Monday, September 19, 2016

CYCLING IN THE UP OF MICHIGAN

     Unlike the District of Columbia D.C., the abbreviation for the Upper Peninsula is UP (without the periods).  Longtime readers of the blog or my books Bicycle Journeys with Jerry or Gotta Go! know that my "thing" is taking vacations which include cycling.   Usually it is strictly a bike tour of some sort, either with a tour company (like VeloView or  Black Bear Adventures), or something that I put together myself.  Occasionally it is in conjunction with other touristy activities which are mainly touring with some cycling thrown in.  This is one of those.
     I've said it many times before, I "go" places but Marilane is the real tourist.  She expressed an interest in seeing the UP and even found me a century (100 mile) bike ride.  The fact that the Door County Century is located in Wisconsin didn't slow us up a bit, since it is either on the way to or from the UP.  She did her "thing" of researching what all was available to see and we mapped out a route to take.  If she were going by herself, it would be by air and rental car.
     With 1500+ miles to cover, we took it easy with stops in Little Rock, AR, Springfield, IL, and Cadillac, MI.  Our first tourist stop was the well-advertised Mackinac Island.  Only a few hours from Cadillac, we figured an early start would give us a whole day of exploring.  What we overlooked was that on Labor Day about 40,000 people walk over the five-mile long bridge. If we had left Cadillac earlier we might have eaked through before all traffic was stopped, but as it was, we stopped at the Mackinaw City end of the bridge.  For almost an hour.  Finally, at eleven o'clock, traffic began moving.  Keep in mind that folks started walking over one lane of this bridge at 7am.  As we inched our way up and over, Lake Michigan on the left and Lake Huron on the right, the one lane was full of people -really from one end of the bridge to the other.  Even though the official start time ended at 11am, there were still late-comers beginning their walk.  A serendipitous happening.
     The other end of the bridge is the city of St. Ignace.  In St. Ignace is a reputed pasty place.  First we located our hotel, then plugged in the address to find our pasty (yes, they have vegetarian, but not vegan).  Now is a good time to get off-track a bit and give a shout out to WAZE.  Our son and son-in-law touted it to us when we were in Georgia, so we down-loaded the app.  The first thing it did was cut about a hundred miles off our route from Little Rock to Springfield and put us on a brand new road with no traffic.  I'm impressed.  On this day, it routed us around the still-congested bridge traffic to our pasty place.  Also an explanation, of sorts, as to why we wanted to try a pasty in the first place. We are great fans of Lillian Jackson Braun and her Cat Who books.  In many of them she refers to pastys, and while she never says the setting is the UP, we are pretty sure that is her reference.  Now that we have tried them, all I can say is they are pretty bland, but filling.
     After lunch we attended the Ojibwa Museum, a very interesting place.  Among new things we learned was how they get the birch bark to make a canoe.  We checked into the hotel, I rested, Marilane went exploring.  Later we walked along their boardwalk/trail along the lake, bought fudge (because that is what you do when here), and strolled back to the hotel.  We had a balcony overlooking Lake Huron.  Quite peaceful.  Great sunrise.


   

The next morning we took the ferry to Mackinac Island.  No automobiles of any sort are allowed here.  We disembarked and immediately made our way a few blocks to book a carriage ride.  I've done carriage rides in Central Park and Acadia National Park.  They do the best they can with what the've got, but it was pretty boring.  Another thing the island is known for is it's fudge.  We purchased Murdick's last night and Joann's today.   Joanns wins easily.  We also found a decent restaurant for lunch, getting inside and hiding from the brief shower that came blowing in.  When she started the research, Marilane originally wanted to skip Mackinac.  Well, we've been here.  To be fair, we didn't pay the extra to see the Grand Hotel.
The coffee (and breakfast for that matter) at the hotel was below par, but at the other end of the parking lot was Java Joe's.  Great.  What the write up on my link says is right on.  We had a nice chat with the owner, a Peace Corps volunteer and civil rights activist when he was young.  Then we hit the road.
 
  First stop was Sault Saint Marie and the Soo Locks.  This is where the big ships move between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  I've seen and been through locks before but these are famous so I didn't want to come this far and not see them.  Managed to see one ship as it finished exiting.  They have a nice viewing area, but other than that ho-hum.  It would be awhile before the next ship, so we didn't wait around.
Our drive to Curtis was circuitous, visiting the Tahquamenon Falls, both upper and lower, then out to Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.  Our take-away from the museum was that, not counting the Edmund Fitzgerald, most of the shipwrecks were because the captain did something stupid.
We finally made it to Curtis and the Chamberlin's Ole Forest Inn.  This was an interesting place, in that you had to schlep your bags through the restaurant to the stairs to the rooms above.  Their porch looking out over Manistique Lake rates an A+, and we had breakfast the next morning doing just that.

Finally, some cycling.  The first of three planned rides, forty-five miles from Curtis to Grand Marais.  So far we had excellent weather, both on the drive up to Michigan and while here.  Today was no exception.  I had no map, but there were only three turns, two of which were in Curtis.  The appeal in the UP is on the lake shores.  The middle is pretty much rural and wooded, and on this ride devoid of anything scenic.  But I had a great, smooth road shoulder, minimal traffic, super weather, so had a flat, peaceful ride into Grand Marais.  Marilane said she would give me an hour's headstart, so I anticipated seeing her around an hour and a half into the ride.  As it turned out, she spent most of the morning on the porch enjoying the solitude and the lake.  As I decended the hill into Grand Marais, she passed me.  Perfect timing.  Grand Marais is very small and was just a pick-up point on our way to Munising.  It is noted for it's sand dunes, but neither of us had much interest.
     I intended to take the scenic route along Lake Superior to Munising but when I turned and found it to be a gravel road, changed my mind.  Again in Munising we had a balcony overlooking the lake.  Our plan was to take the sunset cruise to the Pictured Rocks, so we trekked on over to pick up our tickets before finding a place to eat.  They informed us that the waves were the 2-4 foot variety and it would be rough.  Ok, we can do that (Marilane would love it, Jerry less so).  As it turned out, by the time we set out, the waves were 6+ feet and forty-five minutes into the trip, before we hit the really big waves, our boat turned around.  Money was fully refunded, so we had a nice hour and a half boat ride for free.
     Finding places to eat that can keep me on my plant-based diet is very challenging.  In Munising, the Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore was up to the task.  This is a cool place and highly recommended.  I donated a book to them, after perusing their sport section and not finding any on cycling.
     My second ride involved driving to Marquette and cycling back to Munising while Marilane checked in with Weight Watchers and had a mani/pedi at The Studio Design Team.  As you can tell by the fact that I made it a link, she highly recommends it.  The forecast called for rain about 1:30pm, but I'd be done by then.  We arrived in Marquette and I had a pit stop at McDonalds.  This was several miles before my planned departure, but after seeing the road had heavy traffic and no shoulder into town, decided I'd leave from here.  Once again, I had a wide, smooth shoulder but this time a few hills were on the route.  I also had the wind more or less at my back and Lake Superior on my left.

 It was an uneventful ride.  Marilane, on the other hand, spent an inordinant amount of time at the salon, and had no time for exploring Marquette.  I had finished my thirty-five mile ride and cleaned up before she left Marquette.
   
 With rain in the forecast, we decided to drive out to the Pictured Rocks rather than take the cruise.  Our first stop was at Castle Rock.  It was interesting, but the best way to experience this phenomena was by boat.  We noticed that the lake was now smooth as glass, so decided to give the cruise another chance.  As it turned out, our timing couldn't have been better.  Marilane got the last two available tickets to the afternoon cruise on the catamaran.  This is a much bigger, faster boat and downright luxurious compared to what we were in yesterday.  Seeing how the minerals in the water seeping over the rocks creates murals is pretty spectacular.  The only downside to this cruise is because the boat is so wide, in order to give everyone a photo op, they go slow and stop both on the outbound and inbound treks.  We had the starboard side, so took our photos on the way out and were pretty much bored on the way back.  But taking the bigger boat was much the better deal.  We missed the sunset cruise, but I calculated that cruise would have been completed by sunset anyway, so figured we didn't miss much.
     My third cycling foray was to be forty-five miles from Munising to Manistique, getting picked up, a quick run through Manistique and see Lake Michigan, then drive to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin for a century ride.  The forecasted rain finally arrived, not just a drizzle.  So, we changed plans, kept the bike in the car and drove through it.  The driving route skipped Manistique but takes you south along Green Bay and at the bottom through the town of Green Bay and back up the Door County peninsula.  The rain had stopped by then and we arrived in Sturgeon Bay first at packet pickup, then to our B&B.  Once again, WAZE guided us quickly and surely to our destinations.
     The White Lace Inn is located in the historic district, so is central to downtown.  This is a small downtown, we are only talking about a few blocks.  An added bonus, when we looked up the location of the Catholic Church we found that it was half a block away.  I napped and Marilane went exploring, followed by church.  The next morning I was out at 5:45am therefore missed the excellent breakfast that was served at 8:00am.  By then I had done thirty miles on my bike.  Full story in a separate post.
     After riding, pasta lunch, and a nap, we wandered up and down main street and found a nice restaurant for dinner.  The next morning we packed the car for our return then sat down for breakfast.  A sumptious breakfast and plant-based diet are not compatible.  I had oatmeal and fruit.
     In looking at the map last night, it occurred to me that I had made a serious error in routing our return.  I can't for the life of me remember why I took us to Quincy, Illinois for the first night.  It is several hundred miles out of the way.  Long story short, we put WAZE on the job and Marilane on the phone cancelling our reservations.  We made it to Farmington, Missouri and the next day were back in Little Rock in time for an afternoon tour of the Clinton Library.  This was our third presidential library.  The next day we arrived home.
     
   

DOOR COUNTY CENTURY, 2016

     I have cycled in thirty-five of the fifty United States and wanted to include a few more (some of them I have absolutely no interest in).  We have a large National Geographic map of the US on a wall in the computer room with pins representing where I have ridden.  In reviewing it one day I realized that of the four states bordering Texas, I had not cycled in any of them.  That became a priority.  See my June 21, 2016 entry describing the New Mexico ride.  Arkansas and Oklahoma are on the agenda for 2017.  You might have to beat me to do something in Louisiana.  Then my wife called out from the living room....
     Marilane is a real tourist (I go places, but am not really a tourist).  She also likes to escape the summer heat in Texas.   Michigan's Upper Peninsula had been suggested as a great place to visit.  It had the Great Lakes, Painted Rocks, cool weather.  As an added inducement, she found the Door County Century (DCC) which is in Wisconsin, either on the way to or from the UP.  The timing was perfect.  Many of our trips occur for this very reason: the calendar was blank.  I could add pins to two more states.
     One more thing before getting to the century ride.  I planned three 45-mile rides in Michigan: Curtis to Grand Marais, Marquette to Munising, Munising to Manistique.  The first two were quite enjoyable rides on smooth roads with good shoulders.  The third one was rained out (I don't "do" rain; I have rain gear if I get caught out, but will skip a ride if it is raining).  Just as well.  We drove from Munising to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin in the rain.  The White Lace Inn is in the downtown historic section of Sturgeon Bay and only a mile and a half from the start line of the DCC.
     The DCC folks are very clear that this is a ride, not a race.  As such, the start times are from 6am to 10am.  Start whenever you like, just finish by 5pm.  My sleep pattern always has me awake ridiculously early, so I left the inn at 5:45am in the dark.  It was a little funny at the start line, in that there were a few people standing under it conversing.  I noticed the time, 6:02, and started off.  There were a few folks ahead of me, and others behind were clipping in.  No mass start.
     It was now light enough, about twenty minutes before sunrise.  The weather couldn't have been more perfect: 54 degrees, a light wind mostly at our backs, clear.  I wore my tights, base layer, jersey, and wind jacket and was quite comfortable.  Most folks had less clothing, more power to them.  I latched on to a guy, not really on his wheel but our cadence matched and we stayed together about ten miles until I stopped to put my sunglasses on (they were entangled in the map in my pocket, necessitating two hands).
     I rode through the first rest stop, about fifteen miles into the ride, hop-scotching the half-dozen riders who had passed me.  Because of my early start, and slow pace (15 mph), I wasn't passing anyone, but almost always had someone in sight.  The signage for this ride rates A+.  Every turn well marked.  I cruised along enjoying the ride, getting occasional glimpses of Green Bay.  On one stretch of road, with corn on my right and the rising sun at an angle that created a strobe-affect on the sunglasses, I had to stretch out on the aerobars to escape it.  A few minutes, I was sitting up straight for the same reason.  Eventually, I ran out of corn and back into tranquil shade.
     At the second rest stop, I refueled and removed the wind jacket.  The wind was cool and dry and the temperature had moved into the 60s, so tights and base layer stayed in place.  Besides, my pockets were now full so I had no place to stuff them.  When the 70 mile and 100 mile routes split I found myself alone for a few miles.  Eventually some riders passed me.  We still had Green Bay on our left and a smooth shaded road to cycle.
     As we came to Sister Bay, I once again found myself without riders ahead or behind.  No problem, I followed the sign pointing to the right, and the next sign going right, and settled in going south on Hwy 57.  After a mile or so I began to doubt that I had made the correct turn.  But up ahead I saw riders crossing the highway, and when I got there I asked some other riders if this were the 100 mile route.  This they affirmed, so I followed them.  About a mile further and I realized I had seen this scenery about an hour earlier.  Pook, ding-fu!  I turned around and returned to Hwy 57 and stopped to consult the map.  Unfortunately I couldn't discern where I was in regard to the route, but I knew if I stayed south on 57, I would come to the next rest stop.  About a half mile more and I saw riders crossing again.  This time I found the cross street and was back on the route.  I calculated I'd done at least three extra miles.  But the next mileage marker had me down three and a half miles, so apparently I cut off six-plus miles.  Later I found out some local had messed with the signs (sending bad thoughts his way).
     The breeze was now mostly from the front, but really it served more to keep me cool and dry than a hindrance to speed.  The sun was up, the sky clear blue, and now the 50-mile route riders were converging.  Ah, finally some folks who were slower than me.  Truthfully, I do not remember stopping at the Cave Point rest stop.  I must have, to refill my bottle and text Marilane that I would be in at 1:30pm rather than 2:00pm.  My rule of thumb is stopping for no more than five minutes unless completely knackered.
     The next sixteen miles continued with Lake Michigan on my left.  About half mile from the last rest stop another rider finally engaged me in conversation.  After the first pleasantries, we were just getting into a discussion when I turned off and he continued.  Ah well!  I had a mini-Clif bar and topped off the bottle and texted Marilane my arrival time was now 1pm.  While I wasn't going very fast, I wasn't slowing down.  And there weren't any real photo ops, in that I knew the lake was there, but couldn't see it.
     The last five miles were a bit twisty-turny and some riders felt the need to race to the end.
 I just meandered in.  I was tired but not beat to a pulp.  The pasta lunch and free Fat Tire beer, watching the first half of the Packers game (with several hundred Green Bay fans) on a big screen helped ease me back to some semblance of normal.  A long nap back at the B&B helped also.
   

Monday, July 25, 2016

CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER....

     Another case whereby one should never ASSume.  In retrospect, while the bottom line may have turned out the same, I failed to completely explore all possible scenarios.  This post is about why I have a new HRM (and my third strap).  Chronologically in order:
     On June 23rd I did a thirty-mile loop, and the HRM performed perfectly, as it has for several years, after I had managed to lose my first one (following Garmin suggestion of removing the HRM from the strap so as to save battery power, I think I dropped it in a parking lot.  Anyway, that's another story, but I no longer separate the two unless washing the strap).
     On June 29 I started out on the first 3-gap loop in Georgia and immediately noticed the lack of heart-rate showing on the computer.  I re-wet the connections but nothing happened.  Not to worry, I always take it easy on the first ride in the mountains.  Ride finished and body showered, I calmly sat down with a glass of red to contemplate what to do next.  More fiddling with the computer and strap netted zero changes.  I still had cadence, distance, grades, etc. so my focus was on the HRM.  Garmin suggests a maximum of 4.5 years at one hour a day average.  I do at least twice that, so determined that a new battery would fix the deficiency.  The nearest store is down the mountain, a half hour away.  Besides, look at those teeny-tiny Phillips screws on the HRM.  I needed a tool to even consider replacement.  My ever-resourceful wife managed to produce (after going down to Dahlonega the next day) batteries and tool (not a Phillips, but a small eyeglass screwdriver).
     I did the three-gap ride in the opposite direction, showered, and sat down with a glass of red (my daughter-in-law supplied me with four bottles, so just about every sitting down included a glass) to replace the dead battery.  Didn't happen.  Those screws were in so tight, I didn't have the strength to turn that really, really thin screwdriver.  Ever resourceful wife called equally resourceful daughter (who was arriving the next day) to include a pair of pliers (remember, we are in a cabin in the mountains, on holiday).
     July 1, another three gaps without a heart-rate read-out.  But to shorten the story, I got the screws out, installed the new battery, replaced the cover, and put on the strap.  Nothing happened.  No, I put the battery right-side up.  Nothing happened.  I was doing well climbing the gaps, including the obnoxious Hog Pen, and even tackled Brasstown Bald for the first time in five years.  But I had no heart-rate data.
     When I got home, I Googled the problem and saw some suggestions.  But in replacing the HRM cover, I apparently was too enthusiastic in making sure it was water-tight.  Two screws wouldn't budge.  Damn.  Time to call in some experts.
     July 17, after the BSS Sunday ride, I discussed my options with Todd (ride leader).  His experience was they (HRMs) just stop, and suggested a new one.  Well, I was already 80% leaning toward that, so I ordered a new one (I love BSS, but their price was $20 higher than Amazon).
     July 23, with new HRM and "improved" strap in place, I attempted to "pair" the computer.  It didn't "pair."  I pulled up the instructions on-line, just in case I wasn't doing it right.  Nope, it just didn't recognize the HRM.  Pook!  Ding-fu!!  The July 24 ride in the hills done without HR data.
     July 25, today, I took the time-trial bike out to Old Settlers Park.  Since my fit on the road bike raised my saddle over an inch, I raised the tt saddle also and wanted to see how that worked.  On a whim, I took the HRM.  To my surprise, when I switched over to Bike 2, HRM sensor was detected!  I had good data for the whole work-out.  Back home, I switched to Bike 1, and lost HR read-out.
A head-scratcher.  Again I attempted to "pair" the HRM in Bike 1 mode.  Nothing.  Switch to Bike 2, a good read-out.  Switch to Bike 1, nothing.  Switch to Bike 2- read-out.  Switch to Bike 1- read-out.
     I stopped trying to understand computers a long time ago. And I won't dwell on the possibility I didn't need a new HRM.   I'll wait to see what I get tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

HOTTER'N HELL TIPS

     Everyone should do the Hotter'N Hell Hundred at least once.  I did it ten years in a row about twenty years ago, and last year, just to see if things changed.  Here are the things you should consider:
     1.  Within 50 miles of Wichita Falls, motels fill up rapidly, many in town have a two night minimum and are expensive.
     2.  When driving to WF, within 50 miles, do not exceed the speed limit on Friday.
     3.  Enjoy the Expo Friday afternoon and evening.
     4.  Get to the start line as soon as you can, like an hour before the start if possible.  Don't be shy about being in the front, you want to get in a decent paceline asap.
     5.  Be prepared to dodge folks who should have started at the back because they lack cycling skills, for the first five (ten) miles.
     6.  Find a (pace) paceline that you are comfortable with, slightly less than a club ride.  Because you will be passing others you can drop off if you get tired, or if being passed, hop on if that one suits you better.  You should be behind someone for at least 60 miles, 40 on a bad day.
     7.  Be prepared to make the 40 mile rest stop your first one, 50 if you can.  Only take two water bottles.  After the first stop, stop at each of the others.  Don't exceed 5 minutes per stop until at least 80 miles.  You should (must) consume a bottle of liquid (electrolytes), minimum, between stops (after your first one).
     8.  In a paceline, or later an individual, do not stay behind a person who yo-yo's their cadence, braking then speeding up.  That is a fast way to tire your muscles.  Pick a base-cadence, but occasionally increase or decrease for a short period to give yourself a break.
     9.  Wear sunblock.  The rest stops have some, feel free to re-apply.
     10. If, for any reason, 100 miles becomes too much of a reach, make the decision at Hell's Gate to shorten the ride.  The other option is to SAG in.  The HHH is well-supported and their goal is to get you safely in.  Don't make it harder on them by getting heat stroke.
     11. Have fun.
This list may have additions later on.
   

Saturday, July 16, 2016

CYCLING THE SIX GAPS, BUT....

   ....Not the century.  You can read about that in my September 3, 2011 blog.  Every year since 2005 we've been coming to the North Georgia Mountains on vacation.  I bring my bike and ride the gaps, three at a time.  Every year in July I post a blog about it.  Mostly, not much changes.  This year, there were some minor changes, plus I didn't get rained out on my rides.
     I was looking forward to this year, in that with my new bike fit allowing more muscles to turn the pedals, I hoped to make a better ascent of Hogpen Gap and maybe tackle Brasstown Bald.  Last year I didn't have the oomph for Hogpen, and it has been at least three years since I tried the beast of Brasstown.
     My first ride is always Woody Gap, Neels Gap, Wolfpen Gap.  This thirty-five mile loop eases me into mountain cycling, in that Woody (from Suches) is a short (two miles), gentle climb (6-8% grade) and the transition to Neels is rolling.  Traditionally, it takes me two hours, forty-five minutes.  I started my Garmin and rolled out from the cabin.  In the past I'd wait until leaving the premises before beginning to time the ride.  As I glanced down, I noticed the HRM was not giving me a reading.  Mentally I checked that the strap was in place (yes, it has been forgotten in the past) and when I got to the road I stopped and re-wet it.  Still no read-out.  This was poor timing for the battery to go out.  As it turns out, even replacing the battery didn't get it going, and I'm finding blogs advising what to do, but now I have other issues with it.  That's another story, but suffice to say none of my rides have heart-rate information.
     The ride itself was uneventful.  The five-mile descent down Woody is always fun and I had no traffic.  There was a slight wind in my face, so to maintain the mid-twenties speed, I did some easy pedaling.  The transition to Turner's Corner felt good.  After a short stop to ingest a Clif Bar, I began the eight miles (which historically, and incorrectly, have reported as nine) to the top.  I recorded mostly 7-8% with a few short 10% ramps, with about a mile of flat-downhill about the half-way spot, and arrived at the top feeling good.  Another short stop for a nature break, then it was off down the mountain.
     This is a four-lane highway that is very lightly traveled.  Generally, if I start without a vehicle in front of me and get a few seconds headstart on any behind me, since my speed is close to the speed limit (35 mph), I can use both lanes of traffic to carve the curves.  I'm constantly monitoring my rear view mirrors to be sure of not impeding any cars, but mostly I have the road to myself.  All too soon the left turn onto route 180 and Wolfpen Gap comes up.
     Wolfpen is a three-mile climb, with a lot of cambered, tight turns.  It is a favorite of motorcycles and there are always guys enjoying it.  It is also my favorite, although five out of the six gaps can be catagorized as favorites (I'm unenamoured with Jack's Gap), for different reasons.  Once at the top, there is a two mile exhilerating descent, some standard descent, and then rolling back to the cabin.
This year, I did this loop, in one direction or the other, four times.
     My other loop starts at the top of Jack's Gap (driving to that point), and is a boring five-mile descent and right turn up to Unicoi Gap.  This is another easy ascent of about two and a half miles at 5-8%, followed by a great downhill.  Again, four lanes most of the time, with sweeping curves that mostly can be taken at speed.  I noticed some cracks developing in strategic places on the curves, which had me slowing slightly.  You get a couple of fast miles, then more moderate.  Soon enough another right turn puts you on the transition to Hogpen.  Don't get the wrong idea, this transition has 8% grades.
     One more right turn puts you on the Russell Scenic Highway.  It is not scenic.  Rather, it is shaded.  There are trees on both sides.  The asphalt is newish and smooth.  It is a long climb, with a nice downhill in the middle.  But my Garmin showed a lot of 10-12% grades.  The killer comes after a long 12% that turns a curve and presents you with 16% (according to my Garmin, which may not be accurate at this point since it showed 20%).  It doesn't matter, the climb is tough.  Through the sweating and panting, I smiled.  I was going up and although working hard, not struggling.  The downhill had me wishing for the road I'd just come up.  Rough as a cob.  Scary long straights, allowing speeds in excess of 50mph, if you are so inclined.  I kept mine around 39mph this year (I see that previously I'd gone up to 47).  More rolling transition gets you back to route 180, a left turn, ride a mile, another left turn, ride two miles, turn right and go up Wolfpen.  Mileage came in at forty-five, climbing 5462 feet.
     One other route I do is the Skeenah Gap ride.  This is fifty-one miles, and has as much altitude (4782) as the shorter ones.  Where the three gap starting with Woody (going south) is counter-clockwise, Skeenah is clockwise, thus starts with going down the north side of Woody.  It is another great descent.  Super weather, mostly by myself without vehicles, until I got to a couple miles of moderate traffic.  Last year, I had to stop after thirty-eight miles and call for a ride home, I was so pooped.  This year I just carried on, topping Wolfpen once again.
     I rested the next day in preparation for Brasstown Bald.  Originally I thought I had a three year hiatus from climbing Brasstown, but in going through my records I find my last climb to have been in 2011.  Also, I didn't set a new record on the decent, but tied my best time of 4:55.  You can read about it in my July 2011 post, with pictures.  Anyhow, I was pleased as punch to once again be able to make the ascent.  For those not reading the 2011 account, the climb starts off at 12%, goes to 16%, drops to 12%, then a short break in the 6-8% range.  You get another 16%, maybe 18%, followed immediately by the 24% wall.  After that, the 16% and 12% ramps don't seem so bad, and the single digits downright flat.
     This year's foray into Georgia was a cycling success, with 260 miles and 29,841feet of climbing.
   

   

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

TEXAS STATE TIME TRIAL CHAMPIONSHIPS, 2016

     I wasn't looking forward to the time trials this year, mainly because I knew my form to be 'way off.  But then again, I like competing no matter what the outcome.  Besides my form, several fast riders turned 70 and entered the 70+ category.  When I looked at the roster I estimated I'd be fighting for sixth place (out of twelve).
     The individual time trial took place Saturday morning and the team time trial on Sunday morning.  Fortunately, us old guys had an early morning start time, 7:40am for me.  Our course began south, 10k out and back, for a total of 20k.  The temperature moved into the lower 80's with heavy humidity.  I took my normal twenty-five minute warm-up and joined the other guys at the start line.
     I eschewed the starting ramp, not needing the extra couple of seconds since fighting for a podium spot seemed very much out of range.  The speed moved up to 23mph range, something I thought I could hold, and two mph higher than my target, based on lack of training.  Of more interest to me was the heart-rate.  The last two years I couldn't get enough power to the pedals without the muscles tiring with a heart-rate in the 130's.  I was anxious to see what I could do in this race.  As it turned out, I was quite comfortable at 144/147, and quite pleased.  This wasn't a 100% effort and wasn't supposed to be.  What it did was give me the confidence to up my training (more on that later).
 
 My team partners were Dean Wilkerson (77) and Tom Cole (72).  Tom came in second in the individual, two minutes-plus faster than me.  Dean, in the 75+ category, beat me by three seconds.  None of the other 70+ riders formed a team, so we won by default.  That didn't stop us from going hard on Sunday morning.  We left at 8:18am, a little cooler and a lot less humid than Saturday.  Tom led out and he traveled in the 27mph range, which I had no problem following.  Since Tom was clearly faster and in better shape, he took longer pulls.  Our goal was to not get passed by the younger teams that followed at two minute intervals.  No one passed us.  I cannot find the team results, but I'm pretty sure we were faster than some of the teams.
     I have no problem touting that once again this year I'm a state time trial champion.  Of course, my tongue is firmly in my cheek.  But if you want to beat our team, you have to sign up and race.
     A professional bike fit (road bike) had been scheduled for Monday and I looked forward to seeing how far off my body/bike was.  Well, it seems my saddle had slipped, like almost an inch low.  We also moved it forward.  I purchased new handle bars and lowered them an inch, and moved the hoods up a bit.  We also inserted a couple of varus wedges in each foot and got Specialized inserts.  Let me tell you now, my thirty-mile ride Monday evening was an eye-opener.  If my leg muscles could talk, they would have said something like "Finally, you are using us."  While I anticipated some soreness from unused muscles, everything was great.  I could easily keep up with the group.  My confidence level is quite high that I can regain the speed I had two years ago.
     Check back in a few weeks to see what progress has been made.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

CYCLING SANTA FE AND TAOS WITH VELO VIEW

     Last year while regaling someone with tales of my exploits all over the United States and parts of England and France, I counted up the number of states (I have pins on a map of all the places I've ridden).  It came to thirty-seven.  Then I realized I'd not ridden in any of the states that border Texas.  Truly, I don't mind not cycling in Rhode Island, Connecticut,  or Florida but omitting New Mexico, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana seems like a lot of good cycling going to waste.  Those states have now become my focus, and the first one to get a pin was New Mexico.
     In a previous post I extolled the virtues of Velo View Bike Tours and they conveniently have an annual tour out of Santa Fe and Taos.  I signed up early since this tour fills quickly.  My eight hundred mile May helped in my preparation, although cycling in the mountains really requires practice in the mountains.
     Velo View's modus operandi is a three-day long weekend tour, with an optional ride if you arrive early on Thursday.  I saw no reason to drive that far for three days, so stopped overnight in Lubbock and was at the very nice Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe by 11:00am, plenty of time before our afternoon ride.  The plan was drive up to the starting parking lot then ride eight miles up to the Santa Fe Ski Basin followed by a thrilling descent back to the van.

     Interestingly enough, I had met all of my companions previously.  Six of us piled into the van for the short drive to our start.  While the others prepared to depart, I removed my 12-32 cassette because for some reason (since remedied) it didn't fit properly and replaced it with my 11-28 (brought along for just this reason).  Therefore, they all had a headstart.  Anyhow, wanting to get started, I got on the bike and began pedaling.  For about two seconds.  This was an all-incline climb, about 4% at this juncture.  I forgot to move the chain out of the 53-12.  Stop, adjust to proper gear, get moving.
     One basic maxim when cycling at altitude is never go into the red, because recovery becomes practically impossible.  My heart-rate was pretty high from the start.  I managed three miles or so before pulling the plug.  In all likelihood, I could have rested five minutes and chugged on, but I opted to coast back (like hitting speeds in the mid-30's and braking a lot) to the van.  After sitting around awhile, I got back on the bike and did about twenty quarter-mile loops up and down the road.
About that time Sherri came back, having received a disturbing email about her dad (her story not mine; but she left the next morning).  Eventually, the others returned, regaling us with the thrilling descent.
     We returned to the inn, cleaned up, had a beer by the pool, and walked downtown to Pasquals for dinner.  The chef and waitress at Pasquals teamed up to keep me on my plant-based diet with an excellent meal.  I was impressed.
     Friday we loaded the van for a drive to the Santuario de Chimayo, about a half an hour north of Santa Fe.  After a brief visit, with drove some more to begin our forty-mile ride to Taos.  One of the things Shannon does is repeat himself many times with our instructions for the day.  This is necessary because people invariably forget or don't hear him or whatever and will not stay on script.  I mention this because I heard the instructions quite clearly, at the top of the monster ascent we will meet up then descend into Taos.  Well, I focused on the term "monster ascent" and when arriving at an overlook, got off and took pictures, then got back on and started cycling.  The ride profile showed a dip and a climb, so I figured the monster ascent was right after the short downhill.  Well, by the time I realized that the overlook was the top, I was in full descent speed.  Ooops!  In retrospect, I could have screeched to a halt and turned around for some bonus climbing.  I didn't.  About eight miles later, I pulled over to await the van and the others.  We still had more miles on a sketchy back road to our destination: El Monte Sagrado Resort & Spa.  This place is quite impressive.  We had a late lunch, and I was able to get a vegan entree.
     Saturday was the big, fifty-nine mile, two pass, endeavor on the "Enchanted Circle."  In our case, it was a semi-circle.  Between the passes would be a lunch break in Eagle Nest.  Once again I didn't really need the 32 tooth gear and motored steadily up the first climb, Bobcat Pass (9,820').
Here we met the other Velo View group (who were doing a gravel/mountain bike tour), had a short regrouping and obligatory photo op in front of the Bobcat Pass sign, then bombed down to Eagle Nest.  This is where the wheels came off, figuratively speaking.  Our combined group overwhelmed the eating establishment (Eagle Nest is a spot in the road).  I wasn't the last meal served, but it took over an hour for me.  My energy level dropped considerably.  The instructions were easy enough, get on the road and go, no turns, until you get to the hotel.  We were also given permission to go whenever we finished lunch.  So off I went.
 
 Meanwhile, the afternoon wind had come up, straight in my face.  I geared down and was making a steady 11mph on the flat road.  As I got closer to the next pass, I could see the precipitation.  I had anticipated some rain and had my rain jacket in my pocket.  A quick stop allowed me to put it on and continue.  Just two miles from the climb, the rain/sleet increased, the temperature dropped like a stone, and the wind continued to buffet my face.  After a few minutes of this, the Velo View van (mountain bikers) came by and I gave the signal I'd had enough.  They were kind enough (Rick from Bicycle Sport Shop and David Boone who had just completed a 24 hour ride) to give me shelter until the other van came.
     The weather wasn't so bad that I couldn't have carried on.  I just didn't.  It goes back to energy.  Energy is different from strength.  It is connected to, but not the same as, will power.  I'm convinced that had I had the energy from the first half of the ride, I would have continued on.  But the long break cost me.  Once over the pass, the wind subsided or was now at the riders backs, and the rain disappeared.  I missed an exciting downhill.  I wasn't the only rider to sag in.  Once back at the hotel we discussed that perhaps the best solution for Eagle Nest might be a box lunch that could be consumed quickly.
     We walked to another fine dinner (the name escapes me).  Tapas.  Tapas is more difficult on a plant-based diet.  With so many great items from which to choose, hardly anyone wants what I was eating (Gary, the other vegan, had the same plate), blue corn vegan tortillas.  Shannon broke down and had half a tortilla (he is such a good host!).  I also had artichokes, but had to scrape off the cheese.  The restaurant also had live music, quite good.  We sat outside, quite pleasant.
     We began Saturday in the van, driving through the Rio Grande Gorge.  Truly, I don't understand how this river became "grande."  But watching the slash in the ground (I had to look it up, the river actually follows a tectonic chasm formed when the North American and Pacific plates scraped against each other) as it snaked its way across the landscape had me mesmorized.
     The day included a short, twenty-nine mile ride, and lunch and time at Ojo Caliente Spa.  When I look at the ride profile, I don't really count the downhill miles.  Therefore I counted a sixteen mile ride, and thirteen miles of downhill.  As it turned out, the mileage was twenty-five and included one really nice, several-mile downhill.
     As regular readers know, I don't "do" water.  But, I brought my bathing suit and prepared to relax in the warm mineral pools.  Also, many cyclists end their rides with a refreshing malted beverage.  I had several with lunch.  The pool temperature exceeded warm.  It didn't take long before the combination had me feeling as though my blood pressure was dropping, so I made my way out and back to our chairs.  Returning to normal, I sought out a different, cooler pool and found a space along the wall to relax.  Hey, I don't really relax in water.  All too soon, I was back in the chair and actually relaxing.  I did notice Joe with an arm-lock on an older gentleman gently guiding him from pool-side to inside.  The thought ran through my mind, it could have been me had I stayed in the pool much longer.
     Well, a cycling tour doesn't have to be perfect to be successful.  While I didn't get in all the riding I came for, I got in sufficient.  Scenery was great.  I really like that Shannon restricts the number of riders to eight and that each rider is individually catered to.  We shall see what I can squeeze into my already fast filling calendar for 2017.  And I think Crater Lake is on tap for 2018.
     If you read this on Tuesday, come back again later, as I will add more pictures from my GoPro.