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.