Monday, March 30, 2009

The RAAMinator

Last summer, I crewed on the Race Across America (RAAM) for my friend, Jeff Bauer. He and Kevin Kaiser rode across the country on fixed-gear bikes -- coast to coast with no coasting -- from San Diego, CA, to Annapolis, MD, in eight days, four hours, and 21 minutes.

It was a unique experience -- inspiring, exhausting, challenging, and breathtaking. I learned a little more about what human beings are capable of doing, with sufficient determination and preparation.

The preparation part really appealed to me. Jeff made me his crew chief, and I spent a lot of time modifying my Toyota Sienna mini-van so that it could properly support Jeff and his support team as we crawled across the country at 15 mph. It was an organizational and logistical challenge, and that's a part of randonneuring that I love almost as much as the actual riding.

In the course of this, the Sienna morphed into a new creature. It became ... the RAAMinator.

On the outside, the RAAMinator looks mostly like a normal Toyota Sienna. I've added three cross-bars on the roof rack to hold Thule bike trays, Thule wheel holders, and a Thule cargo carrier. We only had to worry about one spare bike and a couple of spare wheels for RAAM, but I've since modified the rack and gotten enough stuff that I could fit five bikes on the roof, with one of them being a tandem.

Also for RAAM, I bought a hitch for the rear and borrowed a two-bike rack from my friend, Bill Glass. For Heart of the South, I replaced that rack with a four-bike rack from Saris. I installed the rack this past weekend, and then used it to tote the Randowife's bike and mine out to a ride Sunday morning. This has got to be the sweetest rack around, and will make our exchanges in the race super-painless.

Since I could now carry four bikes on the back of the RAAMinator, I spent Sunday afternoon moving things around on the roof rack. This roof will now hold two bikes -- and both of them could be singles or tandems. There are six wheel holders up there now, and the cargo box. I even screwed holes in the end of one of the rails so I can now bolt on the speaker for the P.A. system (very important when crewing so you can yell stuff at your rider).

So, let's sum up. The RAAMinator can now hold six bikes -- four on the back and two on the roof. Two of those bikes can be tandems. You have to remove the front wheels from the ones on the roof, but not the ones on the back; thus, the six wheel holders give me room for four spare wheels. And the cargo box gives me room for everyone's luggage, spare parts, etc.

I could now tote eight cyclists (four of them on two tandems) and all of their stuff for a long weekend excursion, if I only had seating inside the RAAMinator for eight cyclists. I can fit seven, but some of them have to be small people or very cozy.

Next post, I'll tell you about the inside of the RAAMinator.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Being Henpecked

Saturday was the first full day of Spring, so I rode my Dog Meat permanent with Jeff Bauer, Jeff Sammons (no relation), Peter Lee, Alan Gosart, Fredia Barry, John Wade, and Vida Greer. The temperature was in the upper 20s at the start, but it eventually got up near 60. Even better, there was no wind.

Dog Meat can be a fun permanent. It's called Dog Meat because we take roads that seem to have a lot of dogs on the loose. Sometimes, we will count the ones that chase us -- yesterday, we had 17, but we have had as many as 46.

Other great things about Dog Meat are the location -- it starts at a Starbuck's two miles from my house, so I can easily bike there and check everybody in while eating a muffin and drinking a coffee -- and the elevation. There's only 5300 feet of climbing on the whole route, and most of the hills are either rolling or short steep pitches, like Paw-Paw Springs Road.

When the wind is light (like Saturday) and you have a fast tandem to draft behind (like Saturday, with Fredia and Jeff B. hammering along), you could easily do Dog Meat in under eight hours.

So, why do we always take at least nine?

It might be because there are controls every 25 miles. Controls on most permanents like Dog Meat are stores, and you have to go into the store, get them to initial your card and write down the time, and usually buy something so you have a receipt. If you go randonneuring a lot, you learn coping mechanisms to get quickly in and out of controls, so they become like rest stops on a club century: You either ride your bike right up to the table, fill your bottles, scarf something, and roll on, or you lean the bike against a tree and walk around, saying "hey" to all the folks that you haven't seen since last year at this century, find out how they've been, look at pictures of their kids, etc.

Most of the Dog Meat controls are easy to roll in and out of. We stop for lunch at the Subway in Chapel Hill, but if we were really in a hurry we could skip it.

No, the real problem is that last control: Henpeck.

Saturday, we had a moving average of 18.1. Just before 2 pm, after seven hours total, with just over 20 miles to the end and 105 miles behind us, we got here:

Now, if you've never been here, this is Henpeck Market, at the corner of Henpeck Road and Lewisburg Pike, just south of Franklin, TN. It's kind of cute from the outside, particularly when you see the rusted bike in the garden and all the nice tables out front. And, although it's close enough to Franklin to put you on some traffic-ish roads, it's still far enough out that you can find a quiet way to get there.

But that's not what we love about it. We love the fact that, after 105 miles, we can eat anything. And they have really good things to eat.

As soon as we pulled up, Peter ran inside. He came out a minute later, saying "They have it." Here's what he looked like:

The "it" that Peter was so happy about is the tomato basil soup, which they had been out of the last couple of times we were there. When it's cold out, there is nothing like a good bowl of hot soup. And, when you're riding really long distances in cold weather, and you stop, you get really cold.

Inside, the store is always bustling. Everyone that works there is super-nice, and acts like they just live to take care of you and bring you some really good food. And the place has this great homey ambiance -- a little country, but urban cool -- with tables and comfortable chairs to sit in and eat, and even a couple of big comfortable living-room chairs if you just want to sit and drink a latte (they have a coffee bar, too) and read the paper.

If you've still got a few miles to go, it's a regular country grocery store, too, with Gatorade and candy bars if you need fuel, and sun block and batteries if there's too much or too little sun.

Here's the ladies in the kitchen hard at work:

Along with the soup, they're making salads and sandwiches and pasta and great calzones. There's a glass counter full of some of the best desserts around, including a cupcake that you absolutely can not eat all of, no matter how hungry you thought you were.

Here's Jeff's tomato basil soup, and some of that really good pasta salad:

With all of this, it would just be rude to try for a sub-eight 200K.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tax on .. uh .. me?

The Oregon House of Representatives have put forward a bill to register all bicycles. This registration would cost $54, would be non-transferrable, and would be required for any bike that "operates on the highways of this state." The money would go into a Bicycle Transportation Improvement Fund that would then be used to fund “bicycle-related transportation improvement projects”.

I'm of two minds on this. Let's call one mind "Jim" and the other mind "Clyde." I wish I could have made one of the minds "Mary" or something, but Randoboy does not have much of a feminine side.

Jim thinks this bill could be a good thing. He is willing to pay his fair share of taxes, and is very willing to contribute towards a fund for "bicycle-related transportation improvement projects."

One thing Jim likes about this bill is that it gives him another foot to stand on (we'll say it's Jim's left foot) when arguing with motorists who claim that they have more right to the roads than he does because their car and gasoline are taxed. Jim knows that he has excellent arguments to counter this position, such as the fact that he owns cars as well and pays taxes on them, and their gas, and on the food that he eats so he can have enough energy to pedal his bike. But Jim likes the idea of pulling out his bicycle registration and waiving it at the next screaming Hummer driver at a stop light, shouting back, "I paid for the use of this road, too!"

Jim can be rather militant. I hope the Hummer dude doesn't pull out a gun, shoot Jim, and drive off saying, "Well, this gun's not registered, so I guess I didn't pay for it."

Clyde, on the other mind, doesn't like the bill. He is not a trusting soul, and knows down deep that the government will use the money for bicycling in about the same way that they use money from the lottery for education. Sure, they may put in a multi-use path in a park, or tack up more signs saying "Share the Road," but he knows that these are not the kinds of things that really make the roads better for cyclists.

What would make the roads better for Clyde, and probably Jim and every other cyclist, is more cyclists. The more of us that there are regularly using the road -- and not just out riding three abreast on a country road on a nice Saturday morning, but going to and from work and school and shopping -- the more drivers have to accept us.

Clyde often shouts out: We're here, we steer, get over it!

(Yeah, Clyde's kind of a dork. And he may have a bit of a feminine side.)

So, doesn't Clyde think that a bill like this, which will raise the awareness of cycling and maybe get people riding to that multi-use path in the park, could be a good thing? No, Clyde thinks that the $54 fee could be too much for some people, and they won't even get on that bike. And, since they don't get on that bike, they will never discover just how much fun it is to get somewhere on their own power. They'll never realize that they really can lessen their carbon footprint, smell the blooming pear trees, slow down, and enjoy that short trip to work.

I own four bicycles, so would I pay $216 to keep riding them? Of course. And if I do, I will continue to demand my piece of the road, although maybe not waive my registration card in Hummer guy's face. If that $216 went towards another bike lane on one of my routes -- or just went towards regularly sweeping the glass and tire bits out of my current bike lanes -- that would be great.

But if a registration fee would keep cyclists off the road, then it would be a bad thing. If they try to get something like this passed in Tennessee, I would fight it.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I hate crashing my bike.

I hate the part where the bike goes out from under you and you fly in the air and then you aren't flying any longer and the ground is really hard. I hate getting pieces of skin torn off. I really hate it when tendons tear and -- although I've been lucky so far and haven't had this happen yet -- bones break.

I hate getting holes ripped in my good shorts or jerseys or jackets or knee warmers or arm warmers. I hate when you smack your head on the pavement so that things go a little woozy, because that means you've probably just ruined a helmet. Skin heals itself, but there's not much you can do with shredded shorts.

Okay, so that's the Scotsman in me.

I really hate when you crash and there are other people around and your crash takes one of them out. Again, this hasn't happened to me, yet, but I came close Sunday.

We were testing a route that my friend Vida Greer is submitting to the folks at Rapha, who make really nice clothing and cycling gear, as one of their Rapha Continental rides. The route has all of these little-known and rarely traveled roads near Leiper's Fork, TN, going down to Fly, Theta, Santa Fe, and other towns down there so small that most of them don't even have a country store.

Here's a good "over-the-shoulder" picture from the ride:

That's Peter Lee in front, about to take a picture of my back. He was taking a bunch of pictures earlier in the ride of my beautiful Lynskey. If he had taken a picture of my back, it would have captured my jacket ... before I tore a hole in it.

To the left of Peter (on Peter's right ... wow, that get's confusing) is Jeff Sammons, the middle Tennessee RBA (Regional Brevet Administrator). Jeff was doing this ride because we had held a 200K in Dover, TN, the day before, but it rained all day and was cold, so Jeff decided (very wisely, I must say) to not start that ride, and was making up Sunday for lost mileage.

To the right of Peter is Lynn Greer, Vida's husband and one of the owners of the Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe: Gran Fondo. Lynn is really very fast. Whereas we were at mile 35 or so after two hours when I took this picture, Lynn would normally have finished all 105 miles by then and would be at the soigneur. But he was keeping us company Sunday and held back for us.

Here's the rest of the Sunday group. That's Jeff Bauer in front, riding fixed because 135 miles with extra gears is too easy for him. Then comes Vida, who is almost as fast as her husband but was also holding back to stay with us. This was good because she knew the route, and otherwise we would still be out there somewhere, like Ned Beatty in "Deliverance."

Behind Vida is Bill Glass -- one of the greatest bike handlers in the world. I've seen Bill in a large, fast pack of riders on a rainy century in the Smokey Mountains, doing 30 on a gradual descent, sit up and take his jacket off. Mad skilz.

So, it was a great group and a really nice route. And then we get to this fast part of Godwin Road, and I'm riding along next to Jeff Bauer, when I see that the road narrows a bit at the turn, and that there's gravel on the left. So I hit my brakes, but it turns out I'm already a little in that gravel, so whoosh ... bang!

The other thing I hate about crashing? It almost always scrapes something. My Lynskey was pristine Sunday morning, but here's the shifter after the crash:

Jeff Bauer managed not to run over me, but had to go over my front wheel. Oddly enough, that wheel was okay, but the back one was toast. I got up and checked to see if anything on me was torn loose, then checked to see if the Lynskey was okay. Since the rear wheel wouldn't turn, even after re-seating it, I figured not.

We didn't have cell coverage, but the very nice lady whose house I had crashed in front of lent me a phone and I called the Randowife. I had a woozy moment and had to sit down, but I think it was more from the crash adrenaline than the head smack (the helmet is history, by the way ... another argument for always wearing your helmet).

Meanwhile, master mechanic Lynn was able to "repair" the wheel so I could get down to Snow Creek and wait for the Randowife to come get me. His repair consisted of judicisously banging the wheel against the road ... but it worked.

Here's Lynn and Bill diagnosing my wheel, and then Lynn fixing it:

We got down to the little church on Snow Creek Road and I tried to send everybody off to finish their ride. They didn't want to leave me alone, though, so Lynn waited with me for about an hour while the group went up Ragsdale Road (a very tough climb that I was sad to miss that day). When they got back, Lynn went with the group south to Fly while Bill stayed with me. When the Randowife got there about half an hour later, Bill headed down to the Trace and home, so he still got a decent long ride.

So, now I'm sore in a few spots and have a bandage on my elbow. The Lynskey is okay: I cleaned it up as soon as I got home and put my spare rear wheel on, so it is whole again. My helmet is in the trash can, and one of my good, long-sleeve wool jerseys will now have a darned hole in it (heh-heh ... sewing humor). The rain jacket that I have used in so many brevets may be retired, although the cheap Scotsman in me is loathe to do so.

But what I feel most of all, though, is glad. I'm glad that I have the kind of friends that don't mind hanging out with me when I crash. I'm glad that these are the kind of friends that invite me to ride with them in the first place, and don't run over me when I crash in front of them, and ask to borrow phones from strangers at a house, and bang my wheel back into round so I can maybe continue the ride, and know how to fix all kinds of other stuff, and worry about me because I crunched my helmet and was a little woozy after the crash. I'm really, really, really glad that I have the Randowife to come pick me up -- driving an hour and a half to fetch me and my bike, and then driving an hour and a half back home -- rather than do the 20 things that she would easily rather be doing on her day off. I'm glad that the Randodaughter insisted that I call as soon as the Randowife picked me up, so that she would know I was okay.

Maybe I should be more careful when I'm out riding, since all of these people seem to care about me. And I probably will be more cautious for a while with fast descents on twisty roads ... especially if there's any sign of gravel. But if I was really careful I would stay at home, inside on rainy days, and not live life anywhere near the edge. Since that's where my friends and loved ones hang out, I guess I'll stick with the edge.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Little Training Ride

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to be part of a four-person team doing the Heart of the South race in April. We've all been training pretty hard individually, and this past weekend we finally got together to train together in "near-race conditions."

I say "near-race conditions" because we were doing the training ride using the protocols we have laid out for the race. We divided into two sub-teams of two riders each, and during the race each sub-team will ride for four hours. This means that rider A will go for an hour, then rider B, then rider A again, and finally rider B again. The sub-team will then take a "break" as the other sub-team goes on and rides, basically, the same way.

I say "break" (Have you noticed that I'm using a lot of quotes today? Like there are deeper meanings to everything. If I was talking to you face-to-face, I'm sure I'd be doing that "finger-thing" to indicate stuff is in quotes. See!? I just did it again!) ... uh, anyway. I say "break" because the sub-team that is not riding bikes has to do crew stuff, since we must have a support vehicle for Heart of the South. As such, when you finish your stint of biking really hard, you get to either drive the van or navigate the course. Your legs may get a bit of a break, but you probably won't get a lot of sleep.

I mention sleep (whew! no quotes!) because this is a 500-mile race, and we don't stop. Or, at least, we don't stop to sleep. We stop to get gas, food, or perform certain necessary bodily functions, but sleep ain't one of those -- in spite of what "doctors" might tell you.

Oops. More finger-thing stuff.

During the day, the support vehicle can "leap-frog" the rider (sigh), which gives the crew a chance to tend to such things as food, etc. if there is a convenient convenience store, restaurant, and so forth. During the night, however, the support vehicle has to stay right behind the rider. If the van needs to stop to get gas or let somebody pee, the rider has to stop riding.

As you can probably imagine, it is a logistical dilemma. This is one of the things about a race like this that appeals to ultra-endurance cyclists, since we love to plan for contingencies and improvise innovative solutions. We are like the Eagle Scout seeking calamities in hopes of proving the value of those 42 merit badges.

The other appeal is, of course, the potential for 30-40 hours without sleep. Maybe it's a macho thing to show that we can hack it. Maybe it's the nirvana of approaching an altered state without having to climb into a sensory deprivation chamber. Maybe we're fighting our death wish with that pseudo-return to the womb. I think we're just nuts.

So, the Training Ride?

Our training ride was 265 miles, from my house in Brentwood, TN, down to South Pittsburg, then east thru Stevenson, AL, before turn north back over the ridge and on home. Our two sub-teams were Jeff Bauer and Alan Gosart, who rode first, followed by Vida Greer and myself.

Here we are before the ride start.

The weather was exceptionally good for this time of year. We started with temperatures in the low 60's, with a high in the afternoon near 80. That evening, it fell into the 50's, so that we had to pull out vests and arm-warmers, but we stayed comfortable.

The wind was less helpful. It blew a pretty steady 15 mph out of the south most of the day, and eased up as evening fell. Unfortunately, this was about the time that we started heading north, and could have used the tailwind. Not that I'm complaining, of course, since the weather on Heart of the South has been horrible for the past couple of years. If we get these conditions in April, I will be ecstatic.

Jeff rode the first hour down to Almaville, where Alan took the next hour to Versailles. Then Jeff came on for another hour, getting us to Bell Buckle. Alan then finished up the team set by riding to Tullahoma. At this point, they had covered 80 miles in four hours, all of it into the stiff headwind.

Meanwhile, we all worked on crew logistics. The trickiest part was navigation: How to call out turns to the rider, what to track on the cue sheet, how to tell the rider he/she is off course. This was compounded by the fact that the route was not in either of the GPSs in the vehicle, and that the cue sheet had some minor errors. This was, of course, my fault as I had only prepared the cue sheet as a back-up that I never expected us to use. Read above comment about contingency plans, and score me Fail.

Another logistical trick was bike shuffling. We had to ensure that the rider coming on duty had his/her bike ready without cluttering up the tailgate rack, moving the "off-duty" bikes up on the roof rack. We developed a good protocol for this, however, and many other potential issues, proving the value of the training ride.

Climbing Protocol

We tested another ride issue during Vida's and my turn. With Jeff and Alan now "off" (sorry), Vida took over riding in Tullahoma. She set a fast pace to near Alto, where I took over.

Now, if you've ever ridden this area, you know what this means. There's a big mountain ridge that goes thru here. About 20 minutes into my turn, I started up the three-mile climb on Alto Road up to Sewanee. Knowing that most teams would have to either slow down for climbs like this or burn up a rider, we had devised a different protocol here.

I started hammering the climb as fast as I could while the van leap-frogged me. One mile up, Vida was out and ready to ride. We overlapped wheels and she took off, while I got into the van and tried not to hurl. Then we leap-frogged Vida (who climbs really FAST) and I got back out. As I said, Vida climbs really FAST, but I had enough time to get my heart rate and breathing down to acceptable levels before she came up, and I then hammered the rest of the climb. We made it to the University of the South campus at the top after less than 15 minutes riding from the base of the mountain.

Back on more level ground, I resumed a brisk pace thru town. Here's what I looked like from the van going down Hwy 156.

As the shadows lengthened, Vida took over and brought us back down off the ridge and into South Pittsburg, TN. Here, we had one of those longer breaks for bodily necessities before I took over again and rode into Alabama thru Stevenson, where we finally began angling northward and out of the wind.

Jeff took over near Bass, AL, as night fell, riding back into Tennessee and to the base of the long climb back up Hwy 56. Since it was dark, we had to stay behind the rider and could not repeat our fast mile-swap climb protocol on this climb. As such, Jeff did the first "half" of the climb before Alan came on. The second "half" turned out to be more like three-quarters, but Alan still managed to maintain an impressive average and soon had us up and over that ridge, before descending back to Alto.

One of the reasons that we had planned such a long training ride -- and not started until after 9 am that morning -- was so that we could test some of the night protocols for the race. To make it even more fun and navigationally challenging, I had plotted a slightly different route for the return trip. Jeff rode fast along the Tour de Cure route back to Tullahoma, where Alan enjoyed more navigational challenges (with a few missed turns) heading to the George Dickel Distillery in Normandy, TN. There we joined our previous route back to Wartrace, where Jeff and Alan finished their cycling duties for the night. We took another quick break, enjoying the hospitality of the coffee shop on the town square, and Vida hit the road.

Although the wind had dropped with nightfall, it was still gently pushing us in the right direction, and our average speeds climbed in spite of the darkness. Vida rode to near Midland, where I took over and rode to near Murfreesboro. Vida enjoyed the last harsh climb up Independent Hill and to the outskirts of Nolensville, letting me do the last 20 minutes back home.

Total ride time was just over 15 hours, for an average speed of about 17 mph. If we can maintain this pace in April, we should be able to finish Heart of the South within our goal time of 35 hours.

Friday, March 6, 2009

You're Late

The coolest thing happened this morning on my daily commute: I got noticed.

My current route is a nice 13.5-mile set of roads that mostly meander through quiet subdivisions and a couple of car-free trails. Usually, I stretch it to an even 15 miles by turning left on Franklin Pike Circle and going down to Panera Bread at Old Hickory. There, I refill my cheap travel coffee cup (which fits perfectly in the rear bottle cage on the Casserrol) and eat breakfast.

Like most humans, I am a creature of habit. I like to park the Casserrol by the rear door at Panera, leaning it against the glass wall right next to my favorite table. Then I go in and order either the orange scone or a cinnamon roll. Sometimes I will also get the nice folks at Panera to wrap up their Three-Seed Demi loaf (good, hearty, whole-grain bread ... yum!) for my lunch. Once I get my food and beverage, then, I can sit at the table, with the Casserroll separated from me by a thin glass partition, eat my scone or cinnamon roll, drink my coffee, and read whatever book or magazine I have brought with me.

On cold mornings, this repast can stretch to about 45 minutes, depending upon what I brought to read. This week, I've been reading Sue Grafton's "'A' is for Alibi." The Randowife has consumed all of Grafton's books, but I'm just starting. Are they good? Well, I've been lingering at Panera for almost an hour every morning this week, so you tell me.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The folks at Panera know me, probably because I'm almost always the only guy in there walking around in cycling clothes. Usually, the person at the counter just asks if I want the scone or the cinnamon roll, and if I also want the demi today. Then we chat for a bit about the weather. If it's cold, they offer sympathy. If it's nice out, they offer a kind of congratulations ... almost as if it's my birthday.

My table (and it is "my table" - Panera doesn't have a headwaiter, but if they did I am certain that he would shoo people away from my table in the morning - "I am so sorry, monsieur, but thees table, eet ees reserved for monsieur Randoboy") is next to a couple of longer tables. Most mornings, there is a men's Bible study group at one or both of these. It's usually different sets of middle-aged men, and maybe there are groups from different denominations, but they're all getting good Christian fellowship on their way in to work. Not surprisingly - since this is Brentwood, TN - I've never seen a men's Koran study group, or a Buddhist study group, or a Jewish study group. Maybe they're at another Panera ... or Breugger's Bagels.

And, of course, I do my own preaching there, usually when I'm getting coffee. As we're lined up waiting for the Hazelnut Roast, somebody will often ask the obvious question: Why did Lance come out of retirement?

Just kidding, the question is usually a "duh" one, such as, "Did you bike here?" (to which I must bite my tongue to forestall my sarcastic answer regarding how, no, I just like to dress like a dork) or the more thoughtful query: "How far did you ride?"

Most are impressed with the fact that I had ridden 10 miles so far, and we go on from there. I tell them how wonderful my cycling commute is, how cars don't bother me much so long as I stay off the really busy roads, and how a 15-mile commute lets me burn off my morning scone (and probably the cinnamon roll, too ... I'll have to check the calories). Some of them even say that maybe they'll try it, although I must admit that every morning I still seem to be the only dork in cycling clothes hanging out at Panera.

This Yehuda Moon comic kind of sums it up:
Anyway, this morning I was running a little behind, and I didn't get to Panera until 7:15. A guy in the parking lot called out to me, "Hey! You're late this morning." I didn't recognize him - he didn't work there and I don't remember giving him my coffeepot spiel - but he had obviously noticed me. I had made an impression on him as "a fellow human that commutes by bike." And the more people there are that get to know more folks like me, the more people there are that will behave when they pass us in their cars, give us our space, and treat us like humans.

So, I'm doing a good thing. Hopefully, my employer will understand, then, why I must now start hanging out at Panera even longer every morning.

If altruism burns calories, maybe I can have the scone and the cinnamon roll.

Ain't Antisocial

I haven't written for a while, mostly because I had nothing to say. The weather was crummy here, and I didn't get outside at all last weekend (five hours on the trainer ... yuck).

But the weather has been better this week, at least the past few days of this week. Monday, it was windy as all get out and the temperature barely got over freezing, but I rode in to work any way. It was better than the trainer, and that's all I've got to say about that.

But Wednesday was warmer, and Thursday was great. Both of those days I rode in to work, and was able to ride home in the afternoon in just shorts and a long-sleeve wool jersey. And Thursday night, I did the track with the rest of the Harpeth Bicycle Club.

Go Straight. Turn Left. Repeat.

I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but I'm going to give you more details today. My bike club rents out the Nashville Speedway (also known as the Music City Motorplex, but I've gotten jaded about anything that refers to Nashville as Music City ... I mean, c'mon ... like there's not music in every city?!) on Thursday nights. Members can ride around the quarter-mile oval, under the lights, between 6 and 8 pm.

It's great ... sort of. It's an opportunity to ride a bike - which I always like - without having to worry about cars, dogs, cats, flooded rivers, rabid marsupials, etc. And you get to ride on a weeknight, but you don't need lights and reflective gear and stuff. You don't even have to bring a spare tube and a frame pump, since you're just a couple hundred yards walk to your car ... if you drive there, which I didn't last night, since my office is only about 20 minutes by bike (15 by car) from the track. Which is another plus.

But it's dull riding. Sure, you can talk to the other riders some, but not much since we're not supposed to ride two abreast. And, of course, it's pretty darned near flat, except for the banked turns, so you don't get the fun of steep climbs and swift decents. Finally, obviously, there ain't much to see. Even the Coyote Ugly billboard at the northeast turn quickly loses its charms.

So, you can either jump in a paceline with the racers, which is exciting and will give you a good workout, or do what I've been doing pretty much for the last few weeks and ride tempo.

Tempo? Like the Bossa Nova?

For those of you who don't formally train but just ride your bike, tempo training is riding hard - basically, 85-95% of your threshold. Get on your bike on a calm, level piece of road and go as hard as you can - until your eyes start to bug out of your head and you think you're gonna hurl - and then back down just a smidge. Whatever your heart rate or wattage (if you train using power) is then, that is tempo riding for you. Ride at this level for an hour or two each week, and you will become faster. PezCycling News has a great article, if you need more information.

A quarter-mile oval is ideal for tempo riding. You just stay in your lane and keep turning the cranks so that the power-meter and/or heart rate monitor stays at the right level. Mind-numbing? Yes. You can't even get in a fast paceline, usually, because the ebb and flow of the group won't match the level you're supposed to ride ... at least, not for long. But, when there ain't much scenery ("Oh, look. The Coyote Ugly billboard again."), this is the way to go.

Last night, as I went round and round and round, I noticed a number of the folks from the club were hanging out in the southwest corner, where we're supposed to come on and off the track. I would have liked to stop by and chat, but that would have broken the workout routine. Also, the Randowife was out there with me doing her workout. I would have liked to ride some with her, and find out how her day went, but that would have broken both of our workout routines.

So there I was, going round and round and round, passing and being passed by my friends, and barely able to spare enough breath for a quick "Hey!" It's the price I pay in the effort to become faster.

I don't want y'all to think that I don't care - I just want y'all to know that I'm being antisocial for a cause.