Saturday, January 30, 2010

Washing Away the Pain

Saturday's forecast called for rain. Sometimes, unfortunately, the weather guys get it right.

I got up early -- before dawn, actually -- and took a long walk around Inverness. Eventually, I ended up back at Little Italy for another morning of capuccino and little cookies. Alfredo also had this wonderful pastry that he called a clam shell -- thin dough filled with sweet cream cheese.

Although I cannot give you an online taste of how good this pastry was, I can give you a look at this morning. Vida and Lynn Greer are there with Britton Kinnard, starting their recovery ride, and yours truly is there briefly in street clothes. Chuck Dunn filmed Alfredo in his kitchen working on a wedding cake. Alfredo had been up since 4 am working on the catering for this wedding, plus our dinner Saturday night.

Max Watzz is going to be so pissed when he gets his body back and finds that I have made it fat.

By the way, as you watch Alfredo, tell me if you don't think he looks like Stanley Tucci. RandoGirl said this, but I think he looks like Elden Nelson (a.k.a., The Fat Cyclist).

Not to say that Alfredo is fat. Of course, neither is Stanley or Elden. "Fat" is just a different concept for cyclists, who often suffer from body dysmorphic disorder ... or need excuses for being such slow climbers.

Following Friday's sufferfest, Saturday's schedule called for a short recovery ride ... 35 miles or so at an easy pace. RandoGirl and I rolled out from the hotel about 10 am, stopping again at Little Italy for a couple of sandwiches to go. We headed north, planning to have a picnic at the top of the trail.

Within a few miles, it started to rain. A few miles later, it really started to rain. Soon, RandoGirl was drafting off to one side to keep from becoming an example of that most forlorn of birds: the speckled yellow-jacketed wheel-sucker.

It didn't work. She and I were pretty soaked and muddy when we reached the end of the trail in Dunellon. There, we ran into two fellows who were doing a self-sagged century, and were waiting for the rain to end to begin their return trip. They -- very wisely -- gave up soon afterwards, but wanted to chat with us for a while. I told them that we were looking for the Dunellon Beach Park, which Alfredo had told us about that morning. They didn't know where that was, or even where downtown Dunellon was. I got the feeling that they would have wanted to share our sandwiches had we opted to stop and eat there at the trailhead, so RandoGirl and I started back south.

We stopped about midway back and ate the sandwiches, watching the rain fall while we dripped puddles under a picnic pavillion. Then, cold and still wet, we hammered the last few miles back to the hotel, where we showered and took a nap in preparation for that evening's festivities.

Saturday night, Alfredo does a huge dinner at Little Italy. Here's what we had:

Clams, shrimp, oysters, calamari, and mussels. It almost made me wish that I liked seafood.

Pasta filled with pears in a white sauce, with (I think) nutmeg. This may be the best pasta dish that I have ever eaten ... and I've eaten a lot of pasta.

An Italian wedding soup. If the spoon looks dirty, it's because I slurped a bit before I remembered to take a picture. Sorry.

Pork shank with broccoli. The meat literally was falling off the bone, and the gravy was so good I was sopping it up with bread.

Wine. Lots of wine. Some of us probably had too much wine, so that I failed to get pictures of the gelato that came before the pork shank, and the cannoli for dessert.

All I can remember was that it was very good Italian wine. There was this Something di Something Something that was really tasty, and a Something de Tutti Whatever. Brunello sticks in my head somewhere, and maybe Tattaglia or Corleone.

Fredo de Stanley Tucci?

Yeah ...

Why People Think I'm Crazy (Because I Am Crazy)

They closed schools where we live in Tennessee because of the snow Friday, and a lot of flights were cancelled in and out of Nashville airport. It took many people hours to get anywhere on the snowy roads. The 200K out of Murfreesboro was postponed.

It didn't seem that bad here in central Florida.


Okay, I felt guilty enjoying myself when so many people back home were in obvious straits. Just a little guilty. It lasted 20 seconds, when I checked The Weather Channel, and they kept going on and on about the ice in Memphis and what to do when your power goes out and blah-blah-blah. What a buzz kill. Just show me that the temperature here in Tampa is 65 degrees and shut the heck up.

We got in to Tampa airport Thursday before noon, gathered luggage, and jumped into the van with Clayton Grindstaff. After a quick lunch at Moe's on the way, we were in Inverness before 3 pm, where we quickly changed clothes and jumped on our bikes. A quick trip down to the Ridge Manor Trailhead and back, and we had done almost 50 miles. That was enough to knock the rust off the legs, and burn sufficient calories to get eat dinner at Papa Joe's.

We had originally intended to go long Saturday, but the weather that was making Tennessee a mess was actually going to bring rain to Florida, we we swapped the long day to Friday. We started the day right at Little Italy in downtown Inverness, having capuccino and cookies.

The owner, Alfredo was glad to see us ... as usual. He always takes great care of us on these trips, keeping us properly fueled morning noon and night. I'll write later this week about the incredible feast he fixed for us Saturday night.

Since this was RandoGirl's first time on the Gran Fondo Florida Excursion, Alfredo also took great joy in showing her the special picture of him in the restaurant bathroom. You'll just have to go to Inverness someday to appreciate it.

I had originally planned a long route of 120 miles, but when we did not roll out until 10 am I made some quick thinking and decided how we could curtail things into a nice century. It would get us down to the "hill country" of Dade City and San Antonio, but not allow us to get cuban food at the Las Palmas Cafe near Pebble Creek. Doing the original route and getting back before dark would have required us to average almost 20 miles an hour -- fighting a headwind for about 50 of them -- and nobody was up for that.

I certanly proved that I wasn't.

Lynn and Vida Greer, Michal Miller, Vic Rodgers, Britton Kinnard, and myself nonetheless averaged about that down to the south end of the Withlacoochie Trail in Trilby. Once on the rolling "real" roads there, we found the going much harder, since we were not as sheltered from the strong steady southern wind. After five miles of this, Lynn, Vida, and Michael decided that they would rather finish their century on the Trail, and headed back.

This left me with Vic and Britton. Vic -- who was the Tennessee Bicycle Racing Association (TBRA) champion for five years -- and Britton -- who used to race professionally in Belguim and talks nonchalantly about doing training rides with "George" (I think he means Hincapie, and not Hiscox).

Help me, Momma.

This was my view for most of the next 40 miles. Since things are not tinted red in the pictures, I can only assume that my eyeballs really were filling up with blood.

Britton, and then Vic, would pull us into a steady Florida 20 mph headwind doing 25 -- which those of you who understand physics and combined vector calculations know is roughly equivalent to riding in dead air at 136.37 miles per hour (maybe I should say those of you who understand physics as poorly as I do, since I still don't get why we all don't go flying off into space). Then I would go to the front and kill myself to keep the speed close to 20 mph for a few seconds, tap out, and hope to hang onto the end again when it came by. I kept hoping to summon up Max Watzz, but just like the way the Hulk never gets there before Bruce Banner gets a fat lip, Max stayed away.

Fortunately, as I led them further towards Tampa, I was the only one that knew the roads. Vic and Britton had no choice but to keep me around.

Once we started north, though, and the wind was behind us, I realized what a whipped puppy I was. Vic and Britton were easily able to take the pace up to 30, and all I could do was watch them fade away. Of course, this happened before we turned left onto Handcart Road, so they missed the turn. I waited at the corner and let them enjoy a few bonus miles to teach them a lesson, and they were then willing to suffer my prescence again.

Yes, I am a mean S.O.B.

In San Antonio, I recharged my batteries with a great sandwich from the San Ann Market, and was then able to pull again for a few miles. Of course, we still had the tailwind, so it was no big deal.

That's Britton clowning around in the back. It is really wonderful to ride with someone as strong as he is ... someone who can take these pulls, sit up, eat a cliff bar, and basically be one with the bike. If you thought that you could actually transcend to that level, it would give you something to aspire to; instead, it just lets you know that these things actually are possible.

This part of Florida, by the way, is rife with orange trees like these.

We rode through miles of groves. For those of you who are worried about the effect that the early January freeze might have had on the crops: Fear not. We saw trucks full of them. You will still have orange juice this year.

Once we got back to Trilby, I sent Vic and Britton on their fast way and rolled back at a more leisurely pace. I even stopped to take pictures of the bike shop in Hampton.

And the solar-powered bathroom in Istachatta.

Back at the hotel, I downed a chocolate milk and then crawled into the shower. I had to lay around a bit moaning in pain and rubbing my legs before I could get cleaned up and crawl over to Walter Thompson's room for a dinner of antipasta from Little Italy.

Much like the woeful tales trickling in from friends in Nashville buried beneath snow had cheered me earlier, listening to everyone else describe their long hard ride during the day made me happier here.

Misery loves company ... particularly when that company is able to take long pulls into the wind for you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Getting a Dose of Vitamin FLA

Today is my birthday. Congratulations to me -- I failed to die young.

Tomorrow, RandoGirl and I board a plane and wing our winsome way down to the land of sunshine and sharks: Florida. It's my birthday present this year ... a long weekend staying at a hotel right next to an excellent rails-to-trails, doing nothing but cycling and eating good food, and maybe not being forced to wear three layers of clothing (for the cycling, not the food -- since I never learned to eat any way other than by rubbing my face around in a bowl, I always wear a wetsuit to dinner ... it qualifies as black tie).

Of course, the real reason for the trip is the annual Cycling Sabbatical for Gran Fondo (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe). For the past few years, on the last weekend in January they close up the shop and head down to Inverness, FL. We stay at a hotel on the Withlacoochee Trail, so we have easy access to a 45-mile paved, flat, automobile-free road. Also, since we're in town, it's a short ride to the Little Italy of Inverness Deli, where we will have espresso every morning and panini most days for lunch, and then they will do a special dinner for us all on Saturday night.

Cycling, sunshine, warmth, and good food. Does it get any better?

Why, yes, it does. For I have planned an almost-200K for Saturday. This route will enable me to do my birthday ride (again, technically, since I rode twice my age this past Saturday) and burn enough calories that I can enjoy the huge meal that evening with no guilt. Well, not too much guilt; I am regularly quasi-consumed with guilt at any meal watching people shy away from my wetsuited food-smeared hideousness.

But, back to the route. It will give me a chance to see a bunch of roads that I used to ride regularly when I lived in Tampa during the first four years of this millennium.

The route has us going right past my old neighborhood. I miss it so ... particularly this time of year, when I compare temperatures (today's high here: 48; today's high there: 66).

Near the bottom, we will stop for lunch at Las Palmas, which makes a great cuban sandwich. (It's all about the food.)

Here's my route sheet for this, by the way. Feel free to use it the next time you're in Inverness and want to do a 200K ... or a 195K, really.

Withlacoochie Trail to Trilby Trail Head (store just east of here) 28.00 28.00
Head west on Co Rd 575/Trilby Rd toward Tavern Rd 2.90 30.90
Turn left to stay on Co Rd 575/Trilby Rd 3.10 34.00
Turn left at Blanton Rd 3.60 37.60
Turn right at Ramsey Rd 1.00 38.60
Turn right at Co Rd 578/St Joe Rd 0.80 39.40
Take the 1st left onto Happy Hill Rd 2.10 41.50
Continue onto Prospect Rd 2.20 43.70
Turn left at Co Rd 579/Handcart Rd 4.50 48.20
Turn right at Co Rd 579/Eiland Blvd/Handcart Rd -
store at Hwy 54 (road becomes Morris Bridge)
7.70 55.90
Turn right at Cross Creek Blvd (after about 2 miles pass Arbor Green - Robert's old neighborhood) 4.50 60.40
Turn right at Bruce B Downs Blvd/Co Rd 581 0.60 61.00
Stop for Lunch at Las Palmas
Turn right (north) on Bruce B Downs 1.30 62.30
Turn right on County Line Road 2.60 64.90
Turn right on Mansfield Blvd (becomes Strickland) 0.20 65.10
Turn left on Beardsley Road 1.70 66.80
Turn left on Meadowpoint Blvd 4.50 71.30
Turn left on FL-54W 1.10 72.40
Turn right on Curley Road 5.90 78.30
Turn left to stay on Curley/County 577 (thru St. Antonio) 4.60 82.90
Continue onto Jessamine Rd 3.00 85.90
Turn right on Blanton Rd 1.30 87.20
Turn left on Trilby Rd 5.90 93.10
Go north on Withlacoochie Trail back to hotel 28.00 121.10

This route goes through what we used to call the "hilly" part of central Florida, near St. Antonio and Dade City. This could drag our average speed down enough that it may take us seven hours to do this route ... including the stop for lunch.

Meanwhile, here in Nashville many of my fellow randonneurs will be doing the 200K that starts in Murfreesboro. I don't mean to rub it in, but they will be enjoying a forecasted high temperature of 31 F, and climbing just over 6,000 feet (if memory serves, and it should serve from the left). Meanwhile, I'll have a high of 67 F, and maybe 600 feet of climbing.


Anyway, I'll try to post some blogs from down there, but I wanted to warn my loyal readers. To those of you for which my blog posts are the highlight of your day: Get a life. Try oral surgery or something else that's about as much fun as my blog. To those of you who are already climbing the walls due to a desperate desire for sunshine and riding your bike in warmer temperatures, and for whom pictures of cyclists enjoying a ride in the tropics could push you over the edge: You may want to just read Fat Cyclist and Bike Snob NYC for the next few days.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Pity the Students, and the Pig

People that climb well can be cruel. This fact was driven home to me Saturday when my "friend" -- who earned quote status by her cruelty -- Vida Greer showed me Pigg Schoolhouse Road.

This is the view from the top. It's not really all that much to see, and I sort of wish that I had taken a picture of the road from the bottom. It would have impressed you. It's one of those roads that, when you come up on it, you think "Wow. That must be some poor bastard's driveway." You know that it cannot be a real road, because that would mean that some government agency would be willing to maintain it, and get trucks and stuff up it, and most vehicles that have wheels -- as opposed to treads, like earth-movers and tanks -- could never climb that road.

But it was not a driveway, and by the time I realized this I was climbing it and did not dare stop.

Some roads, on a bicycle, you have to scoot way forward on the saddle to climb. This is not so much for comfort as it is for weighting, since it's the only way to keep the front wheel from coming up off the pavement. It takes mad skillz to steer a bicycle that way -- Floyd Landis was legendary when he was with U.S. Postal for doing wheelies for a mile, and that's probably what it would be like.

I don't have mad skillz, so my butt was as far forward on that saddle as it would go without me sitting, really, on the top tube.

Obviously, we made it. We then went on to ride just over 100 miles, including a stretch down Carter's Creek Road that actually goes along Carter's Creek.

Every cyclist in middle Tennessee has ridden Carter's Creek Road, but not many of us have seen the creek. Most of us, instead, just ride the portion between Leiper's Fork and Thompson's Station that the county recently ruined by putting rumble strips on the shoulder. The cars now come up behind you and get irritated that you aren't on the shoulder. It's a war of wills -- I recently updated mine so that everything goes to RandoGirl.

Yeah, that was bad.

We rolled north with a tailwind, then beat into the wind to have lunch at Henpeck. You really have to like the food from somewhere if you're willing to fight at 20+ mph headwind for about file miles just to get a bowl of soup.

After Henpeck we went up towards downtown Franklin, and stopped at the Carnton Plantation, mostly because we had decided to become tourists and see the sights. I'd never been there before, and it was pretty neat. It's amazing the stuff that you bike past all the time and never know is there, because you're too busy to stop and take a look.

By the way, that's the new Gran Fondo kit. It probably should not be worn with sandals, since that takes the racing panache out of the equation, but c'est la guerre.

Despite the strong winds, the weather was warm and it never rained on us. I managed to get in over 102 miles, so now I can officially say that I've done my "ride my age on my birthday, or the weekend just before or just after my birthday" thing. And now I know what Pigg Schoolhouse Road looks like. I never saw any pigs, or the schoolhouse, by the way.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I Am Joe Btfsplk

I noticed a frightening trend this morning on my ride in to work.

Yesterday, I check the weather: Ten percent chance of rain, with temperatures staying in the 40's all day. Not exactly primo cycling weather ... but it'll do.

This morning, eating breakfast and fixing my coffee, I check the weather again. Misting out, but not really raining. Temperatures still supposed to be in the 40's all day. Again, not great, but I've got my cycling things on and my bag is packed, so off I roll.

Into the rain.

Well, maybe not really rain. I wasn't being pelted by actual raindrops ... to put it in a Chemistry 101 vernacular, this was actually a case of atmospheric supersaturation. The water molecules were falling out of solution.

Ah, but I love speaking nerd.

Anyhow, what with this morning's commute and last Saturday's soggy 200K permanent, I decided that I have become Joe Btfsplk.

Now, I'm probably dating myself with this reference ... but, that's okay, because RandoGirl doesn't like me dating anybody else anyway. Joe Btfsplk is a character from L'il Abner -- a comic strip that I read when I was growing up. For those of you who don't remember, there used to be things called "newspapers" -- so called because they were full of news and were printed on stuff called paper -- that had a section called "the funnies" or "the comics." This section was usually a page or two of comic strips, which regaled us with the unparalleled humor of Nancy and the drama of Mary Worth.

Think cave paintings, but with talk balloons over the stegosaurus' head.

Anyhow, L'il Abner was a strapping hillbilly boy, sweet-natured but simple-minded, who eventually grew up to become Fred Thompson. Just kidding -- since L'il Abner was a comic strip he stayed eternally young and has all of his hair. Besides, Fred Thompson is not really sweet-natured.

There was a cast of colorful characters in L'il Abner's world in the hollers of Dogpatch, including the aforementioned Joe Btfsplk. Joe was a jinx, with a dark cloud always over his head. Bad luck befell anyone unfortunate enough to be in his vicinity. Although Joe meant well and was friendly, his reputation inevitably preceded him, so that Joe was a very lonely little man.

Now, I don't think that the universe necessarily revolves around me, but that's because I don't think that the universe revolves at all. It's actually slowly spreading outward away from me, since I was the original center of the Big Bang (which looked like nothing the TV show). I don't even think that I am the cause of all of the good, bad, or indifferent things that happen in the universe, although I do not discount the idea that if I did not live in this universe those things might not continue to happen. Certainly, I would probably cease to care whether they happened or not.

But my point (if indeed I have one) is that lately, if there is the slightest possibility of crappy weather and I go out riding in it, said bad weather will materialize. Thus, I feel that I owe an apology to everyone else who happens to venture out on these days.

Everyone: I'm sorry that I ruined your ride Saturday and today. If you got caught out in the rain on either of those days, you can now blame me: RandoBoy.

Oh, and a word of warning: Don't go out for a ride this weekend. I'm going to be out there, and you know what that means.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Salad Days

If you ever stay in a hotel with a randonneur, you will soon discover that, as soon as they get into the room, they will turn on the television and find the Weather Channel.

Seriously, they will flip through the bottom-of-the-ninth bases-loaded seventh game of the World Series, past Who Shot J. R., and not even slow down (much) for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. The critical thing is to find "your local weather on the 8's" and see what the morning will bring. If it's more than a 300K, they will also want to know what tomorrow night will be like ... and maybe a night or two beyond that.

After they've studied the map in motion for half an hour, you can flip back to Victoria's Secret while they repack their bags and get out what they're wearing in the morning.

The middle Tennessee RBA, Jeff Sammons, was going by the weather forecasts last Tuesday when he suggested that Saturday would be a great opportunity for a 200K permanent. Five of us -- Kevin Warren, Peter Lee, David Bauer, Phil Randall, and myself -- eventually agreed with him. I waited until Thursday, when the weather report was pretty solidly predicting a dry 50 degrees.

Compared to what we had been "enjoying" so far this year, it was decent when we started the ride. The weather lady that morning had said that we wouldn't get as much sunshine as they had predicted on Friday, but that it shouldn't start raining before dark. And it was definitely warmer, with the temperature above freezing as the sun rose.

David Collings came with us through the first control at College Grove and on to Versailles. By then, the day had warmed enough for me to take off one pair of tights, and we rolled on towards Bell Buckle.

You may notice that Kevin Warren (on the left) is riding his fixed gear bike. Since Jeff Bauer -- who often does these winter rides fixed -- has been working nights and weekends and couldn't come out Saturday, it was good of Kevin to do this. Those of us who use technological innovations like freewheels feel less pain on very long rides when we coast past folks on fixed gear bikes.

We made very good time, getting to Normandy and the turnaround at the George Dickel Distillery by 11 am. I have finally figured out how to get the timer on my camera to work, and was thus able to get a picture of all of us in the group. From left: RandoBoy, Jeff, Kevin, Phil, and Peter. Dave Bauer was a little behind us at this time.

Leaving the distillery, I was feeling pretty good, and I think Max Watzz took over. It was only 15 miles back to Bell Buckle, but all I know is that at one point I was at Normandy, and the next thing I knew I was leaning my bike against the convenience store wall, just under the awning. It was raining, and my legs hurt. About five minutes later everyone else pulled in, and we had lunch.

It drizzled off and on all the way back to College Grove. Pulling into the grocery store there, Kevin found that his rear wheel was flat. As he had never changed the tire on this bike before, it was a learning experience for all of us.

Q: How many randonneurs does it take to fix a flat tire?
A: All of them.

We also somehow managed to knock out the quick link on Kevin's chain. Fortunately, the store had needle-nose pliers, and Kevin's bike was quickly right as rain ... pardon the pun.

Yeah, we got about half a mile down the road before the tire went flat again. It was still raining, the road was busy, we didn't have the store awning, and we were all getting cold. This time, Peter pulled out the new folding tire that he almost always carries, and we replaced both tube and tire in about 10 minutes.

Q: How many randonneurs does it take to change the and tire.
A: Still all of them, but they do it really fast in cold rain.

Anyway, once we started going again, I was shivering and beginning to worry about the traffic awaiting us in the fading light once we got back to Brentwood. When we started up Eudaily-Covington Road, I let Max Watzz take over again, since redlining the engine up a long climb is one of the best ways that I know of to get warm. He did not let up again until he was back at the last control, within half a mile of the dry comfort of my car.

Peeling off wet clothing as the engine tried to warm up, the thermometer on the RAAMinator read 43 degrees. It was almost 5 pm, so I don't think the forecast high of 50 ever materialized.

Nonetheless, we had all finished the ride -- albeit wetter and colder than we would have liked -- and now had the year's first 200K behind us. For folks like Jeff that are working towards another R-12 award, this is critical, since the weather will probably be cataclysmic for the next two weekends.

At least, it had better be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If You Gotta Ride Inside ...

Last week: 10 hours of cycling. All of it indoors.

We had snow, icy roads, and single digit temperatures. While that may be nothing to many of you, I am a Southerner. I was born in Atlanta. My people are from Florida, and our blood has been thinned to such a degree that we are most comfortable in 85 degree temperatures with 90% humidity. This is the same adaptation that causes us to say "y'all" correctly and effect a beguiling dipthong.

Fortunately, RandoGirl's new E-Motion Rollers had finally arrived (her birthday present from me ... I love giving presents that I then get to use). I've almost learned how to ride on them without crashing.

Most of the 10 hours, though, was spent in the best spin class I've ever attended. Well, to be accurate, six of the best spin classes that I've ever attended.

Now, I'm on record as saying that I hate to ride inside at all. As the "Rando" part of my name would imply, my cycling style is not exactly in sync with "stumps and jumps" and other weird drills you often get in spin classes. There's not even fenders or lights on a spin bike, for crying out loud.

But there's this spin class at the YMCA that is ... well, different. It's not quite as good as being on a "real" bike -- although it's a harder workout than I would get in the same amount of time on a "real" bike, other than during a race. And, frankly, it's a better workout than I would get during a race: You focus on form and technique in the class, while in a race you only focus on the competition.

How good is this class?

Normally, the instructor for this class teaches at 5 and 6 am Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are about 30 bikes in the spin studio, and they all almost all taken. If I want a bike in the class, I have to get up at 4:20 and get to the YMCA at least 10 minutes before class.

Still not convinced it's popular. Just wait.

This past Saturday, the instructor also taught the 7 and 8 am classes on Saturday, substituting for the regular teacher. She's pretty popular, but when we heard (in Thursday's class) that we could get in an extra workout Saturday, a number of us decided to come Saturday.

It snowed here Thursday. Friday it turned colder, and Friday night it snowed some more. The roads were thus really nasty Saturday morning -- probably impassable in spots. I figured that this would keep a lot of folks away from the class. Only the truly dedicated would brave the elements, risking life and limb on icy roads like this.

Fortunately, I wanted some extra time spinning before and after class, so I got there 15 minutes early. This turned out to be a good thing because both the 7 and 8 am classes were full. People were showing up 10 minutes before class was set to start, and they got turned away.

That's a good spin class.

It's such a good spin class that, when I first started to write this blog, I was going to tell you which YMCA it was at and who taught this class. But then, Tuesday, I got to class a little late -- 4:50 am instead of 4:45 am -- and I almost couldn't get a bike.

So I started thinking: What if all of my loyal readers were to start attending this spin class? Along with the 30 folks that currently take this class on a regular basis, that would add up to ... let's see ... carry the 1 ... yes, that would make 30 people regularly attending this class!

I just don't need the competition.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Make Lanes and Change People? How About Just Do Your Job!

Most of us cyclists who regularly take to the streets have been following the case in Los Angeles whereby Dr. Christopher Thompson allegedly slammed on his car brakes after passing and pulling in front of two riders. One cyclist, Ron Peterson, was flung face-first into the rear window of Thompson's red Infiniti, breaking his front teeth and nose and cutting his face. The other cyclist, Christian Stoehr, slammed into the sidewalk and suffered a separated shoulder.

Thompson was convicted of mayhem and assault with a deadly weapon. He was also found guilty of reckless driving in an earlier incident in which prosecutors said he tried to hurt two other cyclists. Saturday, Dr. Thompson was sentenced to five years in prison.

In reporting the sentencing, the Los Angeles Times quoted the sentencing judge, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Millington, regarding his views that the victims were particularly vulnerable because they were on bicycles. The judge called on cyclists and drivers to respect each other, adding that local government should add more lanes specifically assigned to cyclists to improve their safety.

Thanks, judge. We do appreciate you getting this putz off the road for a few years, and hope that it will make other drivers think twice about screwing with a cyclist. Maybe your heart is in the right place with the speech, but I think it's more likely that you're using the bully pulpit to get re-elected. While I agree with the message, I'd rather that you and the cops just do your job and crack the whip every time the current laws protecting cyclists get broken.

On the day of the crash, the cyclists said Dr. Thompson honked loudly from behind and passed by dangerously close as they moved to ride single file. Here in Tennessee, the doctor would have broken two laws right there, but I doubt that he would have been cited for either. It's only when the driver actually does injury to someone that the authorities seem willing to step in ... if then.

We would all love to have more bike lanes ... at least, those of us that ride bicycles ... but they cost a lot of money and -- like most capital improvements -- are slow to put in. Supposedly, the widened section of Concord Road, not to far from Stately Rando Manor, will have a bike lane. Using this, I'll be able to ride Concord from Edmondson Pike to Sunset Road without taking my life in my hands. I heard about this project when we first moved here in the summer of 2005, which means that it has taken at least five years to get about two miles of bike lane put in ... a bike lane that is really just an afterthought, since they needed to widen this road regardless.

I won't wait the 200 years that it will take for the Powers That Be to pass and implement road improvement projects that will string together enough bike lanes for me to get where I want to go. Maybe by then "cars" will all be flying DeLoreans with built-in flux capacitors and Mr. Fusions, and the roads will be solely for cycles anyway.

People could follow the admonition of Judge Millington and "try and get along." But, just in case people the world over don't suddenly grow consciences and become empathetic to those of us who aren't in two-ton SUVs, I would just appreciate it if Judge Millington -- and all of the other judges and members of our court systems and law enforcement -- would quit ignoring and start enforcing the laws that we have on the books designed to protect cyclists.

We're dying for a little justice out here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Good Things About It Being This Cold

I like to think that I am an optimist. When Life gives me lemons, I squeeze all of the juice out of them to get acid with which I can make an underwear bomb, then I throw the pulp and lemon skin back at Life and say nasty things about his mother. "I don't need your stinking pity lemons, Life!"

With this in mind, as I sat in my car this morning waiting for the engine to warm up and the defroster to melt a big enough hole in the windshield so I can drive to work, I started to think about just how much this totally sucked. By this I mean: EVERYTHING.

For one thing, I'm in a car. I don't like being in a car ... unless I've got my bike in the back of the car and we're heading somewhere nice for a bike ride. I really prefer to just get on my bike and bike somewhere nice for a bike ride, and then bike back home, and leave the car to rot in the driveway.

I dislike cars -- yes, even the RAAMinator -- so much that I've taken to not parking the RAAMinator in the RandoCave. Three cars in the RandoCave means that there isn't much room to work on bikes, and since the weather has been too cold to ride bikes, the only quality time I get to spend around my bikes is when I'm working on them. This is why all of my bikes are so clean right now. Obsessive-compulsive clean. You can eat off of them, although the food tastes slightly of orange ... probably because of all of the citrus-based degreasing cleaner I use. Eating off of them gives me an excuse to clean them again, though.

So, this morning, I'm sitting in the RAAMinator listening to the radio that is turned up really loud so I can hear it over the air blasting out of the defroster. Some idiotic drivel comes on ... a bad cover of a song that sucked the first time it came out in the 70's. So I put in some Primus -- Here Come the Bastards -- and turned it up even louder. I'm thinking that maybe the neighbors can even hear it now ... and I don't care. Let 'em listen to some weird metal in 5/4 time for a while, I think. Mess up their bourgeois brains.

Grumble, grumble, grumble. You know I'm in a pissy mood when I'm willing to use time signatures as a weapon.

Fortunately, my caffeine was finally kicking in by then, so I decided to think about some of the good things about it being this cold. Here's what I came up with:
  1. My bikes are cleaner than they've ever been, and are all in good working order. Of course, this made me think about how prime they are right now for riding ... so I moved quickly to the next good thing.
  2. I've been able to spend time on various home-improvement projects inside Stately Rando Manor. The RandoCave is now well organized, and RandoGirl and I just finished converting one of the spare bedrooms to a workout room. We moved most of the furniture out and put noise-dampening and sweat-absorbing mats on the floor. Her new rollers came yesterday (a birthday present ... although it took them over a month to build and ship them), and those went in. I also put the trainer and other assorted exercise stuff up there, and will move the spin bike and treadmill in later this week. To top it off, we put in a nice television and DVD player. Now I can go up there and bike inside.
    Oh, goody. Better move on.
  3. Nothing could possibly survive this cold, particularly mosquitoes. I have a theory that mild winters mean buggy summers; the past couple of winters have been somewhat warmer than usual, and it sure seemed like we had lots of gnats. This spring, we should have fewer problems because the gnats and mosquitoes and horseflies will be dead. Dead, dead, dead! Yes!
And that really cheered me up.

Unfortunately, I can't think of any other good things about this cold. If you've got anything, leave it in a comment. In the meantime, I'm just going to focus on dead insects, which will make me happy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Big Bad Bob

Today marks the 11th anniversary of when I bottomed out by max-ing out.

It was 1999, and I had spent the past few weeks partying like it was ... well, 1999. I was a couple of weeks away from my 40th birthday, and I did something one morning that I had not done in a long time: I stepped on the scale.

It read 280 pounds, as it had for the past few months. This was a cheap scale that only went to 280 pounds, though, and the needle was way beyond that mark, straining to complete the loop and put me back at zero. So I stepped on the new digital scale that was up in the guest bedroom.

It said that I weighed 310 pounds.

I had spent most of my 30's building up to this. I weighed about 200 pounds when I graduated from college and began the sedentary life of a working man. In my late 20's I started fighting the weight, going to the gym, dieting when I got the itch, and then pretty much eating what I wanted when the itch passed. About the time the RandoDaughter was born the only exercise that I got was playing golf on the weekends, riding in a cart as close to the ball as I could get, whacking at it badly, and then riding on towards the green.

In 1996, RandoGirl and I went to Paris. Here's a picture of me on the tour bus admiring the Eiffel Tower.

A couple of years later, we went to England. Here's a picture of me there. I think that's a castle behind me, but it's so hidden behind my massive girth that you have to guess.

When we moved in closer to Atlanta, our neighborhood had a great club with two pools and a deck. We had the RandoDaughter's seventh and eighth birthday parties there. There are -- thankfully -- no pictures of me swimming at this pool. I did swim ... or really just floated well ... but you would not want to have seen me without a shirt.

We went to a few of the Disney parks in November of 1998. Here's a lovely shot featuring my ample backside killing a ferris wheel horse.

Most of our friends here in Tennessee never saw me when I was huge. When they come over to the house and stumble upon an old picture of me, they are pretty stunned. Many of them say that I should put some "fat me" pictures up on the blog ... that it might inspire other folks to lose weight.

I don't know about that. Real changes like this can only come from within. For years, friends and family tried to get me to lose weight. Pleading, cajoling, threatening, telling me about this new diet plan and that, buying me exercise equipment and gym memberships ... they tried it all. They did it out of love, and I thank them all for the attempt now.

But I only lost the weight when I finally got sick and tired of being fat. I wasn't having much fun. I saw the way that people looked at me, and I felt like a joke. And I began to dread the day when I would drop the RandoDaughter off at school and one of her classmates would say something about her dad, the blimp. She would defend me, but it would sting. I could not let my weakness hurt her.

Losing that weight was not easy. By 2000, I was down to 250 pounds and could start exercising without my joints screaming from the strain. That birthday, RandoGirl bought me a bike -- a hybrid from REI that I rode for years. By 2002 I weighed 220, and RandoGirl bought me a Cannondale ... a real road bike. That spring I rode my first century.

I generally keep my weight in the 180's now, depending upon how cold it is. Back then, I was borderline hypertensive and about to go on blood pressure medication. Today, when I check it in the machine at Publix it usually says 110/70, with a resting heart rate of 50.

The thing that really bugs me now is how much damage I did to myself and my loved ones during those fat years. It has left scars, inside and outside, that not even plastic surgery can heal.

When I went to write this blog, I dug through a huge box of photographs, looking for good examples of Fat RandoBoy. Take a look again at the picture of me in Paris -- there are only three pictures of me on that whole trip. I went through envelope after envelope of photographs from trips to the beach, parties, school events ... in most of them I am hiding. If the camera happens to catch me, I am scowling at it, because the camera does not lie and was thus my enemy.

I managed to miss out on fully enjoying some of the best times, and I managed to avoid showing up in the pictures. It's almost as if I wasn't there at all.

Sure, I'm doing better now. But back then? I blew it.