December 30, 2013

Princeton-Polar Ride, it's a finish

Glen, Steven and I headed out into a dangerously cold morning yesterday, and came home with a finish.  I have never been so cold, for so long, in my life... despite the amazing micro-climate afforded by layers of technical gear amassed over the last decade.  A longer post to come, as usual, but, for now, the streak is still alive with only two days to spare in December, and in a very tough 2013.

Tenacious, or galactically stupid... it's a fine line:  but, we're alive, warm once again, and all of our extremities are intact.  Sure, it was no Arrowhead 135... and if you'd like to read some truly epic tales of wintertime suffering, check it out.... but, I'll take our finish.

We three, in my mind, conquered a tough one... and I mean *JUST*.... we BARELY made the cutoffs, and I didn't know just how closely until this morning upon going over the cards and receipts.  It's probably better none of us knew during the ride itself.  Sure, none of us are wicked-fast riders to start with, but, therein lay an indication of the conditions:  cold joints and muscles, aching respiratory systems, frozen faces, glazed eyes, delirium, cold-induced drowsiness, constant mental arguments against continuing, rougher-than-I-remember pavement amplified by hard, unyielding tires, icy roads, frozen bottles halting hydration, temperatures bottoming at 12F (-11C), almost no sun, and a roaring, unforgiving northwest Arctic wind at nearly 20mph sustained with higher gusts, resulting in static wind-chills of -5F, and probably more like -15F cycling through the air.  For thirteen hours.  At the end, far too committed to consider quitting and throwing away all that suffering for no reward, the ride degraded to nearly constant clock-watching panic; yet, no extra push to do anything about it.  Every stoplight through town - which we seemed to catch every last one of them on red - all I heard in my head was "tick....tick.....tick....TICK....."  How fast are we going?  How many miles are left?  What time is it?    

This, in itself, is almost post-enough for the likes of such a ride.  What else can be said, really?  We finished.  I have no complaints.  I credit my riding partners, Steven and Glen:  without them I would not have started, and without their tireless pulls, I wouldn't have finished.  Heck, Glen and I, having met up early, were convinced that none of it was necessary - and I was already okay with ending my streak, right there in that dark parking lot, without so much as a pedal turned.  Steven showed up with a smile, a confident air, and the right attitude... and, so, Glen and I mounted up.  Crap.  LOL.  BUT, the feeling of confidence and satisfaction I feel at this writing makes it all worth it.  I am hearing all of the occasional chatter in the office today about how miserable yesterday had been, having enjoyed near-60F temps the day before (no kidding, in December!) before a monster cold-air mass arrived overnight (so markedly that the initial wind gusts shook the house and woke me up, as cold Canadian air dumped into the area).

I am proud of what we-three accomplished... knowing also that we're also probably a touch lucky, too.  One flat tire, one miss-step, one or two more trains or red lights.... crud, ANYthing.... I don't want to think about that.  Not only would we have not finished with credit, it's a fair bet that hypothermia would have come knocking in the event of any roadside repair.  The old Survivorman mantra for winter... "if you sweat, you die" so true... but, finding that balancing act with clothing when exercising???  There's almost no way.  One must choose between being dry, but cold ALL the time; or comfortable and at least a LITTLE damp.  It's safe to say, for me personally, I was comfortable - but dangerously damp most of the time.  I actually brought along matches, a flint striker just in case, a field knife, some light kindling (some scrap woodshavings, dryer lint, and cottonballs mixed with petroleum jelly) and a small folding camp windblock, and had every intention of starting a small fire if needed.  Overkill?  Perhaps.. especially since it never came to that:  but it only weighs too much or takes up too much room until you NEED IT...and really:  that whole kit is no larger than a cellphone... but, there is no sense standing on the roadside, shivering, waiting for the Calvary to show up, arguing with oneself about whether or not it's "bad enough yet" to take action.  Yesterday, it would have been bad.  Just like a TV show, yeah...disclaimer: seriously:  this is just a dumb cycling blog, and I'm not an expert... if you have the choice, stay home.

We three, no matter what Glen and I were talking about in the parking lot, didn't know how to quit.  Odds stacked, we all three stood up on the pedals and fought for it.  This is rando... sure, we should have picked a better day, sure we could be faster with more training, sure we could manage our control time better.  Whatever.  We took what we were handed and produced a finish.  Cheers, gents.  Bigtime.

Next month, if it isn't at LEAST above freezing, it's over.  LOL.

I'm going to go sit in front of the fireplace some more.  Whoof.

December 25, 2013

Year end wrap-up, already?

Well, yeah... as I sit back and chill on the afternoon before a company day-off, with the sun dipping, the shadows lengthening, and my afternoon coffee steaming next to the keyboard, yes.  I take a break from surfing across various chain-rings and eccentric bottom-brackets/rear hubs, and various tube-final guitar amps I can't afford to summarize the year that was (er, is still) 2013.

Mileage...  what mileage?  This, with few exceptions, has proven to be one of the lowest mileage years to date at 3,400 miles.  I haven't had that low of a number since prior to starting this randonneuring thing back in 2002.  There was a time, prior to '02, wherein I didn't even log commuter-miles, and in one case I'd almost bested this years number.  Now, there IS one more 200km permanent coming in a few days time, and that will bump me above the 3,500 mile marker -- but, that's still pretty low for me.  But... how do I FEEL about that?  Heck, I'm okay, really.  It's been a rewarding year in so many more ways than JUST cycling... so, who can complain?  Not me.  However; well, I think I see a higher number for next year.

Complaints?  Really?  What do I POSSIBLY have to complain about?  Middle-aged-married-suburban-livin'-cubicle-worker-with-two-point-five-children-who's-never-missed-a-meal problems, that's what.  In short, nothing of consequence.  I've overheard and been shoulder-for enough over the last year that I don't have any REAL complaints.  I've helped out at reStart over the last year, have helped feed some folks at various places, helped at Harvesters, and heard the stories of hard-working folks who've

December 18, 2013

Empty Promises

I mean well, I honestly do.... but, it's time for me to get real (again).  
This blog isn't a full-time gig.  I don't make a dime from it, as much as I wish I did.  Perhaps that's an indication that I haven't tried hard-enough, that my annual URL investment of $10-or-so isn't working FOR me... it's merely a labor of love, an outlet, a way to get thoughts out of my head.  Perhaps I SHOULD try harder... but, I lack -- rather, I haven't MADE -- the time.  Maybe it's advertising, maybe it's trying to sell branded stuff like stickers or custom caps, maybe it's continuing to pimp my stuff to various outdoor and cycling rags.... heck, I've had tons of ideas in the hopper, but, apparently I'm truly spread-too-thin:  school, kids, a full-time-plus desk job, still finding the time to RIDE - lest I have nothing to write about, and then - of course - making the time to write ANYthing of substance, and to post photos.  Maybe the social media presence is enough, I dunno.

What's the point of this post?   Oh yeah.... 

Well, a couple posts back I got REALLY excited about the "free time" I'd suddenly uncovered, with a major milestone in my life and my kid's lives wrapped up.  I promised reviews of some products I've acquired, and updates on previous reviews for products in the arsenal which still carry on strongly.  Here's the honest, apologetic bit:   I can't.  I won't make the time.  I'm sorry for that, but, really... there are lots of folks across the interwebs posting high-quality, well-written reviews on everything I've promised, and more.  Real reviews, with excellent photos, REAL scientific data on lights, lumens, watts, run-times, etc.  Actual bench-tests of tires, rolling resistance, tread-wear, measured against competitor products.  Well-written, edited, staff-supported excellence, rich with content and data, filled with links and references.  I can't possibly compete.... not with the time I've allotted.  This is just a blog.  It's a brain outlet only, and - while I KNOW if I gave it maybe 10% more attention, answered more of the supposed-spam-but-maybe-legit email offers to cross-link, review products, try this and that.... hell, if I think I'm pressed for time NOW... yikes.  Despite how genuine my intentions have been, I already have a workbench full of items I can't get to.  Keeping up school, fixing the brakes on the car, home-owner projects, a crappy yard that won't fix itself (don't get me started on WHY I feel like I have to be part of the greater neighborhood property-value paradigm - speaking of downsizing), really wanting to go back to that part-time job I loved and feeling horribly guilty about it - yet still knowing I face the same problem with that as with everything else here, computers and phones to fix for family members, that fence I need to fix so the dog will stop getting out, and MOST importantly, random stuff I've promised the kids: promises that I absolutely MUST keep.  

It's who I am... part of me knows that none of this should be apologized for; but guilt is part of my personality.  I'm thinking about it, no matter what "it" is, even if nobody else is losing sleep over "it".  It sucks sometimes, and it's probably why I'm in this particular boat.  

It'd be one thing if was THE job.  I really want to step back, downsize, assess, and figure out -- if I REALLY want to -- how I can make a living off of that about which I'm most passionate, and still make ends meet... and, still -- the biggest hurdle -- make sure my family is insured, medically.  That is the tallest, most insurmountable hurdle facing us.  This won't turn into a segue about "Obamacare" or anything like that... but, honestly, it's real.  It's a tough choice, and it's kept me from making the step I'd truly prefer.  A kid that needs braces, surgery that I need for myself, and that scary "what happens if..." element.  

Don't get me wrong --- I *LOVE* what I do at my day job.  I'm not sure many can truly say that.  The bikes and the riding are truly an outlet and escape mechanism... and, sure, horror-of-horrors, if I had to do bikes all day long, I'm sure I'd get sick of it (not bloody likely, but I'd like to find out how long it'd take - HA!).

All in all -- it doesn't REALLY matter that those reviews I'd promised won't materialize.  I'm really apologizing for posting about it and getting all excited, well -- that's a small picture of my reality.  I honestly WANTED to... but, eventually, reality always sets in.  I hate that I put that teaser out there, getting people (and myself, honestly) excited about it... and then realizing that I'm never going to get to it.  In short:  The Light & Motion light is terrific, the Axiom bags are still going strong, Panaracer can't (in my book) do any wrong in the 700x28c tan-sidewall department, and I've created a few hacks that are working well.  One of these days I'll figure out how to push that extra 10%.... but, I'm exhausted.  

On the pathway to being a genuinely happy, well-adjusted, stress-free bicyclist with a day-job, I have to be my own advocate and get some of this self-inflicted stuff off my plate.  Limiting this blog to ride reports only is just one step.  I appreciate your understanding, and rest-assured:  the ride reports will continue.  I receive a lot of positive feedback, for which I'm thankful and grateful, and my goal of highlighting randonneuring and commuting by bicycle as worthy pursuits continues; if for no other reason than to outlast another supposed "commuterdude" in Atlanta whose only goal appears to be giving motorists an outlet to complain about potholes.  I want my Twitter name, pal.  Give it up.

As always - thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the December ride report!

December 14, 2013

Precious Metals

Weather-wise, the hammer has fallen in the KC-area.

The last couple weeks have seen some dips into the teen's for HIGH temperatures, and we've already been glazed a couple times like a frozen donut.... not the GOOD kind, but those artsy pastries with a thin sheen of glaze - because too much would be considered "tacky."  Just enough to be mildly tasty - but somehow leaves one feeling teased or punished.. yet, it's still gloriously, decadently dangerous.  It's not really "winter" so much as it's a lack of nice weather.

It's the season of the car keys, the DNF, the DNS, the reschedule, the "wait until Spring."  

It sucks.

BUT, it's life in the midwestern plains.  I'm told, season after season, that it's a great time to diversify and try a new sport.  Pfffft.  What, like cyclocross?  Okay...  oh, no?  oh... so, running?  Cringe.... next.

A good amount of us try to make-do, waiting patiently for the roads to dry; or, in my case - each year reinventing the (ahem) wheel and building up another winter beater.  This year, if you've followed the social media, it's "The Goat" -- or, as I've recently decided is far more apt: "Deathwish VII."  The Peugeot, obtained slowly over a long period of time from my wife's uncle, is a nice ride... as long as you don't plan on riding it.  This wasn't really apparent while it was dry during its first two voyages on the studded tires.  Noisy, yes... but, manageable.  More than anything, with its 42x21 single-speed drivetrain, it proved very capable and torquey enough for seated climbing on any of the myriad hills dotting my various routes to and from work.  Perfect!

So I'd thought.

I had been willing to forgive all the bonkers, proprietary French sizing of the seat-post, the quill stem.... okay, nearly EVERYthing... simply because I finally HAD a winter-bike again.  Fenders mounted, studded tires fit nicely, good brakes, rear rack -- all parts that were either on the bike already (in the case of all the goofball odd-size stuff), or items I'd had in the garage already.  It wasn't until yesterday morning on the ride to work when other, indeed important, factors became obvious.  Things like geometry!

This won't be a lecture on geometry, why "something" is better than "something+1" -- it's only to say that some of the weird French "character"  (yeah, we'll call it THAT)  had trickled into the frame and fork themselves, apparently.  All straight - nothing cracked, bent, or warped... I checked.... but, what translated as "spirited" when the pavement had been dry began to embody near-terror when the pavement became wet and icy.  I'm not even talking full-on snow here... just a little freezing drizzle on already-treated roads.  

The tires?  Sure... studs must be ridden differently -- after all, one is nearly skating along on 100 or more tiny metal beads, essentially.  You can't carve corners... you need to stay flat, if that's possible, while turning.  In short... the studs WON'T render the rider invincible:  much like 4WD (are you listening, local SUV drivers???), the technology only helps ASSIST in a situation that already requires a modified approach.  So, one still had to ride carefully... the studs, then, do the rest.  That is, of course, assuming you have a nice, stable platform.  

Sure, perhaps, too, I'm not yet used to the Peugeot.  Simply standing up out of the saddle to climb a small rise in the road proved how nervous the front end of this bike behaved... I should have known then.  I've ridden a LOT of different bikes from different eras and builders - and this is the only one that has (short of tallbikes, which I swear are more stable) proven genuinuely "nervous" in the handling category... which is weird for a middle-of-the-road, European, mid-70's sport-touring bike.  It's to the point where I think there may be something wrong with it, somewhere I haven't discovered yet.

It was a short honeymoon.

I've since cancelled my subscription to "Interesting French Stuff Monthly", and have moved back into a standby mode, wherein - like last year - I'll simply wait until the roads prove drier, safer, and very-well plowed indeed before pursuing future winter commutes.  Now that we've had a couple small doses of winter-scare, the roads are in the right shape where studs are effectively in the "overkill" department... and I can't waste a lot of the time I already don't have enough of trying to figure out what's up with the handling characteristics of a bike I'll probably only truly NEED twice a year.  In fact, the Trek 450 is looking AWFULLY good in the guise of a fixed-gear once-in-a-while commuter machine... and those studded tires DO fit... just.


The other remarkable bit this week involves local traffic and driver-behavior in general, which reminds me of a quote by Dennis Hopper's character in the ole movie fave "Speed,"  wherein he teases his oppressor in a verbal pissing match, something to the effect of "aw, see?  In 200 years we've gone from 'my only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country', to 'f&*k you?'"  In effect... yeah... we're there:  Ten years ago on a blustery, wintry commute to work I had two separate people offer me a ride to wherever I was going in the short time it took me to make it the last couple miles to the office one particular morning.  Yesterday, by contrast, I had two drivers inform me that I was "an idiot" for riding my bike (in that weather, or in general - I dunno), and one suggested rather eloquently that I get my fine self of the road.  The otherwise abandoned, residential, really-doesn't-go-anywhere road that he and I both happened to occupy at that particular point in time.  Nice.  Although I don't know WHO they are, still, I have a rather keen eye and something of a grudge for certain makes of car, and sometimes bumper stickers and the like, when it comes to keeping an eye out for those that feel it necessary to have words with me, and I took a LOT of personal satisfaction upon arriving at the office, locking up the bike, and walking in.... only to see the first gentleman (the more polite of the two) passing by the crosswalk and heading to the parking garage down the way.  Basically, I'd beaten him to work -- and like a friend on social media outlined:  so, I helped reduce congestion, saved some oil, improved my health, AND arrived earlier than this other motorist, and - somehow - *I'M* the idiot?  Yeah.  

It's been an interesting week, to be sure .... and I've already felt my internal frustration peak a bit, about the twitchy winter "solution" (which I should have test-ridden more before ordering the studded tires), and the state of the city within which I live... and, the opinions of some of the people I work near/with.  (Sigh...)  I need to find a new route to work... or a new city.  TOWN, preferably - if you catch the difference.  

The one-bike-theory isn't a bad one... but, as numb as perhaps I've become from over a decade of riding in traffic around here, to suddenly be VERY aware of how snarly and nasty traffic (and the people IN it) are becoming, I'm beginning to see why my dad stopped riding his motorcycle here, decades ago.  It's getting kinda stupid.  Is that my AGE and the perception that comes with it, or reality????  

Dunno yet.

I'm gonna sleep on it... and, probably ride to work next week, at least once.  

I know, also, that my recent experiences are exceptions to the rule.  
I've had far, far, FAR more uneventful commutes, pleasant commutes, and friendly motorists who occasionally have been known to give a thumbs-up, or a wave, or at least a wide berth when passing... far more of that, preferred behavior, and not-so-much of the wearisome nonsense I'm noticing lately.  The holidays are stressful, the days are short, the sun merely punctuation to long, cold days.  People are on edge.  Heck, *I* probably am, too.  

Deep breath... but, yes:  do find that quieter route, I think.

Tomorrow is another day.

Now, if I can stop wasting time on bikes that AREN'T Surly's Long-Haul Trucker... perhaps I'll be ultimately happier - if not a little lighter in the wallet.  As much as I have a soft spot for interesting frames with interesting stories built from various blends of steel and other precious metals, I've only been talking about a LHT being THE commuter/camper/winter solution for, what.... five years?  More?  

...but, that's another discussion....