again. Or so I thought. But somewhere in here, apparently, things went sort of haywire. I started to notice that I was on a completely different line than the part of my wave that I could see. When we made the 2nd turn, I couldn't see the next buoy at all (I think no one could, as I learned later), and although I just tried to follow the swimmers ahead of me, after the next turn I again found myself swimming all alone, yards away from everyone else. It got so bad at that point that I started to panic that I'd missed a buoy--I was so far on the lake side of the main group, and oddly close to the kayaks, that I thought they had all gone on to a 3rd buoy, and I'd cut the course. I don't remember exactly what I did here, but I know I stopped enough to look backwards a few times and see if there was another buoy out there. Eventually I told myself that if I'd cut the course, one of the kayakers would have come over to tell me (which is probably a total fantasy, but I needed to believe it at that point!), and I went back to plugging my way toward the next buoy on my own little personal swim course. But I think I let this rattle me. As we entered the cove where the swim exit was, I became aware that swimmers from the waves behind me were passing me, something that hasn't happened to me recently.

Then came the worst part of my day: I ran into transition, where our wave was all racked together, and I saw virtually empty bike racks. I can't remember the last time this happened to me, either, and really, I shouldn't have been surprised. In every race I do, there are always a few swimmers in my wave who completely crush me, and of course Nationals is made up of those people. I just hadn't thought about it beforehand, and it was a shock.

And now it's time for a little meta-interlude. After this race I did some thinking about why I do triathlons, and I came up with this: in the time I've been doing triathlons, I have gotten way better at shaking off disappointment, negativity and just general feelings of crappiness. I felt crappy about the swim, I felt like a total loser as I grabbed my bike off the empty rack, and then as I ran the bike out of transition, I put it all out of my mind. The first five miles of the bike were similarly disheartening--I passed virtually no one and was getting passed by men from the wave behind me, and for a moment I had that evil thought of, "I am at the start of a really bad race." But before I could even get to finishing that thought with its natural conclusion, which is something like ". . . and I still have at least 2 hours of suffering to go through," I told myself that my heart rate was where it was supposed to be, that my coach had warned me that the first 5 (uphill) miles were more about settling in and that I should focus on the middle section of rollers to be aggressive, and that I would just keep at it and see how things unfolded. I used to be the kind of athlete for whom the first mile of a race was all-determining--if I felt lousy, whether physically or mentally (and in a race, it's sometimes really hard for me to tell which it is), that was it. But somehow at my advanced age I've learned the lesson that things can turn around if you stick to your plan. They don't always turn in the direction you want, and sometimes indeed what feels like a crappy race turns out to be one, but it certainly doesn't hurt to assume the best. I don't think I can reliably assess my overall personality to state that I'm generally a sunny or a negative person, but I do think it's safe to say that triathlons have moved me in the sunnier direction of the spectrum. I have to believe that this has implications for how I handle adversity that rises to a level of importance slightly higher than, say, realizing you suck at swimming, relative to your triathlon peers.

Ok, enough of that introspective s***. Back to the race. I hit the rollers and started to feel really good, and somewhere here I started to enjoy myself. I still haven't secured a magnet for my race wheel (although luckily I didn't publish that as a stated goal), so I had no idea how fast I was going, but gradually I started passing some people, and while I didn't really focus on people's calves to read their ages (mostly because it's hard for me to do this without glasses and keep the bike upright), I did see that I passed at least a couple women from my AG. Mostly I was passing women who were old enough to have given birth to me, but I passed the odd youngish guy as well. Again, something I just hadn't given any thought to was that while in small races I pass a lot of guys in their 30's and 40's, those guys don't qualify for Nationals. Duh. Eventually, as we got close to the end of the bike course, I realized I might finish under 1:15, which was a secret goal of mine. And in fact I made it in 1:14:15, just over 20 mph, my fastest Olympic bike pace yet. I got my feet out of the shoes before dismounting, had a trouble-free transition, and headed out onto the run.

By the time I started the run, it was hot, and the first part of the run course is sunny. (Except for the part that's such a steep uphill that people around me were walking.) I felt good, though, and I'd taken lots of electrolytes on the bike. The only issue was--were you paying attention earlier?--a growing side stitch. I get these maybe twice a year, max, so obviously, what better time than my biggest race? I had one of these in a 5K last year, and it's just about the most embarrassing thing ever, because it reminds me of all those whiny girls in junior high track who didn't want to run the 2 mile "distance" workout. I should have paid more attention when it showed up during my warmup, but beggars, horses, wishes, blah blah blah. I tried to get rid of it by doing this breathing trick I learned in junior high, but that wasn't doing much, so somewhere around mile 2 I hopped up onto the curb and bent over with my hand dug in under my ribcage for about 10 seconds. That worked--over the next mile the breathing thing got rid of it, and by mile 4 I could run comfortably. Except for the obvious discomfort of being in the middle of a 10K at the end of a triathlon.

My run was my fastest yet in an Olympic distance race, 47:19. I still think I can go faster (optimistic? delusional? unclear), but improvement is good. Apparently after the first couple miles I was just hitting my lap button at random intervals, but as near as I can tell my pace dropped down to 7:15ish once the side stitch had been laid to rest. Since this is my 2nd Olympic run in hot weather where I didn't completely disintegrate, I am now declaring myself Someone Who Can Run in the Heat. This was the only part of the race that looked sort of "normal" to me in that I was passing men and women pretty regularly, although the abnormal part was all the 20-something women from I think 2 waves behind me who started flying by me in the last couple miles.

I was also feeling good enough here that my sense of humor returned. Early on a 20-something guy came up behind a 50-something man I was about to pass, and the young guy shouted "On your left!" When the older guy didn't move right away, he shouted it again. As I passed the older guy, I said under my breath, "Dude, it's not the bike," and the 50-something guy cracked up. I mean, honestly--have you ever heard someone in a running race shout "On your left?" That's the nice thing about running--you can just weave around people without crashing.

I also got a kick out of the last leg of the run, which was along a bike path. You know how on roads they will paint e.g. "STOP" followed 10 or so yards later by "AHEAD?" Here they had signs saying "KEEP" followed by "RIGHT," but the two words were so close together (I guess because it's a bike path, so you're going more slowly?") that I automatically read them as "RIGHT KEEP," which made me think this guy had painted them. . . .

OK, so here's the synopsis: slow swim (30:51), PR on the bike, PR (in a triathlon) for the run. And you know, once I looked over the results, I'm not sure my swim was as bad as it looks. (Because that looks really bad.) I'll be curious to see what other, better swimmers think, but it looks to me like times were not so fast (choppy water, hard to sight buoys), so maybe instead of being 5 minutes slower than I think it should have been, my swim was more like 2 minutes slower. I'm still not really clear why my swimming isn't better--it's a lot better in the pool this year, I do a fair amount of open water swimming and am totally comfortable doing it, but somehow I'm not executing very well when I do it in the presence of other people on courses where sighting is critical.

I loved this race, even though (because?) it took me way out of my comfort zone. I want to come back next year, but now I have to try to qualify the hard way again. But as my favorite bike path sign-painting guru would say, Try not. Do. Or do not.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Almost there

This weekend is my big A race of the season. Which makes me think I should be doing things like checking the weather forecast obsessively, mapping out my trip, or cleaning the last race off my bike. Nah.

In my last race report I said I was, and I quote, "just so freaking chipper" on the run. And that's true. But in case that makes you think I wasn't working hard, here's evidence from the last mile or so that I was:

Apparently this is what passes for "chipper" on a hot day. Follower #9 (not to be confused with Client 9, yikes), this is what I mean about my end-of-race slump. The photo was taken by Ian Matchett, who got lots of great shots of my teammates and me, and shared them with us--thanks, Ian! He got the long sought-after (by me) sidewaysish shot of the cow bike, too, where you can really see its spots nicely:

Last week we visited my in-laws on the Cape. We spent a lot of time at the nearby kettle pond, where Patrick can avoid such truly frightening things as sharks, big waves and seaweed.

Charlotte and I spent one day farther out on the Cape with Nancy and her family. Charlotte and Greta spent hours swimming and floating around Long Pond in Wellfleet while Nancy and I took turns playing with her younger daughter while the other one of us went for a swim. Doing a swim workout wearing a bikini, I discovered, makes it not feel like a workout. It also makes it feel like maybe you're flashing the kids on the raft with an errant boob, but hopefully this was just paranoia on my part. Here are Charlotte and Greta being specks on said raft:

. . . and here they are trying to tame the oddly-named "Whale Shark," which as far as we can tell is neither a whale nor a shark.

It's also very hard to mount.

They ate a nutritious breakfast (Boston creme pie doughnuts--note, of course, Whale Shark in the background)

. . . while Nancy and I went for an awesome ride around Wellfleet. That's the National Seashore in the background.

In the afternoon we rode some of their family's fleet of bikes down to the ocean. Here's Nancy's husband Bill getting everything set up while Greta does something weird with her arm. This is also a nice shot of Bill's rather flashy swim trunks.

Charlotte had never ridden a bike with hand brakes, nor had she ridden much in traffic, so I had a near panic attack watching her and had to leave it to Nancy and Bill to guide her safely to the beach. She was a trooper, but she is not setting any speed records on the bike. Wonder where she gets that from?

The waves were pretty fierce there, but the girls charged right in, assisted by Greta's older cousins.

Then they got tumbled around pretty well and eventually fled back to the beach. I think Bill is helpfully pointing them in the right direction.

He also gave them some pointers on how not to get clobbered, and they eventually went back in the water until they pretty much turned blue with cold. We also played some beach kickball.

OK, now I'm really just gratuitously posting picture of Bill's swim trunks. Nancy and I were sort of horrified to realize how little our kids know about how to play kickball. They were passing other runners on the baseline, trying to call a "force play" at 3rd on a triple, and all manner of other ridiculousness. The good news is that the little boys who joined the game were no better. But we still agreed we need to run some remedial kickball lessons this fall.

Not that fall is happening any time soon. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Greenfield Tri 2011

I was sure it was going to rain. I wondered what would happen when the thunderstorms forecast for 9 am opened up while we were all on the bike course. This morning at about 5:30 am I stood in my bathroom, eyeing the bottle of sunscreen, and I kid you not, my thought process went like this:

I don't need sunscreen, because it's going to rain. Maybe if I don't put on the sunscreen, it won't rain, just to teach me a lesson with a bad sunburn. Come to think of it, I'd rather have rain than hot sun anyway. So I'm putting on the sunscreen. Only I don't want it to rain too hard, so I'm not going to put it on my legs.

And indeed, it did not rain. There were huge storms to our south and east. A friend of mine did a 10-mile running race in CT and got rained on. I had a muggy, cloudy day that burned off into full-on sun by the start of my 7.2-mile run. And no, my legs didn't get burned; I think they must be fairly well shadowed by my a** or something.

As I explained in my previous post, there were a lot of little things suggesting I was not set for the race of my life. But I got lucky with the big thing, which was my prerace sleep. My husband and kids left early for our visit to my in-laws on the Cape, which meant I had the house to myself. And the key part here is that our cats are kind of psycho and decided they would wait downstairs all night for my husband to come home, rather than sleeping like they normally do in our bed, where the older one spends half the night sticking his whiskers in my face and engaging in other non-sleep-conducive behaviors. So I had a terrific night's sleep and didn't even wake up when I had a dream about oversleeping the alarm and missing the race.

My main goal for this race was to not feel miserable on the run, something that has mostly eluded me at the Olympic distance. The extra challenge here is that this is a race with weird distances--the swim is short (0.63 miles), and both the bike (30.4 miles) and the run (7.2 miles) are long. The idea of not feeling miserable on a 7.2-mile run seemed kind of implausible, but my plan was to load up on electrolytes during the bike. I am a huge sweater--like I will come in to the gym after a run, and people will ask me if it's raining, when it's not. My sweat is also very salty. I felt like the particular brand of misery I experienced during my last Olympic run was a kind of dehydration/lack of salt misery, so I planned to violate all kinds of racing wisdom and totally change my nutritional plan for this race.

Onto the race: my stomach still felt a little off, but I spent the day before shoveling food into it, so at least I wasn't hungry. The swim here is in a river (and I use that word loosely--maybe more of a creek?), and it's a funny up and back and up again along a buoy line made of milk jugs. So sighting is not a big issue, though I still managed to swim into the buoy line twice. My wave was the last wave of the olympic distance race, which goes off before the sprint distance. I felt like I swam well, minus the close-up encounters with the milk jugs, and when I got out of the water the announcer said I was the 3rd woman in my wave. Which sounds really impressive until you realize there were like 15 people, max, in that wave. Since results are up, I know that my time was 18:29, which ranked me 25th overall in the swim.

The bike course for this race is 4 loops (the sprint is 2), and on the first loop we had the course to ourselves before the sprint waves came out. So it was actually kind of deserted--I passed a bunch of people, but it was easy not to draft, to say the least. Since I wanted to have a good run, I was purposely conservative on the bike. The course starts out with a decent but short uphill, then after some flat and downhill stuff there is a 90-degree turn into a covered bridge, followed by a short but very steep switchbacky hill. Then more flattish stuff, then repeat. For most of the first loop I was actually a little panicked--my legs felt tired, and I was having trouble imagining doing this all 3 more times. And then I got into a groove, which is often the case for me riding--it just takes me awhile to warm up. One thing you can say about a 30-mile ride is that it gives you plenty of warmup time. Just as I zipped past the transition area and saw sprint athletes coming out onto the course, it occurred to me that I was having fun, and from then on it was like a different race. I was downright perky. I looked forward to the hills. I looked forward to the covered bridge, which usually scares me. There is a volunteer who stands at the entrance to the bridge to warn everyone to slow down and go single file, but he also has a sound system and a microphone, and he plays a nonstop dance mix. I can't remember all the songs I heard on my trips around the course, but somewhere in there I got the Go-Gos, which was truly inspiring.

My only complaint about the bridge/hill combo was that the race photographer was stationed right at the start of the hill. I'm sure it's easy to get shots of bikers when they're going more slowly, but I'm not really looking forward to a set of photos that show me shifting down into my easiest gear. Although you could argue that said photos capture my general approach to biking.

The middle two loops of the bike were more interesting, because the course got crowded with sprinters. I had no idea who I was passing, but I just kept chugging along, and then on the 4th loop suddenly everything cleared out again and it was back to the spaced-out race we had started with. Toward the end of that loop we paralleled the sprint run, and I got to see my teammate Joellen charging in to claim first place in the sprint among the women.

I got my feet out of my shoes pretty early, because there is a downhill right before transition, and I had visions of sailing down that hill and not having enough time to de-shoe. I think my dismount was a little vigorous, because one of the volunteers said, "Whoa!" And now I also see that I seem to have bruised a different toe on my previously-disfigured foot, and this is the only way I can think of that I did it. This shot doesn't show the toe that well (it's the middle one), but it's sort of a nice shot of our younger cat, who doesn't torment me at night mostly because I think he doesn't like me that much.

I didn't feel that toe at all during the race, but now it's pretty sore to the touch. Plus it also got a huge blister. I am pretty much expecting my entire foot to just up and fall off one of these days.

I felt good about the bike--I kept my HR mostly where I wanted it (a bit lower than I typically aim for on a sprint), and I didn't think I had zoned out for large chunks of the ride. My bike split wasn't relatively speaking as fast as my swim (ranked 41st overall), but I managed 19.8 mph. I've done just over 20 on the sprint when the swim was canceled, so this seems like an improvement in an absolute sense.

Speaking of improvement, I made it out of T2 in under a minute! I think this is a first for me this season. Of course in doing so I forgot to grab the shot blocks I had planned to take with me, but by the time I realized this I was out of transition and had no desire to go back, so I just told myself I'd drink whatever Gatorade they had on the course, and off I went. While I was in the running chute out of transition I saw Nancy's family (she was doing the sprint and had a great first race post-knee surgery) and yelled at them, since they didn't see me.

I could tell from the start that the run was going to go well--my legs felt fine, and I just naturally settled into the right HR. I didn't look at my pace at all, and I only looked at my HR occasionally, because when I'm not feeling like the undead, I pretty much know how to run by effort. The only challenges were that a) it was hot and sunny by this point, and there's very little shade on this course, and b) we were so spread out that it was like 400 meters between every person I passed. But I was just so freaking chipper. I joked with people I passed, I did a little cabbage patching when I got to the covered bridge dance club, and I just kept focusing on the next person I could see in the distance. I was a little confused about how the course ended, and if there was a 6-mile marker I missed it, but I felt good enough to pick it up in the last couple miles. I sort of wish the people who were right ahead of me in the overall standings at the end had been actually right ahead of me, instead of way ahead of me since they started in earlier waves. I definitely had something left at the end physically, although mentally I was ready to be done--this is just kind of a long run for me. I ended up running 55:45, which is about 7:45 average (though my pace varied a lot, according to my splits, based on the topography), and good for 25th on the run.

Overall I finished in 33rd place, 2nd in my age group, which I was really psyched about until I realized there were only 3 of us in the 40-44 division. This was a really small race--more people did the sprint, and definitely fewer women opted for the olympic. But the good news is that my team swept our AG. Go us.

We ended up 2nd in the state club championship, losing to another local team that is ginormous.  Here is our 2nd place trophy, stunningly displayed on the faux mosaic stool my daughter painted at camp last week:

I really, really wanted to beat that other team--they're just kind of a juggernaut. After the race I started shamelessly recruiting new team members for next year, because basically we just lost on participation. But our uniforms are better looking, so that's kind of a moral victory.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Greenfield Prerace

As I was typing the title, I looked up and must have shifted my right hand, because I typed, "Greenfuekd." Which is starting to seem appropriate. The last time I did this race, the swim had to be canceled because heavy rains caused high bacteria counts in the river. It's supposed to rain a lot tonight, so I am skeptical about the swim happening. Which is unfortunate, since oddly enough that feels like my strongest leg right now, but what can you do?

In some ways this race seems a little doomed. At the end of my last race, my achilles tendon was seriously inflamed, which was kind of a new thing. Then we went to PA to visit my mom and stepdad, and I did this to a toe on that same foot:

Then this week I came down with some kind of mild GI bug that has kind of wiped me out. I think maybe I caught it from reading Mary's IMLP race report. But actually, having read that report, a squirrelly stomach and a bruised toe before a short Olympic race don't really seem like such a big deal, so I'm actually looking forward to tomorrow. Oh, and I also sustained a minor forearm injury last night when I tried out the zipline my friend Nancy and her family have put up in their backyard. I think it will be fine, though. The zipline, that is.

Our trip to PA now seems long gone, although I think we're all still having flashbacks to the seemingly endless drive. Here's a shot I took of Route 80. My friend Natasha once told me this was the most expensive part of Rte 80 to build because of all the rock they had to blast.

This is about the point in the trip where, when the kids were under 2, they would sort of just start screaming and not stop. The time I made this drive with Natasha and her now-husband I almost did the same thing, because they were taking a TV home to her mother, and the styrofoam packing they had it protected in squeaked for the entire trip.

We spent a lot of time in PA at the town pool, which has been transformed into a water park. It was, as the little boy next door told us very earnestly, "A wonderland for kids."

I got to go on some nice bike rides while the kids played with my mom and stepdad. Although I spent 18 years living here, I really don't know a lot of the roads outside town, so I relied on MapMyRide to find me some routes. They mostly looked like this:

Partway through, just as I came to realize I hadn't eaten enough breakfast to get me through the ride on shot blocks alone, I came upon a fruit farm that I've been to many times, only I had no idea it was on this road. So I stopped and bought a scone and enjoyed the view from their porch:

I don't have a shot of the most exciting part of this ride, which was when I swear I saw a panther. Now I know this is unlikely, given that the only confirmed large cat sightings in the area look like this:

All I know is that a large, dark animal with long legs and (I think) a long tail walked slowly out into the road a quarter mile or so ahead of me in the Scotia Gamelands. It stopped and looked at me, at which point I pulled a hasty U-turn and pedaled as fast as I could in the other direction. Eventually some traffic came through, so I turned around and went back to continue on my loop, with no sign of the animal. Because yes, as much as I didn't want to be panther fodder, it really irks me to do out-and-back rides. I asked my stepdad, a retired park warden, if it was possible I actually saw a panther, and he very graciously said, "Well, if you were going to see one, that's where I think it would be." So maybe a big, big dog, for all I know. (In the Gamelands? Hmm.)  But a very scary one.

When I told this story to my husband--as I explained, my first thought based on size was "bear," but then the long legs didn't make sense--he just looked at me for a minute, then said, "So you know you couldn't outbike either a bear or a panther, right?" Cheerful thought. But given how, um, motivating the sight of the panther was, I think if I lose focus somewhere on lap 3 of the bike tomorrow (a 4-loop course, over 30 miles, god help me), I'll imagine a panther in the road behind me.