Tuesday, July 25, 2017

COMEUPPANCE 2017

     So, we left Georgia on Thursday and arrived home on Friday.  This was a squirrel-ly vacation so it took awhile to get the house squared away.  However, I arrived at the Bicycle Sport Shop Sunday ride on time, with bike and accoutrement intact.  Due to a granddaughter softball commitment later, besides not really liking the Buda ride, I opted for the beginner/recovery ride.  Just as well.  We noodled along to the turn-around, then several of us went further.  Five miles out I said good-bye to my companions and returned to the shop at a reasonable speed.  This was a good recovery ride.
     I planned to do the somewhat faster Monday night ride, but it was cancelled.  The universe interfered with cycling and I logged zero miles during the week, plus a strained back muscle which kept me pretty much immobile for a few days.  Anyhow, things were sorted out by the weekend and I prepared for the really nice NW Hills ride.  I like this ride, in either direction.  My recent mountain retreat should stand me in good stead for the climbing.
     Ten of us left BSS and for about thirty seconds all was good.  I drifted to the back and felt like the hammer had been put down from the start.  Then I looked at the measly sixteen/seventeen number on my computer.  Flat ground.  Ah well, the legs are tight and will respond better once they are warmed up.  Half an hour later reality set in.  I skipped the Great Northern sprint and met them as they came back to Shoal Creek and informed Chris (the leader) that I'd be turning around.
     I cruised back down Shoal Creek at fourteen mph, waiting for the HR to drop to an acceptable level.  Well, going out I was about twenty beats high and coming back it was still ten beats high.  Pook, ding-fu!  To add insult to injury, I had a door open on me.  This hasn't happened in years.  Fortunately I was paying attention and there weren't any cars behind me.  The GoPro was mounted on the seat post so I only have the rear shot.  I didn't give the occupant a wave.  Later on I almost got squirrel-ed.  Other than that the return was uneventful, but the HR remained high.
     Back at BSS, I spread out my mat and stretched, being interrupted by a rider who inquired if I had a pump.  I carry my floor pump in the car so was able to assist before returning to stretching.  LJ and Andy returned, with one other rider from the beginner ride.  The others went for additional mileage.  I loaded up and came home.
     I rode Monday and today at Old Settlers Park.  HR was back to normal as I cruised for an hour at sixteen mph.  But the legs might take a few more easy rides before they get their strength back.  That's what I'm blaming it on, the mountains.  They ate my muscles.  You are welcome to your opinion, I'm sticking with this one.  I have no more races for a few months, so I'm back into building mode.

Friday, July 21, 2017

NORTH GEORGIA'S SIX GAPS, THREE AT A TIME

     Our annual family get-together in Suches, Georgia is now in the history books.  Since this is a cycling blog, I'll restrain myself and just relate my cycling.  Our base of operations, High Valley Resort, is on Hwy 180.  This happens to be between Wolf Pen Gap and Woody Gap so I can stumble out of the cabin and start riding (depending on which gaps are on the agenda).
     Traditionally, I ease my way into riding the mountains by going in a counter-clockwise direction.  This gives me about a mile of warm-up before ascending the easy side of Woody Gap.  This is enough to get the heart rate up in the 80% range.  But then the other side of Woody is a five mile, twisting descent.  Today I had a slight wind in my face, so actually had to pedal to hold a mostly 28 mph speed.  Turn left at the stone pile and traverse another five miles to Turner's Corner.  Ideal weather.
     I consumed a Clif Bar, turned left and started the seven mile climb up Neel's Gap.  The start is gradual and I was in cruise mode for awhile.  All too soon the climbing began.  An unrelenting couple of miles of 4-6% grade, about a mile of downhill, then a lot of 8% grades with a fair amount of 10% ramps.  The acrid smell of over-heated brakes hit my nostrils.  Up ahead I saw a large RV with smoke billowing from its wheels.  Really guys, you need to use your gears to hold your speed down.  I turned on the GoPro, but too late to get a picture.  This is the first time in twelve years that I've witnessed something like this.   It generally takes me fifty-five minutes to reach the top.  Today's account was fifty, with some help from the wind, now at my back.  A couple of riders passed me on the upper part, and they were still resting at the top.  I only took a couple of minutes before enjoying the downhill.  I can't say this is a lightly traveled road, but for the most part I go fast enough that only a few vehicles pass me.  Most of the three mile descent has two lanes (in my direction), so traffic has never been a concern.  All too soon the left turn to Wolf Pen Gap arrives and the torture begins.
     I love Wolf Pen Gap, especially since they resurfaced it a couple years ago.  Multiple banked curves make this three miles really exciting.  Of course, in this direction, I was going up, not down.  Half way up, the same two guys said hello again as they passed.  Once at the top it was a quick breather before the downhill.  This side has banked curves also, but only a mile and a half.  There are a few more climbs before getting back to the cabin.  Three hours exactly, as predicted.
     There were a few days of non-riding, including a baby-sitting stint as son Kurt defended his six hour record in the Merrill Mile (you run around an almost mile oval for six, twelve, twenty-four, or forty-eight hours).  This wasn't his year.  The number of laps completed was the same as last, but two young guys did more.  Still, a podium finish.  My next ride included the same gaps, just in a clockwise direction.  My descent of Wolf Pen had me braking more than usual.  I don't know if I had more speed between curves or just getting more cautious.  Still, I love those three miles.  I also enjoyed the seven miles of the other side of Neel's.  These are wide, sweeping curves that you can take at speed.  I noticed the pavement beginning to get cracks, mostly in the curves.  I had to be more careful in taking my line.  Seven minutes faster going this way.
video     We had rain every day of the two plus weeks of our stay.  Mostly in the afternoon.  But on my next ride, I didn't want to be caught in a downpour, so just went over Woody to the stone pile and back.  Only sixteen miles total, but five of those were coming back up Woody.  A good work-out.  Sadly, after cresting Woody and headed down the other side, I noticed the GoPro vibrating more so than usual.  As I headed for a big bend at 30 mph the mount broke and it clattered to the ground.
It took awhile for me to get stopped and return to pick up the pieces.  Astonished, there in the middle of the road were the camera and all the pieces (spread out a little but all within sight).  Keeping an ear out for traffic, I picked up the camera, checked to see if it were still running, then turned it off.  As it turns out, I'm only out the mount, everything else survived the impact.
     For the Fourth of July I donned my stars and stripes jersey and once again did the counter-clockwise route.  Another two hours, fifty-three minute, thirty-five mile, 4,000 feet of climbing, ride.  I've always gotten some acknowledgement of my jersey.  Not today.  Bummer.  The jersey was part of my coast-to-coast ride and holds lots of memories.
     Again I watched the radar closely and decided a shortened trip would be best.  This time it was over Wolf Pen, down to Vogel Park, and back.  Twenty miles, 2460 feet of climbing, and a thrilling descent, albeit only a little over a mile.
     A few more days off and it was time for me to tackle Hog Pen Gap.  This is a beast of a climb.  The most prudent way for this ride is to drive over to the top of Jack's Gap.  The route is forty-five miles and the climbs are Unicoi, Hog Pen, and Wolf Pen.  Marilane drove me over to the start.  Jack's Gap headed east has new asphalt and was a good five-mile descent to get me warmed-up.  It is also boring.  No sweeping curves, just a gradual downhill, to the extent that after two miles I had to pedal to maintain my speed.  No complaints, I made the turn and started up Unicoi.  This is relatively short at two and a half miles, with mostly 8% grades.  I cruised up, anticipating the really great five-mile descent.  Like Neel's, with wide sweeping curves, but better asphalt. That was fun.  All too soon I arrived at Helen and turned right to traverse over to the Russell Scenic Highway and Hog Pen Gap.
      This is about seven miles total with about a mile of relief before the tough climbs.  I saw a lot of double digit numbers on the gradients.  I eased my way up a 12%er then stopped to let the heart rate drop back to a decent number.  As I pulled off another rider did the same.  He was slim, well muscled, tanned.  But he too was breathing hard.  I gave him a minute head start before resuming.  There were still some hard climbs ahead, including a relatively short 20%.  Ugh!  Finally at the top I stopped to refuel and saw the other guy still there.  We both started the downhill at the same time, but I waved him to go ahead, figuring he would be the faster.  Within a hundred yards I realized that was a

mistake, so stopped to take a picture.  That gave him a two minute head start.
     Going down Hog Pen is exhilarating!  But after the first quarter mile the smooth asphalt runs out and the road is rough.  Steep, straight, and rough.  I wasn't looking forward to it.  Surprise!! New asphalt the whole way.  Oh joy.  Oh no.  There were a few slight curves, but in just a few seconds I was in the upper 40's.  Then I noticed a motorcycle behind me and moved right a bit to let them pass.  Nope, they hung back, so I took the whole lane and let it run.  Two miles with a top speed of 48.3.  Talk about adrenaline rush.  As the steeper part became more manageable, the motorcycle came around and gave me a thumbs up and some encouraging words.  They enjoyed my downhill too.
     I still had a few more miles before making the turn, and a few more mid-teen climbs.  Unbelievably, just after the big downhill I saw the other cyclist.  Shortly after, I passed him and exchanged pleasantries.  Apparently he over-extended himself and now had to noodle back to wherever his car was.  I, on the other hand, was still awash with adrenaline and happy with the smooth asphalt and cruised to the stop sign, made a left and began the four miles or so to begin Wolf Pen.
     My legs were feeling Hog Pen as I started my ascent.  Three miles.  I knew that half way there I'd be stopping.  Lots of 8-10% ramps.  It only took five minutes more than normal, so that was good.  And the downhill, sweeping, banked curves always make me smile.  Soon enough, with a few more short, steep climbs, I was back at the cabins.
     I use the Hog Pen ride as a barometer of my fitness.  If I survive that, I put Brasstown Bald on my agenda.  I took a day off, then it was time.  Brasstown Bald is a spur at the top of Jack's Gap, so once again Marilane drove me over.  This time, we drove down Jack's three miles so I could cycle back and get warmed up. The plan was for Marilane to check out some cabins, then meet me at the top of Brasstown, passing me on the way to see if I were in distress or not.  Perfect weather.  I arrived at the start and stopped to get all systems in the go position.
     Brasstown starts you off with a 16%er (may 14% depending on your computer).  Then drops to 8% to let you recover.  You don't see anything less than 6% until you are at the top.  After a mile and a half of several 16% and 12% ramps, you turn a corner and see the wall.  22-24% (again, depending on the computer).  Only once, twelve years ago, have I made it up this section without walking.  Even though the heart rate was ten beats below max, I had to stop.  I walked about thirty yards and mounted up.  I couldn't do it!  With such a low gear, I couldn't get enough speed with one pedal stroke to get my left foot on the pedal.  I tried going sideways across the road, unsuccessfully.  I gave up and walked maybe another thirty yards until the gradient dropped a little.  Then I was able to clip in and resume the ride.  I still had double digit ramps to get up.  Finally, forty minutes and twenty-seven seconds after I started, I got to the top.
     Half way up, before the wall, Marilane passed me, and further up pulled over.  I assumed she would check me out then meet me at the top before following me back down and picking me up at the bottom.  Somehow she missed me when I passed her going up and was beginning to get worried when I whizzed past on the way down.
     Whiz.  That's the word for the down hill.  I only did a few pedal strokes, after tight curves.  I did a lot of hard braking.  Unlike Hog Pen, there are lots of curves and a rough road surface.  I did manage to max out at 43.5 mph.  At four minutes, twenty-seven seconds to descend, I guess I could have gone faster in spots.  Maybe with disc brakes.  I can tell you the wheels were HOT when I got to the bottom.  Once again I had a feeling of accomplishment.
     One last ride, over Woody to the stone pile and back.  Total for this vacation: 208 miles, 21,100 feet climbed.  The one ride I didn't do was the fifty-four mile loop to the north.  This is a great ride and I sorry to have missed it.  However, given the rain/storms always being in the forecast (and always correct), I don't regret skipping it.  Next year.

Friday, June 23, 2017

ARKANSAS STATISTICS

     I can't say that I'm fascinated by statistics, but perhaps a little curious.  After a ride I'll fill out my spread sheet and look to see if the stats agree with perception.  Occasionally I can see something my body missed.
     Let's start with my HR.  I haven't seen anything higher than 160 for the last couple of years, but I did get it up to 159 earlier, so I'm saying my max is 160.  On the first ride, Thursday, with the heat and humidity and 18% grade, I hit 156.  My graph shows five peaks of 155 in the twenty minute stretch of climbing.  In that twenty minute stretch 13:40 was in Zone 5.  Average HR for the 17.2 mile ride was 129.  I classify that as a hard workout.  We climbed 1168 feet (my computer, yours might say something else).  Average speed was 10.5 with a max of 35.5.  I saw a lot of 3-4 mph going up.
     The next day was much better, with an average HR of 115 with a max of 146.  Only thirteen seconds in Zone 5 and forty-five minutes in Zone 4.  So, basically cruising.  Max speed was 30.9 and the average of 9.8 is skewed due to long stopping.  We had a handful of rollers in the 5% range, and I kept within myself.  Total ascent was 1780 feet so it wasn't like we were flat.  Remember, I skipped the tough climbs.
     Saturday I remembered to divide the two rides, the first segment riding out to the gravel and the second on the gravel loop.  The first twenty-seven miles took us two hours, forty-two minutes and my average HR was 114 with a max of 148, but only nineteen minutes in Zone 4 and 1 minute in Zone 5.  Considering there were six climbs over 10%, with the biggie at 16%, keeping my HR to just 148 was excellent.  Of course, then I sagged for a few miles before the gravel.  1602 feet of ascent.
     The gravel segment was only 10.2 miles, with a total time of one hour twenty-five minutes.  Again only nineteen minutes in Zone 4 and zero time in Zone 5.  Lots of time in Zones 2 and 3.  Average speed of 7.2 as I navigated some really nasty gravel, but I got it up to 26.2 on that downhill.  This part had an ascent of 808 feet, so I had 2410 feet of climbing total.
     Now for the last day, an "easy" day to Bentonville on the bike way.  Of course, the rain/wet played a part.  Two hours, twenty minutes (not counting lunch) for twenty-eight miles, with an average speed of 10.2 and a max of 23.8.  Two and a half minutes in Zone 4, zero in Zone 5.  Average HR was 102 with a max of 137.  We really noodled along.  The wet concrete played a part, but consider we climbed 1225 feet.  That's more than we did on Thursday.  Of course, Thursday was mostly over three miles.
     Here's my take-away on this: How about we take the Bentonville ride on Friday to give us an easy day after the tough intro Thursday ride?  Of course, those who don't do the Thursday ride might not see the logic.  I'm not advocating changing the Thursday ride, even though I had difficulty.  I really liked the gravel portion.
         

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

MIXED MEDIA TOUR IN ARKANSAS

     First, a little background.  I have ridden all over the United States and some in Great Britain and France.  I have a National Geographic map on the wall with pins indicating where I've been.  Last year, I noticed I hadn't ridden in any of the states bordering Texas.  I jumped at a Velo View Bike Tours offering in New Mexico (see previous post).  Dan and Dani of the Austin edition of Velo View hinted that a gravel ride out of Fayetteville, Arkansas might be in the offing.  Velo View is a fantastic tour group and I was the first person signed up when it was officially announced.
     This is billed as a gravel grinder (ride), but as we all know, in order to get to a gravel road, you have to ride (or drive) on asphalt.  I have a very nice, old (2004) mountain bike that I've used on many rail trails, and earlier this year, on the ride to Bastrop (see that posting).  It is comfortable on or off road, but I've never tried it on a single track (except for a quarter mile when the rail trail narrowed).  I had no worries.  An added bonus, Dan and Dani were driving from Austin and allowed the Austin contingent to tag along, so that I didn't have to take my car.
     Dan had several routes planned for our arrival afternoon Thursday, depending on when we got there.  We had to go to plan B, a shorter circuit, in order to clean up and make our 6:00 pm dinner reservation.  As it turned out, I think it was plan C, but that's immaterial.
     Your brain will play tricks on you if you aren't vigilant.  For instance, I'm quite experienced riding rail trails, having almost a dozen under my belt.  I've only done a couple gravel rides, and one was quite smooth, the other mostly so.  Therefore, my brain interpreted this gravel grinder to be similar to a rail trail.  Friends, let me tell you!!  I won't say it was a complete surprise, but it certainly was a shock.  I'm sure those country folk appreciated the fresh, loose, large gravel (small rocks, there must be a real name for it) on the slopes of the road but I did not.  Ok, let's get to the day-by-day.
     Thursday afternoon turned out to be an out-and-back.  Drive to the start, ride a couple of miles on asphalt, then hit the gravel.  I felt good, even with the heat and humidity.  Everyone else rode a 'cross bike.  I looked like I was astride a Clydesdale.  But I had big, wide, studded tired and lots of gears.
Poor Joe suffered the first of four (total, not all today) flats.  We got that fixed and continued on.  This gravel riding isn't bad!  Then we ran out of gravel, took a left turn and started up.  My graph shows 9%, 11%, 12%, a couple of 16% ramps.  18% finished me off.  But then we turned around and had a great downhill.  Of course,  I had nothing left.  My heart-rate stayed ten beats high and I noodled all the way back to the van.  I can do Courtyard and Jester so this climb shouldn't have gotten to me.  I blame it on the humidity and having only water in my bottle (Nuun added the other days).  Total mileage was a measly seventeen, average speed 10.5 mph but I got that Clydesdale up to 35.5 mph on the downhill.
     Our main lodging was the Dickson Street Inn in Fayetteville.  Our rooms were very nice and we had a killer upstairs patio area where we sat and drank beverages and relaxed.  We met the couple from Florida, John and Ruth, and walked to dinner at Bordino's.  Now Shannon has been known to walk us a quarter mile, half mile, or more to eat.  Dani led us across the street and down a short block.  Very upscale restaurant, but lacked an amber beer on their menu.  A great start to this inaugural gravel adventure.
     Friday morning, awake at 2am, heart rate still about ten beats high.  Along about 3am it finally slowed and I dozed off.  The Dickson Inn offers Continental Breakfast, but our plan for today was to sleep in, stroll to Arsaga's at the Depot for fabulous breakfast, then head out on the Savoy Gravel Loop for thirty-nine fun miles.  A slight change of plans had us ride our bikes to Arsaga's and after breakfast jump on the excellent bike trail to get out to the Savoy.
     Another distinction between rail trails and gravel grinders is most of the time you drive to the trail head and spend all of your riding on the trail.  Today, we spent a lot of time on concrete or asphalt.  Also, for the most part, rail trails only have 1-3% grades.  Today were lots of 5%+.  I hung in for a goodly chunk of asphalt miles then sagged for about six before remounting.  Glutton for punishment.  I finished with almost thirty-four.  I blamed it on the humidity.  I wasn't the only one suffering.  John should have sagged with me, but soldiered on.  He seriously bonked and finally was convinced to get in the van.
     Tonight's fancy feast was at The Farmers Table, a short van ride of only a mile.  Another fine dining experience but without an amber on the menu.  So tonight I had wine.  After being told we missed happy hour (with their bottles of wine for $15), I had a glass of house Cabernet.  A few sips into it and the waiter advised they extended happy hour (I suspect just for me and to sell some wine), so after receiving some assurances from my companions that they would help in the consumption, I had him bring me a nice cab.  Dan and Ellie were my helpers.
     An Asside:  I am an experienced cyclist.  But I'm also old and sometimes forgetful, especially of things that have happened in the distant past.  Velo View always includes a small Chamois Butt'r in their packet.  I usually put them away in case some poor unfortunate rider has a problem.  Well, I had a clue on Thursday, with the humidity soaking my kit.  But I didn't recognize it.  After Friday's humid ride, with a similar soaking, my brain finally caught on what my butt had been screaming about.  Saturday and Sunday had me liberally applying the cream.  
     With the heat and especially the humidity affecting their riders, Dan and Dani switched Saturday's ride, from having brunch at Ella's then riding, to an early breakfast at the inn and riding followed by lunch at Ella's.  Well, that was the intention and we all were up early and ready to ride.  Mother Nature entered the picture.  Looking at the radar with the reds and yellows descending upon Fayetteville, and listening to the dire weather report that threatened thunderstorms, we delayed our departure.  This was to be a quick moving line of storms and once through, we would have good weather.  As it turned out, it wasn't as quick as expected.  
     We ended up going back to having brunch at Ella's, sitting in our kits in their upscale dining room, then cycling from there.  Most of this ride was on the bike way or road.  I was hanging in just fine, even though my Garmin showed four climbs over 10%, the big one being 14%, and a couple of smaller ones.  But I wasn't all that perky.  My average speed for this segment was 10.5 mph, but I did get the Clydesdale up to 39.4 mph.  When Dani said she would sag for a few miles, I decided to join her.  As it turned out, only Dan and Joe left our stop on their bikes.  It wasn't long before we saw a wall of a hill.  Given my gears, I probably could have suffered up it without walking.  But I would have paid a dear physical price.  At the top Amy opted (perhaps with a false sense of no more hills) to get back on the bike.  The rest of us stayed put.  A few miles further on, we all stopped at the beginning of the gravel loop.  Joe was in need of a gel, liquid, rest.  Dan was dapper and chipper.
     A slight digression: Dan was forever extolling the scenery on these rides.  He was correct.  But please remember, in order to see this great scenery, you have to CLIMB!
     This was really gravel, not the rail trail smooth stuff.  I had a difficult time holding a straight line.  Fortunately the group had strung out.  You'd try to find a smooth line then hit deep gravel and slide out to the left or right.  Fun!  The road had rolling climbs, my graph has 5 climbs over 10%, with a short 16% being the biggest, but not the hardest.  It traveled along the ridgeline.  About six miles into this riding came a precipitous downhill.  I am a sucker for downhills, just let the wheels roll.  Well I got it up to 26 mph, holding on for dear life and bouncing around.  Then I noticed a slight dogleg right.  Pook, ding-fu!  I took as much of the apex as I could, still not touching the brakes, but praying my studs would dig in and keep me upright.  Once around the corner I could see Dan and Joe at the bottom and cruised on in.  I admit it, that was fun!  I'm still glad I sagged when I did.
We had a good rest and several of us left to get a head start on the last four miles.  It turned out a bit more than that as we immediately took a left instead of a right.  Bonus mile, plus a couple of great pictures of rocks and bridge.  We caught up to the others, and I took the opportunity to sweep behind Ellie.  After several miles I saw the van and some folks off their bikes and others continuing on.  I assumed (duh) the others were just taking a break and would follow and at my speed catch up.  That last mile was a doosy.  Four ramps of 7%, 8%, 12%, and 11% that had deep, big gravel.  Once again thankful for the mountain bike gearing, thick studded tires, and suspension (unlocked for this segment), I slowly reeled myself up each one.  The van came up just as I finished the last one.  John and Ruth were ahead of me, and everyone else was in the van.  A couple hundred yards later we all got in the van and headed back to Fayetteville.  A post-ride recap found unanimous agreement that clockwise was much better than the planned counter-clockwise gravel portion.
     Back in Fayetteville, we cleaned up for our ride to the Apple Blossom Brewing Company.  Would you believe it, a brewing company without an amber.  I picked something else that the waiter suggested.  Another fine dining experience.  But Dani whispered sweet nothings in Dan's ear and he disappeared.  It seems the van had a flat tire.  Eventually it had to be replaced in that a screw was deeply embedded in it.
     Our Sunday ride was a cruise on the Razorback Greenway all the way to Bentonville.  No big climbs, no traffic.  Well, once again the morning radar showed reds and yellows bearing down on Fayetteville.  Once again we delayed departure.  No worries, we had zero time commitments.  With an intermittent drizzle and a clearing radar, we left.  I had my rain jacket on.  The road was still wet, with numerous puddles, and we soon had a brown streak up our backs.  We stopped for lunch in Springdale.  As we left our lunch stop, a rain cloud appeared and dropped a deluge on us.  But before getting really soaked, we happened upon a tunnel in which we took refuge until the rain stopped.  The rest of the journey was uneventful, if you don't count the new section of the bike way that had Dan using dead reckoning until hitting a familiar portion.
    Our accommodations tonight was the posh 21c Museum Hotel.  We might look bedraggled, but we had really fine lodgings.  We even had bike lockers.  This Caddy is covered with pennies, nickels, and dimes.  The group decided we had time to clean up and go to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, so we did.  Marilane sees to it that I have my fair share of culture whenever we go touring.  I've been to great museums in New York, Washington, Paris, London, Rome.  I wasn't expecting this to be on par with them.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The presentation was very good.  They had the Norman Rockwell Rosie the Riveter painting, an Andy Warhol, a Picasso.  I was really impressed with a Michael Waugh triptych of three animals in a charred landscape.  But the whole thing was handwritten script from the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.  It seems the artist took issue with the premise of the book and this was his response.  I wandered and wondered through the Modern Art section.  I detest Modern Art.  However, the one that used embroidery thread was intriguing, as was the shoe laces.  Enough culture for one evening.
     Tonight we dined at Oven & Tap.  They had four ambers on the menu.  I'm quite familiar with Abita Amber and picked that one.  Then I switched to Pecan (which was Ruth's pick).  Both quite satisfying.  Poor pick of dinner.  I chose the ham chop.  Can't win them all.
     After dinner we wandered the square, going past the Walton Museum and the original Walton store.  Then strolled back to the hotel to sit outside for awhile.  Dani (or Dan) had purchased a six pack of amber beer that morning, so that I wouldn't have the whole trip without one.  But I couldn't hang out past one beer, the trip had really tired me out.
     Let me sum up: Go to the Velo View website and take a tour.  It might not be what you expect, but it will be a great experience.  I've taken four and have yet to be disappointed.

PS - I left some stuff out, some on purpose others because I didn't remember.  And as for the title, this was gravel, asphalt, concrete, and HILLS.  Don't come expecting rail trail gradients.
   
   
   
   

Friday, June 9, 2017

SENIOR GAMES NATIONALS IN BIRMINGHAM

     First of all, it wasn't actually in Birmingham.  The time trials were at the Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama.  Secondly, I'm starting out with my pre-race paranoia.
     Two of my buddies, Dean and Tom, independently went to Pelham to eyeball the course.  They both came back with dire warnings.  To put it succinctly, too many hills and a sketchy turn-around for the 10k and the 5k was an out-and-back with the turn-around on a downhill section.  Such a hue and cry were made that the course was moved so as to be a slight uphill for the turn.  Why they wouldn't make it a straight course is beyond me.
   
Anyhow, given this information, I slapped my aerobars on the road bike and shifted my cogset from the road bike to the time trial Zipps.  The Zipp had an 11-25 and the Rolf a 12-32.  My plan was to race with the Zipps no matter which bike I used and stay in the big ring for the climbs.
     We stayed overnight in Vicksburg, Mississippi and arrived in Birmingham, picked up my packet and drove to Pelham Sunday afternoon.  I went out to survey the course myself.  Plan A was to race on the road bike to power up the hills, so for my preview I pulled out the Roark (an extremely nice custom made titanium purchased in 2001).  The 10k starts on a slight grade which quickly moved to 2% then 8%, then a downhill, then a 7% climb, for the first half mile.  Then some downhill and flats before hitting a 7% and 10% climb around the two mile mark.  The last mile before the turnaround was mostly downhill, with a little 4% climb before hitting about a hundred yards of rough road and loose gravel at the narrow turnaround.  Then back.  My graph shows seven climbs 4% or more.  Definitely not a Senior Games time trial sort of course.  However, I spent a lot of time in the aerobars and decided I'd race on my time trial bike.  Many riders opted for their road bikes.
     The next morning was overcast with a threat of rain later in the morning.  We arrived at 7:30 for my 9:17 start, found a parking spot and set up the trainer.  I had good luck in Hempstead with warming up on the trainer and decided to go with that routine here.  Without a time constraint, and Marilane keeping me informed on the time, the warm up was stress-free.  At the appropriate time, about 9:05 I headed toward the start line, about a half mile away (another irritation, not being able to park close to the start).  It was humid and I was pleased that they had PowerAde at the start.  They have upgraded to chip timing, for which I was grateful.
     I started well, moved up to 87 rpm then gradually slowed to a low of 67 as the grade became steeper.  My heart rate, on the other hand, jumped to 154 (max of 159), definitely in the red.  I kept reminding myself this was a long (relatively) race and take it easy to bring the heart rate down.  Well, 150 is down.  That is where it stayed for the rest of the race.  I hit 34 mph on the first downhill, and had a bit of concern in that there was a slight turn in the road.  I stopped pedaling for a few strokes but stayed aero.  I understand several folks behind me ran off the road there.  I felt good and powered through the rough road, taking my lumps.  I really believe I made up some time here.  I gingerly did the turn-around and sprinted up to speed.  Around the 4-mile mark I topped out at 38 mph, followed by 10 mph on the last hill.  I still had some oomph for the last half mile of downhill reaching 35 mph.
     I felt this was an excellent performance, and was confident of top-10, maybe as high as 5th.  It took about an hour for the results to be posted, in that I started close to the beginning of our age group.  I was astonished to see my name in the second spot.  Wow!  This hilly course worked to my advantage.
     The guys who raced later in the day had to contend with rain, and the 5k on Tuesday was postponed to Wednesday.  This might have been my undoing.  I over-thought the race.  The start line was moved all the way up the first hill, so we had about a tenth of a mile to get up to speed before hitting the 8%.  I didn't pre-ride the course, relying on my memory.  Common wisdom says that with this being a downhill-uphill ride, it would be won on the uphill.  That seemed to dictate being on the road bike.  I decided to go with the road bike, with the Zipp 404 on the front, but my Rolf rear wheel, which now had the 11 cog to give me more speed on the downhill portion.  Ah, plans.  As I prepared the bike on Wednesday evening, I cleaned the mud off the Rolf.  What was that?  Was that a hole and could I see a bit of tube?  Pook, Ding-fu!  Decision time: put the Zipp 808 with the 12-32 on.
     During warm-up I could tell the legs didn't have the same zip.  I left for the start line too soon, so arrived about ten minutes before my time.  Oh well, it is what it is.  The start went well, and I got it up to speed before the climb, just a tenth of a mile from the start.  I felt ok.  Reality set in on the downhill.  My 10k speed of 34 mph was only 31 mph today.  The other downhill sections were similarly low.  The turn-around was narrow, but at least clean asphalt.  On the last uphill, at 2.7 miles, I hit a low of 7 mph.  I don't feel too bad at that, because several of the guys I talked to, who are younger and faster, said they saw 8 mph at that spot.  From there to the finish I could only bring it up to 28 mph.  I wasn't too thrilled about this.
     As it turned out, I managed 8th place, less than two-tenths out of 7th(to the same person who beat me in Dallas), and six seconds out of 5th. I wasn't close to the podium.  Lesson learned: stay with the time trial bike, stay with a skin suit (I wore my Texas A&M kit, which garnered kudos but was too loose), preview the course every time.  And, check your tires before packing up for a trip.
     My goal for these nationals was to finish in the top ten, so I was ok with my eighth place and thrilled with second.  Now my goal is to get serious about getting faster.  Stay tuned to see how I go about this and if it works out as planned.

Monday, May 22, 2017

ADVERTISEMENT FOR JEMISON CYCLING

     There are several cycling forays which stand out in my cycling history, although I've had many outstanding adventures.  Cycling coast to coast in fifty-two days was endurance; Land's End to John O'Groats likewise; The Blue Ridge Parkway easily the most difficult.  But the two tours with Marty and Jill Jemison are the most memorable.
     In conjunction with Le Tour de France, my first adventure was a week in 2006 riding in the Pyrenees.  You can read about it in Bicycling Journeys with Jerry.  Among other highlights on this trip was about a half an hour talking with Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett. Marty specializes in good food and wine and getting us in with the riders before or after the race, along with cycling the cols.  In 2008 we did the Alps, details of which are in Gotta Go!  Cycling Vacations in Fantastic Locations.
     But what is special about the Jemison's is that they actually form friendships with all of their clients and you are treated as special guests on and after their tours.  I'm sure Marty doesn't remember the advice he gave me about time trials in 2008.  But I do, took it to heart, and have been following his formula ever since.  And that brings me to what prompted me to write this post nine years after the last time we saw each other.
   
First the background.  Our ride that day was to ascend Col d'Agnel, the highest border crossing in Europe.  Once at the top, we would dismount and watch Le Tour riders go by, joining the vast crowd of screaming cyclophiles.  We were running late, I had only my wind jacket and no time to go back to get anything warmer.  Half way up the climb it began to get chilly.  Then wet.  Then downright cold.  Then, the gendarmes made us dismount, about a mile from the top.  We circumvented that, and made it to the tavern at the top.  I was shivering uncontrollably.  Jill gave me her jacket, Marty rounded up hot chocolate for the group.  The tavern had a big screen tv, and I opted not to go out to cheer on the suffering riders as they passed.  Once gone, everybody started to descend the mountain.  We waited for a break in the rain/sleet, then made a break for it.  The plan was for me and Marty to go first, Jill and some others to follow.  Seconds after we started, we hit more rain/sleet.  I gave up my lead to Marty.  He kept looking back to make sure I was with him, and each time I was he let it out a little more.  We were really moving, passing cars, getting soaked.  Halfway down the rain stopped, the sun came out, and it was noticibly warmer.  On with the prompt.
     The socks I was wearing (Jemison socks) were filthy.  It took at least five years of washing before the grime came out.  This year I emailed Marty to recount the adventure, and that the socks finally had worn out.   On Saturday, the day I won my time trial, these arrived in the mail.
     If you have ever thought about cycling in Europe, go with the best, Jemison Cycling.
   

Sunday, May 21, 2017

TIME TRIAL NUANCES

     Even as late as yesterday I opined that time trials are boring.  They lack the excitement of an attack up a mountain or the final acceleration in a criterium (I'm thinking of you, CD4).  But that doesn't mean the cyclist is on auto-pilot for the duration.  Let me re-run yesterday, inside my head.
     Actually, let's start with the equipment.  My Felt B2 with Zipp 404 and 808 wheels and Dura Ace components is quite quick no matter who is astride.  I run 95 and 90 pounds of pressure in the tires.  At least that is the pressure an hour before the race.  I switched to latex tubes two years ago and they leak air much faster than butyl.  My wife gifted me with an aero helmet several years ago, and there was a study indicating they make quite a difference.  I have a skin suit and shoe covers.  Truthfully, I doubt the shoe covers help much, but at least I look like a racer.
     Time trials are all about shaving a second here and there.  Yesterday I was pretty sure I was the fastest in my category, 75+ men.  Given my left knee problem, I opted to give up a few seconds by not using the start ramp and holder.  I didn't want to chance it buckling at the start.  I'm very comfortable in the tuck position on my bike, and my knee works fine while seated.  So rather than sprint seven or eight revolutions to accelerate at the start, I quickly sat down and brought it up to speed with higher rpm's.  Maybe two or three seconds deficit for the start.
     Breathing.  Even though I haven't seen a 160 bpm this year, I use that as my maximum heart rate, and 90% is 144 bpm.  When I'm in good form, I try to stay between 90 and 94%.  I can hold that for quite some time.  So I am constantly monitoring my body with both my brain and the computer.  At the same time, I'm looking at speed and cadence.  Yesterday the outbound 10k was with the breeze at my back, and I took advantage by pushing a larger gear and slower cadence (82 rather than 88), for the most part.  Each undulation in the road brought a gear change.  This is where seconds are won.  A slight incline brought a lower gear and higher cadence, with the opposite for a decline.
     The return 10k was against the breeze and slightly uphill.  I had not trained for anything more than 10k, so doing 20 put some stress on the body.  I kept changing gears, making sure the speed increased or stayed the same, depending on the cadence, but this time it was a gear smaller.  Also, I took a few (two) breaks to hydrate and breathe.  Coming out of the tuck costs a few seconds, so these breaks lasted maybe five seconds each.  There is one 3% grade of maybe two-tenths of a mile.  Here I geared down and sat up and got ready for the last big push.  Relatively refreshed, I resumed my tuck and higher gear.  With the finish line in sight I wound it up and finished strong, pushing the heart-rate to 153.
     Early in my racing I lost concentration and stayed in a comfortable gear (rather than going higher and getting some more speed) for maybe thirty seconds.  I came in second by three seconds.  Maximum effort for the whole race is the goal no matter the placing.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

USAC STATE TIME TRIAL CHAMPIONSHIPS IN HEMPSTEAD

     Let's start by being thankful.  Thankful to Ino for adding the 75+ category to the men's race.  Otherwise this would be a short entry with a so-so result.  Thankful that it didn't rain, although the air itself was wet enough.  I'd forgotten how humid this could be.  Back-door thankful for all those 75+ guys who are faster than me but for whatever reason didn't come to race.  Time trials themselves are usually boring: you start, pedal as fast/hard as you can, you finish.  I'll do what I can to fill in my background on this race.
     It starts with last year's race and me coming in last.  Placement aside, my cycling was the pits.  Something had to change (see previous posts, that's not new).  I've been much more consistent in riding on the trainer and in doing my hill-route.  The legs are gaining strength and the cardio system can keep up with the task.  But let's face it, at my age it is difficult to do "additional" exercise, so something had to go.  My long rides (65 miles) are in the closet.  Maybe after Nationals.  The legs aren't quite there yet, but I felt good on my 10k practice last week.  Unfortunately, the race today was 20k, so I have a 'ways to go.
     In previous years, I've gone down on Friday, did packet pick-up then stayed overnight, once in Brenham, and twice in Hempstead.  I realized this is only a two hour drive, so this year I slept in my own bed and drove down on Saturday morning.  Some might argue it was Friday night, in that I was awake at 2:45am and left the garage at 3:55am.  At approximately 3:50am it started to rain, with multiple lightning strikes.  Bummer.  I thought I was out of the storm when I went south to Parmer Lane, but no.  It wasn't until McDade that I could turn off the windshield wipers and relax a bit.  Who would have thought so many people would be out so early?  For awhile there I thought my right leg would cramp.
     The rest of the ride proved uneventful, other than my favorite potty stops weren't open.  Not to worry, Hwy 290 has a plethora of nice places.  I pulled into the Hempstead Middle School parking lot at 6:04am and found a prime parking spot right where packet pick-up would be.  Hmmm!  They aren't here yet.  Strange.  Hmmm!  They only have one porta potty.
     I set up my trainer under an awning, in that I fully expected the rain to catch up with me.  Aired up the tires on my Felt and perfomed routine pre-race activities, including lining up for the porta potty.  The lady in front of me received a call from her husband indicating packet pick-up would be behind the library.  "That's over by the start line."  Pook, ding-fu!  I did my thing, walked to the car, drove the one block and returned.  Still on schedule.  I sprayed the number with adhesive and slapped it on.
     In my past twelve years of racing I've only warmed up on the trainer twice, both with poor results.  But recently I found a formula that seems to get me ready without wearing me out. I'm not fond of sweaty, drippy jerseys, so warmed up with the jersey part of the skin suit off, replaced by a t-shirt.  Twenty minutes later the shirt was wringing wet and I had consumed a full bottle of water.   I know hydration is a key component.  Experience with Houston weather has shown I usually consume twice as much water as you would in Austin.  Time to go to the start line.  I drink a bottle of Pickle Juice and another half bottle of water.
     At the start line I double-checked with the timer and find I have fourteen minutes before the start.  They have a couple of porta potties nearby, so make one last stop.  Time to review my strategy.  Traditionally, on this out-and-back south-to-north course, there is a tailwind on the second half.  Today, the wind is out of the north.  Not much of a wind, let's call it a gentle breeze.  My main competitors are Dean and Fred.  I was faster than Dean in College Station a few months ago.  Fred is ten years my senior and is on his regular bike.  He can still beat me in a road race, but I've got him in the time trials.
     I have a left knee problem that bothers me mainly at one position in a standing stroke.  Taking no chances, I eschew the start-ramp and the courtesy hold, leaving instead with just a push-off and clip in.  I'm back in the saddle after two strokes, and start shifting down (down, as in down the cog from the bigger cogs to the smaller ones).  I learned in College Station that if you start in the small chain ring and the derailleur doesn't move when you pull the lever, you lose time.  Once I had settled into a comfortable pace I looked at the computer and saw 24mph.  Another cog and now I was up at 28.  I haven't seen those numbers in years.  I had to take advantage now, knowing the return would be much slower.
     If anyone asks, I'd characterize this course as flat.  But, of course, it really isn't.  It is a series of 1-2% rollers, with a little flat thrown in.  Slightly down on the way out, slightly up on the way back.  Needless to say, I had my fastest 10k ever.  Unfortunately, that was only half way.  Fred had started 30 seconds ahead of me and I passed him somewhere around the 5k mark.  But after that he apparently kept up, in that he was only about 10 seconds behind at the turn-around.  Dean started 30 seconds behind and it looked like 50 seconds or so when I saw him coming to the turn-around.  That put me in a better frame of mind, and I concentrated on keeping cadence (I don't use a power meter).  Not counting the starting quarter mile, I don't think I used more than three gears.  But I found myself constantly shifting to gain a few tenths, or in the out-bound course, whole miles per hour.  My heart-rate graph is almost flat, only a few beats either side of 146, until the final 30 seconds when I pushed it up to 153.  My max HR used to be 165 but I haven't seen that in years.  This year the highest I've seen is 155.
     All in all, a good day on the bike, with an average speed of 22mph.  I relaxed too much between miles 9 and 11. I think I can still push one bigger gear.  Nationals is two weeks away and has a much different course.  Stay tuned.
   

Thursday, April 20, 2017

HISTORY OF GEARS

     For all those expecting something else, sorry, this is about me getting old.  I keep a spreadsheet of my rides (yes, I'm on Garmin Connect and Strava but rarely actually use them).  Several years ago, 2011 to be precise, I started a new sheet and sorta lost track of the old one.  On the new sheet I have a page (Jester) dedicated to the rides I call my "hill route."  I've posted several times about this route, in that I use this get my HR up to maximum.  The last ramp up Courtyard never (hardly ever) fails to bring out the top rate of the ride, and when I'm feeling particularly energetic, my overall max.  I use this to set my zones.  But I digress, this post is about gearing.
     I came across my pre-2011 spreadsheet and transferred the Jester data.  And thus begins me gear tale.  Apparently I first began doing this route in 2008, at age 65.  At that time my road bike (custom titanium Roark) had a 53-39 chain ring and 12-27 cogs (as best I remember).  I struggled up Courtyard and Jester (and Rain Creek and Bluegrass) but accomplished the circuit in one hour and twenty minutes on average.  For the next two years I mostly stayed under 1:25.
     The next year I experienced real difficulties on Courtyard, to the extent of having to walk the last ramp.  The ego took a big hit on that day.  I had to face the reality of not having the oomph to push the gear.  I swallowed hard and switched to a compact crank.  Interestingly enough, my times stayed the same.  But then a different reality set in.  In racing Walburg I found myself spinning out and losing ground on the downhill, and quickly finding myself alone on the road.  So I moved on to a triple.
     Now, in 2012, my times stayed in the low 1:20's and I reeled myself up Courtyard and Jester a record 25 times.  But 2013 had me struggling again.  I switched to a 28 cog which was enough to keep me in the saddle.  I hung on for another two years, but in 2016 jumped to a 32.  I've had my fun remarking about people who have dinner plates for cog sets, so I'm now getting my comeuppance.  Most of my times moved to being under 1:35.  For the first four rides in 2017 I stayed at 1:35.  But then I needed new shifters, which turned into also a new crank set and derailleurs.
     Surprise!  The new crank set had a granny gear of 30 and my 28 no longer matched up so couldn't be transferred.  My fear was that I'd lost at least one gear and wouldn't make it up Courtyard.  As it turns out, I made it up Courtyard just fine, and in the fastest time for the circuit in three years.  I then did a check on Sheldon Brown's Gear Calculator and it looks like I only lost half a gear.
     The older you get the harder you have to work to maintain fitness.  I'd love to be able to push that 39-53 everywhere, but it is a fact of life, when the road turns up, I need bigger gears.  I recently emailed Marty Jemison that if I ever took his signature tour in Spain I'd need an Ebike.  But I'll keep pedaling as long as I can.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

GRAVEL GRINDING

     First the back-story.  In 2004 my friends Ray and Byran talked me into coming to Washington State to ride the John Wayne Trail.  This is a rail-trail with the famous two-mile long Snoqualmie Tunnel.  As an inducement Ray would provide the bike, a very nice fully-suspended mountain bike.  We had a great time (included in Bicycle Journeys with Jerry).  Ray wanted to sell me the bike but I wasn't inclined.  However, I agreed that if he could build me a bike for $1500, I'd buy it.  He did, and I did.  Since that time I've done multiple rail trails on my KHS bike.  But these rides are few and far between.  Most of the time the bike just hung in the garage.
     I've mentioned several times that when I realized I'd not ridden in any of the states bordering Texas, that became my next goal.  I did New Mexico last year and have signed up with Velo View Bike Tours for their Arkansas adventure.  Arkansas will be a gravel grinder.  I determined to get a few rides in before we go in June.  I missed one in early March, so was looking forward to March 18th and the Gravel Grinder to Bastrop, an eighty-three mile out and back.
     Let me quote from page 15 of Gotta Go! Cycling Vacations in Fantastic Locations: "When riding on non-asphalt trails, limit yourself to no more than forty miles per day."  Of course, this means when taking a cycling vacation on rail-trails.  But I had not mounted my mountain bike in over four years and my stamina is not up to eighty miles of gravel.   So, I whined a bit and found someone else who also only wanted to do forty miles.  As luck would have it, she is part-owner (not sure of Dani's formal relationship) of Velo View and she would drive the van to Bastrop and I would drive it back.
     When I drove into the departure point I quickly determined everyone else had their cyclocross bikes.  It was a good size group, in the neighborhood of 12-14 riders (I counted at the time but now can't remember).  I had a sinking feeling, soon verified, that most of the mileage would be on asphalt.  Something like six miles of gravel, and only a few patches where I fish-tailed.
     We left Pflugerville at 8:30am under cloudy skies and a slight wind in our face (as long as we were headed in a southerly direction), and a mild sixty-five degrees.  Perfect riding weather.  I had carefully measured the saddle height and position, so was a bit perturbed to find a bit more than the proper "slight bend" in my leg at full extension.  I could have used another millimeter.  Nothing I can't fix later.
     Truthfully, I cruised along on the streets, bikeways, sidewalks, whatever quite comfortably.  Only one trouble-spot: a surprise turn up a short, steep ramp.  I didn't have time to get a proper gear so had to gut it up and around.  Other than raising my heart-rate a bit, successfully achieved.  Dan led the group and I slotted in somewhere mid-pack.  Between twenty-five and thirty miles my legs started complaining.  Welcome to the club, my shoulders and triceps were unhappy from the get-go.  Then we hit the gravel.  I waved good-bye to the group as I dropped off the pace.  Of course, I wasn't left behind, either Dan or someone else dropped back to keep me in sight and we regrouped a couple of times.  The fat tires of the mountain bike had no problem in the gravel, which thankfully was mostly packed with very little wash-boarding.  The few spots of deeper gravel were more of a diversion than a hindrance.
     It wasn't until we stopped in Bastrop that I actually got off the bike and saw that the saddle bolt had loosened and the saddle had slipped back about an inch and a half.  I was grateful the bolt hadn't come out completely, as I envisioned riding without a saddle at all.  I was also grateful for having arranged to be in the van for the way back.
     We lunched at Neighbor's Kitchen.  This is a great place, good food, live music, overlooking the Colorado River.  Dan wasn't feeling too well, and decided he would drive back, so I rode shotgun.  Dani had the lesser end of our ride-sharing, in that while she now had a slight tailwind she also had about fifteen degrees of heat more than I had.  It was also a gain in elevation.
     The plan for the van was to hop-scotch the riders, but Dan saw a road leading off to the left and wanted to see where it went.  Always on the lookout for some good gravel to ride.  As it turned out, several miles down it ended at a plant.  Now we know.  Upon our return to the route, the gravel part, we saw one of the ladies riding by herself.  Dan decided he would join her so she wouldn't be riding solo.  Thus the driving duties fell to me.  As it turned out, one of the guys had also stopped for her, so she found herself with several companions.
     A little later, at a turn, one of the guys had lost contact by riding ahead of everyone.  Dan asked me to drive straight to make sure he hadn't gone that way.  Several miles down the road, it ended at a T intersection and no rider was to be seen.  Back I went, got on course, and eventually caught up with the group and passed them and finally set up a hop-scotch scenario.  A few miles further and one of the other guys had had enough, and decided to SAG in.
     Like any good sag van, water and Nuun was available and copiously used.  Only a few miles from the finish, one last stop for water refills, and then I headed to the shop.  The cyclists would come off the road and back on the bikeway and through the neighborhood.
     I rate this a successful outing on the mountain bike, even if the gravel miles were minimal.  And, of course, riding with friends is always fun.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

RIDING WITH CALLIE

     Actually, today's ride was with Brian and Callie.  But we were there because of Callie.  She is going to do the Rookie Tri in Austin, more specifically at Lake Long (previously Decker Lake).  She is a self-professed terrible swimmer, but a better-than-a-lot cyclist and a good (but could be better) runner.  I felt she could make up a lot of time on the bike, but would need something better than what she is currently riding.  I have a super fast Felt B2 with Zipp 404 and 808 wheels and thought this would give her the edge she needs.  The ride today was a recon of the course.
     Reality set in.  Callie has never ridden with aero bars and we are only four weeks away from the race.  While that is enough time to be familiar with the bars, it really isn't enough to be comfortable in a race.  Plus, in thinking about the course, I decided now wasn't the time to break her in on a TT bike when the course itself is hilly and pretty rough for long patches.  We went with Plan B: putting the Zipps on her bike.
     Apparently the Expo Center is having a vintage bike show.  A very large one.  Old cars streamed by our parking place for several hours, getting into the Expo Center.  Traffic backed up.
     I am really, really familiar with this course.  They run the Decker Challenge and the Double Decker (foot races, 13.1 and 26.2 miles respectfully) there and back when I was running marathons, this is the course where I strained my achilles so badly that eventually I stopped running and turned to cycling.  It is also the course for an Austin Senior Games cycling event (2005).  It was my second year of racing and I earned two bronze medals in the time trials and got a flat in the road race.  The flat came as I turned a corner too fast and rolled the tire (or something to that effect).  It is extremely challenging with quite a bit of climbing.  Much more so than in most time trials.  I hate this course.
     But to be sure Callie got a proper recon, I sucked it up and we rode it.  The temperature was great, the wind likewise.  I won't describe it as gale-force, but quite strong.
     Because of traffic concerns we skipped part of the route by taking the bikeway up to the gun range and started on Lindell Road.  This is best ridden in the middle of the road, and can be taken in the big ring.  At the end of Lindell is a right turn and an immediate uphill.  In my opinion, you should reduce to the small chain ring while coasting up to the turn and go for the high rpm's.  I lost Brian and Callie on this hill and followed as best I could.
     They waited for me at the top of the next hill and we headed east toward the toll road and a right turn and another hill.  I'm pleading oxygen debt in not recognizing the next turn.  We stopped at it, Brian suggested it was the right road, but I didn't think so.  He acquiesced and so we added two more hills and about four miles to the circuit.  Just as well, in that we had a nice stop at a convenience store.
     Back on course, we now came upon backed-up traffic threading its way into the Expo Center.  We had a wide right-of-way so cautiously made our path through the cars and back to the starting point.
Round two.  Back on the bikeway, back on Lindell Road.  They are warmed up, I am tired.  At least I kept them in sight.  So much so that I saw Callie miss the turn (the one Brian rightly had the last time and who was waiting a bit past it this time); I saw Brian come back and chase her down.  Well it took him at least a half mile, maybe three quarters to catch her.  I, meanwhile, stopped at the turn and waited for their return.  They never returned.  I figured they had taken the same path as the first loop, therefore headed down the correct road to the intersection I knew they would come to.  Sure enough, less than five minutes later they were in sight.
     We made it back to Decker Lane, but rather than stay on course and take a right turn, we intentionally went straight.  Without the backed up traffic, cars were now at full speed.  We didn't need that hassle.  So we rode an extra couple of miles and picked up the bikeway and cruised back to our starting point and the cars.  I got my wheels back.
     What with the wind and trying to keep up with Brian and Callie, I was pretty much tuckered out.  It was fun and nobody got hurt (always a good thing).  I've written before how I can be going full bore and look in my mirrors and she seems to be filing her nails (certainly not being winded).  She feels the same when she rides with Todd and Brian and whoever else.  But that is the good part of riding with friends.  You give it your best, and if they are faster they'll wait at an appropriate place.  It's about riding, not about placing.

Monday, April 3, 2017

HOW DO YOU SPELL SUCCESS

     Regular Readers know I make repeated claims that I'm into racing mainly because it keeps me in good cycling form.  I got into Senior Games in 2004 as an adjunct to my club rides and touring vacations, and found it to be fun.  The competition is healthy and friendly.  My toughest opponent is also my team mate when we do teams.  We like to win, but mainly we like to do well.
     Which brings me to today's post.  For the last year and a half I haven't been doing all that well, climaxing with a dismal last place in the USAC time trials.  My leg strength was abysmal.  Had I not been racing against guys my own age (within the five-year age category), I might have chalked it up to finally getting old.  But they were ageing at the same rate, so it had to be me.  I made some changes last November.
     In February my first races in College Station went well.  I felt some life in the legs, winning the time trials and also a surprise gold in the road race.  In March, under very windy conditions in Dallas, I managed a gold and silver (also a bronze in the road race, but there were only three guys in my category, it was a very distant third).  More importantly, the legs felt good.
     Yesterday, the races in San Antonio were delayed an hour while a line of thunder storms rolled through.  Apparently the threat of rain and with this not being a qualifying year for Nationals combined to reduce the field.  The first race of the morning was the 10k time trial.  The road was wet and we had a strong wind in our face going up the back-side hill.  While not particularly steep, it seems to go on forever and with the wind I had to move all the way up the cogs.  I took the corners gingerly, scrubbing speed and not leaning as much.  But the conditions were the same for everybody.  I came in over a minute faster than second place.
     With the wind and now sunny skies, the course dried out for the second race, the 20k road race.  I found myself alone in my category, so more or less noodled five laps.  Mind you, I still worked hard but absent race tactics it was more or less a time trial without aero equipment.  I didn't get lapped, and actually passed a few of the younger riders.
     An hour later it was time for the 5k time trial.  Usually San Antonio has a two-day schedule, with the 10k tt and 20k road race on Saturday and the 5k tt and 40k road race on Sunday.  Apparently Saturday wasn't available this year, so they deleted the 40k road race and did the other three on Sunday.  Anyhow, my legs were tired.  This was an out-and-back, but still took in about three-quarters of the back-side hill plus another short one.  My previous slowest time has now been exceeded by forty-five seconds.  But again, I managed to come in first.
     I  measure success by how well my body moves the bike, not the placement in a race.  Of course, winning usually means I'm in good shape.  I'm looking forward to our vacation in the North Georgia mountains.  This is where I'll know for sure if I have my legs back.
   

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

PERILS OF THE HARD OF HEARING

     When I ride in a group I'm pretty much silent.  Conversing with me is always an adventure.  Given that I'm deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, and that I remove my hearing aid when riding, it is easier to remain mute rather than ask someone to repeat themselves, in what is usually a banal remark anyhow.
     Given that background, I had a really fun evening last night.  This year's inaugural Monday Night ride out of Pflugerville had us going on a generally north-south loop and included some roads I was unfamiliar with.  I vaguely remember going the other way on one section, but that isn't germane to the narrative.  Because we have several miles of in-town riding I brought along my GoPro in case something interesting occurred.
     Nothing did.  We did pass an exotic animal farm and saw some zebras.
 Rather than erase the recording immediately, I started going through it to see if I had the zebra.  As I sat watching and listening (with my hearing aid) on the big-screen computer, I heard a strange thump-thump-thump.  Yes, that was me thumping along.  I'm surprised my companions hadn't mentioned how annoying I was.  Of course, I didn't hear a thing.  I was familiar with the sound.  If I don't position the mini-pump in its holder just right, the pedal clips it on each rotation.  With the wind at our backs, I was doing about 80 rpm.  Apparently on some of the rougher roads, the pump shifted position.
     Well, I went out to correct the situation this afternoon only to find I no longer had a mini-pump in its holder.  Gone.  Pook, ding-fu!  Now, the mini-pump is a redundancy, in that my primary air is compressed.  When I'm expecting difficulties I even carry two cartridges.  In the last fifteen years, I've only needed the mini once.  But when you have a bad day, and ruin all your tubes and cartridges and still need air, this is there.  I guess I'll be off to Bicycle Sport Shop for a replacement.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

POST RACE INTROSPECTION USING STATS

     The previous post was bare-bones reporting.  But in re-reading, I stopped to ruminate about the lack of speed going downhill with the wind.  I also postulated that I didn't utilize the much-needed 11 cog.  I have a spread sheet going back ten years.  Occasionally I actually go back to see what I've done, but mostly I ignore the stats.  The bulk of my riding is recreational, so there isn't much to be gleaned by poring over them.  I did pick up a nugget this afternoon.
     But first a pearl of wisdom: If you know what you have to do to achieve a goal, but don't do it and don't achieve your goal, then you have no one  but yourself to blame.  I've known for years that to get faster I need to up my cadence from 80 to 90.  Yes, Todd and Dan, you've told me time and again.  I've also procrastinated, starting in fits and spurts to spin, but always coming up with an excuse to fall off that wagon.  With the addition of a cadence counter (Garmin GS-10 donated by Jason Wright, thank you again) to my trainer bike, I'm getting serious about the cadence.  I've had to come up a gear as I get used to it, but can achieve 90 rpm for three five-minute stretches.  I've yet to train outside using cadence to control the effort.
     Which brings me back to Saturday's races.  Besides recording on my spreadsheet, I also upload the data to the Garmin Training Center.  This creates a nice graph with multiple lines, in this case I graphed speed and cadence.  I also utilize Sheldon Brown's gear chart, having made charts for both 80 and 90 rpm.  It clearly shows in the 5k time trial I followed my game-plan of 90 rpm for about three-quarters of a mile.  Then, rather than shift to an easier gear I dropped rpm.  Sheldon Brown shows you can maintain or go faster at 90 rpm even in one smaller cog.  Ok, maybe the wind in my face was a factor.
     Then I got the wind at my back.  I was going up the incline in a big gear.  The relief I felt at getting the wind helped push me off my game-plan.  I took satisfaction in going faster: 26 mph at 79 rpm.  In looking at the chart, I apparently was in the 13 cog.  Had I been in the 14 at 90 rpm, I would have been doing 27.4.
     The downhill was worse.  I remember feeling the exhilaration of speed.  But my top speed was 29 mph at 83 rpm.  I had plenty of oomph left to ramp it up to 90, which would have put me at 31.9 mph.  I don't know if I could have, but the 11 cog at 90 rpm would have come in at 34.8 mph.  It concerns me that I was satisfied at 83 rpm.  My heart-rate graph looks like I flat-lined at 143 beats per minute (which is only 84% of max).  Perhaps the long waits to start had something to do with it.
     In any case, I have a good game plan, I just need to stick with it, keeping my mind on the race at all times.  Surely I can do that for eight minutes, or sixteen.

DALLAS SENIOR GAMES, 2017

     Lack of sponsorship had put the Dallas races on hold for several years.  However my racing partner Dean has been persistent and finally was able to put it together.  We thank the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department.  I had to cancel my 40k time trial in Beaumont (which I really like) due to conflicting dates, but the Senior Games need to be supported.  When I first started with them in 2004 there were games in Killeen, Austin, Kerrville, and San Antonio in addition to Dallas.
     I wasn't real thrilled with the weather forecast: 58-62 degrees, SSE wind at 12 mph with higher gusts, cloudy with rain/drizzle scheduled for 3pm.  Our race course was the outer road around the Dallas Motor Speedway, five miles per loop.  The agenda was the same as last week: 5k time trial, 10k time trial starting a half hour after the 5k, and a 20k road race starting a half hour after the 10k finished.  And like last week, I had on shorts and tights, base layer under the skin suit, arm warmers.  I did my warm-up lap with my fleece pullover.
     There were seven competitors signed up for my age group.  Only three of us showed up to race.  Well, I'm there to ride hard and let the medals fall where they may.  Racing commenced at 9am with the younger guys going first, at thirty second intervals.  My time was 9:20.  I wandered by the start line about 9:10 only to find there had been a mix-up resulting in no one being at the finish line.  They quickly got that sorted out, but that pushed everything back about a half hour.  I went back to sit in the car.  Who would have thought 60 degrees could be so cold.
     For the most part, time trials are pretty boring, in that you pedal has hard as you can until the finish line.  Last week I had difficulties when I started in the small chain ring and couldn't get the derailleur to shift to the big ring in a timely fashion.  This week I started in the big ring, just a few cogs higher.  The wind was significant, especially for me who has real difficulties in it.  For this course, we started into the wind, sometimes on my shoulder and a short space from the left side.  But about half-way the road turned, putting the wind at our backs.  Even up hill (more precisely, an incline) I was moving around 24 mph.  Then the downhill I hit 29 mph and should have pushed harder.  I think I stopped at the 12 cog and didn't drop to the 11 (after correcting all the troubles with that).  Dang!  My time of an estimated 8:05 (official times not yet posted) garnered me a silver medal, but more importantly was in the neighborhood of my times from several years ago.  Of course, the wind played a big factor.
     The wait for the start of the 10k had my body cooling down, as I sat in the car protecting myself from the weather and refueling with Clif bar, Nuun, and pickle juice.  About fifteen minutes before my start time, I cycled down to the start line about a quarter-mile away.  The wind had picked up and temperature dropped a few degrees.  Everyone was shivering.  I contemplated what I could do and had a eureka moment: put my rain jacket under the skin suit.  Back to the car to implement.  That also included taking off the arm warmers and putting them back on over the rain jacket sleeves.  Who knew, three layers on my chest in only 58 degrees.  But I stayed comfortably warm and not over-heated.
     The 10k course consisted of a full loop plus the requisite mile and a third.  But the fly in this ointment was the second half of the course.  I breezed through the first 5k, although top speed of only 28 mph, and continued on until a slight curve now put me into a severe cross-wind.  My deep dish Zipps had me concentrating on keeping a straight line.  Another curve to the right and the road turned up (2%).  About a half mile into a headwind.  It lessened somewhat, to where I would call it flat, but the Garmin vacillated between 1 and 2% to the finish.    Again, we have to wait for the official time, but I suspect my gold performance was within a second or two of the silver.  In fact, I was berating myself for not pushing harder after turning around at the finish line and seeing how close my competitor was.
     I noodled back to the car, now about two miles away.  Once there I switched front wheels on the road bike, going with the Zipp 404, and put the TT bike in the car, then myself.  Another wait.
     The weather looked ominous, but the forecast continued to show 3 pm.  Our start time of 1pm should get us done, with medal ceremonies before 3.  With seniors, you generally have a natural selection between age groups, so rather than each 5-year category starting separately, this time it was guys under 65 and those over.  I think the ladies were all one group.  This puts a premium on staying in the peloton as long as possible.  I did this successfully last week.
     Since we started into the wind, the young guys (65-69) held back some, so I picked a nice broad shoulder to hide behind, and whizzed through the first few miles.  The pace picked up with the wind at our backs and I was over 30 mph before hitting the crosswind.  Ah, wasn't thinking.  The prime position I had on the right side of the road left me without shelter with the crosswind from the right.  I immediately realized the problem but wasn't quick enough to correct it.  In the blink of an eye, a gap opened and I couldn't get it back.  Alone, alone, all, all, alone.  Ten yards, twenty yards, fifty yards.  Regular readers know I only do road races for the training, even though I occasionally have a decent result.  This was good training, as my quads this morning can attest.  So I finished last in my age group (but not last overall), but that still got me a bronze medal.  I take my medal count tongue-in-cheek, but still, I was faster than all those who don't show up to race.  Racing for me is just another form of exercise, another way to stay healthy.
     Dean had the podiums ready for the ceremonies.  With the weather deteriorating and the wind picking up, they moved all the remaining racers and the medal table into a canopy with sides.  No podiums, very few pictures, just announcing the winners and handing them the medals.
  Truly, I thought I won the 5k and came in second in the 10k, but it was announced the other way around.  In any case, after receiving the bronze I headed for the car at 3 pm.  Just as the sprinkles started.  A quick potty stop and a three hour drive home in the rain.  Three weeks before the next race: Senior Games State Finals in San Antonio.  Hopefully I'll find some more form by then.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

BRAZOS VALLEY SENIOR GAMES, 2017

     But first, an update on my cassette problem, now solved.  There was nothing wrong with my 11 tooth cog.  It seems that in shifting cassettes back and forth, I managed to switch the Dura Ace lock ring from the CS 7900,  Yes, this fits a ten-cog cassette but with a 12 tooth cog.  For the 11 tooth you need a little more space for the chain to engage.  Thanks to Paul at Bicycle Sport Shop for sleuthing this out.  For the flat course in College Station, I wasn't even close to needing it, however it will come into play shortly.
     After last year's poor showing, I worked real hard on improving in the off-season.  Actually, I intended to work hard but coming into February, my training had been sporadic, with nothing long.  Then came the six-hour two-man "race" at Pace Bend.  I was very pleased with my endurance, not so much with the speed.  I put long distance on the shelf for a while and worked on cadence and repeats.  Also, every year except last year I went to spin class once a week.  This year I'm back to being a regular.
     I didn't bring enough cold-weather gear.  Mid-40's with a slight north-east wind.  That's in-your-face for the 5k and back-left-shoulder for the finish of the 10k.  I had tights and arm warmers plus a base layer.  I had a wind breaker.  I needed my heavy bike jacket.  The Redskin pullover would have to do until race time.  My warm-up in College Station is the same: ride the 10k course, which is one lap with four right turns and a slight uphill toward the finish.  The 5k runs south-to-north, point-to-point.  About half way through I realized my body was quite comfortable with the temperature and the wind not so bad.  I guesstimated twenty-two minutes to get back to the car; it took twenty-five minutes forty-eight seconds.  I took that as an omen (but after getting home and checking last year, it was two seconds faster).
     There is no drama with this race.  It runs quite smoothly, everyone doing their job.  I get a little antsy before a race, and usually forget something.  For the 5k, I was ready early and rode the mile or so to the start line and twiddled for about fifteen minutes.  I figured out which gear to start in, and reviewed my strategy: high cadence for the first half, and more gears for the second (it has downhills).  This worked to my advantage, in that for the first time ever, there was an "oopsy" and the finish line was set up at 1.77 miles rather than 3.1.  A really short race.  As it turned out, my time was good enough for first place.  Last year Dean beat me.  Regular readers know that Dean and I have been competing since 2004, and team up for team time trials, either two-man or three-man.  We came in second in 2009, the last time we didn't come in first.
     Things happen, we got over it and prepared for the 10k.  By the way, for the races I divested myself of the pullover and the wind jacket and had tight clothes to cheat the wind.  I was fairly sure I would come in first.  For whatever reason, I changed my start-strategy and went with the small chain ring and mid-range cog.  With a slight wind at my back, I figured to bring it up to speed quicker that way.  Should have known better than to trust that shift.  I accelerated quickly and pulled the lever.  Nothing happened.  More pull, more nothing.  Pook, ding-fu!!  Flashing in my head was me doing the whole thing cross-chaining in the small cogs.  I moved down a gear and the front derailleur had pity on me.  I concentrated on cadence into the right-shoulder wind, a right turn and some downhill into the wind, then finally some relief on the last right turn and a favorable wind.  I surprised myself how low in the cogs I was going.  Even going up a grade I held a decent gear, and still had a little oomph at the end.  I'm still waiting for the official times, but my best guess is, even finishing first, I'm about fifteen seconds slower than last year.

     We had about an hour before the start of the 20k road race.  Usually I skip the 20k and do the 40k, figuring my competitors will have tired their legs.  But with my lack of distance training, this year I decided to do the 20k.  I switched out my front wheel, going with the Zipp 404 from the time trial bike.  In the past I would also change the back wheel, but not this year.
     There weren't many competitors doing the road race, so it was divided into 64-and-under and 65-and-over for the start.  We stayed in our 5-year categories, but it was just me and Dean in the 75-79 group.  Since we started in 2004 I've never beaten Dean.  I've won two road races, one at State, but in those Dean wasn't there.  Mostly I finish last or at least not close to the winner.  It's still fun.  Anyway, when going with the faster young guys (and gal), my only priority was not to get dropped early.  Therefore I expended a lot of energy finding a wheel (most of the time my other team time trial partner Tom) and staying in the draft.  This is twice the 10k loop, and all went according to plan.  That is, the young guys didn't get serious until a couple miles from the end, so I stayed fourth or fifth wheel for the first loop.  Starting the second lap a gap opened and before I could come around and close it, someone else did.  We were still together, but now the four older folks were in the back, and I was last, resigned to my fate.
     On the back side, into the wind, the leaders tried some leg-breakers.  That worked out well for me, in that I needed the breather.  The last right turn and I started gearing down, knowing the acceleration was about to come.  It did, but not as devastating as I expected.  We were still hanging together.  About a half mile from the end is an incline where I thought I'd be waving good-bye.  Well, the young guys were gone, but us four were together.  It would come down to a sprint, slightly uphill.  Since I was in the back, I should have been first to jump.  Because of my past experiences of poor finishes, I waited until everyone else jumped.  However, I had time to get into a good, low gear, so when I ramped up the cadence, I found myself passing Dean and Deb (national champion in Cleveland, four races, four gold).  The one in front (Gerry) wasn't in our age group, so I managed my third gold in a road race.
     I can't say enough good about Brazos Valley and the College Station Parks and Rec Department.  They are easy to work with, have dedicated volunteers, and a good race course. The 5k hiccup was disappointing, but I didn't detect any rancor from the racers.  Things happen, get over it.