Friday, December 30, 2016

HITTING THE ROAD, LITERALLY

     After a recent incident, I posted that in the last thirty years I'd crashed seven times and have been fortunate enough to have escaped without a breaking a bone.  That number was "off the top of my head" but now I have taken the time to remember all of them, not counting falling over after just getting my first set of clips.
     The first time came as I was following my son out of the neighborhood (McNeil Road and I-35 for those in the Round Rock area).  We have to cross railroad tracks.  Yes, we know how to cross them.  But for some reason, maybe traffic, he swerved and got caught and went down, and I swerved to miss him and also caught my wheel and went down.  More embarrassment than anything, we got up and continued riding.
     My second crash happened in the garage.  I recently purchased a set of rollers to assist in winter preparation for my coast-to-coast journey (2001).  Like a sophomore, I became over-confident.  The rollers were situated next to a wall so I could use it to help in balancing.  One day my mind wandered and when I finished my workout, I applied the brakes rather than put my hand on the wall.  Next thing I knew, I fell over (like that tv clip of the guy on a trike falling over).  No time to unclip. Big bruise on my hip.  Forever after, I don't use a wall, rather something I can get a hand around, like the side of my pick-up, or the back porch fence.
     The third time I was along the I-35 access road near Jarrell.  I had the right-of-way, but it was on an incline and my speed only in the 5 mph range.  I saw the pick-up slowing for his stop sign, mentally registered he was stopping and kept peddling.  Rather than a complete stop, he rolled through and we collided, my front wheel to his left front fender.  This was a long ride, therefore I had my Camelbak on, and it took the brunt of me and the bike hitting his fender.  He was most apologetic and paid for a new wheel, in addition to transporting me back to my car.  I only had a big bruise and minor road rash.
     The fourth time I got caught in a drizzle after a long dry spell.  The smooth asphalt was slick.  Anderson Mill and 620 for those in the area.  I cautiously made the right turn off 620 but the back wheel slid out from under me and I slid across the lane and into the raised median.  Neither I nor the bike sustained any damage.  But the reason I remember this so well is the lady going north, waiting for the red light to change.  She steadfastly refused to acknowledge my presence, only a few feet under her car door.  Lucky for me, I didn't have any traffic waiting for me to extricate myself and get righted.
     Number five was the scariest.  It was my Sunday morning ride, on Bee Cave Road just west of 360, going downhill at close to 40 mph.  As I approached Addie Roy Road, a stopped pick-up pulled out right in front of me.  I hit the brakes and swerved right, into Addie Roy, but my rear wheel slid on gravel and I went down really hard.  Again, the Camelbak rescued me, but I lay in the middle of the road for a good three minutes, just trying to breathe and mentally check my body.  The pick-up kept driving, but apparently his conscience got the better of him and he circled back (it took several minutes).  The irony in this was he was a cyclist going out to start his ride!  I had to call my wife to gather me and the bike up.
     Number six happened on a group ride.  Our group leader is very conscientious about safety, and always gives a briefing before we start out.  One of his points is that on left turns we shouldn't be cutting the corner into the lane of oncoming traffic, but keep it wide into our own lanes.  This was in the fall (actually winter, but it was when the trees shed their leaves).  On one particular corner the combination of turning wide and wet leaves in the gutter had me once again on the ground.  Pook ding-fu!  I had a cut finger, and my left knee had a few gashes.  I still have the tatoo they left, three years since, but it is slowly fading.
     And the last one.  Another group ride, Christmas Eve.  A nice twenty mile (was going to be thirty, but things happened so we cut it short) to downtown Austin and back.  I really enjoyed the riding, and tucked in behind a friend with whom I've ridden before.  We were on a concrete hike/bike trail when he lost concentration and wandered off into the grass.  A slight over-correction on his part, and slow reaction on mine, and wheels touched.  I went down in a hurry.  Again, I had the Camelbak, this time festooned with lights.  So many times, this type of crash results in a broken collarbone.  I escaped with only minor road rash.  Not even my jersey (my Christmas one) was torn.
     Each accident has taught me a lesson, and I remain quite thankful it didn't come with a broken bone.  Maybe after reading this, you too will change a bad habit or become more aware of your surroundings when out riding.  As Professor Moody would exclaim: CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

GOAL!! THE HARD WAY

     If you are retired, as I am, cycling 800 miles per month isn't really that difficult.  Years ago I determined that my racing is much better when I get in 800 miles.  Because most of my racing consists of short time trials, I do ok at 600 but below that things get iffy.  I was gone half of April, so May became a "must do" month.
     The first week was right on schedule, 200 miles.  Then a medical procedure set me back three days (or 3 1/2 since the first day back was light).  I wasn't too worried, since 200 miles per week is 28 days, and I had 31.  I worked hard and kept on schedule, arriving on the 27th with 670 miles.
     Dan Pedroza put together a 76 mile ride for Saturday, and even taking the "easy ride" on Sunday, I'd only have a short pedal Monday.  The best laid plans.........
     Saturday was hot and humid and after the first fifteen miles, I knew this would be a long day.  Of course starting off on Lime Creek is quite different from Chandler Road.  The second leg of the route was Hwy 620 out to Bee Cave, mainly flat until you hit the dam.  Even so, I got a head start and even with big Jim in front of me at an easy pace, I couldn't keep up.  The group caught me at the dam, but I eased my way up and over.  By the time we got to Bee Cave, I was on the verge of bonking.
     Actually, some might argue I had already bonked, but that depends on your definition.  Anyway, I determined I'd make my way back to the Parmer store at a reduced pace, turning left on 360 and cutting off ten miles.  Even though drafting saves lots of energy, you still need some to keep up.  I didn't have it, so I puttered along by myself the remaining twenty-plus miles and sat around to recover (eating lunch at Morelia's).
     No problem, I could do the long ride Sunday.  Sunday got rained out.  Sunday afternoon's weather was excellent, however I had other things to do.  No problem, I'd ride twenty miles Monday morning, then another thirty on Pedroza's Recovery Ride.  It wasn't until late Monday that I remembered Dan was doing the Velo View gravel ride (half gravel).  Grrrr!  I'd already put my feet up and had a beverage in hand when Becca posted a recovery possibility.  Double Grrrr!  Too late.
     That left Tuesday.  With rain in the forecast, I left early and did my thirty-nine mile route, and another six in Old Settlers Park.  Feeling quite proud of myself I returned home and plugged in the Garmin and pulled up my spread sheet.  Ooops!  Pook, ding-fu!  The total on the 30th showed 750.5, not 755.0.  A quick glance at the radar showed green and yellow heading toward Austin.  I unplugged the computer, pulled the bike out and rode the neighborhood for another five miles, finishing to the sound of thunder (but so far it hasn't rained here).
     I finished the month at 801.4 miles.  A review of my log revealed that while I planned on twenty-two and a half miles (three loops of Old Settler's Park) on Monday morning, I cut it off at fifteen because I figured I'd get in thirty that evening.
     What would I have done if the month were only thirty days?  I wouldn't have worried, since not achieving it isn't all that important.  Working toward it is the key.  While some goals are important, this one is merely a guideline.

Monday, May 30, 2016

BATTLE OF THE BULGE

      For the last two plus years I've had a minor weight problem.  I started my plant-based diet in November at 150 pounds and promptly lost ten.  Then, because of race-training, during the summer and fall lost another four.  I was pretty sure those four would jump back on once racing stopped.  Sure enough, they found their way back and I plateau'd at 140.  During the winter I gained the expected four and in the spring lost them back.  All as expected.
     The next racing season didn't have me losing any weight, but the following winter the annual four pounds showed up.  Not to worry.  I didn't worry in the spring, summer, or fall but the four pounds never melted away.  Then I gained four more.  And they didn't go away either.  Now I began to worry.  Fortunately, a third round of gain during the winter didn't occur.  But I was still stuck with eight pounds and an additional inch and a half waist (I purchased new pants at 140 and they stayed on their hanger for two years).
     Regular readers know that in addition to weight, I'm also much slower than previous.  To help rectify the speed, I decided I needed to put in more miles.  I had a good half April, but the second half was a trip to England and no cycling.  So May was targeted.  'Way back in my blog is a post where I expound on an optimum training program which works out to be 800 miles per month.  This isn't that hard: 2x65 miles; 2x30 miles at pace; 1 hill workout; 1 TT workout per week.   In theory.  I haven't hit 800 miles in a month since doing the Blue Ridge Parkway ride in 2014.
     The last three days in May were to be easy ones, but Sunday got rained out, and I forgot the Monday ride had been cancelled.  So Tuesday (tomorrow) I need to put in 50 miles.  This is not a chore, but will take longer than the 20 I planned.
     But, back to the weight.  Without trying (like dieting), the extra mileage has apparently upped my metabolism such that the eight pounds are gone.  They have been gone four days in a row, so I'm pretty sure I'm plateau'd.  This happened over the whole month, not like overnight.  I'm back into my pants.  We will see if this continues past June.

Friday, May 6, 2016

GIRO MEMORIES

     The Giro starts today and I am remembering my first exposure to the excitement it brings to the fans.  In 1962 I was in the army stationed in Germany, but on leave in Bolzano, Italy.  Bolzano was (and probably still is) and lovely town, but don't ask me why I was there, I can't recall.  It may have been that my traveling companion, who had the car, suddenly left without me, but that is a story for another time and place.
     Anyhow, one afternoon I was wandering about and suddenly people started running toward a street only about a block away and chattering excitedly.  Something was up, so I joined in to see what caused the commotion.  I had my Super 8 and lined up with everyone else, camera ready.  The first cyclists caught me unprepared, but I whipped it up and caught the peloton in a blur of motion as they whistled past.  In less than a minute, everyone started dispersing.  I had no idea, since my Italian is limited to Ciao, Bella, and vino, what I had witnessed and it was much later before I linked it to the Giro.  I still have the footage, but no machine upon which to play it.  Just as well.
     But, closer to the present, this year the Cima Coppi (highest summit) is Col d'Agnel.  I have vivid memories of climbing Col d'Agnel (but I went up the side they are going down), and they are part of the chapter on my adventures with Marty Jemison and riding in the Alps in 2008.  Below is an excerpt from Gotta Go!  Cycling Vacations in Fantastic Locations.

     Day Three:  Col Agnel ~ 30 Miles

            We had a short day, with a very short warm-up, then the 20.5 km 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 six percent on average, with some at nine percent.  Truthfully, my GPS is not all that accurate on altitudes, but the numbers I saw were four points higher than what he advertised.  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 five km from the top, the cold wind came up and the temperature dropped.  Officially, they say nine degrees centigrade.  I found a spot to get my rain pants on, and Jill lent me her rain jacket.  At three km 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 two km 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 we 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 fifteen degrees warmer and 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.


   

Monday, April 18, 2016

RACING IN THE RAIN!

     No, it was riding in a race.  Specifically the Senior Games Texas State Finals.  You know that excitement you feel when all of your training comes down to the Big Game?  I had none of that this year.  I didn't want to be there.  Of course, I had to be there in order to qualify for Nationals next year in Birmingham.  Top four finishers in my age group qualify.  Rather than racing for gold, I was racing for fourth.  What a poor attitude.  Here is how things went down.
     First, my training has not been going well.  We'll get to that later.  The weather forecast indicated spotty showers Saturday, with possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon and heavy rain and thunderstorms on Sunday.  The usual San Antonio itinerary of 10km Time Trial followed by 20km Road Race on Saturday morning and 5km Time Trial and 40km Road Race on Sunday wasn't going to work.  With urging from many participants, the 40km was canceled and the 5km moved to Saturday at 2pm.
     I drove down from Round Rock Saturday, leaving at 5:30am.  The windshield wipers stayed inactive, giving me a sliver of hope.  Dashed as I left I-410 and turned west on Hwy 90.  It was only a drizzle, but I knew it was a portent of things to come.  First race was at 9am and my start time was 9:17.  I arrived at 7:30am and did normal pleasantries and got checked in and picked up my timing chip.  At 8:15am I started warming up.
     My normal warm-up consists of a half an hour riding the course on my road bike, a short rest, then drag out the TT bike top things off and be ready to race.  About ten years ago I purchased rain pants from REI and have used them maybe twice when caught out on tour.  I warmed up in rain pants and jacket, with a bike hat under my road helmet.  The wind had come up.  I was not a happy camper.
     We had ten guys sign up for my 70-74 age group, and at 74 I was the oldest.  I had to be faster than six.  Truly, I was confident I could do it.  So confident that I decided to leave the TT bike in the car, safe and dry.  In my six years of ownership, the bike has never, ever been wet.  There were other considerations that made up my decision.  The course is generally a three-mile loop with two corners, which in good conditions can be taken at speed (with the more adventurous not even getting out of the aerobars).  This year construction trucks traveled on the road (not on race day) and had left a thin layer of dirt, and in one corner a few blobs of dirt.  With the rain, it turned to mud.  I had aerobars on the road bike, and it had just been overhauled (thanks BSS) and was silky-smooth.  Originally I evaluated the group and figured I would be racing for silver.  With the weather and bike change, fourth was pretty much a lock.
     So, I took off my rain gear and put on my aero helmet and got ready to race.  The drizzle let up just in time, but the wind did not.  Without the TT bike, my time suffered.  But unlike some riders, I did not hit the pavement.  I lost a minute and a half over previous races on this course, but still came in third.
     Most years I do both time trials and the 40km road race.  The road race is just to get in a good work-out.  Sometimes I'm even competitive in it, but usually I get dropped in the last km.  This year I saw no reason to stick around to race in the rain, then drive back to Round Rock in heavy showers. Therefore I departed after the 10km award ceremony.
     Back to my training.  For over a year I've been complaining about losing strength, especially not being able to hang on when the road turns up.  Could it be that I'm finally getting old??  I had a slight eureka moment last week when talking to Shannon Burke.  I was explaining that twenty years ago I could do twenty push-ups and maintain firm muscles but that morning had completed 274 (see my work-out schedule) for the same outcome.  Shortly thereafter, I realized I had been doing the same training regimen, more or less, for the last five years.  Yes, old age is catching up to me.  'Tis a fact of life, you have to work harder to maintain.  At least for the next year, until Nationals, I have to find a way to work harder (this is no easy task, in that I feel as though I'm working as hard as I can now).

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A CHANGING OF THE GUARD

     My long-time followers and/or readers of my books know that I'm an advocate of rail-trails, especially for those wishing a generally gentle ride or for those just getting into cycling vacations.  And, if you've read Bicycle Journeys with Jerry you know that I give A+ to the Katy Trail, the gold standard of rail-trail cycling experiences.  And, the very best B&B on the Katy Trail is The Doll House in Rhineland, Missouri.
     I have just received notice that Amanda (and husband, Jeff) have sold the business.  I know running a B&B is difficult and the turnover rate quite high, what with the long hours and stress of any lodging establishment.  The sale comes as no surprise.  Amanda deserves her retirement (as in no longer running the B&B, not that she is old enough for Social Security).
     It is my belief that she would not have sold to Ken and Melissa Stevens unless she were sure they could keep up the reputation Amanda had built, therefore future cyclists on the Katy Trail need not fear getting less than superior attention when they book their rooms.  You can contact Melissa at missystevens316@gmail.com or 201 Lewis Street, Rhineland, MO 65069.
   

Sunday, March 27, 2016

THE BEST CYCLING TOUR COMPANIES EVER!

     Now that I have your attention, I add my disclaimer: in my many tours, these companies stand out as providing excellent service and tremendous cycling experiences.  I haven't included those that did not exceed expectations, nor have I taken all of the tours available.  These are merely my opinions.
     Highest on my list is Velo View Bike Tours.  They specialize in five day rides, sometimes with an extra cycling adventure if you come a day early or arrive early on the meeting day.  Shannon Burke has picked some spectacularly scenic spots in Colorado, New Mexico, California Wine Country, and Texas Big Bend.  Also Virginia, Carolina, and Kentucky rides provide superior cycling venues.  Most of the rides include strenuous climbing, but that is moderated by his willingness to tailor the experience to the individual, so if you need to sag in or hitch a ride to the top, just let him know.  Shannon rides with the group, which is usually limited to a maximum of eight riders.  The wine country rides are more gentle in nature. Also featured are "bike retreats."  Long week-ends, three days of cycling.  When not doing the tours, they offer day-trips in the Texas Hill Country.  For the locals, or for someone coming to Ausin on business and wanting to get in a workout, these are great.
     The most difficult, by far, bike tour I've taken was with Black Bear Adventures.  Paul Wood specializes in touring the Blue Ridge Parkway, although his other signature tour is the Natchez Trace.  His motto "Vacations Designed for the Avid Cyclist" is somewhat misleading.  If you want to do the Blue Ridge Parkway (and you should, this is an A++ ride) you must be in really good shape.  It isn't necessary to be able to challenge Chris Froome, but definitely be above average.  Paul also limits his group to a manageable size.  He also will do private/custom rides or offer guiding services.
     Next on my list is Bike Adventures.  They specialize in tours in Europe, but are based in England.  I did the E2E ride and was quite pleased, although there has been a change of ownership since my adventure.  They offer a wide variety of tours at a very reasonable price.
     If you have read either of my books, you know that for anyone wishing to experience Le Tour de France, you should look no further than Marty Jemison.  The rides, the experiences behind the scenes with the pros, the food and wine....   I can't come up with sufficient superlatives (read my book if you want more depth).
     Now, if you want to go coast to coast...  Who hasn't dreamed of doing this?  Again, first read Bicycle Journeys with Jerry, then click on America By Bicycle.  Going coast to coast is difficult enough just to cycle.  Let ABB do the logistics, they take really good care of you.  They pick the best, safest routes, provide van and sweep support, good hotels.  Their guides are the best.
   One more thing, please don't send me any comments on this post, positive or negative.

Friday, March 4, 2016

FACING THE REALITY OF AGEING

     My friend (and Tour de Gruene teammate) Dean (a former national champion) told me several years ago that he knew that in the future he would no longer be as fast as he was (that year).  Dean is three years older than me, and at the time still whipped my butt in both road races and time trials.  As best I remember, I was 66 and he was 69, but it could be a year either way.  As predicted, for the past couple of years my time has been better in the 10k time trials, and once or twice in the 5k.  He still whips me in the road races.  There is no rancor, it is just a fact of life.  And sure enough, when I hit 68, I, too, knew I would not be getting any faster.  It was more a matter of slowing down at a lesser rate than my competitors.  The ego takes a hit, but if you know it is coming, it softens the blow.
     I bring this up now due to my practice ride yesterday.  It actually came as a surprise to me, but it has been sixteen years of regularly doing my "hill' workout.  Ideally once a week early in the year, then slacking off.  Generally, this takes in the range of eighty-five minutes.  I factor in wind, traffic lights, and whatnot, plus what gears I used on Courtyard and Jester, and arrive at a good assessment of my fitness.  Most of the time, it is one less gear on Jester than Courtyard.
     I'm taking the long 'way around to get to my point.  When I first started, I had a standard 52/39, or maybe it was 53/39, crank and 12/27 cogset.  It took all the gears for Courtyard.  I turned 67 and switched to a compact crank 50/34, but it still took all my gears.  A few more years had me in a triple, 52/39/30.  Then I went to a 28 small ring. Then a 28 cog.  On good days I have a gear left on Courtyard.
     Earlier this year, for the first time since 2008, I pooped out on Courtyard and had to walk the last (20%) pitch.  Subsequently, I have succeeded in the ascent but the handwriting is on the wall.  My next upgrade, probably a year away, will have lower gears.
     And this is why I'm an ardent advocate for Senior Games.  If we continue to age without debilitating injury or disease, then by competing against those in our own 5-year age groups, we have a generally level playing field.  Truthfully, as Dean and I are witnesses, in the upper groups even a two year difference is significant.  Because our muscle mass deteriorates doesn't mean our desire to race does.  We have fun, take less risks, and celebrate just finishing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

ON BEING A POOR PROSELYTIZER

     I've known for years that I'm a poor sales person.  Whatever that guy is who can sell ice to an Eskimo (I know, Inuit), I'm the exact opposite.  Every now and then I give it a shot, and while not a disaster, it certainly brings me back to reality.  In retirement I moved to authoring two books on my cycling adventures.  Truthfully, the intention was 1) Give me something to do; and 2) Try to convince people to take cycling vacations.  I have a website and I have a blog.  With few notable exceptions, my exhortations have fallen on deaf ears.  You can lead a horse to water.....
     But fear not, I will continue to put in my two cents worth whenever I can.  In my first book I describe myself as "experienced" rather than "an expert."  I'll stick with that.  My first cycling "priority" are tours or vacations.  But I like time trials.  And I'll throw in a road race every now and then for the training.
     So what is the reason for this post?  After my race this weekend, I turned to my spread sheet for an up-date.  And tonight my granddaughter posted on Facebook something about displaying your (running) medals.  Well, thanks to a recent Christmas gift, I have a place to display my medals.  I've written many times that medals are more a sign of how well your training and health are rather than glorifying your racing prowess.  Especially as one matures (read: gets old).  I can no longer keep up with the fast guys, and have a difficult time with the intermediates on our club rides.  Of course, most of them are twenty to thirty years younger than me.  But, back to my spread sheet.
     Most of my races are five year age divisions, so I'm against guys my own age.  It isn't the same as Cat 3,4, or 5.  The talent pool is thin and gets thinner as I get older.  So take these stats with a grain of salt:  Since 2004, my inaugural year of not seeing a podium, I've had 107 races and placed 1st in 27; 2nd in 36; and 3rd in 21.  In 23 I finished off the podium.  Broken down differently: 75 time trials, garnering 24, 29, 14 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places respectively.  I only missed the podium 8 times (two of which were at Nationals). I've done 30 road races with 3, 7, 7, podiums, and 13 misses.  I found out the hard way to stay out of criteriums, getting pulled rather quickly (but not last) in the only two I entered.
     If you are over 50, you might want to check out TSGA.org (Senior Games).  There aren't as many in Texas as there were ten years ago, but we still have fun.  It isn't nearly as serious as USAC, although the competitiveness is still there.  And a few folks even allow a 70+ category, although as far as USAC is concerned we are lumped in with the 60+ guys.  There are lots of guys faster than me, they just don't come out and race.  And, for cycling vacations, check out Velo View Bike Tours.

Monday, February 29, 2016

HEADS OR TAILS TIME TRIAL, BEAUMONT, 2016

     The race was great.  The story is what led up to my participation.  To reiterate, last year was not a good year for racing in particular and cycling in general.  My legs were just not working they way I thought they should and I imagined all sorts of things that could be wrong.  Of course, the number one cure would be to put more miles on the bike and more race experience.  If that didn't work, I would need to go to Plan B, as yet undetermined.
     I had competed in the inaugural Heads or Tails Time Trial in 2014 and placed second in the 60+ age category.  Since there were only two participants in it, a negative person would suggest I finished last.  For Senior Games, the time trials are only 5k and 10k, so jumping up to 40k is quite a leap.  In addition, coming in February, there were not a lot of miles put in using the TT position.  Nevertheless, because I wanted the race miles, I signed up early and made plans to drive four and a half hours, through Houston on a Friday, to attend.
     My hotel room had a 24 hour cancellation clause, and my plan: race Brazos Valley to ascertain my fitness, review the 10-day weather forecast, check the other entrants, then make a final decision.  My legs did well, considering, on the 40k road race last week, and the weather forecast seemed perfect.  But in checking the other entrants, I found me to be the slowest, on paper, of eight.  My friend Clif, who came in 3rd overall in 2014 and also this year, has moved up to the 60+ category.  Except for Dean, I was ten years older than everyone else, and they all had good racing results last year.  I decided I really didn't want to race Dean for last place.
     I cancelled the hotel reservation and prepared to email Dean to advise I wouldn't be going.  Then he called me and said he thought he convinced the race director to open up a 70+ category.  I wavered.  Then I received an email from the race director confirming the category and would I like for him to move me into it (or stay in the 60+, duh).  So, within a few hours I was in, out, and back in.  It cost an additional $10 for the room since we received a super deal the first time.
     Let me say a few words about Heads or Tails.  They are super organized, run a great race, everyone especially friendly and helpful, and have a great venue, closing off MLK Boulevard so we have a 10k loop on concrete.  Dean and I met at packet pickup, reviewed the course in the car, then had an early dinner at Olive Garden.
     Something about old men.  We returned to the hotel and since it was still early, checked out our bikes.  I noticed a lack of bike computer and after checking the car, called home to verify that it was still where I left it.  I won't even mention the water bottle sitting in the refrigerator.  Well, that meant I didn't need to wear the heart-rate strap and would just monitor the body the old-fashioned way.   Dean had a chuckle at my expense, but one must watch out for karma.  It seems he brought his back racing wheel rather than the front.  He brought two bikes, so it wasn't like he didn't have a good front wheel, just not his racing one.  He uses a disc for time trials.  Other than that, we were good to go.
     We didn't want to arrive any later than 7am in order to get a good parking place.  That meant waking up early, and not enjoying the hotel breakfast which started at 7:00 on the weekends.  Not a problem, we brought nourishment.  We pulled into the parking lot on time and had a great spot.  Now, we had an hour and forty-five minutes to start time.  We walked over to the start line to pick up our timing chips and were instructed on how to put them on the bikes, then returned to putter around and get the bikes ready.
     I did minimal warm-up, maybe twenty minutes with some thirty-second sprints.  Eventually, my time came.  The sun came up at 6:45am and Dean went off at 8:45am, so it warmed nicely from 39 degrees to maybe the low 50's.  I was in tights and arm warmers.  Zero wind (practically unheard of in Beaumont).  Could not have asked for a better day.
     Dean had difficulty at the start and it didn't take long for me to make up the one-minute start difference and over-take him.  My goal was to hold off Clif, who started twelve minutes ahead, from lapping me (He would pass me, I just didn't want him to do it twice).  As best I can figure, because I didn't see him pass, he finished forty-four minutes after I started.  I completed three laps in fifty-four minutes.  Pook ding-fu!!  But this is why I need more races.  On the other hand, I was faster than fourteen younger men doing aero, and overall, 70th out of 113 who finished.
     A few words about the race itself.  It is mostly flat with some minor inclines that become more difficult to ascend in the last two laps.  The outbound turn-around can be taken at speed, in the aerobars for the more adventurous.  I was pretty consistent in the laps, the first being somewhat faster, and the third the slowest (as I protected from blowing up and not finishing well).  Without the computer reading out my heart-rate, I probably lost a few seconds here and there, but the up-side is I finished and recovered quickly.  My legs were fine, but my arms were killing me, especially during the race.  Several times each lap I had to come off the aerobars just to give the arms a rest.
     An aside: I forgot to stop by and drop off my timing chip, so proceeded to remove it myself.  I had a Swiss Army knife in the car and used the can-opener blade to rip off the zip-ties.  I slipped and sliced my left wrist.  I had some first aid stuff in the car, so swabbed it down, put a compress on it and proceeded to the first-aid station, clutching the timing chips since the two stations were close together.  When asked what happened, I replied that I was displeased with my finish time.... That brought a chuckle.  Anyhow, I got bandaged up, refused an offer of stiches, turned in the timing chips (mine and Dean's), and returned to the hotel for a shower and departure.
     Another four and a half hour drive, again navigating Houston traffic.  Just because it was Saturday didn't mean the freeway was clear.  Bah!  I don't particularly like the driving distance, but the Heads or Tails is a really a first class venue.  You should put it on your adgenda.
   

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Brazos Valley Senior Games, 2016

     Once again this year we lucked out with the weather in February.  The wind wasn't as stout as last year, but on Saturday morning, for the 5k time trial, it was enough to move us along the point-to-point course.  Blue skies and a wind at our backs.  I don't know why more people don't sign up to do this venue.  The course is great.  The 10k course is a simple rectangle, more or less, and for the road races of 20k and 40k, you just do multiple laps.
     Saturday morning we started with the 5k time trial.  My warm-up consisted of riding the 10k course at a mostly leisurely pace with a few sprints thrown in to get the heart-rate up.  My friend and sometimes teammate, Tom Cole, started 30 seconds ahead of me.  He finished 31 seconds ahead of me.  One second!  I did some retrospective on where I could have picked up two seconds, but didn't dwell on it much.
     About an hour later we started the 10k time trial.  Tom just did the 5k as a warm-up for the 20k road race which started shortly after the finish of the time trial, so I didn't have him as a carrot.  Volunteer holders are sometimes an adventure, but we were quite lucky this year, she was very good.  Still, ever since the incident several years ago where the holder didn't let go and I almost cramped on the first pedal stroke, I have been starting in the small ring for the first dozen strokes to bring it up to speed and cadence.  This time my bike decided I needed to stay in the small ring.  I shifted and nothing happened.  Multiple times.  This wasn't a complete disaster, in that while the road was flat, the wind was in my face for the first mile, so I just dropped down to the small cog (14, not the 12), and kept a good cadence.  Once I turned the corner, the bike relented and let me shift up and I settled into a good rhythm.
     Even though I felt as though I could have pushed harder, my time was good enough for first place.  A slim field, but more people just need to show up.  A more difficult test would come Sunday morning in the 40k road race.  I don't particularly like road racing, but do it more for the training than anything.
     Apparently a lot of folks feel the same way about the 40k, in that only fifteen people showed up to race.  The race director just started all the men in one group, and the couple of women in another, just seconds behind.  We fell into line at a reasonable pace, since we had the wind in our face. I noticed one woman had already bridged up to the guys.  Deb took gold at Nationals (all four of her races) last year and frequently rides with the guys in order to go hard.
     Anyhow, once we made the turn and had the wind at our backs, the pace picked up.  I had a choice to make, hang with them and risk blowing up, or let them go and proceed at my own pace.  There were only three of us in my age group, and both of the other guys are much faster in the finishing sprint.  I opted to let them go.  As it turned out, my Gruene teammate, Dean, and Deb hooked on with me and the three of us did a great job of rotating the whole route.  The main peloton was only about thirty seconds ahead of us and we kept that distance through the entire first lap.   On the second lap it had moved out to about forty-five seconds, and the third lap someone called out we were sixty-five seconds back.  Not that it mattered to us, we were enjoying ourselves.
     The last mile includes several small rollers, and Dean attacked.  Deb hooked on, I waved good-by.  I finished about ten seconds behind, standing and sprinting by myself, just to see what, if anything, I had left in the tank.
     Dean and Deb won their respective gold and I accepted my bronze.  I finished ahead of everyone who didn't show up to race (and a few others who did).  Besides the three medals, I took away a growing confidence that my legs are on the way back to performing as they did two years ago.  Last year was the pits.  Next up, the Heads or Tails Time Trial in Beaumont.