Friday, May 30, 2008

TOUCHDOWN!!!!! May 26,2008


No, I'm not talking about a bunch of overpaid "athletes" playing a commercialized, overhyped game. I'm talking about a great achievement for NASA. Last night, around 7:45 PM EST, the Phoenix Lander made a perfect rocket assisted landing in Northern Artic region of Mars.
It started in 2002, when NASA decided to make a smaller, more affordable spacecraft to send to Mars. It was built using some parts from a cancelled mission after a larger craft was lost while trying to enter Mars atmosphere. The 400+ pound Phoenix lander was launched on August 4, 2007 and had a 422 million mile, 10 month journey to Mars.
Just getting from Earth to Mars is a technological marvel. The mathematics and physics are staggering. The spacecraft has to perform flawlessly. A fraction of a degree in trajectory or a fraction of a second in timing would either send the lander crashing directly into the surface or it could miss completely and be lost in space forever. But, that is really the easy part. Once it arrived near Mars, the craft had to enter the atmosphere on tangent and slow from 12000 mph to a dead stop landing in only a few minutes. After using the atmosphere resistance for primary slowing, protected by a heat sheild, it deployed a high speed parachuteat Mach 1.7. Three minutes later, Phoenix separated from the chute and was in free-fall until 12 rocket motors engaged. These steadied and slowed the craft until it finally touched the Martian surface.
Now scientists had to wait 20 minutes for the dust to clear before the solar panels could be deployed. If the panels were damaged or would not open, the craft would only last a day before the batteries and the mission would die. Fortunately, the solar panels opened perfectly. Now, Phoenix can begin it's mission. It is not a rover, like Spirit and Opportunity. Instead, it will dig down into the ground in search of water ice, expected to be within a meter of the surface. Scientists believe that there are large volumes of ice underground on Mars and that it once flowed on the surface. When water is present with high amounts of carbonates, the chances that life may have existed, increases. We are talking about little green men, but if bacterial fossils are ever found, it would have far reaching implications for us. If life could develope on 2 separate planets in 1 solar system, then given the incredible number of stars and systems similar to ours in the universe, life would almost certainly be there too.
Phoenix will also track ancient climate changes and provide information that will be usefull for future manned missions to Mars. Here is the link to the NASA webpage for Phoenix. It has already begun sending pictures from the surface.

Fat Tire Frenzy May 17,2008

Today was the second installment in the Virginia Derailer Mountainbike Series. It was held at Falling Creek Park in Bedford. It is a great place to ride and race, with plenty of challenges. Last year after being in Japan for two weeks and having jet-lag, I thought this course would be the death of me. I found out this year that it was not just the jet-lag.
We arrived early, before 9am, so we could set up the pirate tent, get registered, and warm up. Last night, Tyler decided that he wanted to do the kid's race. There were probably 8 or 9 in his group. At the start, he was battling one girl about his size. By the second lap, he was struggling a bit. At the end he came in third. Jess and I are very proud of him. I think that he really enjoyed it.
Now it was time for our race, so we all coasted down the hill to the bottom of the field. The experts started first in three waves by age group. Then, for some reason, they started all of the Sport, Singlespeed, and Clydesdale class at once. It was a huge group, maybe 40 to 50 people. My usual strategy is to break out to the front and get a quick lead. It would be tough with so many people starting at one time. Not to mention that the first 0.4 mile. was in the speed robbing grass and uphill. As we started up the hill I was in the lead group. I stood up and pushed hard. When I hit the shoet paved section I was in the lead and entered the singletrack first. This is where I almost used up all of my energy. The first few trails have some tough short climbs that sap strength. About a third of the way in, I clipped a tree with my shoulder and hit the ground, not hard but enough to shake me up a bit. On the backside trails, I was hurting. I got passed by 4 people. I kept up with the last one and passed him around mile 6. Finally I was at the finish line, but that only meant that I had another lap to do. Time to climb the grassy hill again, only a little shorter. I had been following Josh Gilbert for about three miles. After entering the singletrack again, he pulled away and I could not catch him. the second lap was not as bad as the first. I was alone for most of it. The last few miles, I kept seeing someone behind me. A good ways back, but still a threat. I had to keep pushing. When I came into the field and saw the finish, I knew that he could not catch me. After finishing, I realized how bad my chest was hurting. It eased up after a few minutes, but it seems that this course hurts me every year.
The thing about racing is that someone has to win. Today, it was not me, but I did come in second in my class, the largest one. I am very happy with that. Allen had a great day too, finishing third in Singlespeed. Jen won her class with an exciting finish. All in all it was a great day. All of my friends placed, Tyler placed, and Jess was there too, giving me support.
Kenny Palmer always runs a good race. Now it's time to get ready for Peaksview in two weeks. Congratulations to everyone who raced today!

Super Weekend May 5,2008

So this was the big weekend. The first Derailer race on Saturday and the second XXC on Sunday. I really did not know what to expect from either race.
Saturday morning I loaded up my gear, picked up Allen, and met Chris at his house. We packed everything into Chris's jeep and we were off for Danville. Jimmy was driving down later. He had to leave after the race to go to work. We arrived with about an hour and a half to set up and warm up. Of course we flew the Jolly Roger flags from our canopy. Jen showed up soon after. We all got registered. Jen was racing Sport, Allen raced Singlespeed, Chris and Jimmy raced Novice, and I raced Sport. Soon it was time to line up and get ready to go. The experts started at 11:00. My group left at 11:06. I sprinted from the start to try to get close to the front going into the woods. There was a short gravel road before the singletrack. As we neared the entrance, I looked over to see that 3 riders were stacked up end to end on my right. I did not want to fall back to fourth, so I pushed harder and got the lead. Just inside the woods there were 3 or 4 quick, deep rollercoaster sections back to back. having rode the course last week, i knew that I could hit them hard. When the trail flattened a little, I was a good 50 yards ahead. Soon after, we all got stuck behind two 18-35 Sport riders who had left a minute before us and were very slow. We all stacked up behind them until they finally pulled over to let everyone pass. With the pack breathing down my back I pushed hard for a couple miles until they were no longer in sight. This is my usual strategy, get a good lead and then maintain it. I felt good through most of the race. The next thing that I knew, I had been going for over an hour and I knew that there was not too much more. I had pass many younger Sport riders and some SS riders (Shake and Bake!) :). There was a rider ahead of me that I just could not catch. I was getting tired on the last mile or two. When I came out into the field, I saw two riders sprinting for the finish. I came in soon after. Within a few minutes Allen was finishing. I knew that I had won my age group. I went and got my camera so I could get some video of Jen, Jimmy and Chris finishing. I was so surprised and happy. I had no idea that I could do so well in Sport. Allen pulled out a fourth place finish in SS, which is an open class that draws many expert riders. Jen came in third. Jimmy got third and Chris got fourth in Novice. Great job to all my friends! As it turns out, I had another surprise coming. The two rider that I saw sprinting at the end, were the top two in 18-35 Sport. I finished 30 seconds behind them, but they started 1 minute before me. That meant that I had a faster time. I had the fastest time of all the Sport riders. I could have died from shock. Unfortunately the race organizers got mixed up on the times and gave my overall trophy to someone else, but after finding their mistake. They are going to send my trophy to me. It was a great day. Now I need to back it up in Bedford in two weeks. I going to try not to put too much pressure on myself. I am just going to ride hard and see what happens.
As if that was not enough. Early Sunday morning, I picked up Allen again and we headed off to Douthat State Park to tacked the XXC race. This race was the second in the Virginia State Championship Double XC series. It started at 9:30 and ended after riding 41 miles through some of the most beautiful trails that I have seen. The first 5 miles was steady climb to the top of Middle Mountain. We soon broke off from the Sport/Expert loop and went way out into the National Forest. Allen and I had decided to ride together to keep each other motivated. About 10 miles in I had to fix a flat tire. Allen waited for me. Then before the halfway point, I was starting to bonk. After reating a bit and eating some solid food, I was starting to feel better. The trail were awesome. So much more ridable than Dragon's Back. There were still a lot of hike-a-bikes, but overall they were way better. The downhills were long and fast. Even though we slid through some switchbacks, neither of us wrecked. There were some spectacular views from the ridgelines. We were finally nearing the end. Both of us were spent. We were almost out of water, after refilling once, and the last short climb felt like the ealier huge mountains. We came in to the finish with a sprint and crossed the line at the same time. It had been 41 miles, 8400 feet of vertical climbing, and 7 hours worth of riding. It was a great accomplishment. Congratulations to Kelly, Julie, Jason, Shawn, and his wife for doing the XXC too. And Davy, who has two second place finishes in the Sport division, putting him in first overall with one race to go.
I feel extremely accomplished. After a surprising Derailer finish, we completed an ultra endurance race. Apparently, I am getting noticed. This evening, while talking to Brandon at Bikes Unlimited, he gave me a BU jersey to wear at some of the races. I'll wear a free jersey and advertise for them, and it has Trek on it. But at the same time, if Blackackwater has something I like, I will buy it from Davy. There are good people in both shops. The only down-side to the weekend was that I did not see Jess and Tyler much. I missed them.
Bedford is on the way and it's time to ride!

Angel's Race April 13, 2008

As sit on the couch tonight, I feel good because I can say that I have completed a triathlon! And I don't feel too worn out. A little sore, but not bad.
I woke up at 5:30 this morning. I had a cup of coffee and the scrambled egg bagels I had fixed last night. My transition bag was packed so I put in the car and mounted by road bike on the roof rack. I wanted to be at the Y by 6:30 so I could set up my area and get a feel for the bike and run exits. When I walked in, there were at least a hundred people already set up. After I set out my stuff and racked my bike, I went over and picked up my timing chip. In order to keep up with everyone's time, we put radio frequency transmitters around our ankles. As you pass over each timing mat, located before and after each section, your time is automatically recorded. After dropping me off earlier, Jess got back in time to hang out with me before my start time. Soon after her parents got there and then Allen.
I soon had to go in and line up for me swim start. Holy Crap! The swim was very hard. I had been swimming some over that last few months and I was pretty far back in the field. But I still struggled. After a lap and a half, I was having to stop at the ends to rest and catch my breath. I was passed by at least four people in the pool. Finally after about eight and a half minutes, I got out of the pool. I almost slipped on the tile floor, but recovered. My transition was pretty smooth. I had a little trouble getting the socks onto my wet feet. My shoes and helmet were on next and I was off.
After unracking the bike I had to run with it about 100 yards before I could get on and pedal. Luckily I use mountain bike shoes with cleats. I saw a couple people slip and bust their ass because of the clunky road shoes. After I got on the bike, there was a series of sharp turns through downtown. Jess and the crew were at the second turn. I barely noticed them, I was concentrating and the turn and not crashing. Soon I was on the John Lynch bridge. They had a whole lane blocked off to traffic for us. The toughest part going out was on River Road, after pasing King's Road, there is a fairly long climb up to the railroad tracks. After that the road is narrow and curvy, with quick ups and downs. While on River Road, I must have passed about 25 to 30 people. The one's that were so much faster in the pool were not falling behind me. There is a very steep climb up to the bridge. After a quick trip back across the bridge, I had to climb back up through downtown. I was up, out of the saddle. When I got to the dismount area, I unclipped my left foot while I was still rolling, but my right would not come out. Finally, it came loose as the bike flew sideways. I almost fell, but I collected myself and ran to my rack.
I switched shoes, dropped my helmet, and took off running. My legs felt like jello. After riding so far, my legs were used to a slower cadence. I couldn't stop though, too many people watching and cheering. I realized that I had not taken off my gloves. So as I passed my cheering section, I tossed them to Allen. My legs started to loosen up, but it was still hurting. The turn around, past the tunnel on Blackwater Trail, was a welcome site. I think that I passed 6 or 7 people on the run. Coming up the two blocks of Hell, back to Main Street, was brutal! I had to walk some of it. I reached down and found a way to drag myself to the top. Coming down Main was incredible. People were all along the sides, yelling and clapping. The last block was packed. I saw Jess there and heard my name on the loudspeaker, so I had to pick up the pace for the finish. It was such a good feeling to cross the line. Everyone was there, Jess, Allen, Jess's parents, and Chris, Morgan, and Cashion came out for the end.
All in all, it was a great experience. I had a great time. The people were great. Everyone was friendly and supportive. The weather wasn't to bad for the competitors. The spectators were freezing. The only time that I felt cold was when I first came outside from the pool, but I quickly warmed up on the bike. I will post my times as soon as they are available online. I know that the bike was my best section. I may have to try some road races sometime this year. If I can find time! Pictures and video will be up soon too.

The results are in from the Angel's Race Triathlon. When I decided, pretty much on a whim, to do this race, I just wanted to finish a triathlon. As the time drew near and I had a little swimming and running under my belt, I was confident that I would finish, so I set my sights on not being lw in the pack. I ended up performing better than I thought I would. My total time was 1 hour, 25 minutes, and 17 seconds! That put me 78th overall for men and 90th overall for everyone. On top of that, only 8 of the 46 relay teams had better times.
Of course my slowest compared time was the swim. I had a time of 9 min. and 5 seconds. The fastest was 4 min. and 2 seconds. My time put my rank after the swim at 183rd. My transition times were fairly average. When I got on the bike, I felt at home. My total bike time was 46 min.. and 10 seconds. That put me 31th overall for men and 32nd overall for all individuals for the bike section. Only two people on relay teams beat my bike time and they were fresh. My run time was about average too. Maybe a little faster.
If I were to really get into triathlons, I would really need to work on swimming. If I had a 5 minute swim time, I would placed around 50th. But I am not a swimmer. Running is not too bad and I will continue to run a couple times a week. I really think that it helps my biking stamina.
I feel like gave my best and I am happy with my results. Plus it was just a really good time. I hope to see more people I know next year. Yes I am doing it again. I'm just glad that the swim is first. If it was last, I might drown.