24 August 2014

La Gastronomie

I spent a rainy Saturday reading a Peter Mayle book purloined from Tyler's grandparents, and it transported me back to my parents' unrelenting Provencephilia and those hard-won seven days we took in the south of France each spring for several years. The book is so evocative of sunshine and light wines and hours devoted to each meal, busy marketplaces and alarmingly narrow roads and friendly, leathery locals, each trip an experience I probably didn't appreciate enough at the time but which has stuck with me in a very sensory way.

On the same day we attended a farm-to-table beer-paired dinner, taking advantage of an absent brewer's ticket. The brewery staff and significant others took over a whole table and I was happy to be friends with all of them. Teton Valley has a Slow Food chapter and a thriving locavore scene and the dinner was hosted in the weathered but architecturally inspiring barn at Snow Drift Farm, who provided the bulk of the produce. GTBC is not of the hop-aggressive Cali or Colorado breed; the head brewer and cellar master have a firm and affectionate grasp on classic Belgian and German styles, which are far more conducive to balanced and complementary food pairings. The cellar master, twenty-four but already resembling a high school history teacher, is the wunderkind of the brewery, deeply passionate and knowledgeable about any and all genres and styles of beer, and he led each course with an insightful discourse on the offering. The executive chef of the Four Seasons in Jackson introduced the food, eyes aglow with excitement at the produce and game with which he was presenting us.

We lingered over five courses with flawless pairings, light yeasty wheat beer with crisp vinegary greens and pickled turnips, Oktoberfest lager with 2-row barley (culled straight from the brewery's supplies) and the richest, most delicious rabbit I've ever had, warm raisiny Scotch ale with bison that tasted like the flame it was seared in as a dedicated sous chef crouched over the fire in the drizzling rain. The plates were beautifully arranged but not precious. Dessert was a sweet and sour Berliner Weisse paired with honey lavender panna cotta and a couple pieces of various fruit, each candied, grilled, or frozen to achieve its full flavor potential.

I love good meals for the food, but I also love good meals for that first forkful of each course, where eyes around the table pop from surprise and delight. A meal undiscussed and unappreciated is not nearly as wonderful. It occurred to me that most gustatory experiences I've had up to this point been have been with or enabled by my parents. Even if they weren't at the table with me, even if they were separated from me by hours or an ocean, I would still scurry back to them, literally or figuratively, and give them a play-by-play. My food upbringing has had such an influence on my life, and it is gratifying to know that I have found another place that celebrates food with people that are open to the experience.

18 August 2014

Pierre's Hole 50K

I had originally planned on doing the 100k but summer got away from me and even 15+ mile rides were few and far between. The Kate hooked me up with a free entry because she is a sponsor/awesome, so I went out to the Ghee one weekend, rode most of the course, and did some race visualization. And by that I mean I visualized riding those fun twenty-five miles of singletrack, coming through the base area sore, dehydrated, and probably cranky, and having to continue out for a second lap of the same. 

I sat myself down for a talk. 

"You are not doing the 100k." 
"But people will think I'm not tough!"
"You know what's not tough? Falling apart with twenty miles to go. Remember the last 100k you did? And you were in shape that time. You're a starter, not a finisher. Your MO in all races is to get enough of a head start that when you implode, not too many people pass you. You're doing the 50k."

I went to sulk in a corner, smarting from my brutal honesty, but secretly relieved to be off the hook.

Race day was blessed by sunny skies after a week of rainstorms. The cool morning reminded me of collegiate, those first couple of weekends at ETSU and LMC when it started to smell like fall but before the rains came. I reverted back to usual race form, swaggering around registration feigning confidence, whining when it was time to kit up and warm up, sipping week-old water from a five-year-old bottle while everyone else carefully spooned electrolyte drink mix into clean, labelled bottles. Team Fitzy was out in force and the camaraderie on the start line made me feel almost like a local. 

The first half of the lap was a long climb and a long descent. I watched Fast Jackson Woman Amy take off and was content; I knew I could only catch her if she had a catastrophic mechanical. I simply enjoyed myself and actually listened, for the first time in my life, to the voices of Squirrel and St Marie in my head. Maintain. Race your own race. Use the descents. Stay loose on the greasy rocks. Drink. Eat. Better five years late than never, I guess. The course was in incredible condition: hero dirt, tacky switchbacks, no dust, phenomenal views. I was in heaven. I saw a moose and said, "Hey moose." I got to the first aide station and told the Fitzys I was having so much fun. 

Local pro Amanda Carey crushing it in picturesque high meadows
Pic courtesy of TMTB
The second half of the lap consisted of mellow ups and downs through meadows and aspen groves. That's where I saw that I was being chased. In races I prefer that the chips fall early and firmly. I don't like chasing and I hate being chased. One might argue this is the point of racing. Yeah, well...

I tried not to panic and worked to build a gap on the descents, but they weren't long or technical enough and she gained on me. Finally, on the bumpy and seemingly interminable trails of Rick's Basin, she caught me. 

"Nice catch. You're (expletive removed) tenacious," I said. 
"Good riding, girl. Robin's coming up right behind us too," she said. 

With that info I had my inevitable inner temper tantrum, but tried to keep going, alternating between pushing myself and wanting to sit down among the wildflowers and NOT race bikes anymore. A detached part of me was amused by how bad my attitude was, how bad it always is

I emptied the tank on the last couple of miles and collapsed after the finish line. Robin crossed the line only thirty seconds after me in fourth place. Tyler seemed at a loss; he has never seen me race and doesn't know how to deal with Broken Julia. After getting out of chamois and drinking a beer, I recovered and got my stoke back. The race organizer and trail builders absolutely killed it and the day couldn't have been nicer. I raced a little smarter and a little harder than I used to, so maybe experience and maturity is worth something? Blah blah blah, lessons learned (maybe) and if you ever want to do a really awesome endurance race on great trails with incredible views: Pierre's Hole. Do it.   

The only bummer was that there didn't appear to be a dedicated photographer on course, which is a shame because a: it was crazy beautiful and b: everyone knows that all bike racers are narcissists (me included). 

08 August 2014

Just a Day

The other day I posted a gravel ride on Strava and Jenna commented on it, "Mandating a blog post." I thought about replying that it wasn't a very exciting ride and that I didn't have much to say about it, but today reconsidered. I have nothing else to write about, so those of you who expect updates can see how mundane (but pleasant) life is these days.

It's been raining this week, so a combination of cabin fever and curiosity compels me to ask for the morning off. I usually have Wednesday afternoons free for activity but rain seems inevitable so I figure I'll explore a gravel grinder in the weather window. Will says yes to most of my requests now because this summer the heroic number of bars I make daily has been the only thing keeping the company from a serious shortage.

I want to ride to the wilderness boundary and back in the three major canyons on the eastern side of the valley, on dirt roads that cut almost to the heart of the Teton range. It will be at least a minor improvement on riding on the flat straight roads of the valley floor. I don't know how long it will be and don't pack food, but I do anticipate getting wet and cold so I wear a jacket and leg warmers. (In early August! What??)

I pedal the bike path to Driggs and start poking into each canyon in turn. They are very pretty, if understated, those dramatic chunks of rock in the range's interior obscured by the canyons' walls. Collars of mist ring the cliffs, the dust from the gravel roads is tamped down, and the greens of aspen and pine are enhanced by gray skies. Hikers in SUVs peer at me as they drive past, their destinations mellow footpaths through meadows. I hum to myself and say Ow when I go over sharp rocks and harsh washboard surfaces. On the road that straddles Idaho and Wyoming I remember there was a mean dog who chased me once. That time I was going the opposite way and had a downhill to save me, but this time I am climbing. Heart hammering, I prepare for him, bottle poised, eyes scanning. Here he comes, barking ferociously. NO BAD DOG, I yell and squirt him in the face with water. He stops abruptly and looks nonplussed. That was easy. I am only rained on once and it feels nice. It ends up being a fifty mile ride but not a very hard one, aside from the discomfort of the Deutschbike, which I stubbornly refuse to alter.

When I finish I am wet, achy, and hungry. I wolf down some pasta and cold coffee, fail to find any houses for rent on the Internet, and walk over to work. The advantage of evenings is that I get to listen to my own weird music, cranked loud. My coworker's Pandora station has, through six straight months of airtime, become completely unbearable.

The new part-time barmaker is still there. It's her fourth day and today for the first time she is slogging through a full batch (thirty sheets) of the big bars. She is weary and didn't bring enough food, but is chipper even after eight hours. We chat about how great it will be to shred the Pass with another chick, once her new bike arrives.

Making bars is a grind today. I chug water and munch on Handle nugs (dark chocolate cherry almond) while making sheet after sheet of Tiki (coconut mango cashew). My back and arms hurt, but intermittent storms drum on the warehouse roof and make me deeply grateful that I already got out to play.

After six hours I finish, clean up, walk home, pour a glass of Sweetgrass from the ubiquitous growler in the fridge. Tyler walks in right after me. He has been at the brewery for twelve hours. We heat up a pizza because between work and play, we're usually too busy or tired to go grocery shopping, much less cook. We talk about beer and bikes and where the hell we're going to live in a month. He is plagued with skier's syndrome, dying for snow, while I am dying for summer to never end. We watch House of Cards and complain that no TV show compares to The Wire.

This is what I do. It's not compelling, but life doesn't have to be blog-worthy to be wonderful.