January 31, 2012

Bicycle Dreams comes to KC, Feb. 18th

"Bicycle Dreams, the award-winning feature-length documentary about the Race Across America (RAAM), will premiere in Kansas City at the Screenland Crossroads Theatre on Saturday, February 18 at 7 p.m.

The screening is sponsored as a benefit for BikeWalkKC.

"To capture the mammoth scope of the race, Stephen Auerbach, the director and producer of Bicycle Dreams, worked around the clock with a complement of eighteen cameras. Embedded camera operators traveled inside the racers' support crew vehicles, gaining unprecedented access to the cyclists and their teams. Their footage captured emotional and physical breakdowns, late-night strategy sessions, and great moments of personal triumph, all in intimate detail. Auerbach then took on the enormous task of editing hundreds of hours of material and forming it into a powerful and inspiring look inside the most difficult race on the planet."

"Bicycle Dreams has won major awards at the Fallbrook and Breckenridge film festivals, as well as the Yosemite, Grand Rapids, Red Rock and All Sports LA film festivals, among many others.  Critical acclaim for the film continues to pour in from all sources."

Tickets will be $10 in advance and $15 at the door the night of the show. To purchase advance tickets, order online at www.imathlete.com/events/bicycledreams.

For more information about the event, go to www.bikewalkkc.org.

For more information on the film, go to www.bicycledreamsmovie.com or visit us on Facebook here for more info on the KC event

Media contact: Garry Harrington  603-209-5010  gharrington3165@hotmail.com

Most of the above comes directly from the press release announcing this event, however, I wanted to interject my own observations here, as well.  If you have ever thrown a leg over a bicycle for any length of road or trail, I highly recommend viewing this film.  Little else captures the drama, excitement, and struggle of RAAM so perfectly as Bicycle Dreams.  I've owned the DVD for a while now, and I reference it for motivation and inspiration whenever the mood strikes; and it never fails to deliver.

In June 2003, I stood on the shoulder of US-54 and watched several RAAM competitors ride past - including local hero Bryon Rieper, crewed by the Warbird (at the wheel of the follow-van at the time).  Though each encounter with the riders lasted only seconds, the high emotions I felt found me physically jumping up and down, clapping and shouting encouragement like a rabid European fan on an Alpine pass.  Realizing the significance of where I was standing, just outside Iola, KS., was equally awe-inspiring, and can be described in one word:  "halfway."  Watching Bicycle Dreams encapsulates those same feelings and spreads them over 104 minutes.

Get a sitter, take a significant cycling-other, and grab this rare opportunity to view this masterwork on the big screen.

January 22, 2012

Head games

I stumbled upon another interesting tip while reading a popular ultra-distance blog, involving music, which I might try later this spring.  Like the author of that piece (I'll link later), I often find myself with music drifting into and out-of my head in the middle of riding the odd 200km brevet, yet I'm hesitant to ride with headphones.  The songs just pop into my head, and I've been okay with that.  I've cataloged a great deal of these songs in the footnotes of most of my ride posts, as sometimes they subtly speak to my state of mind for that particular venture - but it never occurred to me to put them all into a single playlist.  Now, for commutes and training rides it's still very doubtful that I'd use headphones.. even a single earbud.  Traffic and such - in town - not a good idea in my book, though I'm sure a lot of folks do it every day and don't end up a statistic.  However, when distances extend beyond 300km, later this spring - in those darker times when my mind is looking for ways to no longer participate in the task at hand -  maybe it's advantageous to have those tunes that would pop into my head in better times ready to go?  Maybe it'd be a clever trick to get through those tougher overnight hours, or when emotions run south for an hour here or there after fatigue sets in.  Hard to tell -- but an iPod shuffle takes up very little space, after all.  While I think this is definitely a terrific plan for the PA system strapped to the front of the RAAM support vehicle, off in some distant future, time will tell if I join the earbud-club on the next 600k.  Still on the fence.  However, personal squeamishness aside, I suppose it is indeed one more item for the mental toolkit towards randonneuring success... just to be used with a grain of caution, of course.

Carry on!

Post-script:  Reviewing my personal playlist, I struggled with omitting certain songs and came up with a way to get around the hesitation to include them:  if you're as musucally ecclectic as I profess to be, it's often very confusing as to WHY certain songs (that, in popular company, I'd probably admit to "hating") pop into my head while on long rides.  I've found it best not to limit yourself here.  Add it to the playlist.  It's a very special place that randonneuring takes your mind - hours in the saddle, mindless pedalling, endorphins, nutritional peaks and valleys, and mental wandering...and of the thousands of songs I've listened to and called "favorite", it's weird what actually ends up repeating in my brain sometimes.  Upon logging post-ride notes it's often the reaction of, "why was it THAT song???"

It may be your subconscious' way of telling you that you really DON'T "hate that song".  Perhaps there's a certain rhythm, a chord change, a specific lyric that is relevant... and you have to "suffer" through the first half of it to get there.  'Come into my Life' by Robert Plant comes to mind... where my first instinct is to skip the track, but six minutes later I remember why I love it.  Let it happen, don't hesitate to include it - even if in certain circles you'd be ridiculed for it.  There is no shame in music.  Coming from a childhood upbringing that included ABBA to Zappa and quite literally dang-near everything in between, there is little reason for me to enjoy listening to overplayed Top40 tripe like Katy Perry or Breathe Carolina ... but I do anyways.  I have no wonders about HOW my tastes got so varied to begin with - I'm very glad they are:  thanks, Mom & Dad.  When it doubt, just go with it.

If you employ the above method of reverting to an earbud during hour 21 of a 600km epic, and "that song you hate" comes on, you will grumble, you will laugh, and then you will sing along.... but, most importantly, you won't be giving a moments thought to the saddle sores and aching legs you were trying to forget in the first place.

January 18, 2012

A call to action - yes, even here.

I won't spend a lot of time on this - we'll return to regular programming with the very next post.
However, I think this deserves the space. 
I urge all of you to take action on any of the myriad sites  that offer petitions or conduits to contact congress and the house on the PIPA / SOPA issue.
Do it today, sign a petition.
Call your local representative.
Email them.
Do something, though, if you feel strongly about this - for OR against.
Thank you.

January 16, 2012

Dodging the bullet

Record warmth for January, it seems -- if only on average... it's been unseasonably warm for weeks at a time now, with only a single, minor snow event since the year began.  I was a "good boy" and rolled the dice on a permanent date that was well outside the view of weather forecasts and then held my fingers crossed for three weeks.  Amazingly, though it was chillier than I'd have liked, we pulled it off.  In the 48 hours leading up to the ride start the temperature went from nearly 60 degrees, down into the teens, snow, finally rebounding back up into the 40's.  Talk about dodging the bullet.  As I sit to write out some scattered notes from the road, it has already been back in the 60's again.  A very weird January for Kansas.

It was neat and appropriate, however, seeing just a tiny bit of snow here and there on the roadsides as we made our way out of night's darkness and into a fresh mid-winter morning.  You may notice the "we"... and not the royal version this time:  I was not alone.  Another weird experience for January!  Taking advantage of the relatively warmer climes, I was host to four other riders on this voyage - a rare treat.  Alex S., Gary McD, Terry B. came out to share the experience, along with Randy R. whom we bumped into in Ottawa while out for a day of exploring on his old steel steed.  While I've attended a couple of group rides here and there over the fall months, including a great ride out to the Louisburg Cider Mill for New Year's Eve, I hadn't enjoyed company on a long ride since July.  Although, I have to say my brain certainly isn't used to having company... I still caught myself staring off at the road and keeping my thoughts largely to myself, instead of striking up conversations - however, as cycling goes I think everyone follows roughly the same playbook:  there isn't a tentative feeling of needing to fill the void with words "just because".  Sometimes just having another person on a bike next to you is plenty, and I think everyone "gets it".  I like that, even though it's taken me a while to get there myself without feeling like I'm being rude.

The whole ride was almost for naught.  A sharp pair of eyes caught the fact that the first controls register computer was off by about 16 minutes, producing our first receipt with a time-stamp of 6:47am... something that, while explainable and possibly verifiable later, would have effectively rendered our permanent ride 'void' on paper.  No jumping the gun in randonneuring!  Instead, we hung out, chatted, and this gave a little amount of time to run back to the cars and drop off a few layers - as the temperature was 12 degrees warmer than forecast!  Things have a way of working out - and though we knew we were "wasting time", we waited, got a good receipt, and rolled off into the morning air together.  This is precisely what the 1-hour first control buffer is for, I suppose.  While part of me was anxious that we were already "behind", I also knew that stiff winds and hills awaited - and there was really no reason to be in a hurry.

Wild temperature swings and anomalously warm spells in winter usually mean "wind", and that was certainly the case.  We'd be battling the wind heading west for most of the first half of the ride - but the breaks from it resulted in unexpected tailwind triumphs on the southbound sections.  We made our way past Shawnee Mission Park, up and down sweeping hills over some terrific scenery, which is normally obscured by darkness because of earlier start times.  Today, the sunrise wasn't far behind our departure - another tidbit my brain wasn't used to.  I suppose I've had my fair share of night-time training over the last few months - Back in November I didn't see the sun until I was 50 miles deep.  This time out, we barely needed to have our taillights on for 30 minutes.  Not bad.  What was better was being able to see what was normally hidden on this route - the Princeton Roundabout.  It skirts western Shawnee, KS., heads out towards Desoto, Clearview City and the old Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant and its signature quadruple watertowers, dances with state route 10 here and there (in places I think we are actually on the old highway alignment), and out to Eudora for the first control.

The Cedar Creek section is especially mystical:  we dive down into a valley that contains several small branches of the Kansas River, and the resulting terrain is otherworldly compared to the usual vast fields and cropland west of the KC metro.  Huddled in the shadow of huge outcroppings and deep into patches of forest, the creeks rippling along nearby, its easy to let myself get transported off to rural places I've only imagined of.  Rustic houses, dilapidated barns scattered about, the road twisting and turning - following the river instead of the grid - long morning shadows creating an interplay of flashing sunshine between bare-branched trees, foraging animals scurrying about, birds at play... and a few cyclists silently taking it all in, gradually exiting the area in timeless elegance across an old truss bridge.  Picture postcard mastery.

Sidebar:  even if you have to drive there to see it, go see that bridge before it is gone.  The county has been holding true to a long-standing 50-year bridge replacement plan for the entire area, and the last decade has seen many of these cool, character-rich bridges replaced with soulless, modern concrete decks.  The Norman Rockwell-esqe images of rural America are beginning to fade into obscurity as civil engineering firms rush to rehabilitate crumbling infrastructure.  Coming across one of these bridges on a long bike ride is one of the things that make long distance cycling worthwhile - and they are becoming increasingly rare.  This bridge (link above) is literally one of the last ones open to traffic in Johnson County.  If you are planning a bike ride of any length, the Bridgehunter website is an excellent way to find these unique structures and include them in your route plan.

We rejoin our riders emerging from Eudora refueled and ready for the next stage.  The sun is getting higher in the sky, and the wind is finally favorable.  Alex, ever the strong rider, is opening a big gap with the strong tailwind - and before long he's WAY up the road.  Spurred on by having a target up the road I can't help but push my own pace to the limits - and, foolishly riding outside myself, I am eating up the road with a smile.  Along with spirited climbing over the hills leading out of the Cedar Creek valley, I am beginning to cut into my reserves far to early... typical, and at the time I don't even realize my mounting mistakes.  While there is one thing to be said for training by chasing stronger riders, my brain is excited about riding with others too much to care about the consequences.

I burn a fair amount of reserves, and don't take in nearly enough calories for the return to a westerly direction at Douglas County highway 460, where the wind returns with a mighty slap to the face.  Pace is reduced to a crawl, and at times its a lot to ask to even maintain double-digit speeds.  Nuts.  Absolutely nothing to block the gale out here.  Head down, I start to shove out the pace.  Vinland arrives, and I take a moment to take in the old church and some of the stone foundation buildings before turning south again to enjoy the tailwind... which, "strangely", this time isn't as enjoyable.  Not as much push remaining... wonder why THAT is? (ha)  Alas, I still have some climbing left in the legs for the grunter of Baldwin Pass that awaits.  I manage to make a good personal showing up the climb - possibly the best and most controlled I've ever climbed the beast, keeping breathing and cadence in check... so, while I still have something to learn in the mental control department when it comes to riding with other people, I'm pleased with how things have progressed over the months.

Baldwin City, and control #2.  The group comes together again within minutes, and we all do our control routines and mount back up for the next leg.  Thankfully, we're still to be heading south for many miles to come, so the NW wind will be our friend for a few hours more.  Whew... Even while I stuffed another Powerbar Harvest into my gut, it wasn't enough by a longshot.  The tailwind would continue to provide the illusion of energy, despite the protest from my gut.  Poor food choices the evening before had also caught up, but I was focused ... get to the halfway, and things will improve.

Alex, Terry and Gary were pictures of pacing and control, while I yo-yo'd a bit here and there on Ohio and Tennessee roads before finally arriving at K-68 for the final push west into the increasingly strong cross/headwind.

Ottawa, and the welcome sight of the Casey's there - where Alex and I stop for resupply and restroom.  Surprise, there's Randy R., out for a day's ride, and we welcome him to tag along for a bit.  While I was quick to complain about the temperatures, I had to remind myself that they were still above normal (!), and everyone was out riding today - so, the more the merrier!  Always a treat to stumble upon someone that happens to be headed the same way you are.  We mount back up and head towards the next control at Princeton, KS. a few miles south.  While this section is also a major highway corridor, the shoulder is nice and wide with well-made and thoughtful rumble strips.  Much better... and still a slight tailwind to help.  I remember this section from doing the route in July, and the fact that it trends uphill almost the entire way to Princeton.  With Alex still fresh and fueled, and me still trying to stay latched to his wheel, I begin to burn through the rest of my reserves - and find myself seldom reaching to the back pockets to put the energy back.  Uh-oh...

We reach Princeton to find Terry and Gary (thanks again to the local Ottawa resident that indicated he'd seen cyclists dressed like us heading south, which prompted our departure from the Casey's) hanging out and taking a much-deserved rest.  At this point, I'm a little dazed.  I take a full four laps of the c-store and for some reason I can't find ANYTHING that looks appetizing - even though I need food.  The mild hassle of being a vegetarian jumps up to bite me, as the pizza smells really good -- but it's all with meat.  Gads... I finally default to just grabbing something random and buying it, just to keep moving.  While the rest of the group has been smart, and has stayed consistent, my follies have caught up.  I'm supposed to be the experienced one here, yet the fun of trying to catch Alex and waging personal war on the headwinds has put me into rookie-mistake land.  Nobody's fault but my own, the only thing to do is try and rebuild.  While the mental toughness training that comes from riding 200k after 200k alone, there is still a need to remind myself that personal pacing is of the utmost importance when I get with a group.  Even when he's slow, Alex is fast... and me trying to work on speed in January is foolish, yet, there I was.

In a daze I made a few decisions about clothing, packed a layer onto the rear rack, and made my way back out onto the road.  Gary and Terry had left a dozen minutes or so earlier, on the notion that we'd catch them up, and Alex left a little bit after them.  It was me and Randy now, and more importantly it was me beginning to admit that I had a problem.  My pace began to slip, then my mind... I announced my condition, and shortly after was unable to maintain my speed.  John Brown highway spread out before me, there was a slight tailwind... but, there was nothing in the legs but lead.  I allowed myself to be upset about it for a couple minutes, then proceeded to engage on-the-road-recovery-plan Alpha.  Watch the clock... this will only last fifteen minutes:  drink every five... and start eating.  You have back-pockets full of rations, and you haven't touched hardly any!!!  Get to it... but be careful. I start to slowly feed the giant hole growing in my gut... The last fig newton from the START... and Hammer stuff... every few minutes, just chew and swallow.  I watch patiently as Randy advances up the road... then, on the horizon I see yellow safety vests... and it feels like I'll never reach them.  Patience...   five minutes pass, then ten... a hill... a water tower... Texas Road... a 4-way stop... five more minutes... more food... drink... and the push slowly returns.  The problem with this is that there is no resting now:  having pushed to the brink, I will spend the rest of the ride putting calories in nearly as fast as my body uses them.  My stomach growls furiously as soon as I'm finished swallowing the last bite of whatever is in my mouth... and so it will be for the last half of the ride.

As hard as it is to recover from a near-bonk ON the bike, it is possible... but the key is not getting there in the first place.  Keeping in mind that it's far better to keep moving slow than not to move at all, my cadence is in the gutter and my muscles are paying the price - but, I'm moving down the road.  Chin up.... finally, even though it was only minutes, I begin to reel the group back in - and eventually we're all together again, just inside the Osawatomie city limits.

We stop together at the Casey's there, refuel and rest a bit - and the mental recovery for me still isn't quite complete:  with all the rushing around for food and restroom, I forget to refill my bottles before leaving the c-store.  Thankfully, I'd end up having enough to make it to Paola and the next control, but literally to the last sip.  Ugh.  "Get it together, 'dude!", I scold myself.  I feel better leaving Osawatomie than I had leaving Princeton - but not quite 100%.  I pull the group out of town, over a group of cool bridges over various creeks and rivers - startling a deer with my loose rendition of some random Elvis tunes that make it past my lips, as my mood recovers.  The pace isn't epic - but it's all I've got.  Not even a train flyby to cheer me up today... but, I'm still with a group, and it's a great feeling - and turning into a great day.  The harrowing feeling of turning north into a waiting headwind for the entire last leg of the ride is held at arms length... the wind, quietly to myself, isn't THAT bad... the sun is out, there are birds heard nearby, and though content to leave nearly everything on despite the warmer temps, I still unzip a little as we turn from north to east in direction.

The group breaks up a little again as my legs remind me that we're not fully "back" yet - but no matter... even the horn of a local attempting to remind us who's road this was (right) can't get me down, but I'm already dreaming of the next stopping point.  We make Paola and the next Casey's in good time - refuel, refill bottles (!), and check in.  Old KC Road is checked off, and Alex's consistency shows as he and Randy enjoy the day in full stride -- strong riders, both.  I, learning my lesson, maintain a sustainable pace and take in the scenery, chat a bit with Gary, and we eventually sorta spread out into our own little realms as we clear Hillsdale and advance towards Spring Hill.  I lose track of Randy, as he peels off for home somewhere in here, and Alex and I regroup at the Casey's store at the north end of town.

Another quick refuel here, and discussions about my condition.  Alex is a class act... a super strong rider, content to hammer it out at the front, he encourages me, gives a few pointers to which I am always open (be not fooled:  whether it's your 120th brevet, or 4th, there is always something to learn - always listen).  Cycling 101... and it's something I perhaps needed to hear:  keeping my cadence up.  Part of my riding style falls back to my days of riding fixed gear - my natural cadence is probably somewhere in the 60-70 range... and that, combined with my caloric shortcomings, was resulting in fatigue and inability to push.  Had I actually been ON a fixed gear today, I might have suffered more... who knows... but now, to get "back in the game" and finish strong, I needed to rev it up a little.  Long story short, it worked.  Despite Alex's promise to finish together, no matter my condition, my refueling and conscious effort to keep the cadence higher resulted in him not having to worry about slowing down and waiting for me.

The last 20 miles were stellar for me, considering.  Alex could have, at any time I'm sure, jumped off the front and finished more quickly -- but he stayed with me.  I adopted a plan to continue through the rest of my rations and put them IN my body instead of carrying them around in my pockets.  I drank every 5 minutes, ate every 15... and combined with the cadence drills, I managed to stay with Alex and not limp along like I might have had I been solo... and, to boot, we managed to work our way through Olathe and then into Shawnee, finally catching sight of Gary and Terry up the road on Renner Blvd.  It looked like we might all finish as a group after all!  Maybe there's something to this whole "90-100 RPM bologna", I thought to myself... (doy, science has proven this is where cyclists are most efficient, yet I still fall into the gear-masher camp more often than not).  Post-ride.... surprise, surprise, my joints aren't as sore, and I don't feel destroyed.  Hmm.  Interesting.  Thanks, Alex, for reminding me of this basic endurance cycling tip, and helping keep me motivated.  A true class act, even as I suggested back on Ridgeview Road "if you happen to get up the road away from me....", he interrupts... "no, no, we finish together..." - and so we did.

We caught up to Gary near 95th Street on Renner, just short of making the green light that Terry advanced up the road through, and stayed roughly together through the carnival of roundabouts prior to 87th Street, to finally stop there at a red light and witness a terrific sunset in the making over our left shoulders.  Not bad at all... with the trials of the wind, and my personal issues, to finish as a group, on a winter ride, without freezing to death, and without hardly needing to worry about turning the lights on at the end... not a bad showing at all!  Figuring in the delay at the first control due to the clock being off, we nearly completed the thing inside ten hours - which is great!  Whether it had taken hours more, I don't care... because I finished it with friends, on what had turned out to be a great day.  Mixed feelings that I might have about the mid-ride challenges aside, all in all - a success for January, and learned a few things about myself ... even if the group-ride-forget-everything factor that jumps up on me occasionally is something you'd think I'd have squared away by now.  Proof that there is indeed always something to learn, even if it's RE-learning.  We all dodged a bullet, weather-wise... and I was lucky enough to have a strong rider like Alex nearby when I needed him, dodging a personal bullet.  I probably would have still finished, but it wouldn't have been with style and resulting smile, that's for sure.

Many thanks to Alex, Gary, Terry and Randy for sharing the ride!

Songs in my head:
There weren't many today... but, interestingly they were loudest when my stomach and ability to push were lowest:
Adele - Someone Like You  <- popular radio tripe, perhaps - but this girl can sing, don't care who you are. 
Ramblin' Man - Allman Brothers  <- the foundry of the modern jam-band, nobody jams and runs riffs like these guys, IMHO.
The Big Bang Theory - The Bare-Naked Ladies <-- after watching a DVR marathon of this show, it doesn't take long for the theme song to take hold... and I honestly, in my own little geeky way, can't think of someplace I'd rather find myself than at Comic-Con '10 when this happened.  As a BNL fan and a BBT fan, how freakin' cool would this have been???
I know there were others... but they were lost somehow between then and now... 
So, that's all folks!
See you in February!

January 14, 2012

Over the hump

Officially completed 200k #7 this evening... so, one step closer, and past halfway... feels good, but brain is a little scrambled:  a tough day, conditions-wise, and compounded by some personal mistakes.  They can't all go perfectly, right?  More to come, as usual --- good to be finished... time for food, and rest.  Stay tuned...

January 7, 2012

Even more winter kit considerations

Even though it's been unseasonably warm here, I'm still preparing myself and gear for more "winter-like" riding - which is sure to come.
The process is reminding me of some things I've read lately, some other things discovered along the way, that bear passing along.
I touched on this recently in a post on preparing for winter riding, so here's a few additions:

While there are lots of ways around the problem, I personally have had issues on occasion trying to use CO2 inflators when it's colder out, specifically when it gets below freezing.  Results may vary, and simply warming them up in a back pocket can solve the issue - but, for a lot more reasons than just "cold", I use a frame pump almost exclusively.  I do keep a couple inflators in the seat bag to get moving quicker when commuting - but for brevets I don't like the idea of running out of air... and it has happened to me before.  If you run CO2 exclusively, and there's nothing wrong with that - don't get me wrong - you might want to carry along a small, "real" pump in the winter:  frame, bottle-cage style, or pocket-sized... but something that can get you moving again on that especially challenging day.  There are even some clever models that are designed to do both - and while I haven't tried one of them specifically, it's a slick idea.

However, even "real" pumps have their problems .  (I keep putting "real" in quotes, because the only real pump is a FLOOR pump... and we're not carrying those on rides, right?)

So, yes:  even pumps can have issues in the cold:  from the Bike Hacks blog, this post is worth a look.  The pump in the post looks a lot like mine, possibly a Blackburn... maybe a Topeak.  In most cases, your local shop may (call ahead) have a small-parts kit supplied by these manufacturers to support quick warranty claims.  Take advantage of this, and offer to pay for the small bits it if you don't REALLY need it.  But, replacement seals, o-rings, pumphead caps for your model are good things to have spares of... they weigh very little and can be stashed in a seatbag kit with ease.  You may never need them, but it's nice when they're there!  On the subject of air, another thing I keep in the seat bag is a Presta-to-Schrader adapter for things like air compressors at gas stations.  While not recommended unless you're careful (for small volume road tires), at least you have a lot of different ways to put air back into a tube.  This is all part of the mantra of successful commuting or randonneuring:  preventing that "come get me" phone call.  Redundancy is good...
Of course, if we're talking about air we're talking about the other "F word", and while you may be adept at wrestling a tire on and off a rim when it's warm outside, making quick work of roadside repairs is paramount in colder temperatures.  You'll want to make things easy on yourself, and your hands.  Ever notice that working on anything in the cold makes things like screwdrivers slipping, pliers pinching, bumping your knuckles against something hard... the cold seems to make it all hurt more, right?  Part of avoiding frustration, do-overs, and pinched fingers involves the right tire lever.  There are many different tire levers available, but the mechanic's choice has long been the Quik Stik.  Probably muttered just as often as "where's my 5mm Allen wrench?" is "who took my Quik Stik?".  Better than three of any other lever, in my opinion, the Quik Stik is gold.  Doesn't mar rims, doesn't pinch tubes, great leverage, super strong, light, fast, simple.  Get one.  Get two:  one for home, one for the seat-bag.  Seatbag too short for it?  Trim down the handle, and take it along.  ANY leverage is good on the roadside in the cold.  Don't fumble with the usual three sub-par levers... get ONE good one.  The link is to Amazon, but I know a good local shop that carries these by the bucket in a variety of colors.

Reach that cycling mileage goal in 2011?  Awesome!  Congrats!  Your cyclo'puter is probably exhausted, though... if your display is dimming lately (like mine) it's a good time to consider new batteries before your next big ride.  Sure, sure, not a deal killer -- if you're commuting home and the computer dies the world will still turn on its axis.  However, in the miles-to-next-turn world of randonneuring, it could be a big deal - especially on an unfamiliar route.  As a backup plan here, wear a wristwatch.  If nothing else, you'll know if you're inside the time limits to the next control, you can generally gauge your personal average speed and make an educated guess as to how far you've ridden between turns, and you can even use it for direction finding if the sun is out.  Phones these days are pretty "smart", and you can probably grab an "app for that" in a pinch... but, I'd rather save my phone battery for when I truly need it.  Of course, if you're running a new-fangled GPS computer of some sort, none of this is relevant - but I still prefer getting 12 months from a battery, rather than 12 hours.

Bonk rations.  I always carry an extra energy gel in my seatbag.  You never know when you might need a little pick-me-up or boost if you run out of food or fumble your pocket rations onto the highway.  Like anything else in the seatbag I don't usually have to resort to using it, so when I checked my seat bag contents last month I found it to be reallly expired... well, yeah, it wouldn't have killed me, but it would have been a little thick and gross at best.  So, this is a good time to rotate your rations!  Next time you hit the shop for resupply, by an extra pack of a flavor you love, stash it in your seatbag, and forget about it.  When that c-store that's "always open" is suddenly closed on a long ride, you'll be glad you did.  Better?  Stash two: one for your riding buddy.  A good ride-guide will show you a great road and a cool scenic overlook... a master ride-guide will surprise you with a snack when you unexpectedly run out.  
Riding master you will become... yesss...  </Yoda>

I also mentioned "sanity savers" in that other post - something that can make riding, mentally, easier when the distances extend.  Keeping cable housings from rattling against one another, keeping seatbag contents silent, keeping your computer itself from jiggling around in its own mount all come to mind.  Recently I also performed a few other sanity-saving measures:  A VERY small amount of grease applied between the tops of your shoes and the underside of the Velcro straps that fasten them closed... or ratchet straps, what-have-you.  It's amazing how noisy shoes can get when pedaling up a hill.  A good shoe polish can accomplish the same thing if you have real leather... but most shoes are some kind of synthetic these days.  This keeps the places where parts of the shoe meet from binding and "sqw-creaking" under loads.
Keep your cleats "wet" also:  Phil Wood grease is still my preference for just about anything bike-related - (except the chain) - it just works, and it stays put.  Less can be more, as you don't want to replace little squeaks with a gloppy mess.  Small amounts under the "nose" of your cleats, or underneath the pedal bindings where the cleats will click in can help keep things silent and smooth.  Sometimes noises pop up while already riding, like after getting caught in a considerable rain-shower.  An effective method that works when cleat noises materialize out on the road:  lip-balm.  It's waxy, it's cheap, it stays put.  It's great to take along for your lips in winter anyways, so if you have some in your pack, roll out some excess from the familiar, tiny tube and remove a glob with your finger... apply to the cleat where it meets the pedal, or, to the pedal directly - either way, the annoying cleat noises will soon be gone.  While modern, 3-bolt, Look and Shimano plastic road cleats have been updated with high PTFE content at these interfaces, all-metal SPD cleats can still get noisy.
Disclaimer:  Grease cleats with caution and at your own risk.  You should be pretty familiar with clipless pedal entry and engagement before you go smearing slippery stuff all over your pedals:  less is more, even if it guarantees a need for reapplication later.  Limit application to the underside of the pedal bindings, not the upper surfaces.  You absolutely don't want to make the bottoms of your shoes or the upper surfaces of your pedals slippery to the point of danger.  This is especially risky when departing from a traffic light -- sometimes, even after years of use, I sometimes don't QUITE get clipped in... instead of trying to feel around for engagement while coasting across an intersection, I just pedal lightly to get across the intersection and out of traffic, and worry about fully clipping in once across.  Take care not to get grease or even lip balm on the tread of your shoes, the pedal body, or the bottom surface of the cleat which doesn't actually contact the pedal.  Clip in securely before giving it the beans, lest you slip and take a veneer of your shin.  

These tips aren't only handy for winter riding - this is just a good time of year to go through your stuff.
I hope you found something useful here!

Now...dress warm... go ride!  Enjoy!

January 5, 2012

Unbelievable weather

While I'm sure by posting this I'm looking weather-death in the face and spitting, I simply can't believe the weather we've been having lately here in eastern Kansas.  It's making me a little uneasy heading into yet another weekend where temperatures are set nearly 20 degrees above normal for this time of year -- and strangely, it's not that windy... which is usually a partner to unseasonable temps in this part of the country.  I keep waiting for winters "other shoe" to drop.  Diving into weather-geek mode for a moment - despite the low sun angle and the shorter period of daylight, we're looking at mid-60's today.  In January.  In Kansas.  That's 30 degrees above normal.  I mean ... I can't remember the last time...(which is why NOAA has climate data, so I don't HAVE to remember).  Checking climatalogical data, the record for this date was set at 68ºF in 1956... and we have a slim chance of beating that today.  Shorts and short sleeves in January for the commute home? 
As much as I like to say "back in aught-three....", I'm compelled to here for contrast -- because back in '03 I recorded my coldest commute EVER, at minus-9ºF, on a dark January 23rd night.  To think that I'd be riding home THIS evening without so much as something to cover my ears is amazing... but I'm certainly not complaining!  That's Kansas, however -- the state of extremes:  that SAME YEAR, only two weeks earlier on January 8th, 2003, we broke the HIGH record of 71ºF.  Anything is possible...and as they say, if you don't like the weather, wait. 
I really should have scheduled January's R-12 ride for THIS week... dangit...  Instead, I'm on for the 14th, which is still a week away.  Quite a bit can and will happen in that coming week, so I'm keeping my fingeres fully crossed.  What may instead be on tap is a proper January 200k, however, complete with icy wind and snow -- and to that I say, "bring it".  I think the only thing negative about this long run of above-normal temperatures is that it really screws with acclimation.  If a cold-snap... even a seasonal return ...awaits for the coming 200k, it'll be tough to get out of the van.  It could be WAY, WAY worse... thinking to the last couple of years when we were still crusted over in ice and had snowbanks at every intersection, I need to be cautious what I complain about when it comes to R-12 pursuits in this part of the nation.  I still have a project on my list that involves a true "do-it-all" winter brevet machine -- easy-ratio fixed gear, 26" wheels, big-volume tires with studs, fenders, front and rear racks, wide drop bars with Bar Mitts.  While I'm certain the current steed will handle just about anything once the roads are treated, the prospect of having a world-beater, no-excuses machine at the ready is exciting, even if it's only for commutes.  Right now, a poorly-timed winter storm would put a few nails in the R-12 coffin.  I really don't want to have to road-trip south to finish this one... but I suppose I would.
For now, I have to figure out how to store all the layers I wore this morning on the way in, when temps were just above freezing.  It's not easy planning for days with 45º temperature swings!!
Roll on, and smile!

January 2, 2012

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! 
I've tried to be careful not to construct false drama in previous posts or tease that I might be potentially announcing something here, like a big goal for 2012.  I've been scouring websites, calendars, ride lists, yes... but I haven't written any registration fee checks.  Probably won't, not quite yet.  I'm letting things take their course, in a matter of speaking, and not really setting myself up to stress about anything specific yet, riding-wise. 
There are still a lot of frontiers to discover - after all this time on a bike I love the fact that I still - essentially - have only scratched the surface.  I have tossed around ideas about my first 1,000km brevet, my first 1,200km, also... but, alas, there are worthwhile things that will stand in the way of qualification for such pursuits.  Finding time to get a complete SR-series before June 2nd (the deadline for qualification for most 1,200km grand-randos) will prove tough, since I already know I have to miss a couple key ride dates locally this spring.  I know for sure I want to test myself at the 400km level, and really try to make a 600km happen as well - with a secondary goal of riding it straight-through.  While I call myself a randonneur, if successful it will only be my 2nd 600km ever.  Lots left to discover, indeed.  
Further still, no matter what I do on the road bike, I still haven't done any real mountain biking... or 'cross... and haven't ridden fixed gear in over 5-years... and with both kids approaching local MS-ride minimum age limits, my next big thing may involve their first big thing, if the interest holds.  While I still have my own goals, I get more excited at the prospect of setting them off on their own journey of self-discovery - and I'll toss out all my own aspirations to help that happen, if it is indeed what THEY want.
Tejas... yeah, yeah.... the ride date is in late September, which is after me and the kids will be back in school next fall.  I suppose it could work, but I'd been holding out hope for a true summer date, like in August.  It's still on my list - I can't keep defaulting to the notion that races/rides such as these "will always be there"... because (thinking of the defunct Tinbutt race in Oklahoma) sometimes even the best events evaporate after time.  I have faith that the successful and highly-active Lone Star Randonneurs group will still be holding the Tejas ultra-events for years to come, but skipping it again is a risk.  Like a lot of things in life, waiting for everything to "line up" is a foolish game... there's always going to be an excuse.  At some point I'm either going to just DO it, or content myself with letting it go.  While part of me still wants that big finishers trophy for the mantle and to say without hesitation that "yes, I'm RAAM-qualified", this year I know I need to be close to home to ensure my kids first few weeks of their first year in middle school come with complete parental support.  Quickly as I say that, my wife will remind me that it's not unreasonable to have aspirations for myself while still being a good Dad... so, we'll see what happens.
So, while there may not be a trophy or t-shirt involved, I still have plans and goals for 2012.  Lest I forget, if January 14th goes well, I'll be sitting on five-to-go towards R-12... so it isn't as if nothing is going on.  After a recent revisit to knee issues after discovering my saddle height had dropped a little.... but the seatpost DIDN'T (saddle drooping?)... my biggest challenge of 2012 may simply be finding a new saddle and breaking it in.  Ugh. 
The prospect of a whole new year to go after ANY of these things is exciting, no matter what happens!  
Heck, I'm riding a bike... how bad can things be?
2011 proved to be a great year.  Better than 2010.  So the only thing I'm really shooting for is "better than 2011".  I got in a great ride with some good folks on the last day of the year to the Cidermill and back - and while I had to get hurried in the end, it was still a great day out.  I took the camera, reminded myself to look at something other than that patch of road 10 feet in front of me - so even at-speed I took in some great scenery, old bridges, and after a couple teases finally got a decent dog-chase on Renner Road.  That's a good start... 
I haven't organized a Saturday AM ride in a while, haven't attended a weekend group ride in a while (aside from yesterday), haven't put together a DSR in a while, haven't attended a multi-day tour in a while... there's lots to do... trying to pick ONE thing, right now... nah.  I don't need any resolutions - because I'm having a pretty good time already, feeling good... just keep it going, and the rest will come.  That'll do for now.  
In any case, Happy New Year!