November 29, 2011

The Hard Quarter

So, in just a few days time we enter what I've started calling "the hard quarter"... for the randonneur above the "freeze line" in the continental US, this is where cycling traditionally gets tougher for a lot of different reasons.  Road conditions, temperatures, sun angle, wind direction and speed and feel, keeping bottle contents in liquid form, precipitation type, cloud cover and its effect on the psyche... etc.  Most riders have had their bicycles hung up since October... others relegate to the indoor trainer, or the short-course group ride.  Commuting gets tough, too -- early alarm bells, no sun... and sometimes returning home in the same lack of daylight - it can get old.  Finally, 'cross season wraps up and it gets a little darker and colder still, the cowbells clang fading into the background of the roar of that first icy north gale... yes, December, January and February are the harder months, for sure... harder, but not impossible. 
The rewards are tangible - like in summer when quenching a hard century with a cold beer or a dip in the pool, it's such a treat to come indoors after trials against a cold headwind, releasing frigid fingers from woolen captivity, feeling the warmth of a hot shower return life to icy legs, feeling the glow of the fireplace, the hot tea and food... perhaps even a crisp winter ale or a nip of scotch and the friendship of an old, worn recliner chair.  The cradle of bedsheets and a good quilt after finally retiring to a warm bed, images of frozen waste still whizzing by in your head...and the satisfaction that you accomplished something that only a small few will dare.  The rewards are many, but the hardest part, often, is simply motivating oneself to go outside.
Never pause... never consider...  dress fast... go ride... 
Easier said than done.  As I continue the march towards a second R-12 award, I find myself looking towards winter at the halfway mark of accomplishment.  This hurdle, from the wrong angle, can seem giant - un-jumpable.  Surely as the commuter in me will sometimes smack the snooze button a few times too many, and grab the car keys with a rush of guilt - there are weekends where the wind, the cold, and the grey stand against the front door with too much force to budge.  "How bad do you want it?"  they'd taunt... the clatter of busy wind chimes announcing the relentless push of Canadian air, the dance of dead leaves down the street as they try to flee.  Tiny white flecks caught in the glow of a porch light across the way... snow... 
Yet, for the strong-willed, the able, the hard cyclists of winter... the taste is too sweet.  How to BE that rider, no matter the weather?
Never pause... never consider...  dress fast... go ride...
Every winter ride is three miles long... and only three.  The fires of cellular exchange heating the core to boil... steam and sweat, angry against the cold, begin to tip the battle... and from frozen lips the strain of push curls upwards into a frail grin, the first hill mounted.  Layers are unzipped, shoulders drop, the neck loosens... fluidity returns to the legs as the rhythm is unleashed.  Cocooned against the odds in body heat, wool, and Lycra - a flash of bright yellows and luminous reds against steel grey skies.  The snap of lifeless twigs and the crunch of sand under cold tires echoes the applause for those that defy the seasons!  Some will glare in disapproval, some gaze in disbelief, some nod in pure respect... for the winter riders.
Whether it be that one-more-commute, that one-more-weekend-with-the-group, or whether it be number-six;
Never pause... never consider...  dress fast...

November 20, 2011

Commuting and Randonneuring lights, revisited

It's hard to keep up, but I'm trying to revisit some of the older, informational posts on this blog to ensure things are still relevant and current.  One most-affected-by-time post recently gave me a good laugh, so I figured it was probably the one to try and focus upon.  That post focused on Commuter Lights, and so, SO much has changed in such a short period of time that even writing a new post risks futility, as technology is moving at a rapid pace these days.  It's as exciting as the computer industry, where reviews and publications on the latest hardware are outdated relics before the ink even dries.  Lighting technology in general is moving at almost the same pace.  Hybrid vehicle technology and the general crux of "green" thinking has inspired battery technology to nearly keep step - with trusty NiMH (Nickel-Metal Hydride) batteries still being king of the market at this writing, and LiION close in its heels.  Advances in Lithium ION, Lithium Polymer, Nickel-Zinc, and advanced capacitive storage are emerging - and combined with the latest LED emitter technology the combinations are simply incredible.  The only thing perhaps more staggering are the lower and lower prices this kind of gear is selling for.  It's an exciting time.

In the last writing, halogen was still a "buzz word", and things like NiteRider's old Digital Headtrip were making headlines.  Fifteen watts of halogen on your helmet was amazing stuff - but right as Halogen was peaking in bicycle circles, it seemed that HID (high-intensity discharge) was beginning to stir things up.  Ridiculously expensive, but insanely bright, HID lights were king of the trails and streets for a few good years - but ultimately proved sensitive to vibrations, were power-hungry, and bulbs were expensive.  Right about then, LEDs started showing up.  At first, they were near comical and strictly "be seen" lights.  A mainstay of taillight products for years, it initially seemed the emitters just weren't up to the job of being anything but power-friendly position-marking lights.  Anemic beams, diffuse, with confusing colors - it was sometimes downright scary to ride with one... I remember trialing several, and sticking with my trusty halogen generator system.  With the correct optics, even as brighter Halogen battery lights came available and HID started to make shadows of anyone else's lights, the German optics of the old-school Bisy and Busch+Muller halogen systems - even at a measly 3W - still put lots of very usable light on the road.

Looking back, only a couple years later, I can't believe some of the stuff I used to "be able to see with".  By comparison to what's available today, they all seem silly - even the old top-dollar halogen generator lights, and big 30W halogen battery systems.  Even HID lights, once thought un-beatable, have been completely dethroned by LEDs in the areas of brightness, beam pattern, run-time, weight, efficiency, and cost.  Today, assuming you can even FIND anything besides it on the bike store shelves, if you aren't running LED lighting - you probably aren't riding at night.  

I was most excited, to be honest, when LED technology finally arrived for the generator-hub crowd.  I purchased my generator system at a time when halogen was the only thing available - and it was still expensive.  Even a 5W halogen rechargeable headlight would cost over $100, and would have a run time that would have barely gotten me home.  I instead was using an old Cateye Micro "Halogen II" handlebar mounted light, which used a micro-sized halogen bulb and produced 2.4W of output.  The optics were descent, and you'd get a usable beam of light projected onto the road that would serve you up to about 15-16 MPH.  Downhills were experiments in faith.  Yet, for years, that light got me home - night after night.  With LR3 (AA) drycell rechargeable technology still being a bit "fringe" and also expensive, however, I was running through disposable alkaline cells at the rate of a 4-pack every fourth commute day.  On some well-lit roads, I'd ride by streetlight - switching the light off completely to save battery.  When I finally ponied up for a generator system, it was with the knowledge that it would pay for itself in disposable AA's in only a year.  After well over TEN years of use now, it's safe to say that it has done that easily.  I had no complaints about the generator system's halogen beam for years - knowing I never had to plug anything in or replace cells opened up worlds of possibilities, saved money and time, and made things like long night rides a worry-free affair.  It wasn't until LED lights started showing up that I developed "lumen-envy", but LED technology combined with improved optics proved to be a perfect marriage to the existing generator systems - and soon, I was part of the LED party, too.  

However, with run-times exceeding DAYS instead of hours in some extreme cases, the same possibilities that the generator system opened up ten years ago are available to anyone for often a fraction the costs - and it can easily be moved from bike-to-bike... especially in contrast to generator systems, bikes across many genres and wheel-sizes in your stable.  On that note, you don't even have to buy a "bicycle-specific" light to enjoy the benefits of night-time riding.  Any purchase, especially in tough economic times, should be smart -- and, that brings up the notion of multi-tasking products.  Where it may not make good financial sense to purchase a "bicycle light", one can often make the argument for a good LED flashlight... and now, usually for far less money than a bicycle-specific light, you have a flashlight for around the house, the campsite, the garage, AND the bike.  Zip-ties, an old length of inner-tube, a silicon arm-bracelet for your favorite cause, duct tape, or some combination of ingenuity and old reflector mounts or clamps can easily adapt any flashlight or torch to your handlebars, and you're off into the darkness.  A recent post from the Kansas Cyclist touches on this perfectly, and I have seen Noah from KC-Bike ride many of our night-time events with a smartly purposed LED MagLite... and from any angle, these lights are just as bright and effective as any "bike specific" system.

The problem, often, is choice.  You can have LED lights that are bike or non-bike specific and do a fantastic job lighting the road and rendering you conspicuous to motorists around you - but where to begin??  Pick your price point, and enjoy -- the tech will amaze you as much as the output of these latest emitters will.  It would be an exhaustive effort for this author to try and keep step with everything the market has to bear currently - but there are a myriad of resources to research these things:  Candlepower Forums is a great source if you really want to geek-out - especially for the still-very-relevant homebrew crowd, where dime-to-dime, you can probably outshine most commercial offerings with some elbow grease and a soldering iron.  MY personal favorites are, in no particular order, are listed as links below - based on lights I've either owned or had the pleasure of messing around with for a weekend:

I will remind the reader that this is very much from a "pick your price" perspective.
The first two on the list, specifically, know no boundaries when it comes to power output, run-time, and low-weight racing systems for serious off-road 12/24-hour competitions, and the prices reflect that passion.  Sticker shock will be a factor... but, taking advantage of these companies expertise at their lower price points does not disappoint, and you can find a seriously well-made commuter light.
Still, also keep in mind - just like Kansas Cyclist touches on, and from what I've seen from Noah's MagLite set-up - there is no reason to spend hundreds unless you demand a specific, bicycle solution - especially if you seldom venture off-road.  From a few hundred feet away the difference between the beam of a $10 LED flashlight and a $200 LED bicycle-light can appear almost indiscernible.  From the saddle, however, it will depend on terrain, your individual eyesight, and your intent.  If nothing else, this list of links will demonstrate both the state of the art and what's possible at multiple price levels.

Finally - know your numbers:  like anything sold these days, marketing is an important tool.  Read this.  Lumens, candlepower, LUX -- they can be confusing.  More can be better, but not always, and it depends greatly on how it's measured.  So, balanced against price and your goals - be sure you know what you're buying.  Optics can play a big part in this, and it's especially prevalent at LOWER price points - so, if you are looking at a $30.00 bike light that claims 10,000 lumens, be sceptical.  Is there spill?  Will you be able to see 2 feet to either side?  What's the run time?  There's no free lunch - so demand good specs when shopping!

Remember - ride safely:  bright lights are not a replacement for responsible riding, and good reflective gear so you remain visible - even when your 4,000 Lumen monster is pointed the other direction... and that's possibly no exaggeration:  at this writing, there are people testing new systems for the 2012 and 2013 season, some exceeding 4,000 lumens.  Un-real!

...and as of 2020, up to 16,000 lumens in some cases...altho, to be fair these are generally off-road trail lights.  You can bomb the singletrack on a moonless night with almost full confidence these days, with real, usable run-times. 

(...updated March 2020... and the light output and quality, features, charging times, and run times keep improving, month-over-month it seems.  Tough to keep up, but LEDs are clearly not going anywhere.)

Below are some of the products I hold in high regard from high amounts of personal use or extended testing, with asterisks next to the brands I have NOT used personally (yet).

Enjoy, and see you after dark!

Busch+Muller (generator lights)
Sinewave Cycles*  (generator lights and hub-fed USB chargers)
Supernova* (generator lights)

November 18, 2011

Traffic Kills

This week has been exciting from the saddle - it's been a few weeks since the fall edition of Daylight Savings time adjustments but I think it either took a week or so for sunset to "catch up", or I've been working later hours.  Maybe both.  Either way, the days are definitely shorter.  Reflective stuff is on, lights are on AM and PM, and the guard is up - as most motorists begin to assume that bicycles on the road are no longer something their commute will contain.  Combined with the first couple of sub-freezing commutes in the early AM hours and some amazing pre-dawn skies from the clarity that comes with very cold upper air, I've been finding it strangely easier to rise early and take to the bike before traffic takes hold.  The brisk air has finally laid months of allergy suffering to rest, and aside from the usual watery eyes it hasn't been too bad.  My old layering routine came back to me pretty quickly, so I've been balanced on the line of nicely-warm but not-too-sweaty upon arrival.  Good commutes lately.

The annual "are you still riding?", and "what's the worst you'll ride in?" conversations around the "awffee" maker (a combination of "awful" and "coffee" used to describe the hot brown water that is sometimes mistakenly called coffee at my workplace) has led to some interesting and engaging discussions on the state of traffic, finding good routes, and "maybe I'll try it in the spring..."  I hope they do, really... despite the harrowing subject of the state of traffic, I honestly think a lot of people would really enjoy riding to work if they only tried.  Yes, I'm a bit mad about cycling - but I don't think one has to be nuts to have an appreciation for the difference in one's day when it starts from a saddle rather than from behind the wheel.  I think the tipping point is somewhere north of $100,000, when your wheel is perhaps trimmed in Italian leather and puts you only a few inches away from a brimming V-12 engine... then, perhaps your step might have more spring than those commuting in your average sedan - but, I don't know... I'm still waiting for a major motoring publication to contact me for that particular road test opportunity.  I'm more than happy to volunteer, gentlemen!

Yes - my motivations are pretty thin.  It's a tough nut to crack for some people, in a world where riding a bicycle immediately draws people to the conclusion that you are somewhat environmentally positioned.  Yeah, I recycle and repurpose whenever I can.  I turn off lights when I leave rooms.  I dig things like solar and wind power, and I don't like environmental waste, over-building, sprawl, strip-malls, consumerism, strip-mining, nor the like....  but I do love ridiculously expensive and often wasteful cars.  No worries, though, loyal readers.  The dangers of me ditching the bike and turning this into an upscale motoring blog are pretty slim, as I apparently missed the boat that came through town after high-school offering easy rides to would-be seven-figure earnings.  With few exceptions, I choose to depart this cubicly-divided work-drome each evening by human-powered two-wheeled methods, and I doubt that would change much with the acquisition of a fine automobile.  I still, after years of the "same old thing", love bicycling to work.  Yea, I talk dirty to it and rub it down with exotic oils, take it to dinner and send it to bed with sweat on its brow, this love of mine for the bike. 

Where was I? 

Late fall and the attendant earlier sunsets have yielded some memorable evening commutes this week -- and I've been spending the majority of that time on the bike trail instead of the streets.  Back to those concerns about the state of traffic, it seems lately that some major arterials are reaching capacity right about the time I intersect them, and overflow traffic is leaking onto my usually quiet sidestreets, with questionable results due to lack of motorist behavior changes that should accompany detouring to the "d" roads.  I either need to modify my departure time from the office, or stick to the trails - and I've been opting for the latter despite the darkness.  At the appropriate speeds my lights are more than adequate, and the reward has been relative solitude and peace.

Without having to play heads-down death-match with rush-hour, I have enjoyed amazing sunset skies with hues so beautiful I struggle to pin them to something as unromantic as a generic color name.  The smells... crunching leaves... small animals scurrying about preparing for the inevitable ...and large animals, too:  dusk-hour basically being "deer-hour" lends one to cycle the trails at a more casual speed in case of encounter, and I have been rewarded each night this week with just that, the most magnificent being a large multi-point buck just last night.  A flash of yellowish-green as my headlight beam caught his eyes -- and a big handful of brakes -- as he jumped from the brush and took to the trail in attempts to get away from my approaching threat without realizing that I'd be following along that same trail by design.  Carefully keeping my distance, the result was a deer and cyclist paceline of sorts, if only for 200 yards or so - around a twist and a bend, the buck pausing when he'd thought he'd distanced me, only to spring forward along the trail again - finally darting left to lose me for good.  That moment, almost in slow motion, of primal magnificence - the surrounding suburban landscape disappeared, there were no traffic sounds, no joggers or other bicycles... just me, following this giant creature through the forest in the darkness, his hoof falls thundering.  With his quorum nearby he could have turned on me to defend his ladies at any moment, and I know of two stories from good friends that have had encounters with deer that did not end as well - but I was afforded this faux chase instead.

... it is in moments like those where that last hill no longer hurts, there is no "work stress", you're not going to or coming from anywhere, and you have no concerns with how far you've come or how far there is to go.  No pain, no fatigue, no need for water or food, you can no longer tell what temperature it is, or isn't... nor the time of day.  Even further, there almost is no bike underneath you...  It's just you, experiencing.
A car at any price, any where, cannot replicate that.  You only get these moments in the saddle, and though they can be few and far between those are the moments that become the explanation when you cannot explain to a non-cyclist why you keep riding. 

Idealistic, yes -- there are times when riding isn't practical, where there truly aren't enough hours in the day to span the distances your day presents -- but, those that know what I know, know.  It's never long before you're back on the bike.  The surface reasons are easy... perhaps it IS environmental, perhaps it's gas savings, perhaps it's fitness -- but a lot of times for me its none of those things which REALLY bring me back to the bike ... it's the stuff I might miss, its the feelings -- the LIFE.  Had I been driving home from work last night that buck wouldn't have even existed to me, and being tucked into a steel box I wouldn't have existed as a human being to those around me... moving about in the darkness blinded by each others headlights, we aren't people anymore... we're "traffic".  Instead, back on the trail in the dark, that buck saw me and reacted, and I saw him and reacted -- and in that perfection of reactions, we were both confirmed as very much alive.

November 8, 2011

Tailwinds and traffic

Continuing the motivation that finally got me to break the easy habit of the Border Patrol route a couple months back, this time I turned my sights on Grandview, MO. to tackle the Super Big Gulp permanent route.  I have mixed memories about this route.  The last time I rode it, however, was back in 2008 - so maybe some of the negative thoughts would pass.  Only one way to find out.  Last time, the drama came right at the get-go:  back in '08, this was part of my near-600km weekend, where I tackled my September R-12 ride and the local MS-Society Ride back-to-back.  (my apologies, some of the photo links on that old post are broken - looking in to it soon).  Back then, I started the 200km route during evening rush-hour - and getting out of town proved both harrowing and frustrating.  Far too much traffic, and all of it unsympathetic to cycling pursuits as is normally the case and nothing new:  but, as a commuter I'd simply find a clever detour or back-road - as a randonneur, you have to stick to the cue sheet.  Just like poor weather or a lot of hills, I feel the same way about detouring around traffic - I stick to the route, period.  Yeah, it sucks sometimes - but that's part of the honor-system of the whole RUSA thing.  Back then, I remember not really feeling "relaxed" out on the route until well after the first control, where traffic finally died down and everyone was home and off the roads -- but, let's face it:  I started that ride at a weird time of day, something the route designer hadn't envisioned.  It's still a good route - and on a weekend morning, it's magic - the way it should be.

Cut to Friday, 3:50AM - I arrive, park, and unpack the van to prepare for a cold morning.  This was my first ride of this season where temperatures were below freezing, and I did the usual "pack everything" prep the night before, careful to be thorough - but not so much that I was paralyzed by too much choice.  The core was already handled -- I tossed back and forth a little on an extra layer for the legs, and decided against it.  Ultimately, I found myself perfectly layered up - shut the van, saddled up, rode up the street to the first control, and just about timed it perfectly so I minimized standing around in the cold morning air.  I slugged down a bizzarre (but effective) mix of black coffee and sugar-free Red Bull and then headed south on Grandview Road with a gentle tailwind helping me along.  No cars this time... no waiting... nice....

I think I've touched on this in previous posts, the differences in county design and maintenance - juxtaposed so clearly when you live in a metropolitan area that straddles a state line, the way Kansas City does.  I have positive and negative opinions about each approach, but from a riding perspective it gets tricky.  Missouri doesn't like to spend money where it doesn't have to.  Up north of the metro (and south, too) this results in nice, quiet two-lane rural highways that haven't changed much in decades - and where it makes sense, out where there is no traffic, its good riding.  When that same approach is applied to busier city centers the results are downright nerve-wracking for cycling.  Grandview, MO is one such city - and this is only really a criticism from a cycling perspective.  In Olathe, I recently watched the county, city and railroad partner on a massive project that completely elevated a level-crossing and widened the road underneath -- a project that spanned literally almost five miles in either direction on the rail line, and every street it crossed therein.  The road it benefitted still isn't one I'd consider bike-friendly, but the project as a whole seemed to improve the area and the traffic thruput.  In Grandview, however, specifically Blue Ridge Road, there are sections where you have nice, wide 4-lane opposed with a central turn lane suddenly funnel down to ancient two-lane that passes under a circa-1930's railroad tressle... and then it widens back out again.  Without traffic, it's actually kinda neat... because it hasn't changed in decades near those bridges --- but WITH traffic?  Wow.  I float back and forth between "it's nice that they haven't changed the heritage of the area", and "why haven't they updated this?".   It's an interesting region - and I don't have the space (and don't expect your patience) to argue pros and cons - the topography, the wildlife and surrounding forest, the character of the area -- they are distinct, and valuable, and I don't prefer change, generally... but, Blue Ridge is one of the only ways out of the city E/W and it can be harrowing on a bicycle at times.  Where was I?  Oh yeah...

Through the darkness and down Blue Ridge's nice, long descents (which I haven't ridden in years!) to State Line Road, and then south into the darkness near old Kenneth - startled by the air-brake hiss of an idling locomotive back in the trees near the crossing at 151st Street.  It's cold, but not terrible -- the tailwind helps with that, and the occasional roller.  I climb up to 159th and Mission, and then head south again through another glorious cycling destination of twists and turns and dives and steep climbs... Mission Road between 159th and 191st.  In the same vein as my comments a moment ago, but with the side-note that this is a generally low-traffic area:  I hope they never change this particular road.  If you live in the area and haven't ridden it - either from the north or south - pick a weekend morning, early, and check it out.  Approach from 159th, or 199th... and enjoy.

I pause at 199th for some food and a quick nature break.  The sky is miraculously clear... perfect... sharp, bright stars and planets above... Orion directly overhead... such a sight, out here without the light pollution.

199th west to Spring Hill -- overlapping the Border Patrol route, I have to remind myself not to instinctively turn south for Louisburg.  I arrive at the Casey's in Spring Hill, the first control, at 5:58AM... two minutes before they open:  nice timing!  (that's the c-store opening, *not* the control opening time... I'm not THAT fast!)  But, the Casey's clock is faster than mine apparently and their doors are already open and morning business is jumping.  The smell of *just* finished donuts, coffee and breakfast pizza slaps me in the face with a welcome blow of warmth and flavor... YES!  The best part... sometimes the only good part... of cold-season riding is the treasure of warmth and food at the controls.  Sometimes it's all about the hot coffee, I tell ya.

The wet, cold morning air had me shivering, despite the influx of hot coffee... a dangerous position to be in.  Cold is ok.  Wet is ok.  Cold and wet can be bad.  Only solution is to get moving again and dry off -- it's cold, riding along with layers unzipped, but getting dried off is more important.  Too many layers, though warm feeling, can backfire... hard to find balance, and a little out of practice.  Back on the road, things improve quickly after a sprint up a short hill. 

A quick zig-zag over US-169 highway south of town, and onto Old KC Road towards Hillsdale -- another great road that I sometimes wish was a little bit wider, maybe with a paved shoulder.  Ah, well...  traffic is surprisingly courteous, thanks perhaps to my ridiculous level of reflective gear.  Overkill?  I dunno... I'd rather not roll the dice, and none of it weighs anything, catches any wind, or gets in the way - so why not?  A little backlighting to the trees to the east indicates dawn is coming... back down to business.

Tailwind still in effect, I make haste - picking a good, sustainable cadence and sticking to my goal cruising speed of around 17.5-18.0 MPH.  Quick enough, but certainly not in danger of getting to the halfway too early -- attempts at that are scheduled for next year.  Yeah, I'm an optimist... but, part of me wants to try it again, arriving too early to check in.  Today, however, is about consistency and finishing with about the same average at the end as at the halfway.  Today, it would turn out, would offer perfect conditions for such training.  I was careful in days leading up to this ride not to jinx anything, but if I timed things correctly I was in for another super-rare, ultra-special, deluxe, surprise, happy-time double tailwind ride.

Hospital Road south of Paola comes quick, then Hedge Lane... some of my favorite pavement ...the sky is getting lighter and I'm feeling good.  Another railroad crossing at 343rd street, and southbound once again - until the road ends... this really is a great route if you can look past the "getting outta town" portion in the first few miles:  it's a rail-fan's delight, with ten railroad crossings (mixed between level crossings and bridges) in 100 kilometers, and several miles of parallel opportunity.  If you don't see anything on the way out, you get another chance at each one on the return trip.  Second, it's hilly enough to keep things interesting, but not a quad-crusher.  Third, you almost don't need a cue sheet -- nearly all of the decision points are "duhs", ending at T intersections - and where that isn't the case, the turns are well marked with highly visible road signs.  The only potential "gotcha" is a roundabout, but its not too bad if you read the signs.  There are also several more c-store opportunities than there are controls, which makes it a good winter route compared to more remote regions -- I didn't figure it exactly, but I think the biggest gap between gas stations is perhaps 15-17 miles, which is good if you find yourself cold or running out of water.. or needing to put water bottles in the microwave, if it's REALLY cold.  Perfect route.

I roll through Fontana, KS.  The last two visits to this tiny town took place in the dark back in '08... in fact, if memory serves, today's trip was only the 2nd time I'd seen Fontana during the day.

Thinking this town could use a Casey's...  franchise idea in my future, perhaps... no, not here... perhaps somewhere between Appleton City and Weableau, MO, come to think of it....

I'd have the only c-store in existance with showers, a locker room, drop-bag storage, a sleeping area....accessible via brevet card authentication.... Hammer Gel dispensers... the mind wanders...

Snapping to, back on a beautiful stretch of road near K-152... at the top of the western ridge of Linn Valley.  This view never gets old.  The La Cygne power generation plant, billowing steam into the cold air - confirming that the wind, as scheduled, was beginning to shift to favor my return trip.  WoooHooo!!

I dive down the fast downhills and proceed to hammer it across the flat valley floor - aiming for La Cygne before 9am, which I manage handily... 8:46am.  Probably more time off the bike than I should have had, but I'm not too worried about control efficiency quite yet, at least not when it's cold out.... a few minutes at 199th and Mission, at least 15 at Spring Hill, a few minutes at 311th and Hospital Road, a few minutes at LN-1095 and K-152.... nature breaks, snack breaks, star-gazing breaks... why not?  We ain't racin' today, just enjoying some spirited pacing while we ARE moving, I suppose.

I lose track of time at La Cygne, watch a train flyby, snack on grub, coffee, rest room break, a little indoor warmup - and then finally decide that I've lingered enough and get moving again.  It's different this time of year:  where in the summer I am anxious to keep moving to finish before the heat of the day gets unbearable, there is sometimes a little extra pause in the cooler months in the hopes that temperatures might improve.  I don't remember actively considering this, but maybe it was subconscious.  The nice thing about randonneuring - something I sometimes forget - is that you HAVE the time, generally, to rest up, get warm, etc.  That is, if you manage it properly... the criteria is loose, but a finish is a finish whether it takes 13 hours, or seven.  My personal trick, each time, learning from past close-calls:  get to the halfway, no matter what the cost.  Once you have that in the bag, you can then dawdle if you want or need to.  Results can and do vary.
The steam plumes at La Cygne have moved, slowly starting to point northwest... my tailwind for the return ride is confirmed, and the sun is getting higher.  Time to move.

The valley floor is tackled quick, and then the business of the hills leading up out of the valley.  I have to say, I prefer the climb to the east -- easier to gauge effort, perhaps -- and I'm still a little tentative about the knees these days.  After last month's Border Patrol where the saddle height and fore/aft was a little off, causing some post ride soreness that lingered right up to THIS morning, I had been focusing on high cadence during this ride to minimize impact and strain.  Things have been steadily improving since the October ride, tested with commutes and some long indoor resistance drills when I could squeeze them in - but the real test would be the hills on this route.  So far, so good -- but on the steeper stuff, it's just hard for me to keep a high rev going.  Standing up, or seated, however... when the pressure came on, things felt good, tight - and not sore.  Post-ride would tell the tale for sure, but I was hopeful.

Then, a few miles north of Fontana -- I'd stop and shoot the video footage that became the previous post... 
After that, it was time to get down to business.  

I checked my rolling time and did a little mental math, and figured I could probably still pull it off, if I pushed a little:  The sub-6 hour century, a personal milestone that I've used in the past to measure consistency and the ability to get up out of the usual commute average speeds.  Racers will scoff -- where sub-5 hour centuries are the norm, most likely... faster still, in fact, one of the most incredible performances I've ever witnessed was from an athlete at the Texas Time Trials in '07.  Patrick Evoe still holds a personally-witnessed record of the fastest century I've ever seen thrown down, and I'm almost certain one of the fastest by UMCA standards (Not to mention the course record at Texas).  When the 100-mile UMCA North American Century Championship launched in Cleburne, TX., while Tejas 500 riders were deep into their 500-miler, and I had already cashed in the chips and started crewing for Ort, Patrick came through the start/stop area after his first lap like a bullet train... and my (and others') first thought was... "wow!!... but he'll slow down".  For the next three hours and change, we were all proven wrong.  I've never seen anything like it.  The dude is FREAKING FAST.  Four hours and 13 minutes later, he was done with his 100 miles... an average almost hitting 24 MPH.  That's solo, during a non-drafting event, kids.  So, while I have a LOT LOT LOT of work to do before I even get close to shaving an hour off MY best century time, I'm perfectly comfortable with my sub-6 hour rolling time for now... because, for my long-term goals that's a comfortable 400-miles-in-24-hours pace.  OF course, I have to train beyond that speed to ensure that hour 23 goes as well as hour 3.... but, today, I'm pleased to have raised my rolling average speed from 16.1 up to the required 16.6+ needed to make it back to 199th and Ridgeview Road in 5 hours and 58 minutes.  Time to relax...

My secondary goal of finishing this one in under 10-hours total time was looking good now, too.  The rest of 199th went off well, but things changed when I turned north on Mission Road.  Normally a section where time can be made up -- not to mention BIG fun in the twisties -- I was surprised to see the road completely blocked by flashing lights, sheriff and local police, and power & light service vehicles.  I throttled down and coasted up, talked to the sheriff and was finally allowed to walk my bike across several front yards - well away from a downed power pole and overturned car resting in the ditch across the way.  Holy.... glad I wasn't around when THAT happened.  

Looking back south on 199th, after walking past the accident scene on the other side of the trees, and giving detour directions to a few of these cars waiting here for a chance to back up and turn around.  A local resident confirmed that their power was out - but she wasn't sure why.  Fate, Karma, whatever you want to call it -- I'm thankful I took my time at roadside breaks and controls in the last half of the ride, as any cyclist could have easily been "just riding along" when this happened.  Not sure if anyone was injured - but the ambulance was long gone by the time I arrived.  Hope they're okay.

After a 1/2 mile walk, I was on the other side of the drama, ready to get back at it.  Hills were in my future -- hills that give this route a reputation of being especially evil for the last few miles of a long ride.  After a long cool-down at the accident site, I also found myself resting again at 159th and Mission road - desperate for a rest room break, but finding no shelter or break from passing cars to pull it off.  While the clock was still on my side, I was going to have to work for my sub-10 hour 200km ride now.  Ugh!

Up Mission, to 159th, down to Kenneth, around the bend, across the tracks, up more hills towards 135th, then WHAM.... traffic.  I had hoped that, as alluded to in earlier paragraphs, traffic wouldn't be a concern at this point in the day - but I was wrong.  After all, it was 1:40 or so in the afternoon.... but, no matter... cars, cars, cars...  passing by a major interchange, several shopping complexes, apartments, and back down to narrow, unimproved Grandview roads heading across Blue Ridge itself, which I'd forgotten is UP for over a mile at a time in places... wow.  It was on the longest climb of Blue Ridge where my bubble popped... whoof, no more push.... keep going!

 Then Grandview Road... and why are all the school busses out, is my clock wrong??  Holy traffic.... finally back at the 7-Eleven past Red Bridge... and I'd actually, unofficially made it a smidge after 2:00pm....SO close!  but then, of course, I have to unpack get out the route card, pick out something to buy, and stand in line to pay... a LONG line.  A lot of people-traffic, too, here... so, officially, 2:13pm..!  I'll take it, though.

Seriously... a simply stellar, awesome, perfect, fun day for a long ride... a great time.
Feeling good, and looking forward to December.  
Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

November 6, 2011

The Distance Diaries - No.1

So, I got bored, got out the camera-phone, and took a little video - which I then (thank me) edited down into this little snippet.  The process has given me a LOT of ideas... ideas that I can't capitalize on without upgrades in equipment, possibly software, and without more patience and practice and forethought.  As a larger concept I've given enough thought to settle on the title "The Distance Diaries", and right now they are simply to serve as video blog companions to the regular content on this blog.  It's catchy enough that I'm tempted to shift the blog to match... but not quite ready to close the door on over a decade of "dude" simply because I write more about distance than commuting these days.  We'll see.  What's in a name?

Certainly not EVERY ride will have a video companion - but I'll do what I can.  Honestly, I like it - it's FUN and I like the process of editing, mixing (though I'm still not 100% satisfied with this one), and taking raw video and chopping into 500 pieces and putting it back together.  I have high hopes and a giant body of inspiration to pull from - namely a lot of WAY more interesting and professionally produced stuff on Vimeo, and my ultimate inspiration "Survivorman" - where Les Stroud sets the bar extremely high.  

I've dabbled in the past and thought "what if?" -- and so this is a small step closer - but, I need to invest in something better than a cell phone camcorder to make this a real effort.  Further, a/v production is a HUGE time-suck.  I told myself I'd only devote a day to mashing this one out, and it took dang-near all it.  Further, there wasn't enough raw footage to show a true picture of the entire ride - and, let's face it:  sometimes I get down to the business of riding and forget things like shooting video.  The coming winter months will make that harder, no doubt, but more material will yield better finished product.  Best approach is probably to amass video for multiple rides, and make it a larger project.  We'll see.

So, for now, please enjoy:  


The actual post about Friday's 200km permanent coming this week --- strangely, that takes more time to edit down.  Big surprise!

Thanks for reading!

November 4, 2011

Five in a row, tagged and bagged.

Today's RUSA permanent was "The Super Big Gulp", only 201km ... so, the shortest thus far in this most recent "run".
Also, it was a little flatter... but, still - the cooler temperatures and typical adjustments needed to stay on top of cold weather hydration (no major issues, but I know I was behind a couple times) have me feeling --- not sore, but used.  A good feeling.

Also, for the first time in almost 7 years, an actual video-blog to accompany the usual droning, lethargic, time-consuming, holy-heck-hire-an-editor written post.  
Nothing can prepare you for the most gripping docu-drama on randonneuring since 1962, when George "Slappy" Donaldson strapped an 8mm home movie camera to his rear rack and made cinema history.
Thrills, spills, and suspense that Hitchcock would blush over.  
This fall... you will believe.... 

Stay tuned.