Monday, December 29, 2014

OFF-SEASON EXERCISE

     About this time several years ago, I took up my friend Walt Esquivel's challenge to do 77 push-ups on July 7th.  The plan was for 11 on January 1, 22 on February 2, 33 on March 3 et cetera.  To see where I was physically, I pushed out 20 with a big effort.  That convinced me I needed more of a plan than just increasing by eleven each month.  I turned to http://hundredpushups.com/index.html and liked their program.  By the time July 7th rolled around, I was able to do 77 consecutive, good-form push-ups.  Unfortunately, I was in Georgia at the time and not able to attend the official challenge completion.
     Each year after the cycling season, I start back being more regular with the push-ups.  Usually I start at week 4 and work my way back up.  Interestingly, I have never done 100 and truthfully probably never will.  But 77 remains my goal.  I just completed Day 3 of Week 5, which works out to a total of 200 push-ups.  I created a closed group for this, and might just do it as an event this year.
     I hate doing abominable abdominal work.  Two years ago I incorporated planks into my regimen.  Planks are a good core exercise.  Last year, for my 2nd Annual Plank Praxis, I invited 13 folks and 9 joined.  What we learned over the two years are that keeping a regular program over the year is impossible for the average person. One tip: do it early, like between coffee and breakfast.  What I found worked best for me was to set a monthly minutes goal, thereby giving some leeway as to when they could be done.  I started off with 30 minutes and worked my way up to 60 minutes in May before cycling and trips interfered.  I'm back on the program and did 5 minutes yesterday, although the longest set was only a minute and a half.  I should get it up to two minutes for New Year's Day (while watching the Rose Parade) and have set a January goal of 60 minutes.  I'll be setting up a 3rd Annual Plank Praxis on Facebook later today.  If you would like to join in but don't receive an invitation, shoot me a message.
     Yoga also gets more attention now.  I found out yesterday that my hamstrings were quite a bit shorter than they were in May.  Really, I know better, but stretching daily just wasn't getting done.  That is my New Year's Resolution (maybe not daily, but regularly).
     Stay healthy and active this winter, even if it isn't always on the bike.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

REMEMBRANCE

Today is cold (36 degrees F) and drizzly.  I have cold weather gear, but don't like getting out in the wet, so skipped today's Bicycle Sport Shop Ride.  Only two showed up (the ride leaders), so they tooled around town, including Mount Bonnell, where they encountered sleet.  That brought back a memory from riding in the Alps with Marty Jemison on one of my Tour de France rides.  The full account is in my book, Gotta Go!

Day Three:  Col Agnel ~ 30 Miles

            Today was a short day, with a very short warm-up, then the 20.5km Hors Category climb.  However, we were a tad off in our timing, and should have started about an hour earlier, or ridden faster, or not ridden at all (just kidding).  Yesterday’s brilliance had been replaced by morning puffy clouds.  I brought my Camelbak, which included my rain pants (for wind protection) and wind jacket, because mountain tops are always windy.  The clouds thickened as we moved out.  This is the third highest paved mountain pass in Europe.  My rule for mountain riding is to always have your rain gear.  My rain jacket had not made it into the Camelbak.  Serious oops!
            Marty had said the climbs were 6% on average, with some at 9%.  Truthfully, my gps is not all that accurate on altitudes, but I saw a lot of 9%, 11%, and a 14% (this, where most folks say it is 10%).  I really didn’t have much energy today, no pop in the legs.  Then it started to rain.
            Drizzle at first, then slightly harder.  About 5km from the top, the cold wind came up and the temperature dropped.  Officially, they say 9 degrees centigrade.  I found a spot to get my rain pants on, and Jill lent me her rain jacket.  At 3km from the top, the caravan caught us.  Once the caravan comes, no one is allowed on the road.  We were stuck, cold and wet as swag came slinging our way.  Jill caught my eye, and when there was a break in the caravan and the gendarme turned his head, we started walking briskly up the road and didn’t turn around to see what the reaction was.
            Marty had secured some seating area in a lodge 2km from the top.  Once Jill, Roger, and I turned one switchback, we got on the bikes and rode the next couple hundred yards to where the gendarme was about to get unhappy with us, but it was at the entrance to the lodge, so we were getting off anyhow.  Marty rushed us up to place the bikes next to the rail (one floor up) and we pushed in the door and sat down on a bench.  This lodge had room for maybe fifty and probably there were over a hundred cold, shivering cycling fans ordering hot food and drinks as fast as the servers could take the orders.  The really great part is they had a big screen TV, so it was pretty much a party. 
            My shivering abated after about a half an hour, but I really never got warm.  Even when the pros finally came by, about ten of us stayed inside and watched the TV.  Once the broom wagon passed, we would be allowed to get on our bikes and descend back the way we came.  Unfortunately, that is also the time the freezing rain got harder (I think I am using this term incorrectly, maybe what we had was sleet.  In any case, you get the picture).  We delayed our departure. 
            I told Jill I only had about five minutes of non-cycling energy to fight the cold, so once we left the lodge, I wanted to be on the bike as soon as possible.  Marty was anxious to find Gotti and Jason, who had managed to become separated from us.  So, Marty and I would ride at his speed, and Jill, Roger and John would come somewhat slower.  We waited until we saw a patch of blue sky coming at us, and then moved out.
            Within minutes of starting the descent, solid precipitation hit us, but only flecks.  The road was wet but not slick.  Marty kept checking behind, but as I kept up, he let it out some more.  I didn’t think I could go so fast on a wet road.  Thankfully, this col had very few switchbacks.  We ran into traffic jams of folks going both up and down the mountain, and the road through the small hamlets only had the width of one car.  What a mess.  Thankfully, bikes could squeeze between the cars and the buildings, and bikes were faster.
            About halfway down we came to a restaurant and spotted Jason and  Gotti.  What a fine place to get hot chocolate.  Marty ordered then turned around to see a tour guide he knew, and their entourage.  Time passed as they discussed today’s ride.  Eventually, our whole group was together and had finally warmed up. With the temperature about 15 degrees warmer and the no rain, we cycled the final miles back down to the van. 

            Byran says if you have an adventure and don’t die, it was a good one.  This fell into that category.  Interestingly, I thoroughly enjoyed passing the cars.  Of course, I only followed Marty, and everybody in the cars were cycling fans so the usual angst didn’t materialize. What a cool experience.

Friday, December 19, 2014

GIVE YOURSELF A FIT!!

     I'm referring to a bike fit, of course.  Not just having the sales rep making sure a 52 or 56cm frame is what you want, but a real, professional fit, with maybe a video with light-dots or string measurements of lots of body parts.  We recently have had several discussions after our Sunday morning Bicycle Sport Shop rides regarding ill-fitting bikes and how just a millimeter or two can make a world of difference in your riding comfort and power.
     Today my friend Jim posted he had such a pro fit from Skot at BSS, and "found that I needed significant adjustment of my pedal configuration to meet my hip width and knee action. We also found that I needed to bring my seat forward 15mm."  Jim is very tall and I love hiding behind him in a headwind.  He was driven to getting a fit by having a strained (or pulled, I forget which) gluteus medius (or some such).  His post is getting a lot of responses, mainly because he is very popular, but also because 15mm is a HUGE adjustment.  For the metrically challenged, think of it as a half inch.  Many of the responses were testimonials for how great Skot is, and what a large difference he made in their riding.
     Well, I cannot give Skot a testimonial because I was fitted in 2001.  And, I wasn't fitted to my bike, I was measured and the bike built to my measurements.  I flew to Indianapolis and checked in with Vern LaMere at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport.  In the Human Performance Lab Vern took a bunch of measurements (picture Harry Potter choosing his wand; or the wand choosing the wizard), took video from the side, back, front and then sent all this to Roark (which is in Brownsburg, IN), who built the bike.

     Not wanting to "waste" a trip to Indiana, I also had Vern give me a VO2 test (submax because I didn't have a doctor's permission).  I still have the results, but cognition of what the numbers mean has gone the way of the Dodo bird.  But I had just finished cycling coast to coast a few months before, so I was still in really good shape.
      Back to getting a proper fit, other than dropping a few pounds, my body hasn't changed dimensions, so my bike still fits perfectly.  My time-trial bike is also a story of getting a great fit.  In 2009 I went to Jack and Adams for a Felt (no need to go into why I ended up there).  I spent about an hour arriving at the right size.  Then we had to order the bike, Jack not stocking the expensive B-2 frame with Dura Ace and Zipp 404 and 808 wheels.  They built it up and when it came in, Jack spent several hours getting me fitted.  Seat height came first, then he tried several different stems before he was satisfied.  He gently corrected my arm position, and thankfully liked my imitation of a flat back.  Except for Nationals (where I was 13th in the 10k, but fastest from Texas), I haven't been off the podium with my Felt.
     I may have to up my game now in order to keep behind Jim, but I'm glad he is properly fitted to his bike.

CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

     Professor Moody's admonition to the students of Hogwarts also applies to cyclists.  I've just looked at a GoPro video of a guy tooling along the highway when a deer suddenly jumps into him (not the one in Africa).  In this case, lack of vigilance was not the cause of the problem.  But it got me to thinking, specifically about last Sunday's ride and why it is a good thing to take a few minutes to check out your bike on a regular basis.
     We stopped at a convenience store for a break, and I leaned my bike on the wall,  As I munched my Clif bar and meandered around I glanced back at my bike.  This was a full-frontal view; I did a double-take.  Certainly my eyes deceived me, because it appeared the saddle was out-of-line.  I went to the rear, and moved the bike to a vertical position.  I went back to the front.  I asked my buddies for verification.  Yes, off-kilter.  Puzzling.
     I'm trying to remember the last time I adjusted the saddle.  I know for a fact that my time-trial bike hasn't had any adjustment in the six years I've had it.  The last time I remember moving the saddle was 2009, when I did the Land's End to John O'Groats ride.  Certainly it hasn't been that long.  Maybe when it was in the bike shop.  Of course, when or who is not germane to my topic.
      What I am advocating is a cursory inspection of your bike at least once a week, or 200 miles.  Check the handlebars and saddle alignment.  I  scratched a line on my saddle post so I know where it should be.  A piece of tape also works.  About handlebars, several years ago on a Sunday group ride, I was going down a slight hill when my handlebar bolt broke.  Fortunately, my friends got on each side of me until we could get stopped, so I made a graceful dismount.
     I read somewhere that you should inspect your tires after each ride, but I don't unless the road surface was particularly dirty or wet.  Wet tires pick up more crud which tends to stick to the tire and might embed itself, eventually causing a flat.  You might be surprised how black a rag might be when you run it around the brake patch of the wheel.
     I carry a rag or paper towel in the back of my Rav4.  At the end of each ride, before loading the bike, I wipe the chain.  As I read on the Rock N Roll website, the movement of the chain creates static electricity which attracts dirt.  This dirt mixes with the lubricant on the outside of the chain, which in turn acts like a sponge drawing out the working-lubricant.  Cleaning your chain after each ride prolongs the effectiveness of the lube, thus you don't need to re-lube as often.
      Checking the wheel alignment should also be part of your routine, saving you from a range of problems such as minor braking difficulties to a broken spoke (which in itself can lead to serious consequences).  When I purchased my bike in 2001, it came with Rolf Vector Pro wheels.  You never have to true them.  I haven't trued my time-trial Zipps either, but they have relatively few miles on them. I can say that even before 2001, I was terrible at trueing a wheel and usually ended up going to the bike shop.
     It only takes a few minutes to give your bike a once-over.  Make it a habit.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

MEANINGLESS STATISTICS, TOUR DE GRUENE

     Meaningless on lots of levels.  Many participants are just in it for the good work-out it gives them on the weekend.  The organizers divide the categories by age, gender, and projected speed, putting the fast guys separate from us duffers.  I my case, I was in a category of one, and only three guys in the whole race were older than me.  Therefore, this is just a spreadsheet exercise for me and not to be taken seriously, except for the last stat.
     In the Individual Time Trial, as posted by the organizers, there were 184 men and 34 women racing.  I thought they capped it at 250, so cannot explain the discrepancy.  Anyhow:

No one older than me finished faster
Against all men, I finished in the 43rd percentile
Against the Merckx (no aero equipment) men, I finished in the 77th percentile
Against aero men, I was in the 26th percentile.
Against the women my time was faster than 27 of the 34.

     So, what does that tell me?  Not much, especially since I projected an average speed of 21.5 mph and ended up at 19.2 mph.  But, looking at my power output, I can see I only pushed hard once even though there are three steep climbs and several less steep but long ascents.  Could I have pushed harder.  Maybe.
     To me, the most telling statistic was my heart-rate.  I have a maximum HR of 165, which gives me a 90% reading of 148.5.  For this race, my average HR was 148.  True, my warm-up left a lot to be desired, but I spent 41 of 48 minutes right at my AT.  Being able to hold that high a heart-rate for that long a time tells me my cardio health is very good.  And that's why even though my main focus is cycling vacations, I train for and participate in races.  Ride a bike, it's good for your health.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

PRE-RACE CHECKLIST

     It is time I faced the facts.  A review of my race-blogs reveals what is quite evident.  I am always leaving something out.  Usually it is computer-related; I never get in a proper warm-up.  Several years ago I was setting up the bike and trainer when I realized the quick-release didn't fit; I had forgotten to change it out.  Once I brought the wrong shoes.  That was early on and only happened once.  You might ask how that occurred:  My road bike transition to racing consists of switching out wheels and pedals (which also means going from SPDs to Sidi shoes).  I brought the SPD shoes.
     Last week-end's Individual Time Trial in Gruene brought my lack of pre-race comprehension clearly into focus.  Being cognizant of my speed is more or less a security blanket, since as far as I can tell, I'm working as hard as I can.  But I like to see if I can squeeze just a little bit more speed by moving to a bigger gear.  Forgetting to turn on the GPS and not realizing it was a wake-up call.  I didn't have the right electrolyte; I forgot the pickle juice.  None of these were a big detriment, and in the grand scheme of things, didn't matter at all because there were no other racers in my category.
      I have until February to compile two lists: one for packing and one for pre-race activity.  No more leaving it up to my leaky-sieve memory.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

CYCLING VACATIONS KEEP YOU GOING

           I am a health nut.  My physical activity of choice is cycling.  But exercise is such an easy habit to break.  Fun, friends, variety and goals are keys to keeping you involved.  This book recounts my cycling adventures and tips with the intention of encouraging as many as I can to take their bike with them on vacation.  I've cycled all over the United States, plus the renowned End-to-End across Great Britain and some of the famous climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees.  In my new book Gotta Go! Cycling Vacations in Fantastic Locations I describe easy Rail Trails and strenuous mountain ascents and thrilling descents.
            Casual riders will have a blueprint to getting better and more involved.  Competitive riders should see these as cycling-camps, and they, too, will get better.  Scheduling a vacation gives you a goal.  Going either with a paid tour or a group of friends puts a little pressure not to back out, plus is almost always fun.  Different places each year provide the variety.  Once you start, there is an urgency to continue year after year; you just Gotta Go!

            Toodle on over to http://acyclistpublishing.com/  for additional information.  Gotta Go! is available as an E-book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, with the added feature of links to my Flickr page which has over 1,000 pictures arranged by chapter.  For those who prefer a printed copy, that is also available at Amazon, or if you would like a signed, dedicated copy, purchase from me (jerryd@acyclistpublishing.com).  
            I'm happy to correspond with anyone wanting more information.

Monday, November 10, 2014

TOUR DE GRUENE, 2014

     This year is so similar to last year, I could almost copy/paste.  Even my thinking the start line was 30 minutes from the hotel instead of 45 (same thought as last year).  That cost me cheering on LJ Stephens at her start on Saturday.
     Let's be clear, I had a fun time and, being the only person in my category, had no pressure to perform at my optimum.  Thank goodness, because niggling problems persisted throughout the week-end, most of which were of my own doing.  But first, the weather: Saturday was perfect, if a tad windy going up the final stretch of hills.  Sunday had a chilly 42 degree warm-up temperature, but perfect by race time.  Of course, I had two layers on my chest, a long-sleeved skin suit, and tights.  Just right!
     Saturday the 15 minute extra on the road cost me in warm-up time.  I warmed-up on the trainer, didn't need the GPS so turned it off.  Switched bikes and forgot to turn it on.  Thus no speed registered on my computer.  Neither did the cadence, but that was a different problem.
     Sunday I didn't switch off the GPS, but didn't do a proper warm-up either, preferring to sit in my warm car until the sun hit the field.  This course demands a lot of gear changes.  I had to do more than most, because in putting together my cogs I managed to get the 13 and 14 out of order.  At first I thought the derailleur was skipping, eventually catching on and managing the situation.
     The Sunday two-man time trial is advertised as 26.8 miles.  I registered 24.2.  I also showed an average mph of 17.7 but am pretty sure we did 19 or better.  My partner had a max of 41.1 but right on his wheel my best was only 38.5.  This will take some investigation.
     Saturday I aired my tires, 90 lbs on the front, 95 lbs on the back (might have been 100).  This was my first race with latex tubes, known for losing air faster than butyl.  Fine.  Sunday, I aired the front again, but the back was not taking any.  Too late for anything, so I had a nice, soft ride with about 80 lbs in the back.  Fortunately there were no tight turns so I didn't fear rolling the tire off the rim.  Back to the bike shop this week for the expensive extenders.
     I have no comment on whether or not the two beers I had at LJ's after Saturday's race had a deletorious effect on my performance Sunday.  I know I enjoyed visiting, so my mental attitude was improved.
     I've known my partner for ten years, spending the first seven watching him beat me handily in the Senior Games events.  But the last few years he's gotten slower.  I am faster on the hills, but he still has it on the flats and downhills, plus is quite competitive.  He really gets it moving on that stretch into Sattler.  We all know that the worn area where cars ride is smoother and faster than the shoulder, especially on this stretch.  He jumped onto the road and passed several teams that had just passed us going up, but stayed on the shoulder.  It was fun trying to keep on his wheel.
     Right after the race Sunday I packed up, returned to the hotel for a shower, then hit the road to San Marcos for lunch and an afternoon tagging along after Marilane as she shopped.  For the record, among other items purchased, two pair of New Balance shoes (for her).
   

Saturday, October 25, 2014

UPDATING MY WEBSITE

     I started my website, Acyclistpublishing.com, when I wrote my first book, Bicycle Journeys with Jerry.  Being a computer-phobe, I enlisted help and we made a simple to navigate, simple for me to update website.  It served its purpose.  It was nice.  It was vanilla.  It was blah.  Enter my son, Kurt, and his site, Cotswoldrunning.com (or Cotswoldrunning.uk.com).  He has pictures automatically rotating (I believe that is using a slider widget, whatever that is) and a countdown timer to the next event.  That got me to thinking maybe I should add some stuff to my site.
     Two things happened to push me over the edge (using this metaphor because I really, really, don't like messing with computers).  Publishing my second book, Gotta Go! Cycling Vacations in Fantastic Places, necessitated adding it to the website.  And, one of the folks in the Bicycle Sport Shop Club Sunday ride promised to help me understand how to use various media outlets to spread the word about my books.  I'm sure she doesn't quite comprehend how much of a Luddite I am.  But one of the first things she said was my website needed an upgrade.
     If you are reading this before Halloween, clicking on http://acyclistpublishing.com/ will show that the site is Under Construction.  But eventually it will have both books displayed, pictures on sliders (currently we are thinking one for the home page, and one each for the books), but still keeping a simple navigation to various pages.
     As soon as the site is active, I'll be putting out the word on the books, but if you can't wait, Gotta Go! is available as an E-book from both Amazon and Nook, or a printed version from Amazon.  If you are desiring a signed, dedicated copy, you can notify me as I have copies available.  The E-Book has links to my Flickr page that has all of my pictures listed in chapter-order.

Monday, October 20, 2014

SO SIMPLE WHEN YOU KNOW EVERYTHING

     My son, Chris, is an engineer at a radio station.  He also assiduously stays up with all the latest technology and trends in media.  Several years ago he and a friend presented at the annual convention.  One of the main points (I'm making my own point and may not be entirely precise, but you get the drift) was "you don't even know what you don't know" and then proceeded to elucidate.  His was the hit of the convention and subsequently, their presentations have been overflowing.
     I bring this up, because that was me (the clueless audience) today.  In previous posts, I acknowledge I am quite knowledgeable about changing tires/tubes, but will occasionally sacrifice a tube to the changing-god, usually due to a mis-placed tire lever.  In an effort to squeeze fewer seconds from my time-trial time, I was advised to switch to latex tubes.  I picked up a couple, breathing deeply as I noticed the price, and prepared to install.  This was last Thursday.
     In addition to the tubes, I switched out the tires.  Bear with me.  For reasons I won't go into, I had a generic non-racing tire on the back, and a racing tire on the front.  I replaced the front tube with the latex and easily slid the Vittoria Diamante Pro back on the rim, using only my hands.  In researching latex tires, I noticed numerable blog posts about never using tire levers.  For those who love their Continental 4000s tires as much as I do, you know that an old guy with arthritic thumbs wasn't going to accomplish the task without mechanical help.  Not to worry, us old guys think outside the box.  I was going out to the Driveway to watch the Bicycle Sport Shop guys race.  The organizers always have a bike shop tent there to assist the racers in their need.  While he wasn't busy, I brought up my wheel, with the last six inches of tire needing to be nudged over the rim.  After explaining it had a latex tube, the young guy huffed and puffed, but got it installed.  Eureka!
     In going over race strategy, my coach wanted me to have 90 psi in the front tire and 95 psi in the back.  I've gone as light as 80 psi on my road bike, so saw no difficulty with this.  Until I read the sidewall on the Vittoria.  It will go up to 145 psi, but the minimum is 100 psi.  Pook ding fu!  Dare I risk it?!  Nope, switch it again.  And again, I had zero problem with the back tire/tube change-out since it was now the Vittoria.  And again, the Conti gave me a problem (although in hindsight, this was probably a good thing).  While I didn't think I'd done anything wrong, the tube would not hold air.  I'd put about twenty pounds in, but when I started to insert the tire bead, the tube lost air.  Except when I closed the valve.  But the wheel is a Zipp 404 with tube extenders, so I need the valve to be open.  I've done it this way for the last five years.
     I know better than to beat my head against a wall; off to the bike shop.  Ace mechanic Marshall (who just won a 24 hour off-road two man team bike race this weekend) listened to my explanation and calmly walked over to his wall and came back with a Zipp Valve Tangente 404 kit.  Or, to the uninitiated, a high end valve extender built just for the type of situation I had.  Among other things, it eliminates the need for plumbers tape, and allows for accuracy in pumping up the tires to the proper psi.  Fortunately, at this time, I don't need it on the 808.  I don't think they are long enough, so will be more expense.  Friends, not all valve-extenders are created equal.
     I know there is so much I don't know.  But I also know there is somebody who does.  There is always room for additional knowledge.
   

EATING CROW!

     It was only last week, cycling with Shannon on the Gruene Time Trial preview ride, that I firmly attested that I detested riding on Parmer Lane.  Shannon is a regular on the Saturday morning rides which go up and down Parmer.  Don't get me wrong, this is a great workout, what with rolling hills and a wide shoulder, and good asphalt.
     Unfortunately, this also comes with all sorts of crud in the road and lots of traffic buzzing your ear.  I emphatically explained that the only reason I rode it a few months ago was that I needed a recovery ride on Saturday, so joined the beginners and cruised easily for twenty-five miles.
     So a few days ago, as I pulled into the Bicycle Sport Shop parking lot on Parmer, I knew I would soon be eating my words.  Yes, she was there and yes, she was surprised to see me given my previous remarks.  What can I say.  I needed seventy-five minutes of easy spinning, because I had more or less messed up my cycling agenda for the week and needed to get back on track.  As for the easy spinning, I moved up the cog and worked on a higher cadence.
     It was a really good cycling experience, if you didn't mind all the construction barrels pushing you into the roadway.  After the first set, however, I went inside anyhow except when the way was blocked.  Crud notwithstanding, I didn't get a flat.  Traffic was heavy but nobody seemed overtly aggressive towards the cyclists.
     Mission accomplished.  And a much better ride on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TOUR DE GRUENE PREVIEW RIDE

     This long post is more an inside-look at how planned activities somehow get derailed but still come out being okay.  I start with last weekend.
     Marilane took our grandson (and his mother) to New York City for his tenth birthday.  That left me with four days of cycling (I would say "uninterrupted" but that might get misinterpreted).  Friday I dropped them off at the airport and returned home to ride the Limmer Loop.  The plan called for 75 minutes, and I did an out-and-back in 74 minutes 59 seconds.  Needless to say, I've done this a few times and know when to turn around.  So far, so good.
     Saturday called for another 75 minute spin, but rain and wind had me deciding to skip cycling for a day.  Besides, ever since State, my legs have not been very lively.  Sunday called for a forty mile group ride, perfect in that the Bicycle Sport Shop ride happened to be forty-one miles.  I arrived on time, after checking the radar and seeing that the front (and rain) had blown through and only a few sprinkles were left.  I had my rain jacket on and off we went.  Immediately I noticed the riding was a whole lot smoother than it should have been.  A quick check of my front tire gave me the reason.  Faced with the high probability of having to change the tube in the now-sprinkling rain (and holding up the group) or calling a quick end to my ride, I did a quick right and returned to the car.  Two miles hardly qualifies as a ride.
     Monday was a planned "off" day, and again weather played a part in keeping me off the bike.  Plus, Marilane was returning and the house needed to be squared-away, and the group picked up at the airport.  
     Meanwhile, I planned my preview of Gruene for either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the weather.  To that end, I posted on FB my intention and inquired if anyone wished to accompany me.  Shannon Marie Bryant responded positively, and Wednesday was agreed to.  Bear with me for just a little more background.  
     Tuesday my agenda was the usual ride: I'd do an hour by myself then join the Tuesday Night Bicycle Sport Shop group for an hour and a half.  Wednesday called for some hard intervals at various wattage and minutes between.  You see where I am going.  I switched days on the intervals, doing them Tuesday morning.  It was a hard workout and should have been all for the day.  But this was the last Tuesday evening ride until next spring.  This is an intermediate group, but I can generally stay ahead of two-thirds of them on the critical Old Spicewood Springs and 360 sections.  I figured I'd hang out at the back and take it easy.  I should have read all of the FB postings.  For this last evening, it seems a lot of folks were trying for a PR on them!  As it turned out, I got left in the dust, so to speak.  The morning workout had drained all the "oomph" out of me.
     So we finally get to Wednesday.  Shannon came by and we loaded up her gear in my car and off we went, arriving mid-morning at the Lazy L&L Campground, the starting line for the race.  The morning started at 55 degrees, but had climbed to a nice 68, clear blue sky and only a slight wind when we started.  The first seven miles are on River Road and are mostly flat or slightly rolling, and an excellent warm-up.  She has a hamstring that needed pampering, and we agreed she would lead at her pace except for the steeper hills, where I needed to see just what gears I needed in order to choose which bike to ride in the race.  Her opening pace was quicker than I expected, and I struggled to keep up.
     Then we got to the first climb.  I used all of my gears, including a short spurt standing, but that was sufficient to determine my time-trial bike could make it up okay.  I stopped for a short squirt of gel, only to see Shannon ride by.  She was doing heart-rate long intervals, so her goal was keeping around 85% of max (she told me the range, I'm just assigning a percentage).  For the next fifty minutes we climbed six hills, certainly using a lot of small gears and keeping her in the assigned range.  Of course, there were a few downhills also, but after the sixth climb, it was all mostly downhill.  We manged to make enough right turns to finally get the wind at our backs for the last three hills.  Once back on to River Road, we started a three-mile cool-down to allow her hamstring to softly recover.  All the while we were noting the course.  It still had a few sharp inclines, but continued generally down.
     Gorgeous weather.  The temperature had climbed to 84 degrees when we finished, and the sky remained azure blue.  We finished in one hour, forty-one minutes.  I did it in one hour, thirty-nine minutes last year, but didn't do three miles of cool-down.  
     It was a great workout, and I'm glad I had the excellent company.  Some of the sections I had not remembered, and for a few of the hills I mentally noted how to attack them.  Unlike last year, the finish line isn't the downhill into Sattler, so a little bit needs to be saved for the last section of River Road.  There are still some openings in the team time trial on Sunday (the ITT is full).
        

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A BOOK REVIEW ON A CYCLING BLOG - ROBERT GALBRAITH, AKA J.K.ROWLING

     But first, a cycling report.  On a much smaller scale, I am experiencing why the pros say you cannot get "up" for multiple races without significant down-time.  When doing two grand tours, they normally only go 100% in one of them; and Tinkoff aside, doing three in a year is asking for serious problems.  Anyhow, following my effort at Fort Hood, I'm finding very little life in the legs.  I'm still riding, but without much "pop."  Not today, it's raining.
     When not cycling or any outdoor activity for that matter, I occasionally read.  This blog post is about the new series by Robert Galbraith about a private detective named Cormoran Strike.  What follows is why I picked up on this in the first place.
     Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.  Just as Harry Potter was becoming popular, my wife, an elementary school administrator at the time, had her curiosity piqued when seeing really young boys, who should have been out running around the schoolyard, in the halls reading or clutching a book.  Further investigation revealed Harry Potter as the instigator.  Anything that could induce such rabid reading required additional scrutiny.  She procured a copy and read it.   Then she brought it home and insisted I read it.  Let me tell you, it took a bit of convincing to get me to read a "kids" book.
     The rest is history.  Like the rest of the world, I became hooked, eagerly awaiting each new release.  And, like the rest of the world, felt a void when the series came to an end.  When the news came several years later that she had written an adult book, The Casual Vacancy, we bought a copy and I settled down to continue my association with Ms. Rowling.  I tell you now, it was very adult and very dark.  I waded through in order to give my wife a heads-up.  My take: I liked the story and character development, but she was 'way too tedious in describing everything.  About 200 pages, in my estimation.  That rocked her pedestal a bit.
     Enter Cormoran Strike and The Cuckoo's Calling, the first book in the series.  The release of the second book, The Silkworm, is what got my attention.  There was a tie-in between Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling, so naturally I wanted to see if she had gotten any better.  Marilane did the research and got the first book for me.  Also, I read the reviews; especially the one promising better development in the second and ongoing books.  Again, in The Cuckoo's Calling, excess verbosity in location descriptions marred an otherwise well-put-together mystery plot.  But it was much less than her first book.  I've just finished The Silkworm.  The major characters are being nicely developed, which bodes well for future installments.  I'm becoming pretty good at skipping extraneous paragraphs, and there weren't too many this time.  Hopefully, she, or her editor, will continue to excise gratuitous descriptions and pare down the pages.
     Just like in Harry Potter, she drops enough tidbits along the way to make you not want to put the book down.  Enjoy.

Monday, September 29, 2014

THRILLING STATE FINALS AT FORT HOOD

     Hey! It's a headline, they're supposed to grab your attention.  Here's my take on this year's State Finals Road Race held at Fort Hood.  As usual, since I always leave time for the unexpected, I arrived at race headquarters with an extra half-hour of piddle-time.  My plan called for thirty minutes of warm-up starting forty minutes before the race start.  I checked in, received my numbers (the pink one on the back, the white one on the left side), and returned to the car to attach them to my jersey.  By a stroke of luck, I captured a parking spot close to check-in and the porta-potties.  Both were essential, in that pre-race jitters had me going often and check-in had the only available shade on a very sunny day.
     I glue my numbers on, an onerous chore single-handed.  More luck, Carolyn (my Bicycle Sport Shop Road ((as opposed to 'Cross or Tri)) captain) happened by to chat.  Her race started twenty minutes after mine.  She helped affix the numbers.  She left to start her pre-race routine and I twiddled my thumbs as long as I could, but eventually got on the bike.
     Experience has shown it really takes me thirty minutes to loosen my legs and lungs for any serious effort.  The available road was pretty rough and had a few hills, but I completed the warm-up and returned to the car and checked the time.  Dang!  Twenty-five minutes before start time.  I had hoped for ten.  Chagrined, but not upset, I dawdled a bit and made last minute preparations, then went off to the start line to linger and circle around and chat with the other old guys in our group.  My friend, Dean, had signed up at the last minute but hadn't arrived (he didn't).
     My race plan was based on the registration information that the 70+ guys would race with the 60+ guys, but be given a five minute head-start.  This is because us old guys really can't keep up with the younger ones when they hit the hills.  We would rather have our own race, but given the numbers, understand being grouped this way and were grateful for the extra five minutes, which would get us over the first two hard climbs before being over-taken.  Well, as things transpired, just before the start the race director gave us our own category.  Great!  Except for one thing: once the young guys catch up with us, we are not allowed to draft them.  Bummer!
     The course starts with several miles of downhill before the first big climb.  Richard (last year's winner and acknowledged fastest guy in our group) got a gap and pulled away and the new guy (most of us know each other) jumped up with him.  I knew this was suicide because the wind was pretty strong in our face, and the five of us could rotate the lead and bring them back with ease.  Except one of us got dropped like a stone and the other three refused to rotate through and chase.  The lead slowly grew.  At the second hill a few miles farther I powered up the climb and left the three about twenty seconds behind, setting off to see if Richard and friend would slow down.  They didn't, but Fred and Tom chased back to me.  Well now, if they were willing to chase me down, but not Richard, then I would let them pull me the rest of the way.
     We finally turned, after sixteen miles into the wind, and had mostly a tailwind.  The hills were much more manageable.  According to my Garmin, we had six climbs over 10% and a bunch of others.  In the next hour I did a few downhill pulls, but mostly just sat on their wheels.  Then, on a downhill, Fred got a cramp and pulled his leg out of his pedal to try to work it out.  Tom and I kept going and between the cramp and the next double digit climb, we put a significant gap on him.
     Fred beat me, quite handily, the last two years even though he is ten years older.  He races with national champion stripes on his sleeve.  I felt no remorse as I then took the lead and hammered as best I could.  Tom followed.  Tom and I have raced against each other for ten years.  I know he is easily the best sprinter.  But Tom broke his pelvis in June and, needless to say, is nowhere near his best form.   One climb before the last turn, two small climbs after, then a slight uphill incline all the way to the finish line.  Predictably, Fred gained on the flats, and with 1k to go had more or less caught back up.
     I put it in the big ring, smaller cog to start my wind up and with 200 meters to go, dropped it down and powered as best I could.  We finished together, but I took third and Fred fourth.  What an exciting finish!
     Although being miffed at the guys letting Richard go, he and the other guy would have beat me in the sprint anyhow, so I have no complaints.  Now it is time to get into time-trialing mode for the Tour de Gruene in November.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

LEADING; NOT MY THING

     I intended to do a short FB post, but this needs a longer explanation.  Our Tuesday night ride yesterday gave us the best weather all year, a homogeneous and cohesive group of fifteen riders, and reasonable traffic (that is, very few antagonistic drivers); which has very little to do with the title of the post.
     It is an intermediate group, meaning almost everyone is faster than me, but I can keep up.  My Speedplay left pedal, my in-out pedal, gave me a little trouble at the start and I circled in the parking lot getting clipped in thus coming out last.  I don't have a problem being last, and even when the opportunity arose to jump a few positions I didn't.  We moved along at a good clip but after about a half hour and several traffic stops, I noticed a rider behind.  I must have missed him somehow.
     At our regrouping stop just before Spicewood Springs Road, I saw Todd counting heads and appearing to be missing a number.  I rode up to advise I saw we dropped a guy back in Balcones, but didn't really know if he were in our group or not.  Everyone else said no one was missing, so we prepared to depart.  Now we get to the topic.
     In going up to Todd, I now found myself leading out.  As I pushed off I said to Todd "I don't like to lead" but kept going with the sure knowledge the fast guys would come around.  The Spicewood Springs is a Strava stretch and those who do that sort of thing let it all go (I don't like the term "hang out").  No one passed in the approach.  We made the right turn and I pushed hard to get up the first low-water crossing.  Still no one passed.  I felt good and pressed on.  It wasn't until Todd called out to "rotate" that it dawned on me that they weren't going to pass until I pulled off to the left.  Duh!
     I appreciated the "nice pull" comments as the stream of guys pulled through.  The fact that it was almost everybody indicated the speed wasn't overpowering.  But really guys, that wasn't my intention.  I don't even lead when I ride with a slow group (well, maybe for short turns).  Going up 360 we had to single-file past a few vehicles on the side of the road, including a car-hauler.  For whatever reason, I usually spin up this hill in the first third of the group.  Same this time.
     It was a good ride, and a good lead-up to my race this Sunday.  But for future rides, don't expect to see me in the front.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

GETTING RACE-READY

     Because I only dabble in road racing, just doing three a year, I don't get real serious in my preparation.  Oh, I train hard; it is the bike to which I'm referring.
     I race on my touring bike, with a few modifications.  For those not familiar with my bike, it is a Roark custom titanium; not a Walmart Huffy.  For races I take off the saddle pack, tail light, and aero bars.  I don't take off the tail light holder nor do I remove my end of handlebar mirrors.  The mirrors stay on because they are currently quite stable and difficult to remove and once off, getting them reinstalled with the same amount of stability is practically impossible.  I know this through experience.  So I'm not quite as aero as serious racers.
     I also don't bother about my triple chain ring.  I haven't done  a man-on-the-street survey, but am pretty sure I'm the only one racing with a triple.  For Fort Hood I might actually use it on the back-side hill rather than struggle up in the middle ring.  Depends on the race situation.  I switch out the mountain bike pedals and shoes for Speedplay pedals and Sidi shoes.  This saves about a pound.  Oh yeah, I also switch out the Rolf Vector Pro wheels (2001) with my time trial bike Zipps (404 and 808).
     Washing the bike (which by now is pretty cruddy since I don't do it too often) and oiling the chain gets the bike ready to roll.  I air the tires the night before.  I'll warm up on the Rolf wheels, then switch before the actual race.  If the asphalt were a little better I wouldn't take this precaution.  I don't need the added stress of changing out a tube when time is tight.
     These changes don't happen at the same time, the pedals are already installed and the aero bars have been removed for a month in order to get used to being in the drops.
   

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NOT WHAT IT SEEMED

     In my blog posts I often make reference to my age and ageing in general.  Try as we might to offset deterioration, some parts just don't work as well.  In one of my earlier posts I mentioned coming up on what initially appeared to be a KKK rally, right here in Central Texas.  As I got closer, it turned out to be a group of bee keepers in all-white protective suits circled around some bees.  It was an irrational assumption, but brains do funny things sometimes.  Of course, my brain blamed it on my eyes.
     The other day I was doing intervals out at Old Settlers Park (OSP).  I use OSP as a base for most outdoor riding because it has convenient rest rooms, good asphalt, and lots of parking.  Most days the only traffic are the park service vehicles.  I can leave from there and safely be out in the Williamson County countryside for longer rides, or just do a few loops for shorter (up to 75 minutes) rides.  I've been doing four loops in the hour and fifteen minutes.
     For whatever reason, I didn't feel like doing four loops so determined to include additional parking lots and short out-and-back roads which lead to playing fields and playgrounds.  After the first loop, my assumption that these inclusions would indeed be enough to reduce the number of repetitions proved to be correct.  On the second loop my eyes gave the brain a twist.
     One of the out-and-back roads leads to a small parking lot and play ground.  First loop: got to the end, casually noted a few mothers and kids on the slide and swings, looped around the parking lot and went back to the main road.  Second loop: casually noted a few fathers.  One was leaning over a baby carriage, two others were pushing carriages up the walk.  "How nice" my brain reacted.  "Most of the time, it is moms who bring their toddlers out to play."  "But isn't it strange to see a group of dads?"  Of course these thoughts went through my head in the blink of an eye.  In a few more blinks, the eyes had clarified the situation.  These baby carriages were being used to transport various discs for disc golf, and this was a threesome about to start out on the disc golf course.
     I have a Frisbee at home; occasionally I throw it in the back yard.  I never could get it to do what I wanted.  When riding the main road in OSP I occasionally see the guys throwing a disc, and I vaguely remember knowing they have different discs for various situations, just like different clubs for regular golf.  It never occurred to me that the discs would require wheeled vehicles for transportation.  I had my chuckle, then the brain once again remonstrated with the eyes to shape up and see right.

Monday, September 15, 2014

VIRTUAL GARAGE SALE OF (mostly) BIKE STUFF

     Like most folks who can't throw things away, I keep telling myself "one of these days I'll need these to rebuild an old bike" or words to that effect.  It's time to see if someone will actually put any of this to good use.  The intention here is for Austin-area folks, but might consider shipping the bigger items.  I'll start with the small stuff and work my way up.  There are no prices listed; if you want it make a reasonable offer and we can negotiate.  Pictures available upon request.

Shimano CS-6500 9 spd cassette 12-25 (well used, not abused)
Shimano CS-6600  9 spd cassette 12-25 (used)
Dura Ace CS-7700 9 spd cassette 12-27 (well used, not abused)
Dura Ace CS-7700 9 spd cassette 12-27 (used)
SRAM PG 1070 9 spd cassette 11-28 (hardly used)

Dura Ace FC 7701 B 53-39 Chain Ring and Bottom Bracket BB 7700
Ultegra FC-R700 50-34 Compact Chain Ring and Bottom Bracket

Dura Ace RD-7700 Rear Derailleur
Dura Ace FD-7700 Front Derailleur
Dura Ace BR-7700 Brakes (front and back)
Dura Ace ST-7700 Flight Deck Shifters (well used, but not abused)

Thule Pick-up Truck Bike Rack
Rhode Gear  Car Bike Rack
Serfas Bike Case (Plastic)
Schwinn Unicycle
Cinelli Vintage bike frame (I think 58cm; circa 1962)

Campagnolo Pro-fit pedal (the right works great, the left not so well)
Clip-on fenders
Training wheels (kids)

KHS fully suspended mountain bike (fits me at 5'8")

REI Sierra Half-dome Two Person Tent (hardly used)
North Face Blue Kazoo Down Sleeping bag (hardly used)
Massage Table (used only a few times)




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

LACKADAISICAL, PERSNICKETY, INTELLIGENT

     These were some of the words wandering through my mind as I pedaled this afternoon out at Old Settlers Park (OSP).  Regular readers will know that even though my "thing" is cycling vacations, I dabble in racing.  I've also previously posted that in order to get faster/stronger, I engaged a coach to give more structure to my training.  So, why have a coach if you ignore his/her coaching?  Not me, I'm following instructions as best I can.  Which is why today is my first two-a-day work-out.  I'm really taking the long way around to making my point.
     This morning I did intervals, on the trainer in the kitchen.  No problem.  This afternoon called for an hour and fifteen minutes riding (no set targets to hit).  As a touring cyclist, I strongly advocate getting out on the road to cycle.  Several years ago, I'd have driven out to Berry Springs and had a nice country ride.  But an hour and fifteen minutes now is a "tweener."  Too long to ride around the neighborhood, unless I want to do multiple loops when school is about to be dismissed.  Too short to do my normal country roads, plus being in the afternoon, which I really detest anyhow.  I chose to ride in OSP.  Hardly anybody is there, I have decent rest rooms in case I Gotta Go!, the terrain is varied, and the asphalt is smooth.  And this is where the title words come in.  Am I really being lazy, or too picky about eschewing the roads?  Or am I being intelligent in choosing a safe environment in which to exercise?
     My narcissistic self says it is the intelligent choice.  But doubts creep in.  Am I deluding myself into thinking because this is "training" it doesn't matter what road I'm on?  As I get older, am I unconsciously moving away from the long cycling vacations?  I can tell you I have a long ride on next year's agenda, but nothing two years out.  Is that a clue??  Only time will tell.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

TEACHABLE MOMENTS

      Just when you think you've seen (or heard) it all, I had another first while on a club ride.  I don't usually ride Parmer Lane, and especially not on Saturday morning.  However, the Bicycle Sport Shop has their Saturday ride up and down Parmer, and my schedule called for an easy one-hour ride.  Well, I figured the 25-mile beginner ride would be easy enough.  BTW, I had two hard interval sessions the two previous days, which is why I was due for an easy ride.
     So, I determined I'd be an unofficial sweep for the beginners.  As we tooled along, three folks dropped back, as did I.  At a red light, where the wide shoulder turned into a right-turn lane, the three folks stopped.  Experienced riders will usually, if there is room and only a couple, line up behind each other on the lane divider, thus allowing cars wanting to turn right free access.  Our beginners did not.
     A mini-van was between me and the other three and the driver got out and addressed me (who was actually on the line in straight lane), saying that the three should have stopped out of his way (or words to that effect, I take my hearing aid out when riding, but I got the gist of it).  I smiled and shook my head in agreement; no sweat off my nose.  But then, some lady in a pick-up in the left lane rolled down her window and yelled at him to get back in his car, that the cyclists had every right to do what they were doing.  I looked over and gave her a thumbs-up, and noticed she probably hadn't been on a bike in years (but who am I to judge a book by it's cover).
     Fortunately, the light turned green and we all went on our respective ways.  I'm sure the driver was just using the situation as a teachable-moment, he wasn't belligerent or unpleasant; and I'm sure the pick-up lady also saw a teachable-moment in that drivers really shouldn't be jumping out of their cars to address cyclists.  I hope the bike shop doesn't receive a complaint call (I did have on my BSS jersey), but if they do and read my post, they can properly address the problem.  
     Yes, I bailed on giving my own teachable moment, mainly because the three were perfectly within their rights and it really is a personal preference; besides, some situations call for just the opposite.  It was neither the time nor place to instruct them on some of the niceties of mingling with vehicles.



Thursday, August 28, 2014

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE

     Eventually we will get to cycling, but let's start with vehicles and pet peeves.  It irks me no end when other drivers fail to use their turn signals.  There is really no valid excuse not to, 99+% of cars on the road have them.  Of course, if you have your cell phone (or your beer, or your teensy dog, or your lip stick) in your left hand and are using your right to turn the steering wheel, then it becomes cumbersome (but not impossible) to flick the turn-signal lever.   I'm of the opinion that in many cases it is a power-play, a form of domination.  The driver refuses to use the turn signal because everybody should just look out for him.  It is the same mind-set of those who refuse to wear seat belts because "the government can't tell me what to do."
     Well Luke, what we have here is a Failure to Communicate.  Most of the time, nothing untoward happens.  Occasionally there is an accident.  Why am I harping on this now?  Because I had to go to south Austin (from north of Austin) in rush hour traffic this morning.  I allowed myself plenty of time so I was apparently the only one on the road not trying to gain a couple of car lengths.  I lost track of the number of lane changes made without signalling their intention.  Then again, if you signal your intention, the guy in the other lane might just accelerate just to close you out.  Then you tempt road rage.
     As for cycling: I've had drivers yell and/or make obscene gestures at me because I didn't read their mind as to what they were doing, and thus found myself inconveniencing them by making them slow down or stop to avoid me.  I really appreciate not being hit, but had they just used their X&#$! turn signal, I would have gladly given them the right-of-way.  My philosophy is the car is always right, my fragile bike and body have no ego in this regard.  I have no desire to be dead right; my plan is to ride the next day and the next.
     When by myself, and cars are visible, I always signal my intention.  When riding in a group, it is always protocol to call out road hazards and slowing/stopping, cars left, right, ahead or behind, and anything else your buddy might need to know in order to stay safe, including left turn and right turn.  I know, that was in a recent post.
     I just shared a Google+ post about a cyclist who died in New Jersey.  Facts are sketchy/unknown, but I suspect somewhere in the mix was a failure to communicate.  Save a life, yell out or gesture, or if driving, use your turn signals.

Monday, August 25, 2014

CYCLISTS' CONUNDRUM

     Those of us who can handle our bikes with some degree of proficiency are sometimes annoyed by motorists who are overly cautious, to the extent they lurk behind and refuse to pass us on a road, even if there is no opposing traffic.  On several occasions I have had to stop, dismount, and move off the asphalt before they would go by.  I used to wish they would just drive their car and not worry about me.  But as I've gotten older (don't like the word "mature"), I refuse to let these folks get to me.  After all, I haven't been in their shoes, plus there are many cyclists who are unable to hold a straight line and wobble in the road and the driver may not have evaluated my abilities.  I'm all for drivers being as cautious as they feel necessary.  This is juxtaposed to those drivers who are so confident that they don't mind seeing how close they can get their mirrors to my ear.  Those folks still annoy (actually, incense) me.
     This subject comes to mind because of an incident yesterday, which I will relate as told to me, because I was a little bit down the road and not an actual witness.  It seems our group was at the side of a busy highway (65 mph speed limit), waiting for traffic to clear so they could safely cross to the other side and continue our 40 mile ride.  Two cars topped the rise and approached the place where our group gathered.  The first car apparently reduced speed (I assume did not brake thus turning on the brake lights) but the second car did not.  The result was a horrific rear-end collision, with parts flying everywhere.  The fire department was a block away and an ambulance was immediately on the scene; I was told there were no serious injuries, the air bags worked.
     Those who hate cyclists will irrationally blame us just for being there.  And, truthfully, we all feel badly about what happened.  But had the first driver not worried about us and continued on, the accident probably wouldn't have happened.  And, of course, the second driver bears all the responsibility because he/she wasn't paying enough attention to what was going on in front of him.
     Anytime we cycle with vehicles, it is incumbent upon us to not give ANY indication that we don't know what we are doing.  Hold your line steady; make no sudden, unexpected moves; be respectful of vehicles and drivers (even if they sometimes don't deserve it).  Don't YOU be the excuse somebody uses as the cause of an accident.
     
   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HIKING THE COTSWOLD WAY


This is not how Cotswolds walk!  Cotswold Way is a one hundred mile (or so) National Trail in England, from the lovely town of Chipping Campden at the northern terminus to Bath in the south.  And we didn’t hike a hundred miles, more like six.  We only had a half day to devote to an adventure (this trip), so we made the best of it.
The plan called for Kurt and me to hike and Marilane and Nic to tour a stately mansion after dropping the guys off.  The fact that it was raining did not deter our plans, only altered the attire.  What threw the girls off track was the mansion being closed this day, so they were forced to shop! 
Readers of my book already know my proclivity for mis-direction.  Apparently this is an inherited trait.  We were dropped off in Chipping Campden close to the information center, in the drizzle that threatened to be with us all day.  Kurt had the backpack with a couple bottles of water and some snacks and we walked the block to our starting point, the information center.
Turning around thrice to get his bearings, we strode off up the street, looking for the Cotswold Way signage.  We cleared the city limits without spotting the sign, so back-tracked and this time, Kurt went into the information center to ask for directions, while I found the loo (bathroom) and struck up a conversation with a cyclist.  He and his friend had planned a ride and the rain merely meant they got wet and had to be more careful.  Of course, in England, like Oregon, you could lose half your riding days if you didn’t ride wet.  Sorry, I really don’t like water splashing in my face.
Not the least bit cowed by this unmanly asking-for-direction action, Kurt led off in the opposite direction from the first foray, and within two blocks the sign was sighted.  Okay, we had our laugh and now a reasonable explanation: the information center moved from one side of the street to the other, so dead-reckoning going left from there obviously put us on the wrong track.
The Cotswolds could be called hills or small mountains, but I believe geologically they are listed as an escarpment.  In any case, they are higher than the surrounding countryside, so you have excellent photo ops.  Or you would if it weren’t raining.  I had a camera that hardly left the protection of the pocket.  Being high, in order to arrive at the actual trail, the road led UP.  That got the heart rate moving and the sweat began to bead up on my forehead. 
Unlike rail-trails at home, the Cotswold Way includes occasional highway walking, which this day was a welcome relief when the trail turned muddy.  But these secondary roads are narrow and have no shoulder so when traffic came from both directions we would hop into the grass.  My Vasque hiking shoes are Gore-Tex and do an excellent job of water repellency. 
Soon after our sojourn into the fields, the rain stopped and allowed us (forced us, actually) to remove our rain jackets.  The moderate temperature plus our exertions kept a slight film of sweat that threatened to increase if we kept our bodies enclosed.  The lifting of the clouds allowed us to enjoy the picturesque countryside below us, and I released the camera from its hiding place.  In truth, the picture only proved that I had been here.  A few rays of sun to highlight the fields would have made a dramatic vista, but it remained overcast.
Part of the hike went through farmers’ fields.  Still clueless as to the nature of the crop (almost any crop, see previous writings), I could only appreciate their dedication to the land.  My appreciation turned a tad sour when we arrived at one freshly ploughed and planted field that had received copious rain earlier and became extremely muddy.  The red mud clung to the shoes and left a sucking sound with each footstep.  One muddy field became two and the foot coverings and lower rain pants were plastered in mud.  Puddles in the next road became shoe baths and we were able to wash off most of what had accompanied us from the fields.

The signage for the Cotswold Way is quite good, but still, an ordnance map should be part of your repertoire.  We came to Broadway tower, overlooking Broadway and began our long descent.  Broadway tower gives an excellent view of a lot of countryside.  It was as if all of the surrounding land had dropped several hundred feet.  Travel literature indicates on a clear day you can see Wales, or thirteen counties.  I guess we saw one or two.  In the field, some distance away, we spotted the famous red deer.  As soon as we pulled out our cameras, they flopped down, so the picture looks like an empty field.  Ah, well.  We still had about two miles to go, as the trail dropped down on one side of town and our pub meeting place was on the other.
The trail came out between two houses whose owners took great pride in presenting a profusion of flowers for passersby.  Perhaps they just liked flowers and didn’t care a whit about the hikers, but in any case, what a great way to complete the trail.
We ended our adventure at the pub, joining the spouses who had taken a table with a nice view of the sidewalk, with a pint of something and lunch, followed by a trip to the candy store.  Ah, the candy store.  This was not a new adventure, we had been here before.  They have hundreds of large candy jars from which to choose.  I think we must have purchased half dozen different candies.  I found some caramelized ginger, which had been recommended by my acupuncturist for soothing the stomach when traveling.
What a great hike!  Kurt promises a different section on our next trip. 

Post-Script: Kurt's next  production is the 100+ mile ultra-trail running of the Cotswold Way, the end of September (See http://www.cotswoldrunning.co.uk/page17.htm).

















Tuesday, July 22, 2014

NORTH GEORGIA MOUNTAINS, 2014

     Fresh off my week on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I looked forward to riding the six gaps again this year.  Regular readers know that we have a mini-family reunion each year at High Valley Resort in Suches.  I bring my bike, we hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) and others, and try to find a new activity each year for the grandkids.  This year it was zip-lining in Helen.  Once again, we stayed over July 4th and enjoyed the fireworks display put on by the Suches Fire Department.  But about the cycling....
     I always start off in a counter-clockwise direction over Woody Gap, transition to Neel's Gap, and back to the cabins over Wolf Pen Gap.  This is the easiest direction and allows me to ease into mountain climbing.  The cabins are right on the route, so no extra mileage or portage is necessary.  There is a one-mile warm-up before hitting the one-mile climb to Woody Gap, followed by five miles of a great downhill to the Stone Pile.  Today the wind came up the mountain, thus I had a pedestrian pace of 30 mph and more pedaling than usual.  I waited until nine o'clock thus had zero vehicle traffic.
     I picked up a few cars on my way to Turner's Corner and the beginning of Neel's Gap.  A check of the computer showed my time so far was spot-on my average.  Neel's Gap is a nine-mile climb and takes me an hour, or maybe fifty-five minutes if I'm feeling good.  I guess I felt good, because fifty-five minutes later I stopped at the top for a potty break (this is different from a "nature break" in that I used a facility designed for the purpose rather than a bush or tree or the side of the road).  
     The downhill in this direction is only about three miles and at over 30 mph took less than seven minutes.  Then came the three mile climb up Wolf Pen.  I really like both sides of Wolf Pen Gap.  And this year it was even better, in that I had brand new asphalt.  Smooth road or not, I suffered more than usual going up, and braked more than usual on the two mile twisting downhill.  Then it was the final five miles back to the cabin.  What a great work-out and only three minutes slower than my average of two-hours, forty-five minutes.  I certainly couldn't blame it on the weather, which was picture-perfect.
     The next day I did the same course but in a clock-wise direction.  This generally takes five to ten minutes longer, but because I was slow yesterday, only took three minutes longer this time.  The descent of Neel's Gap again provided sweeping curves to be taken at speed, and certainly got the adrenaline moving.  I did it again the following day, but stopped before getting to Woody Gap in order to accompany Marilane to the organic farm for fresh vegetables.  They were closed.
Dockery Lake
     Kids, grandkids and various family started arriving, plus the 4th, so cycling took a back-seat to other activities, including a six mile hike from Dockery Lake to the AT, then back to Woody Gap.  I'd not done Dockery Lake before and was pleasantly surprised at the woods we moved through.
     Several days passed before I once again mounted the bike to take on the gaps.  But with threatening weather, I opted for another Woody, Neel's, Wolf Pen circuit.  Five minutes quicker than the first time, or about average.  With all the Blue Ridge climbing in my legs I had hoped for faster times.
     More hiking.  Then came the monster: Hog Pen Gap.  Son-in-law Jim drove me over to the top of Jack's Gap for the start.  From there I descended five miles, turned right and began going up Unicoi Gap.  The first four-plus miles comprise the best descent of all the gaps.  On a good day I'm over 35 mph and don't touch the brakes.  The downhill continues another five or so miles and is quite easy.  Then you make the turn towards the Russell Scenic By-way, which takes you up and over Hog Pen Gap.  This is a serious climb.  Depending on where you say the climb starts, it is either seven or nine miles up.  But two continuous miles are in the 12% category and my Garmin registered a 22% ramp.  Hog Pen also provides the fastest, straight-line downhill of all the gaps.  I attained top speed of 45.2 mph.  The road continued to roll until the turn back toward Wolf Pen.  A couple of miles of respite, then the familiar three-mile climb.
     For the first time in several years, I had to stop mid-way up to let my heart-rate drop back to an acceptable level.  Hog Pen really takes a lot out of me.  Anyway, once at the top I coasted and banked my way down for a couple miles of rejuvenation, then rolled the last five back to the cabins.  Forty-six miles and 5602 feet of climbing for today.
     My last day was the 51-mile Skeenah Gap ride.  This goes north out of Suches in a loop toward Blairsville, then back once again over Wolf Pen Gap.  I consider this only rollers, with Wolf Pen the only real climb.  I had great weather and started with several miles of downhill.  I stopped once when my energy level going up a moderate climb needed replenishing, but felt pretty good the whole ride.  Wolf Pen was taken at a sedate speed, but I didn't need to stop and rest.  Only after reviewing the stats when I got home did I realize I did 4,957 feet of climbing.
     Compared to the Blue Ridge ride, I did half the mileage and half the climbing.  But 22,000 feet is still a lot of muscle-building.  Unlike last year, I had great weather for all my rides, mostly in the mid 70's.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

CYCLING THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY – THE RIGHT WAY

        Let’s be very clear: this is an extremely difficult physical challenge for almost all of us.  There are practically no services readily available on the parkway itself.  Unless you are that rare breed of pannier-laden self-supporters, you need all the help you can get.  I refer readers to the September 28, 2011 blog for my first, ill-fated attempt at the Blue Ridge Parkway (henceforth BRP).  More at the end, but let’s just say my guardian angel connected me to Black Bear Adventures so I could have an outstanding adventure.
Staunton, Virginia from hotel room
            This is a linear ride, in that you start at one end and finish at the other.  Paul, the owner, and Rod, staff person, shuttled riders from Asheville, NC to Staunton, VA to begin our journey.  Staunton is a small, historic town near Rockfish Gap (elevation 1909 ft), the start of the BRP and coincidentally, the end of Skyline Drive.  It is a continuous road.

            We had ideal weather to start: slightly chilly, with a breeze at our backs.  This was an 86 mile, 9,000 feet of climbing day, so I moderated my enthusiasm somewhat as we slowly rolled out.  In our group of seven, no one kept a similar uphill pace, thus within minutes we had spread out.  It stayed that way for the whole trip, with some minor, short exceptions.  The first six miles were up to Humpback Rocks (elevation 2,360), then on to Raven’s Roost (elevation 3,200).  We rolled up and down awhile, then dropped down to the James River, the lowest point on the BRP.
         
   All of this was a mere warm-up to the twelve-mile continuous climb up Apple Orchard Mountain.  I anticipated a slow slog of 8mph, but the reality turned out to be closer to 6mph.  The heart-rate stayed steady, but the strength never materialized.  After two tortuous hours, we hit the relieving downhill and our night’s lodging at Peaks of Otter Lodge.  Fortunately, it is right on the BRP and no additional mileage was necessary.  Whew!  Eight hours and six minutes on the road, seven hours and thirty-five minutes of which were in the saddle.  Thurman reported seeing a bear cub.
            Well, we had “less” of a day for our next foray; a mere 79.6 miles and 7,773 feet of climbing for me.  Rather than “sing for your supper” we had to “work for your lunch” by way of an eight-mile climb; then lunch, followed by a one-mile climb, followed by a three-mile climb.  We rolled up and down an additional thirty miles.  I spent the spring training for time-trialing, foregoing long rides.  I only had a few sixty-five mile days in the legs.  This second tough day pretty much zapped me, so I shuttled the seven miles from the BRP to Hotel Floyd.
            On this second day Thurman waxed ecstatic over an eight-foot black snake.  It seems the snake was sunning itself, stretched across one lane of traffic.  Knowing its fate if it stayed there, Thurman stopped the bike, picked up the snake and placed it on the side of the road.  All was well.  I, too, saw a black snake, about two feet long and only a foot into the road.  I gave no thought of stopping.
            After showering, we had some time before dinner.  Dave found a place for a cool brew and invited me along.  Apparently Floyd is a country/folk-music hotspot, and they had some sort of festival in the park next to our establishment.  We sipped our beer and let the day slide away before walking up the street to eat.  Dinner tonight was at Odd Fellows, a highly recommended eatery.  The waitress said her aunt was on a plant-based diet and understood exactly what I required.  Great!  Unfortunately, the cook wasn’t on the same page, and the enchiladas were filled with nice chicken.  The rest of the entrĂ©e was legal and very good.  The receptionist at Hotel Floyd rated an A+ from me for being extremely helpful and solicitous.  You shouldn’t do the BRP and not stop in Floyd.
           
Day Three really was easier, at only 65 miles, as once again I skipped the ride from the parkway to the hotel, and 5,313 feet of climbing.  We put Virginia in our rear-view mirrors and entered North Carolina.  Sparta, NC and the Alleghany Inn provided food and lodging.  The relatively short ride left us a bit of time to sit outside the motel in the shade and down a few beers, except for me who began to feel out-of-sorts. 
            Day Four included six tough climbs and a few others totaling 7,569 feet, inside 67 miles.  Peter and I had physical challenges, his different from mine, and we were really suffering up the last two climbs.  As usual, we were not cycling together, but were within minutes of each other.  Finally, the last  downhill and turn off the BRP and another down into Blowing Rock and the Chetola Inn and Spa and a rest day.
            However, there was no rest for me.  After showering, I inquired if Blowing Rock had an Urgent Care facility.  No, but Boone does.  The hostess was quite solicitous, advised she would call Security to have someone drive me there.  I had prepared to call Paul to see what he could do, but this offer easily topped that idea.  Within minutes the security guard drove up and we made it the eight miles to Boone and the Urgent Care facility.  He gave me a number to call when I was ready to get picked up.  Long story, short: given the symptoms, I self-diagnosed a urinary infection.  Within an hour, I had given a sample, seen the doctor, and picked up a prescription.  Another forty-five minutes had me, prescription in hand, back at the Inn and ready for dinner.
            The waitress and chef really out-did themselves in supplying a very tasty, legal alternative to what was on their menu.  I no longer am surprised what a good chef can conjure when requested.
            Rather than explore Blowing Rock, I spent the rest day in my room watching the World Cup, three matches.  However, the medication worked quickly, and I felt good enough to join Paul, Rod, and Thurman for dinner at the Mellow Mushroom.  The next day I mounted up for Day Five of riding.  Today’s scheduled ride was only 48 miles with two big climbs.  But either the medication or what it was curing seemed to zap me, so I made it 27.2 miles and 2,147 feet.  The big visual of the day turned into a big disappointment.  
Linville Falls
Me, Dave, Sam, Jim, Martha
          The Linn Cove Viaduct presents the rider with a spectacular view.  There are large signs indicating No Pedestrians.  Had I known that the ONLY view was from the middle of the viaduct, I’d have dismounted and taken my chances and shot several pictures.  Overwhelmingly scenic.  But I ASSUMED there would be an overlook at the end giving a similar scene.  Nope, no overlook. Surely the Linn Cove Information Center would surely have a great view.  Nope, but nice rest rooms.   If you go, stop and take the picture.  We cycled a mile-and-a-half over to Linville Falls for our break, making the one-plus mile hike up to take in the view. 
         Our lodging for the night was the Little Switzerland Inn, another place with great scenery.  
       
         Day Six included the ascent of Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Rockies.  I felt much better, but not Mt. Mitchell better, especially since I did two tough climbs before getting to it, and two climbs after.  So I shuttled to the top.  Still, my stats for the day: 54.5 miles and 7,762 feet of climbing.  We saw a line of about twenty Porches roll by; then a line of motorcycles, and somewhat later, a small group of Ford Thunderbirds hummed up the road.  Truthfully, with the clouds rolling in, there wasn’t much to see at the top, and the pictures were ho-hum.  The five mile downhill back to the BRP got the juices flowing as I followed Thurman.
            We had a thrilling descent into Asheville to end the day.  Mine wasn’t so thrilling.  I was bombing down the technical descent when I came upon a local couple taking the curves slower than me.  When we came to a straight stretch, I shouted out “on you left” and cruised on past and prepared for the next series of curves.  However, Mr. was a very strong rider and dragged his female companion back past me before the descents.  After having to brake for her slowness on several turns, I just stopped for maybe thirty seconds to get her out of my way before enjoying the rest of the downhill.  It isn’t often I get upset about lack of protocol, but that rude behavior certainly set me off.  A very nice dinner helped soothe away the ruffled feathers.
            The last day of riding I logged 62 miles and 6,726 feet of climbing , including an eight and a half-miler and a three-miler.  But it also had thirteen miles of downhill, most of it steep enough to be above 35mph.  I can gain at least two miles per hour speed when I get into my aero position (I can’t call it a “tuck”).  But after so many days in the saddle and many minutes in that position, my knotted neck could only take so much.  I suffered, but kept my speed.  What a great ride.  An end-of-ride observation: what a clean road!  Most of the asphalt was smooth, and the bike picked up very little dirt. Unlike my first attempt, this adventure met my expectations in spades.  We had great weather, a superior tour director and staff, and a challenging course.  This was a true epic cycling vacation.


            
            Now a post-script.  It is my opinion that this ride requires a minimum of four riders and a sag wagon in order to be a positive experience.  Most of us, like me, don’t have a cycling circle large enough to meet that requirement, thus we turn to the obvious solution: a paid tour.  It doesn’t take long on a search engine to realize that Black Bear Adventures is the premier BRP provider.  Now that I have taken their tour, I attest that yes, you cannot find a better experience.  Paul Wood, the owner, enjoys good food, wine, lodging, and cycling challenges and provides all of these to the cyclists who join him.  He rides the routes, not quite like a sweep, but starting at the back and carefully monitoring the riders as he passes.
            Before signing up, I inquired about the ability to accommodate my plant-based diet.  Paul assured me he could.  Shortly before the start, I received an email from Rod, staff person in charge of the sag vehicle, asking specifics as to what I ate and didn’t eat.  He prepared snacks and lunch, and each day I was pleasantly surprised at the vegan fuel he had for me.  He even had Almond milk rather than real milk for the granola/blueberry snack.   For dinner, all of the chefs adjusted their entrees for me.  Most of the time, breakfast consisted of oatmeal and fruit, with bread of some sort.
            Paul had the break and lunch stops set up so after more or less two hours of riding, we could refuel and refresh.  Given the amount of energy expended, this was perfect timing.  Feel free to contact me if you have additional questions.