Thursday, December 30, 2010

You Know What They Say ...

Ask anybody that knows me, and they will tell you that I am one sick, sick puppy.

Basically, my head doesn't work the same as other people's does. And not just because I can remove it from my neck and carry it like a football, cradled in the crux of my arm ... dodging tackles left and right as I sprint for the goal posts, off of which I then noisily bounce.

See what I mean?

Bearing my peculiar mind in mind, I decided today to give you a glimpse into my so-called mental faculties (none of which has tenure). The most obvious way -- to me, at least -- is to play with you a sort of Rorschach test with cliches. Instead of showing you inkblot pictures (all of the ones that I've seen show vampire spiders on bicycles), I'm going to give you a cliche, and then tell you what comes to mind when I hear it.

Note that this ride is not for expectorating mothers or over-age children. You must be as tall as my hand ... but I have very long fingers, so my hand is eight feet tall.

Cliche 1: "I don't like to brag, but ..."

Whenever I say this, I do it this way: "I don't like to brag, but I do like to restate things that sort of happened, spinning the facts in such a way that I seem like a really awesome guy." Halfway through that, the listener stops feigning interest.

Cliche 2: "There's more than one way to skin a cat."

To which I always add, "but I've only discovered three so far that keep my arm from getting clawed to shreds."

Cliche 3: "To tell the truth ..."

No, lie to me instead. Most people use this as the opening gambit into a phrase that either says, "I wasn't being honest with you earlier" or "I'm now going to say something that will probably hurt your feelings."

A close relative to this phrase is "To be completely honest ..." I always thought you were being honest or you weren't -- On or Off. Apparently, there's a dimmer switch on honesty.

Cliche 4: "Bless your heart."

Southerners -- particularly southern women -- can say anything hurtful, and then follow up with, "Bless his/her heart." It's verbal Bactine that they spray over potentially scorched feelings. "She would put her new grand-baby in a pie if that would win her the church cooking contest. Bless her heart."

Cliche 5: "You know what happens when you assume ..."

We've all had someone lay this on us. "I assumed that you were going to pick up the pizza, since it's on your way home." "Well, you know what happens when you assume: You make an Ass out of U and Me."

Side-splitting laughter ensues ... well, maybe not so much. But the person spelling "assume" inevitably is giving this sage nod, has a supercilious look on his/her face, and may have his/her index finger extended. You just want to bite that finger so badly you can taste it (and it won't taste good ... believe me).

Here's something that's more fun. When they pause after saying, "you know what happens when you assume," you step in with the following: "Why, yes! You extrapolate a logical conclusion based on the available evidence. And the logical conclusion that I came up with was that you would pick up the freaking pizza since you drove right past the restaurant!"

This will, of course, start an argument, not the least of which will be fueled by the fact that you cruelly denied your opponent a chance to call you an Ass. Take solace in this little victory because -- ultimately -- when all is said and done, you're still going to be stuck eating cold pizza.

Cliche 6: "Well, that's all we have time for ..."

Actually, that is. If you've got some of your own, post them in the Comments section.

Monday, December 27, 2010

One Last 2010 200K

There's a new word that I've been hearing at work lately: Rebaselining.

Basically, it is what it sounds like. We set a new baseline for a project, so that we're either changing the date on which we deliver or cutting back on some features. It's all part of "managing the customer's expectations."

We never seem to manage those expectations up, however. "Hey, guess what? We promised you something by May, but we're going to have it ready in February! And it will be even better that what we sold you!" Instead, it's usually, "We're sorry. We're going to be a couple of months late. And that thing that you need to get your job done? Well, it's moving to phase two."

Rebaselining isn't managing the expectation. It's lowering the expectation.

I bring this up because this winter has already rebaselined biking weather.

Last Saturday, middle Tennessee Regional Brevet Administrator Jeff Sammons did his George Dickel 200K permanent, and a number of local randonneurs joined him. Actually, a number of "not so local" randonneurs joined him, too, coming up from Birmingham, AL, and down from Ohio. We came because this promised to be the most decent bit of weather that we were going to get for a few weeks.

It was in the mid-20's when we rolled out from the starting control in Brentwood, TN. The forecast was for a high near 40, with mild winds out of the north and no rain. The forecast was pretty accurate.

However, it did not mention that we had some snow the night before.

OK, so there's not that much snow. But it was enough to make things slippery and gum up the brakes.

It had been a few years since I'd ridden a bike over a snowy road, but the tactic is simple: Stay level, keep the gearing light, and expect ice. We had about five miles to practice these procedures before we got on a busier road, and then moved far enough south that the roads were more or less clear.

Eight of us stayed fairly close together through the first control, and then a few of us took the speed up. The wind was at our backs, and I felt pretty good. The night before I had hit my 10,000-mile mark for the year, so I had nothing left to prove. This ride was just to keep some distance in my legs through the coming frosty days.

We made good time to Bell Buckle, where we stopped briefly at the store before riding the last few miles to the turnaround control: The George Dickel Distillery in Normandy, TN.

As the other riders came in, I couldn't help but recall the last time that I had done this route, about two years earlier. It had been terribly cold that day, as well, and Peter Lee had been with us. That thought really made me miss my old friend.

When we started back, the wind was in our face. Steve Phillips, Peter Cacchioli, and I worked hard together, and then stopped for lunch in Bell Buckle. As everyone else rolled in, we set off again. I took the "secret" county-line sprint back into Rutherford County, but that was it for me for the day. "You guys go on," I said to Steve and Peter, "I'm tired." They continued on their fierce pace, followed soon by Jeff, while I settled in to an easy rhythm and cranked out the next 40 miles.

As I rode, I realized that I wasn't really all that tired. My legs felt fine. I ate another candy bar, and drank some, but still didn't feel like cranking the speed back up. The problem was that I wasn't so much tired as I was weary. Weary of cranking out miles for miles' sake to get over that 10,000-mile hump, because not doing so would be to admit that I'm getting older. Weary of a winter that hadn't even officially begun, but was prematurely dumping snow on the ground and closing some of the local school districts.

It's at this point that you can become weary of riding a bike, and I don't want that.

I caught up with everyone again at the College Grove control, where I quickly bought another couple of candy bars, topped off my bottles, and headed back out. I still wanted to finish by dark, since the last few miles of this route are on busy roads.

Steve was at the final control when I got there, and said that he had only been there about 10 minutes. The long, solo ride had done me good, though, and I felt as if my head was clearer. As I rode the sidewalk along super-busy Concord Road back to my car at the YMCA, night settled in and the temperatures continued to plummet. The weariness was still there, and I resolved to take a break for the next few weeks, not riding anything longer than 100K.

The trick to keeping any machine running is knowing when to turn it off.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Farewell My Lovely Monkey

I had a monkey on my back. It was the 10,000-mile monkey, and if you've never seen one, let me tell you: It's a big freaking monkey.

He started out so small. Back in January, I didn't even notice him. He was like one of those sea monkeys, but before you add the water to them. Microscopic. And that's really weird when you consider that, at that point, I had to do 10,000 miles on a bicycle to get that monkey off of my back.

Of course, in January I had 12 months to slay that monkey. A year that included a full series of rides to give me a good chance with my Paris-Brest-Paris registration -- 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K. Plus, I had the fleche, and I knew that there would be other 200Ks and 300Ks, and maybe the 1000K. Not to mention racing, which meant lots and lots of training.

So I whittled away at the monkey all year, and was on track to throw him out by early December. He was huge, then -- a hoary, bristled, toothy 9,600-mile behemoth, flinging dung into my drive train at every opportunity -- but a mere 400-mile month should be nothing for me.

And then it got cold.

Weekends were filled with rain and snow, so that my best riding opportunities were to and from work. And the mornings were very cold, so that those rides to work were freezefests. Rides home were dark and cold, with holiday shoppers whizzing past in harried search of Christmas cheer. Tidings of comfort and joy ... denied.

My weekly mileage fell below 100 for the first time this year ... then it stayed there for another week. And the monkey began howling in glee and digging his claws into my shredded shoulders, slavering in anticipation of eating my 9,900-mile face.

Last Saturday I had 100 miles to go. The morning brought a tiny window of opportunity, with only cold and heavy winds to fight before the rain set in ... a rain that would become a snow on Sunday that would freeze the roads on Monday and Tuesday. I rode south to College Grove and Bethesda into a stiff wind, then enjoyed spinning through the hills.

After 45 miles, a light rain began. I planned to ignore it, but then my rear derailleur cable broke. I limped home for 25 miles in a steadily increasing drizzle, grinding up the easiest hills that I could find in the small ring.

The monkey grinned.

Friday began cold, but the roads were finally free of ice. I bundled up and rode to work. That evening, I took the long way home. As I pulled into my neighborhood, the odometer clicked over and my 10,000 miles were done.

The monkey sighed and climbed down. He reached up his hand, and I was surprised that I had to lean over to shake it. He who had once seemed King Kong-esque was barely of Cheetah stature ... a graying, stooped, slightly gimpy veteran of too many cheap carnival tricks and a steady diet of popcorn and cotton candy.

"You fought the good fight, kid," he said ruefully.

"You almost had me there at the end," I told him.

He laughed. "No, you got a whole week to go. But I do respect you for not getting on the rollers or trainer at the end."

"That would have been cheating, don't you think?"

He shrugged. "You do what you gotta do." We stood there for a beat, and then he looked around the quickly cooling night and nodded. "Well, I'm out of here."

"Take care. Thanks for ... well, thanks."

He nodded as he turned. He was halfway down the street when he called back from the dark, in a voice that still held a hint of the cruelty that I had learned to love and hate. "Good luck with next year's monkey. I hear he's a real son of a bitch."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gift Ideas for the Cyclist in your Life

Have you ever come up with the perfect Christmas gift for somebody? One of those things where you see it in a little shop and instinctively know that the loved one in your life will literally swoon when he/she opens it? Okay, maybe not swoon -- at least not if he's a he. Guys don't swoon much. But he might just kind of tear up a little bit and turn away, saying that some dust got in his eye. His voice will go deep when he says it, too.

These dream gifts usually happen when your loved one off-handedly mentions something back in the spring or summer ... but you remember it weeks or months later, and you hunt tirelessly through the mall -- or at least eBay -- trying to find just the right one. When you see it, you don't even look at the price tag, but buy it immediately, imagining how pleased this is going to make him/her, and how he/she will say those magic words:

"It's perfect! How did you know?"

You rehearse your response. "Oh, I just remembered you saying something about it." Or, "I just had a wild thought." But what you mean is this: "I paid attention to you. I listened to what you said, or saw how you looked at this, or talked to a friend or family member who told me about how you always wished you had this thing."

The bottom line: "I know you. I get you. I LOVE you."

That's what the perfect gift says. And that's why you will probably never give the perfect gift.

I mean, c'mon! Get you? Puh-leeze!

Not that I haven't tried. One year, RandoGirl pointed out something in April, and I snuck out a couple of months later and bought it. I hid it all summer and fall, and it was one of the first things that I wrapped and stuck under the tree that year. When RandoGirl opened it, she gave me this quizzical look, as if she suspected that she might have somehow opened somebody else's gift.

"Remember?" I said. "You showed it to me in a magazine back in April."

"Hunh," she said. Then, "oh, yeah. I remember. It's perfect." That was "perfect" without the exclamation point, mind you.

Gift fail.

Now, I must be honest here. There is one time that I hit the gift home run with RandoGirl. It was our 25th wedding anniversary, when I had a new gold ring made using diamonds from a ring that my father -- who RandoGirl was very fond of -- had left me, with a ruby that she and the RandoDaughter had found panning for stones in north Georgia. So the perfect gift can be done. Bear in mind, however, that between all of the Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries, and so forth that RandoGirl and I have had together, I'm now hitting .0001.

The point of all of this is that I, in an effort to make your life better, I am going to give you some holiday gift ideas for the cyclist in your life. Many of these are things that are actually on my Christmas list -- or on the list of some riding friends. This is why I write the buying guide blog entry every year: I'm too lazy to miss this opportunity.

Light and Motion VIS 360

This one's on my list. Basically, it's a 130-gram helmet-mounted front white and rear red light that charges from a USB port. The run time on this may not be sufficient for overnight brevets, but is perfect for getting to and from work, particularly since you can charge it at your computer. The front light is 110 lumens, which is more than enough for even the darkest road, and the four-lumen rear light -- particularly since it's helmet-mounted -- should make you easy to see.

Topeak Mega-Morph pump

This is also on my list, although I feel a little silly about it. I've got three floor pumps and frame pumps on two of my bikes -- why do I want another one? Well, mostly because this is a floor pump that folds up so I can put it in the hard bike case, which I plan to do this summer when I go to France for Paris-Brest-Paris. Sure, there will probably be one or two floor pumps in France. But, if I have to borrow someone else's floor pump, would I be totally self-supported? Think about it.

Bianchi Imola

This isn't on my list, but it is on a friend Ken's list. Or, at least, it should be. He recently lost a lot of weight and has been asking me about cycling. He likes the idea of just going out and riding a bike in pretty countryside for a long, long time, and doesn't want to spend much more than $1,000 for the bike. I asked Lynn Greer at Gran Fondo (a.k.a., The Bike Shop That Has All of the Above Stuff, Plus Even More Things That Actually May Be the Perfect Gift for Your Beloved Cyclist), and he recommended the Imola. It's a steel frame with a carbon fiber fork, has mount points for a rear rack, clearance for wider tires, and comes with good wheels.

Foot Warmers

OK, I raved about these last week. Again, these are on my list this year. They make great stocking stuffers, and not just because they're shaped like feet so that pulling them out of the stocking is really funny. Gran Fondo had these at the counter last week, so if you want to try some go there first.

Wool Neck Gaiter

Rivendell Bicycle Works used to sell something similar to this called the Triple Tube, but they've been out of them for a while. Basically, it's just a thin tube of merino wool -- kind of like a turtleneck. You can wear it to keep your neck warm, or pull it up a little to cover your ears, mouth, and/or nose. Jeff Bauer wore one a couple of weeks ago when it was 25 degrees at the ride start, and then used it as a hair scrunchy when the day warmed into the 40's. I've got one, but would like to have another for "wash days." Ibex stuff is usually high quality, so hopefully this will do as nicely as the old Rivendell version.

Inner Tubes

You can't have too many of them. A tip for the non-cyclist purchasing these: You'll probably want Presta valves, size 700c x 18-25, and you might as well get at least 52mm or 60mm long valves (in case your cyclist also has racing wheels).

Busch and Muller E-Werk USB Charger

OK, this one's pretty cool, but it's only for really hard-core randonneurs. You hook this up to a Schmidt Dynamo Hub -- which many randonneurs use as the hub on their front wheel to power their headlights -- and it will charge your USB devices. For long brevets, you can use it to charge your cell phone or iPod during the day, when you don't need to run the headlight. I guess you could use it to charge your Light & Motion VIS 360 ... but you shouldn't need that if you have the headlight hooked up to the hub. For camping tourists, you can also charge your camplight, radio, computer ... or even your electronic socks. Like I said, very cool, but it's not very useful if you don't have a Schmidt Dynamo Hub wheel.

That should be enough to get you started. If you need more, go here for some good ideas. If your cyclist regularly goes to Gran Fondo, go see them for some great ideas, too. Lynn can remember most people's clothing sizes off the top of his head, as well as what kind of tires they like, the best shorts for them, and so forth.

And if you don't get that perfect gift this time, don't give up hope. Even if you can't read your loved ones' minds, the fact that you tried should be enough to show them that you really care.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Route Scouting

For an ultracyclist, there are five ways to deal with a crappy weather day this time of year:

  1. Harden up and ride. Tell yourself that a 200K permanent in the rain and temperatures just above freezing will make you stronger when the season starts next month, and help you fine-tune your equipment. Make sure that you tell as many people as possible about this ride afterwards, so that they can be properly impressed with your fortitude (actually, they just question your sanity ... again).
  2. Ride inside. Six hours on the rollers will have even the "harden up" guy above questioning your sanity. It will also have everyone asking for your saddle-sore cure.
  3. Do chores. Maybe this is when you knock items off of the list of home repairs, yard-work, shopping, or other to-do's. If you can, tackle that big project at work. Either way, you tell yourself that doing it now will free you up for riding when the weather is decent again. And, if somehow your boss or significant other doesn't think of something else that you can do in the spring, you could be right. Yeah, sure.
  4. Veg out. Catch up on those missed Glee episodes. Read the latest John Grisham novel (hint: the lawyer did it). Play Call of Duty XVIII: Grenades for Granada. Maybe you won't lose too much of that hard-earned fitness you built up during the fall. Yeah, sure.
  5. Prepare for the coming season. Clean your bike. Build a new wheelset. Overhaul your bottom bracket. Program the spring 600K route into your GPS.
This past weekend, I did the "prepare" thing ... but for other folks. I drove out to Cookeville to scout some of the roads on a new 400K that we may use in Tennessee this spring.

If you've ever planned a route for cyclists, you know how important it is to actually see the roads before you put a bunch of riders on it. For example, the first time that RandoGirl and I went down the Natchez Trace we decided at the last minute to stop in Lawrenceburg. I pulled out the GPS and we quickly plotted a route that would enable us to bypass the busier roads. Of course, unbeknown to us, one of those roads was gravel ... well, mud, really. We got through it, but it was not a good road for a fully loaded tandem.

The other thing about testing a route is that you need to see how tough the climbs are, how many dogs are running loose on it, and whether any of the roads have been recently washed out. To do this properly, you really should bike the route; thus, I put the Lynskey in the back of the RAAMinator Saturday morning.

And, since it rained all day, the bike stayed in the back of the RAAMinator. All day.

This was not easy, either. I kept finding myself on beautiful, quiet, smooth roads where it had not rained in the last hour or so. It was cool outside, but not cold. I would have just found a church or school parking lot where I could quickly change, get the bike out, and "test the road," when it would begin to rain again ... just enough that, had I been out in it, I would have been soaked and chilled within 10 minutes.


On the plus side, though, I was able to find a couple of new roads and tweak the route perfectly. For example, I found a road that runs between Baxter and Cookeville that should avoid the worst of the Saturday-evening traffic. It even goes by Baxter's gutsy little water tower.

You'd have to visit Baxter to understand just how ironic this is.

This route uses the Key West Inn hotel in Cookeville as the starting and ending point. It takes a big loop north into Kentucky -- actually using most of my as-yet-unannounced Honest Abe 200K permanent -- before returning to the hotel as the middle control. Riders will then be able to replenish their gear at the hotel before going out for the last 115 miles.

The trick with a 400K is getting riders in and out of towns that are big enough to have late-night stores, but not force the riders to get on major roads. I found a lovely one for the riders to use to get from the Key West Inn to TN-135 at Dodson Branch, without going through downtown Cookeville.

Most of the southern loop is my Green Acres permanent, but run backwards. Variations include a climb up to Spencer on Yates Mountain Road that promises to be epic, with steep sections early on that will make the riders wish that they had brought a triple-crank. To get there, and make the route simpler, the route keeps the riders on roads like Frank's Ferry a little longer. This takes the route closer to Sparta, where I discovered a few more stores Saturday. The riders will also get to do the fun descent from Spencer towards McMinnville on Hwy 30A, before getting back on Green Acres through Rock Island Park and on to Baxter.

A little after 1 pm Saturday, I had looked at all of the roads that I needed to check and started back west to Nashville. That's when the sun came out, and I realized that I probably could have stayed home and gotten a decent ride in. But checking the 400K route was a chore that needed to be done, and I'm hoping that the riders this spring will enjoy biking all of these beautiful roads. I know that I will.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

If the Toes Ain't Happy, Then NOBODY Is Happy

Last winter, I got a little frostbite on the tips of a couple of my toes.

I didn't really even notice it at the time. It was a really cold day, and I was wearing my sandals with two pairs of socks. I had not really checked the weather that morning, but was running late. My feet hurt when I left the house on the way to work, and when I finally got to work an hour later they felt like lumps of wet cold clay. I rubbed them until they started to hurt, and then rubbed them some more.

A couple of days later I rode outside again, and the tips of a few of my toes hurt ... a lot. This wasn't the kind of hurt that they get when they're cold, though; this was a "Aw, gee, you're doing this to me again" kind of hurt -- a whining, nagging kind of hurt that is going to regularly admonisher you for the rest of your life. My toes were making me feel as if I had missed the birth of my third child because I was off on a fishing trip with two high school buddies and an exotic dancer named "Sindy."

Those toes bitched all winter, then grumbled during the spring. They even gave me a few harsh looks on temperate mornings this past summer.

So, when fall came, and I told them to "Harden The Heck Up" ... or something to that effect ... they replied by hurting.

Well, I'm not one to argue with toes, so I bought a new pair of shoes. Yes: Not sandals. Shoes. With a solid surface covering the toes -- a thing for which shoes are semi-famous (and sandals are not). Said solid surface will supposedly retain heat, deflect cold, and protect tender toes.

I got the Specialized BG Pro Carbon Mountain Biking Shoe:

To give credit where it's due, I bought these based on the recommendation of another cycling blogger: Fat Cyclist. He got a pair of them about a year ago, and he does almost as many miles as I do and still loves them. I went over to Gran Fondo Cycles (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop Ever in This or Most Other Known Universes ... and Some Universes that Not Even Stephen Hawking Has Theorized About), and they had one pair of these, and they were my size. That's what I call "fate."

Now, for years I have been a big proponent of wearing sandals for ultracycling. Most of the "real" ultracyclists that I know told me when I first started that sandals were more comfortable for distance rides. You don't get hot-foot with sandals (or, at least, you get less hot-foot). On wet rides, your socks dry out in sandals, as opposed to just getting musty and rotting your feet the way they do with shoes.

But sandals are heavy. When I went to work the next morning in my new Specialized shoes with their carbon fiber soles, I was amazed at the difference that a pound of weight loss on your foot can make. They don't squeak as much as my sandals do, either, which was kind of nice. And I'm not saying that I may not go back to sandals come spring ... but I do have to wonder.

It was 18 degrees outside when I left the house for work this morning. I had watched the weather, so I knew what to expect and had prepared properly ... particularly protecting my toes. Here's what I put on my feet:

  1. Base pair of regular cycling socks
  2. On top of the socks, near the tips of my toes, I stuck a chemical toe warmer.
  3. On the bottom of the socks, I stuck a Grabber chemical foot warmer. These are kind of like shoe insoles, but hot.
  4. Over this I put a pair of Rapha wool socks.
  5. Then, finally, I put on my shoes.

All of this was accompanied by my Assos outerwear, of course, with bibs and a long-sleeve jersey underneath. Cold legs yield cold feet. If you don't think that running a warm fluid through a chilled tube (e.g., your legs en route to your feet) will chill that fluid, you do not understand how your car's radiator works.

The result of this swaddling? Happy feet. If anything, I had to hurry outside and start riding, since the chemical warmers sealed within the extra socks and solid shoes were starting to toast my toes.

Of course, the downsides are that it costs me almost $2 in chemical toe warmers to get to and from work, not to mention that it takes me an extra 15 minutes to layer up and strip back down for my commute. But if this will get my toes to shut up and forget about the fishing trip with Bud, Lou, and Sindy, I'll take it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Captain Video!

So, Friday it was nice. I biked to and from work, and I filmed my return trip.

Saturday and Sunday the weather sucked. This gave me a chance to take the video from Friday and post it. I even put music to it ... although I could only put 10 minutes of music. And that's weird, because the video is supposedly only 10 minutes long, although it ends up being 14 minutes long on YouTube. And the last two minutes are dead air.

Anyway, here -- for your entertainment and edification -- is my commute home. I sped it up 700%, since not even Max Watzz could really do the trip this fast.

The other thing I did with my weekend was drive out to Cookeville to plot the new 400K course we're going to run in the spring. But that's another day's post ...

Monday, November 29, 2010

To Trot With Lights Not

The Turkey Trot 200K is kind of our last blow-out of the year ... at least for many randonneurs in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, and probably some other states. It's the last "official" brevet on many calendars, and it gives many riders a chance to work off some of their Thanksgiving excess. For some randonneurs, it's also a chance to take their significant others to Black Friday sales in Nashville, and then abandon them to follow-up shopping on Saturday.

Since I live less than five miles from the start, it's not that big of a deal to me. In fact, I haven't even done the ride for the past couple of years, due to one commitment or other ... or maybe just because the weather didn't look too good.

Either way, I was in town this year, and the weather was going to be chilly but dry, so I decided to ride. Also, I had a few Thanksgiving excesses to burn off my own self.

But as the day approached, I further decided that this was the year that I would finish the Turkey Trot in daylight.

The first year I did the Turkey Trot, I was new to randonneuring, and very slow. The second year, I wasn't as slow, but rode with someone else. The third year, I wasn't as slow and rode with a fast group -- which turned out to be too fast for me when I blew up after 75 miles.

But this year I've been pretty fast and pretty strong, so a Turkey Trot without lights seemed possible.

The ride begins at 7 am from the Brentwood YMCA on Concord Road. Since I live so close to the start, I got there about 20 minutes before, and leisurely got the bike ready, signed paperwork, and so forth. Since I hadn't hung around in the cold, I didn't know how all else was riding, but it looked like if I was going to be riding fast, I would be riding solo. So, when RBA Jeff Sammons told us to get moving, I took off and was soon alone.

The route went through Cool Springs, past the mall, and then over the big climb on Lynnwood Road. The climb took the edge off the cold, but the descent brought it right back. I was just settling in to a good rhythm, about 10 miles in, listening to my iPod, when I heard someone call my name. Up came Steve Phillips, George Hiscox, Jeremy Miller, Tom Gee, and Anthony Watts. They were moving at a good clip, so I joined up with them.

We made it through the first control on schedule, quickly topping up bottles and peeling off our last layer of clothing. The light wind had been in our teeth for much of the way, but as we turned south it freshened and moved us nicely along. I filmed the following right after we passed through White Bluff.

When we got to the next control, I was pretty sore. We started north again, fighting a little more wind as we passed through Theta and Thompson Station, and then had a better breeze for the leg to Bethesda. We paused there for a quick snack, but the cold was coming back as the afternoon waned. I was shivering as we mounted up again to do the last 20 miles.

About seven miles from the finish, I could feel my rear tire get spongy. My legs were pretty wiped out, too, and I fell off the back of the pack on Wilson Pike. The group eased up for me, however, and we were soon on the multi-use trail going through Concord Park, and finally returned to the parking lot of the YMCA.

There was plenty of sunlight, as you can see. It took 8:44, but it was a good 8:44.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pictures of Peter

For the memorial service honoring Peter Lee this past Sunday, I put together the following video. The hard work for this was really done by our randonneuring friends, who went through all of their files and found every digital picture they had of Peter; Katy Lee, who loaned me a bunch of "paper" pictures (would those by "analog" then?) to scan; and long-time friend of the family Edward Zhuang, who put the music together. The songs are traditional Chinese songs for these types of occasions.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Clothes Make the Dork

This past summer, I tried an experiment with my daily bicycle commute. Previously, I had always put on full-blown bicycling clothes -- bibs, jersey, yadda-yadda -- making me colorful and comfortable, but obviously a cyclist. For the experiment, I bought a couple of pairs of mountain-biking shorts ... the ones that actually just look like regular walking-around shorts, but have a liner with a chamois. I would wear these on my commute, along with a nice loose lycra technical t-shirt. I even found some lycra shirts that had collars, so I could go to work and walk around being immediately stylish, sweaty, and stinky.

What I wanted to determine was this: Did motorists treat me differently wearing "normal" clothes than they did wearing cyclist garb?

The answer was a resounding "I dunno."

I think most motorists -- at least the ones that really pay attention and look at me -- treat me differently from recreational cyclists anyway. For one thing, I've got this big pannier on the side of the bike, so I'm obviously not Lance Armstrong. Plus, I'm riding in rush hour traffic with them just about every morning, so it's pretty obvious that I'm just on my way to or from work like they are. For this group of my fellow morning travelers, it doesn't much matter what I'm wearing because they see the bike and the pannier and are cool.

The other half don't pay attention to me, anyhow -- nor do they really pay attention to anything else. They (hopefully) see some thing that's kind of in their way, and they move over (again, hopefully) a couple of inches to get around it, since they don't want to get a scratch on their bumper. I could be wearing a purple clown wig, cowboy chaps, and the puffy shirt and they wouldn't know the difference.

The people that did treat me differently depending upon my outfit were the folks off of the road. This was most notable when I stopped at Panera Bread on my way in. Sitting around Panera in cycling clothes drinking coffee and eating a scone, I got a lot of looks. I would like to think that this is because I look dead sexy in cycling clothes; however, I've seen myself in cycling clothes, and know that they make me look fat. Or maybe it's all of the fat under the clothes that makes me look fat.

Anyway, there were fewer stares at Panera when I ate breakfast wearing the mountain-biking shorts and the loose lycra t-shirt. Unless they saw me getting on or off the bike, or noticed the helmet on the table, I was just another guy enjoying a coffee with his magazine.

So, why am I back to wearing cycling clothes on my ride in?

Well, for one thing, it's cold in the morning and I don't have cold-weather mountain-bike shorts. I don't even know if they make such things, though, and don't really care to find out.

I guess it really boils down to two things. One is that, early in September, riding home wearing my "normal" clothing, I got hit by a car. Well, "hit" may be too harsh a word ... it was really a kind of brush-bump with the mirror. It was a big Cadillac, obviously driven by one of those "no-attention-span" idiots who swept by, thumped me, and kept on going. I would have chased the car down, but the driver made the light and turned, and frankly it was easier for me to take the "no blood, no foul" approach.

But this showed me that "normal" clothing was probably not bright enough. Maybe the idiot in the Cadillac would have noticed me in bright red biking kit. Maybe not. But, I'd rather err on the side of caution.

The other thing is that I kind of missed being noticed at Panera. Not that I like getting stares -- I'm actually kind of shy ... really. But I liked being the obvious cyclist in a restaurant full of "normal" people. By playing my role as That Guy Who Bikes Everywhere, I hope that I was making folks realize that they really can bike everywhere. And, since David Byrne doesn't live in Nashville, somebody here has to do it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Peter the Great

"What are you riding for?"

I hear this question a lot. It bothers me ... and not just because of the dangling participle.

It's usually at a convenience store out in the country. Somebody asks where we're going, and we explain that we're not really going anywhere -- we're just riding our bicycles 200 miles that day. They assume that we're riding for a charity, like Jack and Back to fight Multiple Sclerosis, or the HOW 100 to raise money for breast cancer research.

But we don't usually ride for anything as noble as that. Typically, we ride brevets for some deeper, personal reason. Since it's personal, I guess it's selfish -- that's just the nature of the personal reasons. But it's our reason ... even if we rarely know what it is.

For some of us, it's because we just don't know how to stop. We have addictive personalities, and cycling is our drug du jour. Others of us are trying to prove something ... maybe to the world, or ourselves, or to the parent who once called us a "quitter." For a few, it's because this is the way that we have defined ourselves for so long that to stop doing it would force us to examine who and what we are. And nobody wants to do that.

"What are you riding for?"

There is no single reason for most of us. It's fun. It's what our friends do. It gets us out in the fresh air, seeing parts of the world in a much more close and intimate setting than we would get from a car or motorcycle.

We all admit to one reason, of course: We ride because it's good for us. Exercising this hard for this long gives us healthy hearts and lungs, keeping us stronger and more vibrant than most folks our age. We have as much energy as people 10 or even 20 years younger than us. We begin to think -- quietly, never saying it aloud, maybe even a little ashamed to dare imagine it -- that if we can keep it up, riding longer and faster every year, we will never grow old or feeble, and be healthy forever.

We will be immortal.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog. My friend, Peter Lee, is dying.

Peter Lee - Self-portrait stoking with Jeff Bauer

Regular readers of this blog know about Peter, one of my most stalwart randonneuring companions and cohort on numerous cycling adventures. As I mentioned back in September, Peter has been undergoing treatment for cancer. Right after Ten Gaps, things were looking a little positive. They've since turned negative. I won't go into the medical stuff, but it basically comes down to the fact that the cancer keeps going, tearing him up a little bit at a time, and he just doesn't have anything left to fight it with.

Peter (right) with Jeff, riding Green Acres in August 2009

RandoGirl and I visited Peter in the hospital Sunday. His wife, Katy, and son Wayne were there, as well as so many other friends that the nurses finally limited us to groups of six at a time in his room. Mostly, he and I were reminiscing about some of the great rides and fun we had together. I don't think that he just meant rides, though, when he said, "I had a good time. I don't regret any of it."

This is classic Peter. Even when he has every right to be miserable, he is upbeat. He has been this way throughout his illness, and he was always this way on rides. On the longest brevets in the worst weather, he kept his chin up. No complaining, and no whining. Just smiling.

He told us Sunday that he wants some of his ashes spread on the Tail of the Dragon in east Tennessee -- a stretch of road that we hit about mile 200 of our horribly hilly 600K. It's a tough climb with a beautiful view ... a great mixture of painful challenge and heart-wrenching reward.

Classic Peter.

Jeff and Peter at the finish of the 2009 Tennessee 600K

I remember riding the Jack Daniels permanent about a year ago, with Peter on the back of Jeff Bauer's tandem. We cross a lot of county lines on this route, and we were making the ride more interesting by sprinting for each of these make-shift finishing lines. When the county line was at the top of a climb, I was usually able to get there first, but whenever the terrain was flat or gently rolling Peter and Jeff were so strong that they could easily pull away from the rest of us. At the end of the ride, they had more county-lines than any of us, and thus "won" the brevet.

Peter loves this kind of action. On a single bike, he'll stalk you, smelling the county- or state-line, or city limits sign, or any reason to mix it up. When you see the sign, you start ramping it up, and he's on your back wheel ... sitting in ... sitting in ... and then bam he swoops around you for the win.

(from left) Me, Jeff Sammons, Kevin Warren, Phil Randall, and Peter at the George Dickel Distillery

This past Saturday, as he and I were test-riding a new permanent, Jeff said, "Peter would be here." I knew exactly what he meant. Before he got sick, you could always count on Peter to show up for a Saturday brevet no matter how cold or hot or windy or rainy it was. Maybe it's because he is so dependable -- if he says he's going to do something, you'd better believe he's going to do it. Maybe it's because he is rigorous with his training, and knows that riding in crummy weather when you don't have to is the only way to get ready to ride in crummy weather when you do have to.

(from left) Jeff Sammons, Peter, and Me -- preparing to rob this convenience store

I think it's just because he loves to ride, though. Or maybe he enjoys hanging out with goofy cyclists. Or, possibly, because he really likes it when we stop at Henpeck Market for pasta salad, tomato basil soup, and a piece of cake.

All the usual suspects, Henpeck Market

For a thin fellow, the boy can eat. On colder rides, he usually has a few baked sweet potatoes in his jersey pockets. If you ask, he'll gladly share one with you.

Classic Peter.

And, of course, he can climb.

That's Peter catching up to me on last year's Ten Gaps. We were climbing back over Hogpen. He passed me, of course. He finished before I did, too. Of course.

Peter (left), Vida Greer, Jeff Bauer, and George Hiscox (seated). Sorry about the sweaty camera.

He's famous, too. Twice, I've been riding with other randonneurs when they start telling the story about this guy that they heard of who laid down in the middle of the road in a small French town and took a nap on Paris-Brest-Paris. That was my friend, Peter, I tell them. That really happened. I've heard other groups of cyclists talk about this guy who went from riding his first century in September to doing a 1200K in August. That was Peter Lee, I reply.

He's my friend, I proudly add.

We all love to talk about that first year of randonneuring with Peter. The 200K in the snow in Kentucky. The even colder 300K there less than a month later. The ride where he asked how to keep his underwear from riding up under his cycling shorts. That first (and last) 300K on the back of Jeff's tandem, where Peter learned that 150 miles was probably his limit as a stoker. This was too bad, because sitting in on Jeff and Peter always made for a very, very easy ride.

It's these things ... sitting in on a fast tandem, county-line sprints, sleeping in the road, baked sweet potatoes. For the rest of our lives, when we do these things, hear these words, or eat baked sweet potatoes ... this is when we will think of Peter. We will remember the pure joy that he brought to things, and we will smile. When the "sleeping the road on PBP" story is told at 4:15 in the morning in the middle of nowhere by cyclists who may have never even had the great luck to meet Peter, they will laugh themselves back to wakefulness once again. Then somebody will mention that Peter went on to finish PBP in 89:57 ... on a year that saw one of the highest DNF (Did Not Finish) rates ever.

And the cyclists will ride on, inspired by Peter the Great.

The things that Peter has done, the people that he has touched ... the legends of Peter. These will go on forever.


Editor's Note: Peter passed away two days after I published this blog. He was surrounded by friends and family, and it was very peaceful.

I had told him that I was going to write this, but was having a hard time. He understood, and asked me to read it to him when I finished it. By then, his energy was all but gone, and I was never able to read all of it to him. I'm pretty sure that he's read it by now ... heaven probably has great internet access. I'm looking forward to getting a comment from him on it, as I miss him.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Frosty Toes at Marcy Jo's

Saturday, Jeff Bauer and I test-rode my soon-to-be-official Cathey's Creek 200K permanent. It turns out that it's actually almost a 210K ... but it's a nice 210K.

As you may recall, Jeff and I tried this permanent with Vida Greer back in July. At that time, we made a few discoveries -- one of which was that a road that I needed lacked a bridge. Since I hate to force randonneurs to portage under all but the warmest circumstances, a few changes were called for. The revised route is what Jeff and I tried out Saturday.

A nasty cold front had blown into middle Tennessee on Friday. Saturday morning, the wind had eased up, but it was in the mid-20's (Fahrenheit) when Jeff and I left Starbuck's in Franklin. As we worked our way down to Henpeck and over towards Peytonsville, whenever we entered a shady spot it seemed even more cold. Climbing up Arno Road, and then again going over Pulltight, brought a little bit of welcome warmth.

Of course, then we had to descend back into those shadows. Brrrr.

About mile 35, however, we hit Marcy Jo's.

Sure, the coffee and pastries were good, and the people there are always super nice. But it was the big, warm stove that thawed out my feet.

When Jeff and I left Marcy Jo's, it was at least five degrees warmer outside. I felt great the rest of the way.

We stopped at Glendale Market, I even took off the heavy gloves. Barney Fife said it was almost 50.

From here, Jeff and I just rolled along with a slight headwind. We stopped for lunch at the Mt. Pleasant Grill, and then fought the wind a little more heading to Hampshire and the infamous Cathey's Creek Road. The sun was getting lower as we approached Williamsport on Greenfield Bend Road.

The last change I'm making to the route is to stay on Snow Creek Road from here, all the way back to Carter's Creek Pike. Since Leiper's Creek Road is still closed due to some of the May flood damage, this will make the route a lot simpler. The down side will be that riders will have to climb to Theta from possibly the toughest direction, but the up side is that they get to descend on Les Robinson Road.

Postscript: I'm sorry that this blog is so short, and that I haven't posted much lately. Some other stuff has been going on. Details will be coming soon.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yinging My Yang

Probably the best thing about doing a hard ride is that you then get to do a recovery ride the next day.

A recovery ride is supposed to be kind of like taking a stroll in a park. You don't attack the hills. There's no sprinting. You just ... saunter.

I've decided that this is going to be my mode for the rest of the year. I'm going to take a couple of recovery months.

This does not mean that I won't be riding. That would be kind of like punishing myself, really. It just means that I'm going to take it easier, look at the trees, and stop any time that I see fresh-baked goodies.

I came to this new resolve Sunday, after I set out early for a long recovery ride. RandoGirl slept in, so that she could meet me in College Grove about 10 am. They have a good parking lot, and there are some wonderful route opportunities from there. More important, however, is that they've re-opened the grocery store, and carry lots of fresh-baked goodies.

There was a stiff wind blowing Sunday -- mostly in my face as I headed south. I went through McKay's Mill (where I took the first picture), and then headed to Bethesda. On Choctaw Road, just after passing through the above tunnel of leaves, I came across a bunch of turkeys sitting on the pavement. When they saw me, they proved that wild turkeys really can fly.

It's been a dry fall in middle Tennessee, so the trees have not been as colorful as usual in many places.

One good thing about sunglasses: They tint things with a little more yellow. In fall, this makes mild foliage less ho-hum.

On Giles Hill Road, the headwind became a crosswind as I finally turned east. Going down another tree-canopied lane, a gust came up, and I was suddenly biking through a red, orange, and yellow kaleidoscope as leaves tumbled down and across the road. I decided yet again that this is the prettiest planet that I can ever remember living on.

Sure, the wind can be a bitch sometimes. When it's in your face, you work hard. When it's at your side, you work hard. When it's at your back, you get a break ... but it's never as much of a break as you feel that you should have earned after all that riding into and across that wind. However, if not for that strong wind, I would not have gotten that incredible moment riding through a fall-tinted kaleidoscope.

You gotta take the good with the bad.

RandoGirl and I did another 30 miles together, using a route that mostly kept the wind blowing across us. We still ended up with a good stretch near Murfreesboro where the wind was at our backs, and RandoGirl took off.

Back up on Patterson Road, however, the wind was blowing us over.

Later, it was in our teeth on Arno Road, and then Eudaily-Covington. By the time we got back to the car, we were tired enough of the wind that I didn't mind putting the bike into the van and catching a ride home. Maybe another 30-40 miles would have been better for me to keep my base for randonneuring, but I was tired. I also wanted a couple of cupcakes from the grocery.

Between slow riding and cupcakes, I'm probably going to turn into a slug during the winter. Come spring, at the few races that I plan to do next year, I may do very poorly.

But fall is a time for moderation and balance -- and not just by leaning into the crosswinds. You can't be "all hammer all the time," just as you can't look at every ride as a 100+ mile suffer-fest. If losing a little of my edge is the price that I must pay for keeping joy in my riding, then it's worth it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How I Won the Fly Gran Fondo

Short Answer: I won it by riding it.

A Little Longer Answer: Anybody riding this course, with these people, and then chowing down on bodacious cajun food and drinking extraordinary local brew afterwards would obviously be a winner. So I won.

And now the long answer ... maybe so long that you won't read it. So you should stop now.


I mean it.

Oh, all right. If you insist ...

First, I've got to tell you how sick I was last week. I spent far too many hours cramped up in a shiny metal tube, breathing in what 200 other unhealthy people were breathing out (or worse), and caught a cold. Then, I rode my bike in to work on Wednesday, trying to flush the cold out. It didn't work, and Thursday I stayed home, feeling like the crusty part on the edge of the crud that grows on very, very old garbage.

If not for the fact that I was kind of the organizer of this team (I hesitate to call myself "captain," since that involves a level of responsibility with which I am more than slightly uncomfortable), I would have bailed. But we had just found our fifth team member, and we had to have at least five riders, so I merely reconciled myself to the fact that -- thanks in no small part to me -- we would suck.

Friday I felt a little better, and Saturday I was no longer ill. All that remained of my bout was about 3.5 gallons of phlegm, split evenly between the sinus cavities in my stopped-up head and the alveoli of my consumptive lungs. As long as I did not need to breath and/or oxygenate blood, I would be fine.

RandoGirl and I rode down to Fly with one of my team-mates, the erstwhile Jeff Bauer. It was still a little chilly as we unloaded and gathered our teammates: Lisa Starmer, Larry Lewis, and John Burrell.

For some reason, we had all decided to wear the same jersey, so everyone got back in their cars and went home to change. Just kidding (I kill me)! Actually, we just decided to race under the Gran Fondo Fixies name because we had enough jerseys. None of us was actually foolish enough to ride this race on fixed-gear bikes.

Vida Greer, who had done an incredible job organizing the race, soon lined us all up and gave us instructions.

We were to be the third team out, with one minute between each. There would be four checkpoints on the course, and all team members had to sign in at each. We would then get the time of the last team member across the finish line. Standing at the starting line, the instructions seemed perfectly clear to me, even through my Mucinex/Sudafed haze. Basically, we would bike along the course, stop when we were told, and sign things. Between these intervals, my team would wait for me ... a lot. Ultimately, we could then limp in at nightfall, amid derisive laughter.

Somehow, however, when we started, we managed to go fast. We cruised along the first flat section of Leiper's Creek Road, and then zipped up the first climb up Steam Mill Hollow. We caught a rider from one of the first teams as we hit Leatherwood Road, and were looking good as we started the parts of this road that are dirt.

Somehow, the dirt sections slowed down the earlier teams, and they quickly came into view. Since this was my route, however, I knew where the few trouble spots were, and before we were back on pavement my team was actually in the lead.

Then, we had a flat.

Actually, John had the flat, and the smart thing for us to have done here would have been for the whole team to stop and help him fix it. Unfortunately, we were tired. John had been so strong during the first few miles of the race, taking very long and fast pulls, that I kind of welcomed the flat as a chance to soft-pedal a bit and recover. So, only Larry stayed back with John to help him fix the flat, and Jeff, Lisa, and I rolled on.

And on. And on.

The teams we had passed on Leatherwood passed us. Then the Gran Fondo team. Then another team, and a pack of the fast individual riders. When a couple of tandems passed us, we turned around and started back. We went less than a mile before John and Larry finally came along. Apparently, the tire did not want to be changed, and they had been forced to become insistent.

We decided at this point that our race was pretty much over. We still rode fairly hard, of course, but we took our time as we came to the first sign-in station on Kettle Mills Road. On the descent down Love Branch, we hammered for a few miles, but then eased off again as we went through Hampshire and back up to Ridgetop. We even stopped at the entrance to Amber Falls and took a few team pictures.

First, Lisa took one. Then, I took one with Lisa in it. One of the solo riders came by, so we got him to take a picture of all of us.

Obviously, we were not in a hurry at this point.

We moved quickly along Cathey's Creek ... but not so fast that we couldn't appreciate what a beautiful road it was that day.

I was starting to feel my lack of lung capacity on Greenfield Bend Road, and a long fast stretch on Snow Creek forced me to fall in behind Jeff with a raspy, nasty cough. We took our time going up the harsh climb of Pigg Schoolhouse Road, so I felt better as we went through Santa Fe. This didn't last, however, and the team was forced to slow for me again for the last couple of miles, as we limped in to Fly.

Where we discovered, much to our amazement, that we were the third place team.

Apparently, some teams had lost a few members on the route. Since we stuck together (translation: My fast teammates slowed down to drag me along), we managed to salvage a podium spot. Along with certificates suitable for framing, we all got a nifty bag, bracelets, and a very nice pair of merino wool socks. Of course, we also got to eat jambalaya from Papa Boudreaux's and drink Yazoo Brewery beer afterwards.

All that, on top of a great time riding a fantastic course, would make anybody a winner.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You Don't Know What You've Got 'Til You're Gone (and Come Back)

While we were in Italy, we were constantly "oohing" and "aahing" (in Italian, it's pronounced "a-oohing" and "a-aahing" -- thank you, Rosetta Stone) over the scenery. The lovely coast, the olive trees, the vineyards ... bellissimo!

As we're flying back, our first glimpse of our native continent was bits of Newfoundland. From 30,000 feet, the seas looked wild and cold, with the wind blowing the tops off of the waves surrounding the small rocky islands. Later, landing at Washington's Dulles airport, we could see the brilliant fall colors of the trees as we came in over the deep blue of the Potomac River. Finally, driving home in Nashville, we saw again the same colors, tempered by our slightly warmer climate, covering the easy hills of home.


Tuesday was crazy, and I had picked up a cold during the trip home. This morning, however, I was able to bike in to work again. The air was cooler than in Sicily, of course, but I was cozy in tights, glove liners, and a long-sleeve wool jersey. It felt great to be back on my bike (nothing personal, Experience Plus -- I just need a longer cockpit), on the same old roads, seeing the same old fellow commuters ... even if they were in cars.

The fall colors canopied my roads, where a few damp spots remained from yesterday's rain. Descending into one neighborhood, I rode through a patch of low fog that made me feel as if I was floating on top of a cloud, ghosting along on vaporous wheels, wispy contrails flowing under my fenders. I sat up and sipped my coffee, then worked hard on the short climb back out. After three days off of the bike, the effort felt good.

A lady in an SUV stopped to let me out at one intersection, and a little red car held back on a fast descent until I waved him past at the bottom. Nobody passed me too closely, or in any blind corners. Everyone behaved.

It was really great to get away for a couple of weeks -- visit different places and immerse myself in the culture, bike with my wife and a slew of new friends over beautiful roads that offered a great mix of challenging climbs, tricky surfaces, and sweet descents. Afterwards (and sometimes during), we ate a lot of great food, drank some excellent beverages, and watched the world go by.

But, do you really have to go to a different continent for that? Well, no. Not really. As a matter of fact, I'm going to tell you how you can take a little cycling vacation ...

Saturday, there's a ride that I guarantee will have some roads that you have never ridden on. It's got a fun mix of pristine pavement, smooth dirt, fast flats, and truly challenging climbs. At the finish, there will be superb cajun food for registered riders and locally brewed beer.

And it's right here in middle Tennessee.

Yes, I'm talking about the Fly Gran Fondo. You may have biked all over Fly, Leiper's Fork, and all points in-between, but there are some roads that you have somehow managed to miss. Vida and Lynn Greer and I found them, and then we put the best of them all together to build this really great route.

This ride will open up some new, heart-wrenchingly beautiful vistas to you, and you will kick yourself if you miss it. Have you ever kicked yourself? It's a good way to pull something. I don't want that, and you don't want that, so you may just as well come on out and do this ride.

Here's a preview ...

Yeah, that's me out there (the screen really does put 50 pounds on you). Recognize the road that I'm riding? Of course not, because it's a secret road! You may know some of the other roads we will be doing, such as Snow Creek or Pigg Schoolhouse. If you read this blog regularly, you may have even heard about how beautiful Cathey's Creek is, or the great shady climb up to Ridgetop.

Well, this route has those ... and more. And, unlike a lot of my routes, it has less of something: This thing's just 65 itty-bitty miles long.

So, come join me and 100+ other riders Saturday, October 23, on a mini-vacation to a unique culture (just hang around the front porch of Mr. Fly's store for a while and you will see things you've never imagined). You'll ride some new (to you) roads through beautiful fall-colored country and enjoy cycling challenges and thrills. If you're one of the 100 registered riders, you'll also get delicious hot cajun food from Papa Boudreaux's and cold beer from Yazoo Brewery when it's all over.

And all the Italian that you need to know is "Gran Fondo."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Marys in the Overhead

When you tell people about long bike rides, they often shake their heads and say things like, "I could never do that. It would just hurt too much."

Right now, I'm at 32,000 feet over France, in a shakey shiny metal cylinder. The guy in front of me has his seat levered back so that it's resting on my left knee; my right knee is wedged against the bulkhead, under the armrest. (Airplane seats are not designed for 6' 2" people.) There's a baby 15 rows ahead of me -- I can only imagine how jarring the crying is in row 21 -- and a strange aroma keeps wafting up from a few rows back that could be someone's lunch, or maybe a recurrence from last night's dinner. We've got just eight hours of flying ahead -- about the amount of time that a fast 200K takes.

Travel like this hurts too much.

It's times like this that I fantasize about doing this kind of trip some other way ... any way that would not require me to get on an airplane or in a car. It's not that I'm afraid to fly, and it's not really on pure ecological grounds. Planes are necessary, and (compared to cars) not that big a polluter. I kind of like the view from a plane, and I like getting where I need to be relatively quickly. To be honest, I just have an aversion to being anywhere surrounded by lots of other people.

And it's not even that I don't like people, either. I am people. Some of my best friends are people. RandoGirl and the RandoDaughter are people, and most of my fellow randonneurs are people (or so they assure me). I often like meeting strangers, talking to them, and finding a different perspective on things.

But when you get this many of them all around me in a really small place, I immediately want out.

RandoGirl and I had a great time on the last days of our cycling trip. We had a few more days of really great long rides to beautiful locations. We went inland, stopping for a picnic on a nice quiet road surrounded by groves of orange and olive trees. We went back to the coast for quaint hotels on rugged shores with lovely sunsets.

Sunset over the sea in Agrigento

Sunday morning, we travelled to the Palermo airport with Ray and Sharon, a couple from Vancouver who had been on our trip. We took a cab to the Agrigento train station, and then crossed Sicily via the interior. From the train, it looked like nice quiet farmland interspersed with stark granite mountains. I kept wishing that I could have traversed this by bicycle, even though it was about 250 kilometers.

In Palermo, we took a bus to the airport. It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon, and everyone was out and about. There were bicycles everywhere in the city -- many folks just rambling around town, and some guys out doing their training.

Bike lane in Palermo

At the airport, we got to pay a fee for our luggage. Now, we had a lot of luggage -- probably too much -- but we had packed according to what we thought were the airport allowances. We were wrong, obviously, but you really have to wonder whether the airlines purposely try to make their baggage rules on their websites confusing, or if they are just lucky obfuscation amateurs.

Anyway, eventually we got on the first small silver tube. It wasn't too bad, as planes go. It was full, of course, and the seats were too small, and it smelled funny. But it took off on time -- at least, for Sicily -- and arrived.

At the Rome airport, we got our bags, ate a quick dinner, and headed for ground transportation. We had considered seeing if the Courtyard by Marriott had a shuttle, but could not figure it out. Finally, we went to the taxi stand and asked one of the drivers how much ("Cuanta costa" in Italian) for a ride to the Courtyard by Marriott in Fumiciano (which is the same city where the airport is). He said 20 euro, which was acceptable.

Of course, he couldn't be the one to drive us. I'm not sure if the older, irascible gentleman who grabbed our bags was supposed to be the next guy in line or what, but we ended up in his cab. I repeated the directions: Courtyard by Marriott in Fumciano -- via Portuense. "Si, si," he answered, and began the usual Rome taxi driving thrill ride on the autostrade. We quickly fastened our seat belts.

RandoGirl and I looked at one another when we saw the sign saying that we were leaving Fumiciano. I wanted to show the driver the address again, but he was weaving in and out of Saabs, Fiats, and Mercedes at over 100 kph. When he finally slowed down for the traffic, I held up the piece of paper on which I had written the hotel address again, saying, "Courtyard by Marriott ... Fumiciano."

"Si, si," he answered. "Marriott," pointing to a hotel on a hill. Hmm, we thought. It doesn't look like Courtyard by Marriotts usually do in the States, but he's the cab driver. Those guys are supposed to know.

We pulled up, and a bellhop came out for our bags. "Is this the Courtyard by Marriott?" RandoGirl asked.

"No, no," he replied. "That is in Fumiciano." Then he started to give the cab driver directions, but the driver said no, thanks. He could find it.

Back into the cab we go, and the cab driver is putting the address into his GPS. He wants Via Portuense in Rome -- we both tell him, "No! Fumiciano!"

He mumbles something under his breath, but all we catch is "Americano."

Soon, sure enough, we are on Via Portuense. The driver is going along, looking at addresses, and grumbling ... a lot. Apparently, Via Portuense parallels the autostrade, but he is insistent on staying on this busy street to take us to the hotel, which he seems to think must be close.

About 45 minutes and a half-dozen traffic-choked roundabouts later, we pull into the Courtyard by Marriott. Throughout this debacle, I had been watching the meter on the cab, which now read "68.50." After we get the bags out, I hand the driver the agreed upon 20 euro, plus a two-euro tip. He, somewhat predictably, explodes.

"No! No! This is impossible!" he cries. "Seventy!"

"No!" I reply. "You agreed! Twenty euro. It is not our fault that you took us first to the wrong hotel."

"No! No!" he said. "You said Marriott!"

"We said Courtyard by Marriott. In Fumiciano"

"Si, si, Marriott."

He then gave me back my 20 Euro bill and told me that I was a stupid American. I pointed out that at least I knew the difference between a Courtyard by Marriott and a Marriott, and he tried a few more times to pick a fight with me. RandoGirl and I started to walk away, and he asked for the 20 back. I gave it to him, and he said a few other things in Italian.

But I don't speak Italian. I'm a stupid American.

After a rather comfortable night at the Courtyard by Marriott, it took us five minutes on the six-euro shuttle to get back to the airport. There, we stood in line to give our bags, and then stood in another line to pay 50 euro for the extra bag. (Lufthansa and Alitalia must use the same lawyers to document their baggage policies ... or maybe it's the stupid American in me again.) This left us rushing for the gate, with a quick stop at the duty free store for a few bottles of Brunello di Montepulciano.

Back at baggage check-in, we had noticed a group of German tourists carrying large statues of the Virgin Mary. All of these folks were on our flight, which meant that their statues had to be properly stowed before we could leave the gate. Once the overhead bins were full of Virgin Marys, there wasn't enough room for the small carry-ons with which every European travels. (This is a sensible way of avoiding the extra-bag fee that only stupid Americans end up paying.) As a result, the area beneath every seat was crammed, jammed, and chock-a-block before we could finally push away from the gate ... half an hour past our appointed time.

Mary in a hoody

RandoGirl and I were a little worried now. We had a two-hour layover in Munich before our flight to Washington, DC, and then our final connection home to Nashville. Two hours had seemed like plenty when we were booking the flights ... but, then, three bags had not seemed excessive then, either.

After an hour and a half bumpy ride in another smelly metal cylinder, we jumped off the plane in Munich and ran for our gate. We had to go through another passport check, of course, and then another security screening, but we made it to the plane with a full 15 minutes to spare before the plane pushed away.

Getting to our seats, we would have heaved a sigh of relief ... but we were on another cramped, stinky cylinder and could not draw sufficient breath to heave said sigh ... without gagging on the stench of last night's stale bratwurst.

And, so, here we are on said same stinky cylinder. They just brought RandoGirl a cold Diet Coke in the smallest can I've ever seen.

In Europe it's Coke Light

I had been planning to do Paris-Brest-Paris next year. Maybe I can come over on a boat.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mi Amphora, Tu Amphora

It's just after 7 am Thursday here in Marinella. I'm sitting on the rooftop terrace of our hotel, watching the sun come up over the low peaks of eastern Sicily, and I am struck once again how beautiful this place is.

The weather here has been like Florida at this time of year, but with a little less humidity. The day starts off about perfectly, with temperatures in the upper 60's. It warms nicely by the time we start riding -- usually between 9 and 10 am -- and is toasty in the afternoon. The winds also pick up then, as you would expect being along the coast. Fabio says it's why the sailing here is so good.

Here's a picture of the sunset from this same terrace last night.

Tuesday we had a great ride. I planned to go out very early, descend Erice, and then climb back up to join everybody for breakfast and the "real" ride. Unfortunately, in all the hurry of getting someone to let me in to the garage where the bikes were kept, I grabbed the wrong bicycle -- RandoGirl's. By the time I realized my mistake, the garage door was closed and the hotel employee gone.

Descending Erice on a frame three sizes too small felt kind of weird. I was worried that climbing back up would be a little hard on my knees, so I only went a couple of miles before turning around and heading back up. I stood for most of it, so it wasn't too bad.

I got back to the hotel about the time that breakfast was being served, so I woke up RandoGirl and ate. Then, we all got the right bikes, and headed down the mountain.

My new plan was to descend, then climb back up the way that I had come, and then slowly try to catch back up to RandoGirl. I screwed it up a little by missing the left turn onto the new road, so I got another mile down and back on one of the roads that I had used to climb up to Erice before. Then, I took the right road down, which was so curvy and twisty that I was on the brakes all of the way. I then started back up, thinking that I would take some pictures during this climb.

But, you'll notice that there are no pictures. This is because I had (once again) left the memory card in the laptop, which leaves one with a camera that -- technically -- has no film. This left me with the sole option of hammering my way back up the climb.

Once back at the top, I "enjoyed" the descent again (I apologize now to my brakes), and then put my head down to try to catch up to the group. I eventually caught RandoGirl in Motya. We caught the ferry over and toured the Phoenician ruins there, then rode together along the salt pans to our hotel in Marsala. After getting cleaned up, we then toured one of the distilleries there that makes the wine named for the town.

It was very interesting and tasty. The wines are extremely varied, as you would expect from Sicily.

Wednesday, we got the bikes ready. They had spent the evening having a party in the courtyard.

I got to watch the guys load the spare bikes for a while. This is a pretty involved operation, particularly considering how narrow and twisty some of the roads are, and how low the tree branches hang over them.

(I'll try to publish the video below, but Sicily is not exactly internet city; if it doesn't show up, expect it when I'm back in the states.)

It had rained pretty heavily during the evening, so we had to go around (and thru) a lot of puddles on the first part of this day's ride. Usually, it was just RandoGirl and I, but for this stretch we picked up many of our fellow travellers. This gave us a chance to all get lost together a few times.

When we left the coast, we rode through vineyards. These look like raisins, which they use in some of the Marsala wines.

We stopped for lunch in Mazara del Vallo, walking around that town a bit. Then we continued down the coast. It was a lovely, rocky, wild-looking beach. It would have been spectacular if not for the piles of garbage.

Many of the architectural sites and museums here have amphoras. These are large clay vessels that the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, and whoever else lived here used to carry liquid produce. In a couple of thousand years, historians will have lots of our Coca Cola amphora.