Tuesday, July 28, 2009

There's Pain, and Then There's Pain

Like 96% of the people who don't live in France, I like Lance Armstrong. He seems like a pretty sharp guy -- intelligent, insightful, and strong-willed -- and it is generally fun to watch him in a bike race. We will stay away from the topic of doping, since he's never been caught, but I have never seen him lie, although he is not above a bit of misdirection in the name of racing strategy. I even like him in his movies.

People like to quote Lance's description of "sweet pain" when they describe climbing mountains on a bike, and I agree. Sure, it hurts to be pushing out maximum watts for an hour, grinding your way up that hill, but it's worth it. At the top of the mountain, the view is best, the air is clearer and less muggy, and there are usually fewer mosquitoes. You get to look back down and say, "I did that." You also get to look down the other side and say, "Now, I get to descend that." Yee-haw!

But there are other kinds of sweet pain. I was reminded of one last Monday morning on my ride in to work, when it was 59 degrees -- tying the low temperature for Nashville on July 20 -- and my knees hurt. That's a sweet pain, too: Riding early on a chilly morning, your knees hurting, but knowing that it's going to warm up just enough to be a perfect day to be outside.

And that got me thinking of some other sweet pains:
  • A late fall morning following the first time back in the weight room, where you were trying to build strength for next year, when your biceps hurt every time you straighten your arm, so you keep straightening your arm.
  • Getting up from the table after eating that last bite of cheesecake from Buca de Beppo, picking up your left-over stuffed shells, and waddling for the door.
  • The next morning, looking down at the scale. The pain is how much the number has jumped from the morning before, but the sweetness is your memory of that cheesecake.
  • Knuckle-cracking. People that don't do it, don't get it. Those of us that can crack weird things (I can do my forearm by tightening the muscles on top), love it.
If you have any sweet pains, tell me about them in the Comments below. Keep it clean, though; the RandoDaughter still reads this blog sometime.

Cancer Sucks

If you get a chance this week, channel some good energy toward the Nelson family. If you don't follow the Fat Cyclist's blog, his wife is in her own Stage 20 against Cancer. Cancer climbs like Contador, sprints like Cavendish, and is more obnoxious than LeMonde. Susan has fought a good fight, and Elden and the kids will need a lot of strength to get through the next few months.

Get your own knuckles at the knuckle tattoo gun.

If you have any spare energy left over, channel some of it at Wilson Fly.

Those of us in Middle Tennessee who regularly ride the Natchez Trace know Mr. Fly as the owner of the small store on Highway 7, about one mile off the Trace. This store is literally an oasis for all of us -- a place where we can get water on the hottest days, warm up by the pot-bellied stove on the coldest days, and always enjoy a sandwich for one dollar. For those that live down there, the store is where you go to pick up a loaf of bread and hear about who bagged a 12-point buck, or whose farm is for sale.

Mr. Fly just found out he has stomach cancer. He also doesn't have any insurance, so is in a real bind.

Get your own knuckles at the knuckle tattoo gun.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What a Long, Strange Tour It's Been

Some random musings from the Tour de France ...

They're going to make a movie about Denis Menchov. He will be played by Arte Johnson.

If they're going to have a white jersey for the best young rider (under 26), then they should have a black jersey for the best old rider (over 36). Lance would have that locked up, and it would force George Hincapie to come back next year.

They're going to make a movie about George Hincapie talking about losing stage 14. He will be played by Joe Piscopo, using his Doug Whiner voice. Joe and George even have the same hair.

While I'm being "wrong" like this, I gotta ask: Am I not the only one who kind of wants Alberto Contador to have just a minor crash, or maybe just bonk big-time, so that Lance slips into yellow on top of the Mont Ventoux? Be honest, now.

They made a movie about Fabian Cancellera back in 1984. In that movie, the peloton, played by Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn, kept dropping Mr. Fabulous, but he would keep chugging along up the climbs and descending like a mad man, so that in the next scene he would show up and attack.

How is it that Andy Schleck can be my height, come from a country known for exceptional chocolates, and weigh 35 pounds less than I do? It's not fair! Oh, wow ... I sound like George Hincapie now.

After watching Versus for three weeks, I am wondering if there is such a thing as "un-natural male enhancement?" Is there female enhancement -- natural or un-natural -- and why don't they sell that on Versus? They seem to be trying to sell Cadillacs driven by women.

Craig Hummer is grating on me a little less this year, kind of like Al Trautwig grew on me before Craig came along. As he becomes less irritating, Craig will be replaced next year by an un-naturally enhanced female -- maybe Kristanna Loken as T-X from the third Fabian Cancellera movie. She will kill Bob Roll during the start of the show for the second stage -- stabbing him in the brain right thru the gap in his teeth -- and Phil and Paul will become her bitches, and will pick Yauheni Hutarovich and Niki Terpstra to win each stage from there on. Then she and Fabian will have a huge battle to save the Earth.

Is it just me, or does it seem as if this year has had more breakaways that stay, with some kid winning who either starts crying or gets so crazy that he forgets to zip up his jersey?

Not that I'm complaining, but you gotta wonder who's scripting this stuff.

Ah ... James Cameron.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Recreation vs Travel

The weather here in Tennessee was magnificent this past weekend, with highs near 80 and very little humidity. It was also the RandoDaughter's birthday on Saturday, so I did not ride much.

The RandoDaughter actually apologized at one point, but I told her that I did not at all mind giving up a weekend of nice weather for her birthday. Having fun with her, and making sure that she had a special time, was much more important than any ride could ever be. Her apologizing like that, though, just shows what a sweet, thoughtful kid ... er, person (she is 18 now, after all) she is.

RandoGirl and I went out for a short ride very early Saturday morning, however, going down to Bethesda to climb Pulltight Hill a couple of times. This is a great little route, just over 50 miles, with four fun climbs -- a nice mix of flat tempo and steady climbing. The cool, clear air made for a great view from the top of Pulltight. You could almost see Spring Hill.

We came back on Wilson Pike, which the state recently re-paved with a nice wide shoulder. Of course, they immediately ruined it by putting in some kind of rumble trench just to the right of the white line. This is a divot, about an inch deep and six inches wide. I'm not sure what it's supposed to do for cars, but it makes the shoulder only marginally tenable for bikes.

So, we get to the top of the hill, past the part with the rumble divot, and the shoulder opens up very wide right where you see the "Welcome to Brentwood" sign. I called over my shoulder to RandoGirl: "Welcome to Brentwood. A bicycle-friendly community."

And that got me to thinking: Really?

Over the course of the past few years, Brentwood has put in a lot of multi-use trails. RandoGirl and I actually got on the new one that runs along Split Log Road. It was nicely paved, separated from the road, and certainly a nice way to travel on a bike.

And that path actually goes somewhere. You can get to at least four schools, a library, a YMCA, a recreation center, and three parks on that paths, or paths to which it connects. Using those paths, you can ride a bike to a number of fun places.

But not to any stores, nor office buildings. There are no paths -- nor bike lanes -- into downtown Brentwood, Cool Springs, or Maryland Farms. These paths do not connect up to any bike lanes that you can take into downtown Nashville, either.

The point is that these paths are really just for play. They are for people to walk or run on, or ride cruiser bikes when the weather is really nice. In that regard, I think that they are great.

But they do not make Brentwood more bike-friendly. Instead, a bicycle on these paths is just an afterthought. I can hear realtors pointing them out to folks moving here from Tucson, saying "You can walk or run or skate ... even ride a bike on them."

In this way, Brentwood reflects the mindset of America regarding the bike. In Europe, a bicycle is still considered by most people a valid form of transportation, but here in America it is a child's toy, and not to be taken seriously.

America is a country of adults that outgrew their bicycles years ago. And that is a shame.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Here in the moist underbelly of the United States (a phrase that only those of us who have ever been sufficiently obese that we actually had a moist underbelly ... the kind you have to occassionally apply antifungal ointments to ... need I say more?), we've been suffering a bit of an insect infestation. We get just enough rain to form breeding grounds for mosquitoes, bloom the foliage sufficient to offer succor to chiggers, yet keep the ground dry enough to embolden fleas and ticks.

It would be like The Perfect Storm, but without George Clooney and Markey Mark (sorry, RandoGirl). What keeps it from being that kind of rare, once-in-a-lifetime conflagation, however, is the fact that this is what happens every summer here in the moist underbelly.

Some years, believe it or not, it is worse. If we don't get at least one hard freeze during the warm winter, for example, then the insect population blooms even earlier in the spring. This means that the bugs of summer are older, bigger, and smarter. And a six-month-old mosquito is a wily critter.

Now, I know that the lifespan of a mosquito is either a week or a month, depending upon gender. Like humans, female mosquitos live four times as long as males. This is best for the continuation of the species, but also because (like humans) female mosquitos have four times as much to say as male mosquitos do.

Just kidding! Ha-ha. Please don't kill me in my sleep, RandoGirl.

Anyhow, my point (and, yes, oddly enough I do have one) is that Tennessee is freaking rife with bugs this time of year, and some of these bugs have been making themselves felt -- and tasted -- during evening rides.

Yes, I'm talking about gnat swarms.

You're riding along in the sweltering afternoon mugginess, trying hard to drop those four guys at the end of the pack who've been hanging on for dear life during the past three miles. You come over the hill and start hammering down into the shady valley, opening up the gap. Suddenly, you're being peppered by kamikaze gnats, smashing themselves all over your arms, chest, and face. Most of them seem to go right into your mouth, getting sucked in with the air from which you are desperately trying to extract every possible oxygen atom. You grimace, spit, and start wiping your mouth with your glove, blowing gnats out of your nose, and then wiping gnats off of your tongue. Meanwhile, the four guys on the back are now safely in the slipstream again, and will soon attack on the next hill.

You've got gnatpox.

There is no cure. There is no vaccine. You cannot avoid the gnat swarms because you will never see them in time. By the time you are into the swarm, you are already through the swarm and it is Too. Darn. Late.

The only advice I can give you is to wash your face as soon as you finish the ride. If you load up your bike and stop by Wendy's on the way home, you will scare everyone as you walk in with dozens a black speckles on your face. Since your typical Wendy's Assistant Manager does not have the background in contagious disease that would enable him to tell the difference between gnatpox and Legionnaire's Disease, you will be thrown to the ground and trampled as the other customers flee in panic. Eventually, you will be deloused by haz-mat suited agents of the Centers for Disease Control, strapped to a gurney, rolled into a glass-walled climate-controlled room in the bowels of an un-named government building, and slathered in antifungal cream.

The good news is that this will clear up the mold growing on your moist underbelly.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Commuted Sentence

Yes, I did not post anything last week. I could blame the weather, the Tour, gingivitis, or General Ennui (head of the Latvian Air Force, which has no planes but does have a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator ... although the joystick has not worked since they upgraded to Windows 95 ... their battle cry is "Meh" ... the lack of exclamation point is, sadly, on purpose). But, to be honest, I just didn't have anything worth saying.

And then, I rode in to work Friday and was inspired. Part of it was things like this:

Now, I've already mentioned my feelings surrounding bike lanes (if you swap the first letters, you get "like banes," which is only marginally interesting). But at least a bike lane is an attempt at supporting the needs of cyclists. Most of the ones here in Nashville don't go anywhere, of course, but if you can find a route that puts you (however briefly) in a lane that you can call your own, you at least have a few seconds of "happy time." These are the fleeting moments when you can know, without fear that you are really just becoming delusionally paranoid, that the huge red truck passing you scant inches from your shoulder really is just doing that to mess with you.

So, when cars park in the bike lane, it really ticks me off. It's kind of like when your girlfriend's dog craps in your shoe -- Fifi is telling you that, much as you might like to think otherwise, you really have no freaking rights here.

Just after I took this picture and started rolling again, a cop car passed me. He drove right past the lane-violating Alabamian above, and of course did not issue a ticket. I should have been surprised but, then, this is Tennessee. I wish I could say that I expect cops to enforce the Three-Foot Law, but I'm frankly just happy when they themselves abide by it.

But, the good part of my Friday commute was that I actually saw two other bicycles commuting somewhere.

We're taking over, world!

Raining on My Parade

About 3 pm Friday, however, it started to rain.

This is why a lot of people do not commute by bike in the southeastern United States. The fact of the matter is that, during the summer, there is a good chance that we will have afternoon thunderstorms. You may as well plan for it.

So, for the public good, I am going to give you my Tips on Bike Commuting in the Rain. Because sharing my wealth of knowledge is part of the munificence that is RandoBoy.

Tip 1: It Ain't no Thang

Some people in your office may offer you pity when the skies open up at quitting time. For most of them, it's genuine; but for some, it is vindication of their assumed superiority of the "Automotive Life" (coming soon to Fox, starring Paris Hilton).

Do not show weakness (that's when the terrorists win). Instead, just shrug like rain is no big deal. My stock response is, "As an embryo, I was coated with a semi-permeable membrane that keeps most moisture out. We call it 'skin.'"

Yeah, it's a pretty smart-a$$ed response. Typical RandoBoy.

The same thing goes when you're on the road. At red lights, look up at the rain and smile. Catch some rain drops on your tongue. Wave like a happy idiot at the cars. And, most of all, if someone rolls down their window and offers you a ride, look at them as if they are crazy ... as if they just asked you if you wanted to get off of the best roller coaster in the world ever and go sit in the little pink carriage on the merry-go-round.

Tip 2: You Can't Out-Run It

Everyone knows that brakes don't work as well when wet, that roads are slippery (especially right after the rain starts or on painted lines), and that there's lots of stuff hiding under the water (where you can't see it) that will ruin your wheel or at least give you a flat. It doesn't even need to be mentioned here.

So I won't.

Tip 3: Be Street Legal

As a vehicle, in most states when you are on the road you need a properly visible front and rear light. A lot of cyclists remember to turn on the rear light, but forget about the front. Turn it on -- you may not need it to light up the road, but the car pulling out of the side street ahead of you needs it to keep from hitting you.

Besides, you want to be street-legal, right? If you don't obey all of the traffic laws, how can you become righteously indignant when the cars around you don't? And indignance without righteousness is like Turret's Syndrome without the facial tics -- it's amusing for a while, but soon turns into an Adam Sandler movie.

You may want to put on that bright yellow rain jacket or vest now. You've been carrying it in your bag all summer, anyhow, so I don't need to even mention this.

So I won't.

Tip 4: Keep Your Stuff Dry

Along with putting yourself under that rain jacket, think about the other things that you want to keep dry ... like your laptop computer, wallet, and signed hardback edition of "Cats Cradle." If nothing else, steal a couple of garbage bags from the office and put these things inside them, then slide this into your backpack.

Rainy afternoons are when I really love my Arkel pannier -- particularly with the rain cover on it. In almost any deluge, it keeps my stuff dry.

Tip 5: Reward Your Ride

When you get home, you will be wet and your legs will be covered in road spew. Go ahead and clean yourself up a bit, and then clean your bike. Wipe off the crud. You may want to pull your seat post and hang your bike upside down to let the water out of the top tube. Not all bikes need this, but if yours does you can save your bottom bracket this way -- and maybe your frame.

After you get all the grit off, displace the remaining water from derailleurs, brakes, shifters, and so forth using a spray penetrating lubricant. I don't like WD-40 for this, but prefer a Teflon-based lubricant like Finish Line, Boeshield T9, or Tri-Flow. After a few shots of this, lube your chain and you're good.

Now you can go inside, shower, put on your smoking jacket and silk pajama bottoms, kick back with a hot toddy, and watch this morning's Tour stage on TiVo. This will put you in the perfect state to ponder one of life's most pressing questions: Is there such a thing as un-natural male enhancement?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Biking Blind

This past Saturday was the Harpeth River Ride, the annual century for my local group, the Harpeth Bicycle Club. This was my fifth River Ride, but it was different this time. For one thing, I didn't do the century, and for another, I had a new stoker on the back of the tandem.

That's Dan Dillon, from the Tennessee Association of Blind Athletes (TNABA -- pronounced "ten-ah-bah"). He and I rode the 42-mile option ... although my bike computer clocked it out at almost 45 miles ... I demand a refund!

The HBC has been working with TNABA for most of the year. On Tuesday nights, we ride around the Nashville Motorplex track for about an hour on tandems. It sometimes gets competitive out there, with tandems zipping past one another, and the TNABA athletes yelling smack at each other. It's definitely a blast.

Besides a little "hill" work in the parking lot at the track, this was the first time that Dan and I had ridden in the "real world." Some of the hills on the 42-mile (or 45 ... but I'm not complaining) route were pretty harsh, but Dan just chugged up them like a trooper.

On the first steep hill, riders on singles were clipping out of their pedals and walking. Dan heard the sound, but didn't know what it was.

"What (pant-pant) is that (pant-pant) clicking?" he said.

"Riders (pant-pant) getting off (pant-pant) their bikes," I answered.

That was when I realized that I wasn't really doing a good job. Sure, we were moving pretty quickly along the course (45 miles), but I owed Dan more than just muscle and the ability to steer -- I owed him the chance to enjoy how beautiful this world is.

You see, it's not finishing the bike ride that is the goal ... it's doing the ride and enjoying it.

So I began to give Dan a running commentary ... sort of a guided tour of rural Davidson and Williamson counties. I told him about the long-horn steers in the field on Bear Creek, the dusty construction for the 840 extension in Burwood, and how the oaks came together in a perfect canopy over Old Harpeth. I waxed poetic about the bright red tin roof and complementary flashed brick on a farmhouse, the fields of soy behind one of the rest stops, and what the Natchez Trace looked like from one of the bridges. I told him about the flowery shirts the volunteers were wearing at the Margaritaville rest stop in Leiper's Fork, and the pink flamingos and flourescent fish decorating the doors of the port-a-potties.

As we turned onto one road, Dan asked about the flowers growing wild there. I had never really noticed them, but he had smelled them ... like Daredevil, his other senses were heightened, so that he was catching things that I -- going by sight alone -- had been blind to. I immediately regretted not washing my jersey.

We slowed a bit, and I tried to smell the flowers. Later, we passed into some shade and Dan mentioned how much cooler it had just gotten, and I started paying attention to that.

And so it went for the rest of the ride -- me trying to make up for his lack of sight, and Dan helping me overcome my own sensory overload. It was a good ride. We both had fun and worked out muscles that needed to be woken up.

I live in a world of plenty, where it's easy to lose track of the things that are really valuable. I'm going to try to appreciate some of these things just a little more. It may be painful, like drinking from a firehose, but we owe it to ourselves to do the best we can to absorb all of it.