Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

May 4, 2018

Guest Post: "Try Something New, Every Day"

Every once in a blue moon I see something come across that just feels like it should hit a larger audience, and this is one of those times.  The below comes from last year's Cole Camp 410km brevet out of Grain Valley, MO., from Gary DelNero.  I've had the pleasure of sharing a lot of miles with Gary, and he always has a smile on his face.  I think it's that positive attitude that - at some point or another, on a hard day like he describes here - pushes the pedals farther than mere muscle.  So, with Gary's permission, here's his tale from last year's edition.  Enjoy!

"Try Something New, Every Day"
Gary DelNero - RUSA #7468

Forecast: 100% chance of rain from start to finish... flood watch... highs in the mid-to-upper 50’s (F).
Did I mention 400km - 255 miles? , which I usually do in 18-20 hrs.

This was a new route.  From Grain Valley into central Missouri.   
Heaviest rains are in central and SE MO, so we’re safe, right?

Saturday AM - text from Paul - he’s bailing.  Karen and Greg have also bailed out.  Gary Felkner has volunteered to come get us if needed.  And he has a boat.

I see Dave Matthews at the start. He’s not sure he wants to get out of the car and it’s barely drizzling.
Spencer, Rod and Joe are there - they need this ride to qualify for a 1200km ride in California in July.
Three guys I don’t know - two from Westport, one from Springfield.
We start about 6 am.

The three new guys and Dave Mathews have abandoned by the time we reach 20 mile point. One had a flat. One was in shorts…

We roll south, then east to Sedalia, then south west on a loop heading back to Sedalia with plans to stop at Cole Camp for BBQ.

I’m not sure I want to stop for BBQ, so I roll a bit ahead of the group. I’m at the halfway point about 10 ½ hrs into the ride.

My Gore-Tex might be leaking. My new rain pants have a semi-functional drawstring waist. Semi- means they fall halfway down whenever I stand on the pedals. I have to sit a lot. Even on climbs…My over-mitts fill with water and feel like water balloons. I’m thankful for every piece of functioning clothing I’m wearing. We’re all shivering a bit at every stop. Quite unpleasant, but not approaching crisis…When pedaling, we generate enough heat to stay somewhat comfortable.

We reach a control café at 140 miles in, at about 4 pm.
Chatting with locals we learn that our route to Cole Camp is flooded and impassible.

Fortunately, this store has a map for sale showing nearby routes.
Some debate about options-  one way adds only about 6 miles, but the guys seem to lean towards something adding about 16 miles. We really have no idea how many additional miles are involved, and guesses and opinions are varied.

The cashier gets a call from a customer who had just left, asking if we would take a ride around the flood in his pickup.

We take the offer, then eat while we wait for him. The other guys choose the pulled pork sandwich, so I went with that instead of a hot dog, which I really wanted. I would regret that choice. We start to wonder just when he’ll come back, and whether he really has room for us.

He arrives, we load up, and he takes the long route to Cole Camp.
I ask why he didn’t go the other way - he says he’s never gone that way before…another customer had said the same thing. (Why is that?)  

So, taking a ride from a saint in shiny steel - that’s a first for me. (I’m no longer amazed by how many very generous people you meet riding bikes out in the country)

We get out of the truck at Cole Camp and head on to Sedalia. This is 85 miles from the finish, and the last likely motel opportunity.  We decide to press on, with our next stop in Holden, 50 miles away.

I get ahead of the group on a climb, but get very tired/sleepy. Can’t take advantage of the gusty tailwind as we head west. This is why I like to reach a motel by 2 am.  Fortunately, no more flooding.  On north stretches, I see tree limbs in the road.  That was some gusty tailwind!

We regroup in Holden, MO. The guys want to take a break and sleep next door at the post office. It’s like 3:00 AM - we leave our bikes at the convenience store, spread out in the post office lobby.

Two guys have claimed the rubber floor mat and Rod is already snoring away by the time I get there. Spencer is leaning against the wall with eyes closed.

I claim a wall spot and close my eyes. Feels good to rest, but I doubt I’ll get any sleep.
Jolted awake by a loud, new sound - I think I was snoring!  
Maybe I shouldn’t sleep sitting up.

We’ve had maybe a 30 minute break, but get up, refreshed and ready to roll.  The rain has let up a bit.  

Spencer reminds us, “these miles won’t ride themselves”, and “we’re not getting any closer standing here.” More wisdom than one can imagine.

Sleeping in a post office - another first.

We head out for the final 30+ miles. The roads start to dry out, but we do encounter some flooding.  Water about 6” to 8” deep for several hundred feet.  We ride through…it’s not moving very quickly.

Then, we began to encounter some fog, but it never got too heavy. 
We ride on as the sky begins to brighten. 
We finish at about 6:30am, just before sunrise. 

We never saw sun or sky, just clouds and rain...
The whole day has been cold and wet. Temps never rose above the low 50’s. 

That little amount of sleep in the post office kept me going to Grain Valley and for the drive all the way home. The other guys will get a few hours of sleep at their motel room nearby before heading home.

So 24 ½ hrs, a new longest time for this distance for me. 
Wettest ride ever. The other guys agree - pretty tough ride.

First all-nighter since the ‘80’s. Pretty cool, really. Not something I want to repeat anytime soon, but 600km in two weeks.


Thanks, Gary!!

March 11, 2018

Didn't I JUST write a post like this?

If you're like me ....and if you are, get some help....  the cycling seasons probably start running together as the years pile on from a maintenance perspective (hopefully, not an enjoyment perspective).  This is just a part of getting older, and doesn't really apply directly to anything specific; certainly not cycling.  If you're under age 35 you likely have no idea what I'm talking about.  If you don't have kids, you'll have absolutely no idea.  If you're in your mid-20's, for gawdsake why are you reading this website??  Go have a pint or four, watch GCN on your VR goggles, and, if it's before noon, go back to bed.  Okay, just kidding... if you're actually reading this, hats off, and thank you.  I'm not REALLY a prick... just when it comes to climbing.  

...What'r we talking about?  

OH... (see.  see what just happened there?  I'm getting OLD.)
That's my point here... not only do we old Freds start to lose our train of thought too quickly, time - for us - also starts to compress a bit.  Think of these examples, friends:

"I just got this shirt!" he exclaimed, offended, when someone mentions their decade-old shirt and general sense of style might warrant a visit to the Goodwill bin.

"But, I just got this lawn mower!" he exclaimed, when the lawn mower he swore he just bought craps-out the spring after it's 20th winter being stored outdoors.

On cycling... 

"But, I just got these chainrings!" he exclaims, after the chain keeps skipping and he then checks his mileage log and realizes he "just got them" four-score and 20,000 miles ago.  

This is usually followed by a sheepish "Oh...", and some acceptance.  Hopefully.

When it comes to things like routine maintenance on a bicycle, everything sneaks up on us.  Especially if we invest in good parts which don't require hardly ANY periodic adjustments, we can often forget they're there.  But, this is sometimes what lurks in the shadows or in the roadside ditch, waiting to jump up and grab us - usually during an event for which we've been training.

Don't let this be you!

This doesn't have to mean a bunch of money, of course.  As winter turns to spring, this just invites the chance to "make sure" as you move around your bicycle.  Check your headset.  How do your cables look and feel?  When did you install that cable housing, really?  Are your rims okay?  Go around the bike with a set of Allen wrenches and give things a quick snug.  Torque wrench?  Even better!  Are those the same tires from last year's SR-series and summer of commutes?  

Are you really still wearing those socks?  (ok, this isn't that big of a deal -- but have you shopped socks lately?  Dude.)  It is, however, fashion... and I think there's some adaptation of one of the Rules which might advise that if you can't be fast, at least look good trying.  
I might be making that up.   (You've read the Rules, right?)

Neon socks AND a reflective stripe?  OMG YES. 
Wait.... "look GOOD"... I'm not sure this qualifies.
I only "look good" while cycling every 10-15 years, when the fashion
happens to come back around to whatever I happen to already own.

All of these things are important, and certainly not limited to the items I've mentioned above.  Definitely check all your wear items, maybe re-tape your bars, and if you have any doubts about ANY of it - or, doubts about your own garage skills, give your local shop a visit.  

For when something DOES go wrong, however, perhaps the best thing you can have are your spares.  Spares, however, usually live WAY out of sight and mind - right up until you need them.

Your seatbag... framebag, whatever these kids today are running ... the place where you keep your tubes (or plugs and patches?) ... your tire boots, small dropper of lube, extra energy gel, .... are they all dried out, stuck together, and utterly useless if you'd happen to need 'em?

Well, this is the time to get in there and see what's happened to the contents of your repair kit over the last season and subsequent winter.  Even if you rode throughout the winter, chance are some of these items didn't like it much.  Even if you're running tubeless, there are special considerations you likely already know to stay atop, like refreshing your sealant -- but, that "just in case" tube you should be carrying might be a rotted and useless hunk of vaporized butyl-powder at this point.  This is the time to make sure you'd don't have to make any embarrassing phone calls or rack up $70 in Uber charges if things go sideways this spring on the roads.  

Check your wheels.  Oh, and the ones on your bike, too, probably.

SO, yeah... make yourself a list and check everything twice.
Fender and rack bolts... if that's your thing.
Check your wheels for any truing issues or sidewall wear... unless you run disc brakes, and then you should check your rotors for wear and swap out your pads.
When's the last time you re-packed your pedal bearings?  (wait, that's a thing?)

Yeah, this isn't an exhaustive list, but you get the idea... you want to be riding for the ride, not the amazing opportunity to exercise your roadside resourcefulness.  Well, unless you're into that kind of thing.  

That's your post for this week... while I can't guarantee I'll be on here any more often than usual, this blog is still very much alive .... if not completely irrelevant to most modern cyclists; unless you ride to work, still happen to like steel frames, own several neon vests, prefer non-GPS cycling computers, rim brakes, tubes, fenders, and riding long distances at a moderate pace with no real training benefit.  

After all, I just did a race... didn't I?  

Um, no, dude... you didn't.

Thanks for reading!

February 25, 2018

Fear Not The Wind

When we decide to go, we all start the journey the same way.
We are each a tightly-woven tapestry of threads, 
neatly hemmed and sewn.

We're beautiful. 
Pristine . . . yet... incomplete.
We don't know ourselves.  
Not yet.

We are each run up, to the test.
To the breeze.  
To the wind.
Sometimes, to the gale.

Our ends become frayed; tested.
I wasn't strong enough to hold myself together.
I'm coming apart.
We're supposed to.
Fear not the wind.

In the toughest of challenges, we may be afraid to let others see what we're made of.
In the strongest of life's winds, we may be afraid to see ourselves for our individual threads.

The very sinew of our being is ripped, exposed, 
torn from its neighbor to flail and strain, 
on its own, against the forces which lash against it, unrelenting. 

The wind takes our souls apart.
Down to thread.
Down to bone.

Lashed to the mast or the line, we are tested.
Left naked to the coming squall line, we are measured.
Some of what we need is exposed.
All of what we don't is lost to the wind forever.

We look for enjoyment, only to find pain.
We saddle up for release, only to find more stress.
We seek definition - and we find it.
We need it.  
We are not alone.

The wind and weather just are.
Can you take it?
The wind always raises the bar.
Can't we fake it? 

Fear not the wind.
No, it will not always cool you.
No, it will not always favor you.
Yet, it does not judge you.
it only reveals what's already there.

As we struggle, the wind rips at our hearts and screams in our ears, 
and only a few of us can understand
what her tormented voice really tells us.

Drop your guard.
Let me see you.
Give me your threads, your fibers, your spirit.
Let go of what you're holding onto.
Let go of that which you didn't even realize you held, 
but knew, somehow, that you had to unravel.

We can't remain pristine.
We shouldn't strive to keep ourselves whole,
for often, the whole is flawed.
It isn't our fault.  
We were woven too tightly, too early.
We never held the needle.

People we can't name or recall
People who discolored those errant threads
People who didn't know the damage they spun
People who didn't know the tax they levied.

Fear not the wind
She does her work, 
whether we draft or face her alone.
We're not here by accident.
We chose this.

If your tears be from effort
If your tears be from pain
No-one but the wind will see them
Eyes down, grinding - they dry before they fall
The thread is ripped away, and never lights

At the end
Our flag looks tattered, wasted, thrashed, thread-bare.
Faded by sweat and sun
But it is complete.
It is more whole than when we'd begun
The journey is done
The flag is un-spun.

Fear not the wind.

A flag which once seemed uniform from afar
Now we see as tinted, single threads
We are not grey, or beige, or sand
We're a rainbow of emotion, rage, and pain.
We're a prism of friendships, handshakes, and nods.
We are everything.

Blue threads of truth, 
Noble purple character, 
Emerald green honesty, 
Crimson pure love,
Yellow rockets of joy, 
Pink tears of pain,
Jade waves of anguish,
Orange sparks of knowing.

Fear not the wind, for the wind fears not you.
It only seeks a worthy foe
It's not the ringer you've put you through.

The once tight weave of fabric is transparent.
Light can pass through.
Air can dance through.
I can see myself.
At last. 

We are more than the steps we take,
The tears we cry,
The miles we run,
The kilometers we climb.

We are what the wind makes us, 
not where the wind takes us.

Fear not the wind.

We can't always laugh into the wind; but sometimes we need to.

December 31, 2017

It's Time to Fight Back.

Yeah, the year isn't over yet, but, I feel like it is.

After the success of the National Bike Challenge and enjoying a really good streak of rides to work, I felt like I was on top of things at the onset of Fall 2017.  Wrapping up the R-12 also helped - but, the shake-up of the full office remodel literally took the wind out of my sails.  I guess I don't handle logistical change well. 

I like my set-up.  I like my space.  It might all just be an elaborate "excuse" in disguise, but, I sorta get it now... why people don't ride to work.  It only took one little change, one obstacle, to really knock me off my game.  I have never had a shower or a locker room, but I always had space to hang things where nobody would see them, and was able to maintain a clandestine operation.  Nobody knew I even rode unless they happened into my cubicle and turned around long enough to see my stuff hanging up.  Now, it seems if I don't have a place to hang things up, it's a bit of a deal killer.  I ride, change clothes, and arrive at my desk ... where I now freeze - paralyzed.  The thought of reaching into my bag and pulling out a damp, sweaty pair of cycling shorts to hang dry for the afternoon ride just feels SO wrong considering my proximity to others.  I suppose if I was more of a prick and didn't care what my office neighbors thought, if I didn't give a rats about the potential for odors or how people thought about exercise gear hanging under my desk ... or the effect it has on the overall professionalism of the office environment (important to mention, it would be quite different if department heads and sharp-suited VPs weren't literally walking by my desk every 15 minutes).  Part of me just can't do it.

I'm so desperate to avoid being "that guy" that I'm not being myself.  

It sucks.  I hate driving.  I hate traffic.  I hate the Jekyll-and-Hyde effect it has on me.  I hate that my routine of nearly two decades seems suddenly so impossible to crack.  I'm angry that they enacted this change - and I'm not alone.  Everyone is on the same page - the private among us, those who needed their sanctuary and semi-solitude to think through tough problems and write good code are annoyed by the whole arrangement.  Visual and audible distractions far outweigh any perceived collaborative effect we might be gaining.  There are a lot of scowls, a lot of grumbles, and a lot of people trying to recreate their bubbles with noise-cancelling headphones and walls of carefully placed computer monitors ... leaning in close to recreate the cubicle walls they've lost. 

I need to figure this out.

I am running routines, simulations, scenarios... I am figuring it out, in my own way.  The same way I build bikes, write, navigate nearly everything I do; it begins in my head.  I millimeter, I scrutinize, I fuss and quake - internally.  Then I execute.  This will be no different.

Finally, winter.
There is snow covering the grass and streets, and single digit temperatures have tightened their grip on the area.  I'm not a fan anymore.  I'm almost thankful for a busy schedule and conflicting plans.  While I have done apparently incredible things on the bike in ridiculous temperatures and conditions, there is absolutely no part of me that wants to be "out there" right now.  I have learned not to fight this resistance, for within it lay the rest I probably need, the mental break I often won't afford myself -- the need to recharge the batteries and "live to ride another day;" in the springtime, during the ACP series when it matters more.  Instead, I have been running - dieting - denying myself the comforts of winter-time comfort foods and sloth for the same reasons.  I'm tired... probably finally tired enough to do something about it ...of existing in a typical middle-aged American male body when I know that of which I am capable.  I know I can probably run a half-marathon, right now... but I shouldn't because I weigh too much and will likely hurt myself.  I know I can ride another 600km brevet... but I'm so sick and tired of hauling my own unsatisfactory midsection laboriously up the climbs when I know my cardiovascular ability and technique could have me floating up the climbs instead.  I'm tired of being afraid of trying a SR600, or another 24-Hour race...  yet, I've been shopping for both.  I've been too lazy to do the work, and it's time to take the lazy guy inside me out back for a nice chat, mafia shakedown style.  The ten or fifteen pounds that were so "easy" to shed ten years ago are such a bastard now.  The beatings will continue until morale improves. 

Why am I dumping at the keyboard again?  Welp, it's how I get outside of my own head.
If I don't do this occasionally, winter "wins."

It's time to fight back.

I'm not at risk here.
I'm not standing at the precipice of a bottomless, black ravine of self-induced despair or hopelessness.
I've already turned away from that, years ago.
I just need the annual kick in the pants to make something happen - and that's basically what this is.
Step one is identifying the issue.

After the successful --- yeah, even though it was technically a DNF -- October Dart ride in Camdenton, I've been thinking differently.  I'm not bummed out that it "didn't count," because it counted far more than even I realize.  Instead of shying away from it, I keep thinking about how I can go back and do it faster.  Not because speed is the goal, but, because I desire to be better than myself.  That's really the only reason any of us crazies do these long rides... the lifers like me.  Yeah, we keep coming back because we love it; but we also keep coming back because we NEED it.  I look at the last ride not as a goal achieved, but as another mark that I already want to beat.  I'm not chasing you.  I'm pushing me.  It's not personal.

It's a beautiful overlook, Lake Niangua a bit after sunrise; but, it's also the beginning of probably the most difficult 20 miles of cycling I'd ever considered trying.  Instead of checking the box, determined never to return, I can't stop thinking about what it will take to go back and do it faster next time.

It's the same reason - among other things - that I have more variety on the radar for 2018 already.  Even though I am planning a tenth-anniversary running of the Border Patrol route in March, part of me never wants to ride that route again... because of how much I rode it in 2017 to grab this last R-12 installment.  I want to revisit the routes in St. Joseph - specifically the Ride with the Devil route, and other challenges that I swore I'd "never do again," like the WMGM Memorial and the Knob Noster routes.  Heck, part of me really wants to examine the possibility of the Boothby Challenge, which honors Seattle Randonneur Don Boothby who had unfortunately passed away before he'd completed his attempt.  While the "B-12" is unofficial, it sounds appealing - but, apparently the real trick is finding enough variety in 300km routes in the region to facilitate it.  We'll see...  something tells me the ole 200km mark is plenty; but, the key to enduring longer events is to push my limits.  Since it's unofficial it may be as simple as choosing a variety of R-12 routes, and riding to/from the start line.

Maybe I need to watch fewer ultra-sports documentaries... because, now, sitting here, it seems entirely possible to set a ridiculous goal like the Trans America race... but, I think maybe I should tackle something a bit smaller first.  It's New Year's Resolution time, so dream big, right?  Big things happen in smaller steps, however, so; first things first... I am using running to stay fit and shake things up.  I am starting to log my food intake again, and trying to make it a habit.  The pantry is getting a thorough clean-out and restock.  Time to behave - and eat - like an athlete.  

For now, I've set my sights on another R-12, and - with some careful planning - a full SR series and perhaps even my first 1,000km.  What about 1,200km?  I've been a RUSA member since 2002, but I'm among the big majority of riders who have never tried a 1,200km Grand Randonnee... the latest issue of Randonneurs USA magazine, in fact, has our president saying only 200 RUSA members per year ride a US 1,200km event.  I need to make it happen one of these years.

Nothing is official, because there are priorities that will dictate what I'm able to pursue - but, for 2017, I captured the flag of my city for the National Bike Challenge, and hit an annual mileage of about 5,300 miles - which is the highest mileage year I've had in twelve years, by 2,000 miles.  I don't own a power meter, so I can't quantify anything... but, the training data I do have and my Strava segment times indicate improvements from when I started logging in April.  I think it's time to dream big again, reach higher again, and test the limits.  It never really gets "easier".... but, I already know I can ride 200km over and over, so... what else can I do?  Can I do them faster?  Can I use the word "race" and mean it?  It's been a while since I tested my own comfort zone in this regard.  None of us should ever really get too comfortable when it comes to this sort of thing.  Yeah, let's do this... whatever "this" ends up becoming.

Well, that's all I've got for now, people...  I only dropped maybe ten posts this year, so I'll keep working on that as well ... maybe once per month, eh?  Goals are good... and that's what resolutions are for, right?  For now.... let's all relax, take a moment to appreciate what we've each accomplished, and enjoy the evening!

Happy New Year, everyone!

November 24, 2017

A new commuting challenge?

For the entirety of my bicycle commuting life I've relative ease regarding the logistics of handling clothing.  My personal preference is to ride in full kit and change into fresh clothing when arriving at the office, so, having a place to dry the clothes from the ride has always been a consideration.  To date, I have enjoyed a large cubicle with high walls and a bookshelf/cabinet arrangement, as shown in the photo below.  Repurposing the metal brackets normally used to hold up shelving, a simple clothes line arrangement emerges, made from small-gauge speaker wire and wooden clothespins.  out of frame sits a desk fan, and voila!  A self-contained closet for drying cycling layers. 

From the outside of the cubicle the contents are fully concealed, and since the office is well ventilated and low-humidity everything is usually dry within an hour of hanging, and then quickly put away for the ride home later in the day.  Smells?  Not likely - although, sometimes sweat stinks, it's usually when sweat-laden clothing is left to dry unventilated (put away wet) that the "funk" can arise.  So, quickly washing things once they reach home in the evening, trying to tender one's efforts in the morning, and quickly getting clothes out of the bag and onto a clothesline after the morning ride is critical to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention at work. 

For me, being able to fly under the radar is critical:  I don't want to be the guy that smells, or the guy that has a bunch of smelly cycling gear strung across his desk.  Due to a recent office remodel, however... this is becoming harder to avoid.

The old set-up - a luxury, for sure.  Contained, concealed, and comfortable.  I miss it.  A lot.

I have to wear the full kit and dry things at work.  I'm just too fast.
(this is actually a GPS app error (duh), which gives me a giggle every time I stumble across it)

Out of full visual context, it's difficult to envision what this shot represents; but, this is the underside of our new "wall-less" desks.  They are height-adjustable (motorized), and pretty nice, honestly - but, there's literally nowhere to hang my clothes anymore - at least, not in a concealed fashion.  The simple clotheslines deployed between the desk's underside supports works - but, the fact that I'm hanging clothes underneath is impossible to hide.

Now, in order to create a more open, collaborative, and energy-efficient workspace, the cubicles I've been using as a crutch for the majority of my riding-to-work life are gone.  In their place are open desks with very little storage space; and, well, it's been difficult to establish a good routine.  My neighbors - all non-cyclists - are really, really close by.  One has already commented on the clothesline under my desk in a less-than-thrilled manner, and, well, that puts doubt into my head.  Also in the entirety of my working life, I've only come across a small scattering of like-minded bicycle-to-work people.  One, "Crowbar" is nearly as consistent as I am.  The others - well, there's only perhaps three others in our building who sporadically ride to work.  Across the office complex, I can imagine that number is about the same per-building; maybe 4-5 per building tops at any given time; and that's only during the peak riding months for our area, based on the seasons.  For anyone to "understand" our situation is rare; so, I don't expect much understanding from building managers and co-workers.

Surprisingly, however, the facilities managers have offered up a large, pretty much unused coat closet, which is a decent option... for me.  If anyone else wanted to take advantage of it, it would start to get tight and crowded - but, it's better than nothing if someone really takes issue with my plan to continue hanging clothing under the desk.  But, as I tend to do - I try to plan for every scenario, and often worry about scenarios that never present themselves.  What comes naturally for minimizing risk tends to have me overthinking people's reactions before giving them a chance to react for real.  So, having said that, I just need to start showing up at the office, early, and hanging up my clothes... and handling fallout if and when it happens.  I already have a plan "B" and "C", but, I'd rather have my stuff nearby.

The internet, thankfully, is loaded with ways to get around some of the challenges I'm facing with regards to riding to work.  I've had to step out of the sunshine of my comfort zone and rethink some of the ways I've made a success out of bicycling to work.  I don't plan to stop.  It's a great opportunity to face the challenge and see how things shake out.  Workplaces need to understand the needs of those who don't choose the easy route of automotive transportation, and - from an advocacy standpoint - it's each of our jobs to support what we believe in.

So, stay tuned... yes, this blog was founded on commuting to work by bicycle, and while the last several years have focused on randonneuring, this topic still deserves attention.  I have a feeling that more of bicycling-to-work population has to deal with not-so-accommodating conditions, so, this just brings me in line with that majority.  If I come up with any groundbreaking discoveries or insights, look for them in future posts.

Until then... let's go ride; no matter the destination!

Thanks for reading!

November 19, 2017

A Year-End Round-up for 2017

It's been an interesting year... and a busy one, to boot.  In fact, I think this is the whopping 8th post of the YEAR.  That's... well... light.  With my return to school and - well, all the RIDING - I haven't had much time for writing about cycling.

I have just done some housecleaning on the site, however, so it at least appears that someone is minding the store.  It was a little sad deleting some of the dead links from the sidebar, and nice to see that some things never change.  I've updated the parts and shops area, and added some new notables:  namely Dill Pickle Gear, which makes some great bags... and while I don't own one yet, I had the pleasure of meeting the owner/creator/maker on a ride this year, so I had to put up the link.  She's good people, these are amazing bags, and there you have it.  Check it out.  I also added links to Chain-L, which I've been using for a few years now with great results - both on and off pavement.  Finally, added in the link to Specialized tires, which have been underneath me for a lot of miles the last few years with terrific results.  I really hope they stick to the formula, because it's been working for me really well.  Lastly, I updated the rando-tales links list... mainly the archive list... with the latest ride reports, which admittedly aren't extensive because of the aforementioned lack of time.


I will say this.  Only a few credit hours away from actually holding a legit college degree feels REALLY freaking good.  It's only the first step in a couple more years of hard work, but, a worthy challenge.  It's a lot like a brevet... just an especially long one.  Once I'm finished writing seemingly endless research papers and such, I really don't see this blog going bye-bye.  In this day and age, really, it's becoming a little rare... yeah, probably because "nobody blogs anymore" and social media has completely absorbed all content and everyone has assimilated to short-attention-span-theater and YouTube.. .but hey, I'm still here.  I write.  I like it.  I like the process.  We're here, and we're stayin'.

Oh, speaking of YouTube - as I blow my own business case out of the water - check out the Global Cycling Network.  If cycling was "cool enough" to have an actual TV show or something on Netflix, this would be it.  I, honestly and truly, REALLY hope these guys go big and actually end up on Amazon or Netflix or Hulu.  It's THAT well done, very well produced, thought out, written, and edited.  This is one YouTube web-hole you need to fall into this "off season".  Cycling news, how-tos, even stuff on long-distance, racing, climbing, tech reviews, training videos to help pass long hours on the trainer... it's all here.  I'm not affiliated with GCN in any way, I just stumbled onto it earlier this year.  They just crossed 1 million subscribers, so it's really becoming a "thing".  Really, it represents the best of what YouTube can and should be for all avenues of interest .. and for us cyclists, it's a big win.  Treasure it!

Okay... The National Bike Challenge.
So, that (apparently) was exactly the shot in the arm I needed.
Back in April, sorta languishing on commutes to work and such, I stumbled into the National Bike Challenge, updated my Strava profile.

Yeah, about Strava.  You're reading this site, after all, so you might already have your own opinions about what the site is and what it represents.  It's "too competitive", it's "full or racers", "everyone cheats"; I've read and heard the criticisms, too.  But, I will say this:  just try it for yourself.  Not only is it a great way to see what your friends are going and might give you some good ideas on routes you might not have considered - but, if you are tired of being stuck in the same old average speed category, you can use Strava's unique bit of segment-based competition to your own advantage.  Now, it's abundantly clear: I'm not going to post any KOM conquests anytime soon, BUT, if your goal it to simply become faster than YOU, Strava is a terrific motivator.  Strava will track your personal progress across various segments and you can spend some quality time on your next commute or training ride and try to best yourself.  It's that simple - if you want to get faster for your own goals -- not just for the sake of numbers -- then Strava is a terrific way to make it happen.  The age-old disclaimer:  *I* am not what I would consider to be "fast"; BUT, after a summer of using Strava to track my commutes and brevets for the National Bike Challenge, I am faster than I was in April.  That should be the only real goal - be better than we were yesterday.

Back to focus on the National Bike Challenge, I don't think anything has motivated me quite like this for several years now.  From the first of May to the end of September, I logged nearly 4,000 miles in commutes and other rides, missing a few scattered days here and there, and successfully captured "#1" for Olathe, KS., USA... out of a whopping 12 riders, yeah... but, still.  Whoo-hoo!  I must say, a certain #2 competitor certainly gave me a bit of panic here and there during August and September - it was close, but, therein lay the advantage of occasionally jumping into a competition such as this.  It pushed me to ride more and farther than I otherwise would have, and combined with the Strava-based segments and pushing my own, personal envelope, I have had a pretty productive cycling fitness year - probably my best in a decade.

Part of my successful National Bike Challenge campaign had a lot to do with randonneuring, too.  Daily commutes and quick rides around the neighborhood to gather daily points aside, it was really my monthly 200km excursions that racked up the tally.  Having started last November on a particularly windy day with Terry B. from St. Joseph, MO., I've also successfully managed to finally get R-12 #5, just last month.  So, all in all, yeah -- I'm pretty darned happy with 2017, all told.

Strangely, however, I find myself back in 2008 or 2009 with regards to the monthly ride becoming a bit predictable - at least from a scenery perspective.  Weirdly, it was the fender's fault.


Yeah, well -- proving the value of the SKS fenders that I purchased nearly 12 years ago (geez, really?  2004?!  Yeah, I checked.), they finally bit the big one... partially, on a gravel detour back in January.  Yeah, I was riding gravel on the road bike again... so what?  LOL.  While the issue was quickly fixed with some zip ties, it did afford me the chance to realize that I had a LOT of zip-ties, electrical tape, duct tape and holes in those old fenders - so, I took the opportunity to upgrade to some nice fenders from Velo-Orange.  I'd made some modifications to the SKS front fenders, however, to allow the bike to fit on a traditional fork-down roof rack tray ... and the VO fenders, well... they're longer.  Much longer.   This, for practical purposes, is terrific.  They maintain a longer wrap around the circumference of the wheels, and therefore manage to block a substantially greater amount of spray.  Not really keen to ruin what these new fenders are quite good at just to make it easier to put on the car, well, I haven't really had a good way to get the bike to and from remote ride locations.  Yeah, I need a fully-upright roof rack tray ($$), or a trunk-mounted rack ($)... or, ideally, a hitch mounted rack ($$$)... or, I could just HTFU and ride to the start locations of remote rides, right?  Yeah... in the heat of the moment with my schedule, the latter doesn't often work out - so, I generally don't.  Maybe I should.  This is a ridiculous tangent... but, all told, I ended up riding the same old route (the Border Patrol) over-and-over this last run.  For the NEXT R-12, I really do hope to introduce a bit more variety into my monthly excursions, for sure.  Blame the fenders.

Maybe you should HTFU and remove the fenders, dude....  GASP!  What, but, that, hey, you can't, just, mmm, you, hey....


You can take the dude off the bike, but you can't take the dude off... what?

So, YEAH!  R-12 Number Five!  Feeling good... proof that you're never too busy to completely overwhelm yourself.  Seriously, I'm pretty certain that if I hadn't maintained some sort of streak over this time period of returning to school, I would have gone properly off the deep end.  Cycling burns off the crazy.  We need it.

Speaking of crazy, I must mention: some of the BEST riding I had this year involved a complete DNF on a 200km RUSA Dart ride out of Camdenton, MO.

Since a couple folks are in the process of submitting ride reports to RUSA on this particular ride, I will not spoil the drama here, but will only mention that it's pretty hilly out there.  Like, OMG... and especially so when the pavement ends.  Yeah.  More underbiking - with nearly 130 miles scheduled and only 30 of it on gravel, it was a bit difficult to justify taking the gravel bike out; but, there were parts where I'd wished I had.  Particularly telling is the first photograph, below.  This is Tunnel Dam road, high above the Niangua River.  Pretty cool.  To our left, a massive dropoff down to river level.  To our right, the Tunnel Dam powerplant - and this, little more than a service road, is our passage through the area.  The interesting bit involves the elevation changes in the next couple of miles.  Looking at the photo, notice the two utility poles to the left of the road, and immediately to the right of the second utility pole is a small arc of roadway.  Gradients of 28% in segments, and an average gradient of 11% for the next 20-some miles -- all on loose, marble-like gravel, on 28c road tires:  the numbers only provide a vague sense of what we endured.  It was epic good fun, and a bit frightening at times, too.  Gnarly switchback gravel descents, climbs that looked like sheer walls, and very little traction .. and, for some reason, nothing but smiles after the heartrate and breathing settled down.  It's probably the best ride I've ever taken part in, even if it didn't "count."  What was to be my 12th consecutive month for R-12 ended up being an epic DNF, and so, a week later I ventured out on the Border Patrol route again in cold and windy conditions to grab #12.  Worth it.

Considering how much the typical camera tends to flatten images and seemingly lessen the variations in terrain, this photo is still surprisingly lumpy.  At times it seemed impossibly steep, and there was indeed some walking - up AND down - the hills.  We only saw two cars in this section of road - and the lack of traffic meant the gravel was largely unpacked and quite loose.  The bar has been sufficiently raised - the hills on the Border Patrol route a week later were practically a non-event.

Steven W., perhaps a touch crazier than the rest of us, tackling another in an endless string of choppy, loose gravel climbs on his 650B fixed gear.  Spencer K., an hour behind us on team #2, also rode this monster route on a fixed gear.

Another great shot, looking back down one of the hills; I believe Gary D. snapped this one - the scenery is breathtaking.  So were the climbs.   
In 230-or-so kilometers (130ish miles), one participant recorded over 11,000 ft. of climbing.  That's a lot, especially considering the steepest of it was on unpaved roads.  The paved sections were no less hilly.  By comparison, though the RUSA webpage doesn't make it easy to categorize rides by the amount of climbing they contain, but a quick web-search reveals one ride in the Sierra Nevada mountains boasting 15,000 ft. of climbing; but, on paved 6% average gradient mountain pass roads.  Now, maybe I'm biased, but as certainly as 200km rides go, this one could rank up there as one of the toughest in the country.  Likely there is someone in Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Idaho, Alaska that can claim otherwise ... but, man, this one was a brute.  I can't wait to try it again and make it count.  I also don't think a single ride has inspired so much post-ride analysis and discussion, at least not in our circles.  I have, mentally, spent thousands of dollars in upgrades trying to beat this route.  Better brakes, better tires, different gearing; all of which require a different frameset... these are the rides, the one's that really push the envelope, that we remember and make us rethink everything.  It should be noted, of course, that the only thing I'm really going to change is ME.

For now, I'm wrapping up this post and switching back to homework mode, leaf-raking mode (hey, upper body training!), and long-sleeved riding.  November is half over... ugh... so, I'm also eyeing the calendar and looking for ways to work in the next 200k.  All in a day's work, eh?

I sincerely hope to knock out more than eight posts in 2018... heck, maybe I'll yet break ten posts for 2017!  One per month, just like the long rides, is probably a reasonable goal - but, priorities remain in place.  We're still here, still out there, and that - for now - is good enough.
Let's go outside!

Thanks for reading!