Monday, August 18, 2008


Heavy subject, eh? I'll try to keep it light, though.

In my blog entry about the Rocky Mountain 1200k, "Survival of the Fattest," I mentioned my friend Josh. I do all of my really hard rides wearing a blue bracelet, similar to the infamous yellow "Livestrong" ones. The bracelet says: "Josh: But I get up again."

Josh would have been 15 yesterday.

When he was nine months old, Josh was diagnosed with cancer - rhabdomyasarcoma - and they had to remove his bladder, prostrate, and seminal vesicles. Can you imagine that? Being a kid that young and having stuff cut out? I don't even like to try to imagine being the parent of that kid. It gives me the willies.

But Josh survived it. The doctors built him a new bladder, somehow, and he went through all the things that most every other kid goes through - crawling, walking, running, falling down, and getting back up again. He started school and did homework (usually) and got crushes and climbed trees and fell out of them, and got back up again. And, although he didn't have cancer any more, he got sick a little more often than others and would have to hassle with stuff that most other kids didn't - such as spending weeks at a time in a hospital bed and having tubes running into places that tubes aren't supposed to go and sometimes getting infections from all of this stuff and those tubes and getting sick all over. There were lots of things he couldn't eat and some stuff that he had to eat that tasted horrible - yes, even worse than steamed squash - and times that he couldn't eat anything at all. But he kept on being a kid and ignoring the hassles as best as he could and doing all the usual kid stuff like playing hide-and-seek and video games and running around and around and around.

We first met Josh when we lived in Tampa in 2001. I never thought of him as a sick kid. Like most people, when you met him you thought of him as just a kid, usually running around and around and around. When you talked to him you thought he was a really mature kid, because you probably thought he was younger than he was because he was a little small for his age. And sometimes you might notice that he had a small messenger bag - probably a book bag, right? - and you later found out that it wasn't a messenger bag. But you definitely did not think of him as sick.

And then you would hear that he was the Honorary Chairman for the Relay for Life for two years in Tampa, and you would be surprised when you found out he was a cancer survivor. Then you might hear the whole story and be really stunned. Josh, the little kid with all the energy? They removed what?!

The randodaughter attended one of the Relay for Lifes (Lives?), and she and Josh and some other kids spent the entire night running around a high school football field with people walking on the track all night to raise money for cancer research and bring awareness to the disease. I came to pick the randodaughter up about 9 am the next morning and she looked much more tired than Josh did. We couldn't leave for another hour because she and Josh and I had to beat some students from University of South Florida in a "mini-Olympics" event ... you know, where you see who can jump up and down on one foot longer and that kind of thing. We won.

Josh passed away in late 2005, right after the randowife and randodaughter and I moved to Tennessee. University Community Hospital, where the randowife and I worked with Josh's mom and dad, Liz and James, still hosts a Caring Bridge site for Josh. There, you can read hundreds of comments from the people that knew and loved Josh. It is, literally, stunning just how much of an impact that a kid - who only spent 12 years on this planet - could have made in the lives of so many people.

Which brings us back to the topic of mortality.

Our time here is short - shorter than it should be for some people - so it's what we do with that time that matters. If we do things that make the world a better place - even if it's just living life as large as you can in spite of being small - then we inspire others. Josh inspired me to finish a 1200K. Someday, hopefully, the randodaughter will tell her grandchildren about me, and how I used to ride these ridiculously long distances on a bicycle, and maybe they will be inspired to do something hard just for the challenge of it. She may not remember that it was Josh that inspired me to do these things, but the effect will be there and Josh will continue to live on.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Paying for Long Distance

I like my bike. I like to ride my bike. I am usually happy when I ride my bike.

This brings up one of the strange dichotomies of ultra-distance cycling. You would think that it is the ultimate opportunity to ride your bike ... a lot. But I have recently found that the ultra-distance event itself may force you to ride your bike less. Worse, it makes some of that riding unpleasant.

Here's what I mean. To do the Rocky Mountain 1200K in July, I tapered in the weeks preceding the event. Ordinarily, at this time of year, I ride between 200 and 250 miles per week; two weeks before the RM1200 I did just over 150 miles, and the week immediately before I only rode about 90 miles.

Now, sure, the week of the ride I did 775 miles, which should more than make up for my loss of riding bliss during the preceding weeks. But did I enjoy all 775 of those miles? Alas, I must admit that I did not. Times arose during the course of that ride that I was not having a heck of a lot of fun. To be honest, times arose during the course of that ride that, had the opportunity presented itself, I would have sold my bicycle for $20 (Canadian) and caught the next Greyhound bus back to Kamloops.

These are the times when you think, "I just want this ride to be over." So you lean into the wind and keep turning the pedals over, and eventually the ride is over. Or sometimes you stop and take a picture of something, or get an ice cream, or just sit in the grass for a few minutes. But, as my friend Jeff Bauer once said, "the control isn't moving towards us," so you might as well get back to work.

And eventually the ride ends and you get to sleep for more than five hours ... in a bed, even! ... and then you drive to the airport and fly home and catch up on all of the stuff that you have to catch up on while you were very indisposed in the middle of nowhere without a computer, cell phone, lights, motorcar, or a single luxury. By this time it's been four or five days since the 1200K ended and you think you might like to get on a bike again because (remember?) you like to ride your bike.

Well, I got back on the bike and some things hurt. Not just the things that you would think hurt, because a lot of that had pretty much healed and other things were still numb, but my knees hurt. They had hurt during the RM 1200 after the first 500K, but I figured that was normal. However, they still hurt the weekend before last, and they hurt riding to and from work last week, and they hurt on the hard 115-miler that I did Sunday, and they hurt right now just sitting here writing this blog entry.

When your knees hurt if you ride your bike, you may find that you don't want to ride your bike as much. Which is probably a good thing, since pain is your body's way of saying, "Hey, buttwad, cut it out." So I am listening to my body and not riding this week. At all.

Well, until Saturday, when I'm doing an Arrow to Huntsville, Alabama. That's a 230-mile ride that I'm supposed to do with three other Nashville randonneurs - Jeff Sammons, Kent Kersten, and David Bauer - starting at 7 am Saturday and ending at 7 am Sunday. Hopefully, my knees will cooperate, or at least be placatable with massive doses of ibuprofen. If they still hurt just sitting around ... well, that's why I said "supposed to do" above.

Anyway, back to my point about 1200Ks keeping you from riding your bike. As I said, the two weeks after the 1200K I barely rode 200 miles, and I'll probably only do 230 miles this week. And if my knees are still hurting me I may even take a week or two completely off the bike (agh!). So, if you add it all up (hmmm, carry the two ...) you'll see that, during an eight-week period when I would normally ride 1600 to 2000 miles at this time of year, I will barely get to ride 1600 miles. And I really only enjoyed about 800 of those. Well, maybe 900.

The part that is really irritating is missing out on my little rides to and from work. In spite of the traffic and all the junk I have to carry, ordinarily biking into the office just cheers me up so much. It's like eating cake before the steamed squash (don't ask my mom about me and steamed squash - she will go into the longest story). Even though it's just a little 12-mile ride, as long as red pickup trucks don't try to sideswipe me, the ride really brightens things up and makes the day much more palatable, and I miss it.

Hopefully, though, the time off will put everything right and I will be able to mount up again and do normal distance in a few weeks. September will be almost upon us, then, and that means warm days and cooler evenings, and soon the leaves will start to change. Wool jerseys and fresh knees ... yes!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What Cracking Sounds Like

A few weeks ago, a friend was telling me what to listen for when you've cracked the rider behind you on a long climb. She said that if the rider behinds you coughs or spits, it's usually a good indicator that he/she is redlining, and that this is the time to attack. I immediately thought of an evil trick, and have since been getting behind someone going up a long hill and trying to fake them out with a cough or a spit. I want to see if they will go early, so I can hang on and swoop them at the top for those precious group ride KOM points.

"Hooray for me," I will shout. "I won the Tuesday Night Ride." Alert VeloNews.

(By the way, nobody has fallen for this yet. Which is probably good because hefty old farts like me don't have enough oomph left to swoop anybody on a long hill.)

Anyway, the other night I thought of some other sounds you could listen for on a long climb to know when to attack:
  • Water-bottle shake. This is the sloshy rattle of somebody pulling out their water bottle and trying to unclump the Cytomax from the bottom. This is either your cue to drink something because the Shaker behind you will attack when they put their bottle back, or attack now while their mouth is full of drink.
  • Shifter clunk. Even better, if you have super-hearing, is if you could hear the sound of aborted shifter clunk. This is what happens when you push the lever over to get into the 25-tooth cog, and find that you're already in the 25-tooth cog.

Now, these are both obvious ones. Here's some less-well-known-but-good-sounds-to-key-an-attack-off-of-(pardon-my-dangling-participle):

  • Ring ... ring ... "Hey, what's up?" When somebody answers their cell phone behind you on a long steep hill, you either need to attack or tap out and go do the Beginner's Ride.
  • Chain-drop rattle. You probably don't really need to attack at this point, but I wanted to throw this in. We've all had it happen, and most of us have had it happen when we're going so slow that we can't unclip and we fall over and take out a couple of other riders (sorry about that Janet and Mike). Or maybe that was just me.
  • "Charging paddles ... clear!" I mean, if the guy's having a heart attack anyway, he probably won't even be in contention to win the Tuesday Night Ride. And ambulances tend to slow up the pack behind you.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tandem-Sucking: A Primer

Sunday I was finally healed up enough from the Rocky Mountain 1200K to join a group ride with my friends at the Harpeth Bicycle Club. This was their infamous "Pancake Ride" - a gentle 25-mile meander out-and-back to Puckett's Grocery in Leiper's Fork for buckwheat pancakes washed down with Gatorade. I rode over to the start in Franklin from my house to stretch the mileage up to Randoboy levels.

The Pancake Ride is so popular because a lot of folks use it for recovery from harder efforts on Saturday. It's a pretty flat route, with one semi-harsh-but-short bump in the middle, and the roads are pretty lightly travelled at that time of day. Some folks do it hard, but if you feel like doing a nice 15-mph spin you will not be alone at the tail of the pack. We had about 40 riders at the start Sunday morning - pretty good considering it was almost 80 degrees then and promised to go over 90 before the day was out.

Any time you get a "fairly flat" route, the odds are good that you'll get at least one tandem. For those that don't know what a tandem is, it's a bicycle built for two ... you know, "Daisy, Daisy" yadda-yadda. Speaking of which, am I the only one nowadays that always thinks of "2001: A Space Oddysey" when I hear that song? I hear HAL singing it, then slowing down, and slowing down, before he dies and the guy in the nehru jacket suit (which we are ALL supposed to be wearing now, according to Stanley Kubrick, plus we should be taking vacations on the moon) explains to us the real meaning of all the stuff that happened earlier in the movie. Except the thing with the monkey-men. He never explains that. Or the creepy space baby at the end.

But, anyhow, a tandem. It's usually two riders - the guy up front is the captain and the person in back is the stoker. Once you start noticing them you will eventually see some built for three and four riders. There are some made for even more riders, but at that point you're approaching clown-car kind of stuff. The bottom line is, however, this: The power-to-weight potential for a tandem is Huge.

"Oh come on," you say. "It's usually a couple of geezers in matching jerseys from some week-long tour. Sure, they're cute, especially with that little bell. But why talk about power-to-weight ratio when it comes to Captain HAL and Stoker Daisy on their big clunky bike with the high-spoke count wheels?"

Yes, you'll say that. Until you're zipping along a flat stretch of the local charity century with the "elite" peloton, thinking that you are Hincapie as you hold a steady 27-mph on this flat stretch into the wind, strung out two-abreast. Then you hear the little bell -- ching-ching ... ching-ching -- as three tandems cruise past, the stoker on the back of each nodding a polite "good morning" to everybody as she tucks behind the captain's back and churns the pedals like Lance. I think Daisy just gave you your answer, true, and that answer is "Buh-bye."

And, yes, normally you'll get to the signature climb of the event and pass those tandems back as they churn up a 10% grade at 6 mph, renewing your self-respect as the hairy-chested (but not hairy-legged) bike stud you know that you are. You smile a little to yourself, and maybe your compadres, but you keep pouring it on all the way up because you know, damned good and well, that gravity works and that if you are not way the hell ahead of those two-headed beasts before they start down the mountain they will boom past you like an overloaded semi with overheated brakes and you will not see them until the next rest stop, where they will be topping off bottles and mounting back up while you queue up for water behind the metric rider who is already wearing the event jersey.

Or, you can be smart and suck that big wheel. "Horrors!" you say, and recoil. Yet, why is that that you are willing to let the local cat 2's sit up front and swap off pulls for you, but you refuse to glom onto the wheel of the tandem train? If you must, you can still zip around them when you get to Mount Ridiculous and pretend to be Pantani as you head for the top. When they pass you later on the way to Brokeback Ridge you can even still grab back on and sit in that huge tandem vortex for the next six miles, recovering for the next attack.

As a sometime tandem captain, I can tell you this: We expect it. We know that there ain't no hole like a tandem hole, and that only a fool or a masochist lets us glide by without grabbing that easy draft in the late morning heat.

So, since Sunday was hot and the Pancake Route is a good tandem route, I was a tandem wheel-sucker. As I was cruising along in the draft, barely having to turn the pedals, I noticed a number of mistakes being made by my fellow "single" riders in the pack. Therefore, I decided that it was time for me to finally write this blog entry to explain to my readers the guidelines for ...

Riding the Tandem Train
  1. Don't get between tandems. If you've got a string of tandems up front, leave them up front. Just like "real" bicycles, they will tap out and fall back and let the next tandem pull. When they do, let them back into the paceline behind the last tandem. Also, if you see one of the tandems let a gap open, don't assume that somebody is cracking. Tandems do not stop like "real" bikes, so we often let small gaps open up while we eat, drink, corner, and so forth. If we really crack, we will usually holler something like "We're off," or "Goodbye, Bill -- We'll see you at the rest stop" before we pull out of the line. Yes, this can make things tough on those behind us as they close the gap, but usually the tandems up front will slow down a bit as they decide what to do ("Robert and Carol are off." "Should we slow down?" "Nah, it's only three miles to the rest stop" "Yeah, I gotta pee. Let's keep going."). Singles wouldn't do this, but would instead put the hammer down and laugh at the poor souls on the wrong end of the gap. Tandems are (usually) less mean.
  2. Don't pull for us. Yes, you probably could give us a bit of a break, but the dynamic of a single versus a tandem is such that it's not worth the trouble - you don't make enough of a hole and your pacing is just off enough to make us less efficient. I know that your Puritan work ethic demands that you give rather than just receive, but this is that rare situation where no payment is required. You can let Daisy cut in line for the port-a-potty at the rest stop if you really want to contribute something.
  3. Get out of our way, particularly on the downhills. Like you, we hate to use our brakes, particularly since we just worked very hard getting up Heart-Attack Hill and need to stretch out our cramping quads. That cute little bell is our nice way of saying, "Fast-mover coming through, Clyde, so get your little carbon fiber toy all the way to the freaking right!" Some of us don't have a bell or a horn, and must instead yell "On your left!" The "putz" at the end is implied.
  4. Don't do dumb stuff in front of us. You can do dumb stuff behind us, since it rarely affects us, but do not start through the intersection and then loop back because you decide to return to the rest stop for one more chocolate-covered Oreo. Tandems, obviously, do not turn like singles. We're bigger, in case you didn't notice. And there is a lot of coordination involved, since we have two riders who are both spinning away. When the captain has to quickly stop spinning and hit the brakes the stoker gets jerked around. And if you do something stupid that makes the tandem fall down, when Daisy gets up she will kick your skinny little a$$.
  5. Don't entertain us. Telling the captain that "she's not pedaling" may have been funny. Once. Probably millenium ago, like when the monkey men were jumping around the black obelisk. And then the joke got told again and the Daisy monkey stoker picked up a big bone and Blammo! You can tell us how cute we are in the matching jersey/helmet/shoes/socks, or how you just love the little bell (so long as you are heeding the above warning of the little bell), but leave the comedy to the professionals.

Follow these rules and you, too, can start doing sub-five hour centuries without redlining the heartrate. Break the rules, though, and you may find HAL and Daisy flicking snot-rockets at you before they ratchet up the pace and drop you on the side of the road in a swirl of dust, with a forlorn "ching ... ching" vanishing into the distance.

Friday, August 1, 2008


I've uploaded the pictures I took at the ride, putting them on Snapfish. Here's the short link:

You'll no doubt notice that there are a lot of pictures of the Masi and not many pictures of other people. This is because the Masi stayed with me, whereas other riders would not ride for me long due to my particularly abrasive personality. Further, there are so many pictures because I would look for reasons to stop the bike and shoot a few things. There are not many pictures of the last day because I was looking to 'git er done.'