Thursday, May 27, 2010

True Confessions: I Sent Money to Floyd

Yeah, I really did.

I believed Floyd. I wanted to believe Floyd. I watched Stage 17 in 2006 -- or at least all of it that Versus (or OLN back then) showed. I was bummed out for Floyd after bonking so bad the day before, and then watched as he rode off the front. I remember seeing him dump bottle after bottle of water over his head, which kept making me worry about his chamois getting soaked, and whether he knew about the wonders of Lantiseptic on the nether regions during a wet ride like that. The ultra-cycling mind just goes there. Sorry.

I remember watching the descent to the finish line on that stage, while everyone else was just coming over the top, thinking about the downhill skills of mountain bikers. I remember the fist pump, and thinking that I would never buy a Phonak kit because the colors were just butt-ugly.

And then, right after the Tour ended, I remember thinking that the French lab had to be making this up. The evidence would vindicate Floyd. When it didn't, I was willing to give Floyd money to fight to prove his innocence. When that failed, I sighed and thought that it was a shame that this good man had been so thoroughly framed.

And now Floyd says he doped ... although he says that he didn't on Stage 17.
"Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."

- Bob Seger, Against the Wind
While we're at it, I might as well confess that I also believed Tyler Hamilton. Again, I wanted to believe, particularly after Stage 16 in 2003 -- the broken-collarbone-attack-climb-Bagarguy-hold-off-pack-for-70-miles stage win. He came in fourth that year. Not even on the podium. But he ground the enamel off of his freaking molars as he continued racing though the pain.
"My heroes have always been cowboys ..."

- Willie Nelson
I grew up reading comic books. My mom says that I learned to read from SpiderMan.

It's one thing when SpiderMan catches a bad guy, but it's when SpiderMan has been beaten to a pulp by the Green Goblin and is laying there next to dead that he can only be heroic. The Goblin says he's going to kill Mary Jane, and SpiderMan gets up and kicks Goblin butt.

Heroism is really only attainable when you're on the brink of defeat and up against impossible odds. That's why those stage wins from Floyd and Tyler were heroic to me.

But what am I supposed to think of them now?
"Dazed and confused, going out of my head ..."

- Jake Holmes
Yeah, like most of you I always thought that this was a Led Zeppelin song. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant somehow beat the plagiarism lawsuit, but later gave Holmes partial credit.

When I hear that song today, I still get a sense of what it felt like to be a freshman in high school in the early 70's. Should Led Zeppelin's plagiarism ruin the song for me? Should I now feel a little dirty when I remember slow dancing with Stacy Chapman -- or at least for reasons other than the immoral thoughts that I was having then about Stacy?

Sadly, I do. Knowing that Jake Holmes never got rich off of that song ruins it for me a little bit. In the same way, finding out that Floyd doped soils the memory of that glorious stage to Morzine, and Tyler's problems make me sad now when I think of the 2003 Tour.
"I want to be a happy idiot ..."

- Jackson Browne, The Pretender
Maybe innocence is an inevitable victim of maturity. That's probably why Peter Pan could fly.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

6.5 Hours of Sleep: Pay It Forward

A 600K can be many things. Exhilarating. Painful. Breathtakingly beautiful. Challenging. Humiliating.

But it cannot be easy. A randonneur might say that a 600K was easy, but what he or she really mean is that it was "comparatively easy."

"How was the Tennessee 600K?"

"Oh, it was easy ... compared to last year."

The old Tennessee 600K had 27,000 feet of climbing. The new one only has 21,000 feet ... although sections are steeper than the old course, and the almost incessant rollers made it hard to get a rhythm going.

See what I mean? 21,000 feet of climbing, as opposed to 27,000 feet? And, either way, you're biking 375 miles (don't ask me why the above elevation profile only shows 363 miles -- stupid computer) in 40 hours or less.

Not easy. Yet for some reason all of us below seem to be smiling.

We're either deluded or idiots. Or both.

Thirteen (a lucky number) rolled out at 4 am Saturday morning from Scottsville, KY, riding through early morning fog in temperatures just warm enough for a light jacket. The sun started to turn the world into a fuzzy light gray cotton ball within an hour, as most of the group stayed together and rode easy.

Tennessee RBA Jeff Sammons, shown above just after we entered Mammoth Cave National Park, designed this route with Kevin Warren. Jeff had test-ridden the route in November with a couple of other randonneurs, and had since tweaked the route. It included two river crossings by ferry, with the first one coming fairly early.

It was pretty cool crossing a river by ferry. If you've ever done it by car, it's cool that way, too. One thing to remember with a bicycle, however, is that most times crossing a river or creek or any body of water involves a downhill, followed by a climb. Crossing a river on a ferry usually means that the road is old, since they haven't put the money into building a bridge. The surfaces were good, but the climbs back up after the ferry ride were very steep. So, here's a hint to cyclists: Downshift before you roll on to the ferry.

Much of the group remained together through the first control as the fog cleared, but then seven of us slowly pulled away from the pack. This group included Jeff Bauer and myself, as well as George Hiscox, Scott Ohlwiler, Jeremy Miller, Steve Phillips, and Ed Garrison.

We were riding very hard, and minimizing our time at the controls. That's why I don't have more pictures. Also, to be honest, we were working so hard that I was sweating a lot (more on that later), and the camera lens had sweat on it for the few pictures I did take Saturday.

At the third control, I wiped the lens with a napkin. Here's George there, after filling his bottle and buying a box of Fig Newton's.

What we ate Saturday we generally ate on the bike. George put the Fig Newton's in his back pocket and munched them for the next hour or so. I had one or two myself, but also ate Pay Day candy bars that I would buy and stash in my front bag. For a sugar boost, I ate Skittles. When it's colder, I like chocolate, but this past weekend was too warm to keep chocolate from melting. If you've ever tried to eat melted chocolate on a bike, you know that it then gets on your gloves, your fingers, your handlebars, your face ... everything. It is not pretty.

David Nixon and Wendy Gardiner came in just before we left, and Dave had to help crack Wendy's back.

If that ain't sweet, I don't know what is.

Jeremy was probably our youngest rider, and new to brevets. His longest ride so far this year was just over 70 miles, but he did incredibly well.

At the next control, we again got our cards signed, bought more fuel, and rolled on, but Jeremy rode across the street to Taco Bell. We assumed that we would not see him again before the overnight control, but he managed to get his food and catch up with us before we had gone eight miles. We were all very impressed -- Jeremy could be a Superstar of the Randonneuring World ... if there were such a thing.

Ed had ridden the route back in November, and so knew what we were up against. I wish that I had been as careful as he was with sunscreen.

As I said, we rode very hard for the first 200 miles, minimizing our "off-bike" time. I was trying to drink as much as possible and eat before I got hungry, but about 25 miles from the overnight control my energy began to sag. Part of this was due to the way that the terrain had become much hillier when we entered Daniel Boone National Forest. Another part of it was probably due to this:

George and Jeremy, riding behind me, mentioned that I was looking seriously crusty with salt. I had been working up a sweat -- as we all had -- and was beginning to get cramps. I immediately tried to play catch-up with my fluids, but it's hard to do much once the damage is done. Also, I was running low on water, and what I had was tepid at best. It's times like this when you would be willing to kill for a bag of ice.

I was hanging off the back when we finally turned into Cumberland Falls State Park, where the overnight control was. It felt good to stop and take a picture at one of the scenic overlooks.

Although I was tired, we had ridden fast enough to get to the control about 6:30 pm. Jeff and I had originally hoped to get to the control about 10 pm, and then get a room so that we could sleep until 3 am. Keeping to this schedule, we now had over eight hours of "off-bike" time to look forward to.

When I got off the bike, I knew how badly I would need this long break. I sat down in a yard chair in the parking lot with the volunteers, realizing that this was the first time that I had not been in motion -- either cycling, or coasting, or running around a convenience store trying to get back to cycling and coasting -- in 17 hours. The volunteers quickly fixed me a sandwich and got me something to drink as I sat there, totally exhausted.

Going in to the hotel lobby to check in, my head began swimming as I filled in a registration card. I had to sit down again for a few minutes before I could walk to the room.

A cool shower helped, as did another sandwich, a couple of slices of pizza, a water bottle full of orange juice, and a couple of more bottles of water. Jeff Bauer and Kevin kept bringing me all of this stuff, since I had climbed into bed after the shower and was shivering from the energy loss. I was asleep by 7:30, waking only intermittently during the next few hours. Every time I did, I would move gingerly, trying not to set off any cramps, and to see if my body was going to work again.

Since we were ahead of schedule, and knew that the forecast for Sunday was for warm temperatures, Jeff and I decided to get up Sunday at 2 am and leave at 3 am. Fortunately, the food, drink, and sleep had done me a world of good, and I was again functional. It helped to know that we "only" had 150 miles to go, and 17 hours in which to do it.

We rode through the forest in the cool pre-dawn fog, arriving at the next control 45 miles away in just over three hours. This was a McDonald's, where we each had a big breakfast. I had been off caffeine, except for during overnight brevets, since March so that I could use it when I needed it to stay awake. The big cup of hot coffee Sunday morning was just what I needed.

We were now riding at a pace closer to what I usually do on brevets, averaging about 15 mph, and lingering an extra 10 minutes at the controls. I could take pictures of museums in little towns, and wonder what they might contain. I could also take pictures of hospitals that (I think) RandoGirl's company owns.

I had gotten a slight sunburn on the tops of my arms Saturday, so whenever we stopped I put more lotion on there. It was a kinder, gentler ride on Sunday.

Although we were more laid back, the weather was more difficult. The sun was fierce, and the wind had all but died. Since it been out of our backs Saturday, I did not miss it much, although the still air made slow climbs stultifying.

Around noon we turned on to the road heading for our final ferry crossing. A sign at the start said, "Road Closed Ahead." It wasn't lying.

Fortunately, we were able to walk our bicycles around the closure, where recent flooding had apparently washed out the road bed and the pavement had collapsed. As we rode up, there were two dogs hiding from the sun under the big Caterpillar truck, and they slunk off into the weeds. Only mad dogs, Englishmen, and randonneurs would be so foolish as to go out in this kind of heat.

Soon past the road closure, Ed caught back up to us. He had fallen off the pace Saturday about mile 175, but gotten into the overnight control soon after us. He was riding very strong, and we all crossed on the ferry together.

I cannot tell you how tempting it was to jump in that river.

Less than 10 miles beyond the ferry, we arrived at the penultimate control. I was overheating again, so I bought a big slushy and sat down on the floor in one corner of the store to drink it. Jeff got a root beer and joined me. Once our temperatures were closer to normal again, we headed out to tackle the last 35 miles.

The terrain had gotten milder, with long stretches of gently rolling farmland. We swapped off pulls, working as hard as we could in the prodigious heat. The sun radiating off the road took the temperatures to over 100 degrees, but the faster we rode the more the wind cooled us ... and the closer we got to the finish.

About 12 miles from the end, we stopped one more time to take refuge from the heat in a small gazebo. We sat in the comparative cool of the shade, drinking tepid water and eating another Pay Day, and marshaled our remaining strength before cranking out the last miles back to Scottsville. We finally arrived just after 4 pm -- almost exactly 36 hours after we had begun.

Ed beat us back by half an hour. George and Scott rode back together through the night, and beat the heat by finishing about 10 am. Dave and Wendy rode through the night with Jeremy and Steve, coming in about half an hour later. Jeff Sammons, Bob Hess, and Phil Randall had slept at Cumberland Falls, and came in a little after us. The last two riders were not able to finish.

I was whipped, but felt much better than I had Saturday evening. After a cool shower and changing into clean clothes -- plus three Diet Cokes and two sandwiches -- I felt almost like my old self ... or at least a whipped and bone-tired version. This was a marked contrast to the last 600K that I completed two years ago, when I had gotten little or no sleep and barely finished within the time limit.

It's amazing how much you can recover with a little bit of sleep. The downside is that you have to work so hard on a 600K to earn that chance to recover. I guess that's what really makes a 600K so difficult -- it's damned if you do and damned if you don't. Maybe that's why only damned fools do it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What if the LAB Threw a Bike-to-Work Day and Nobody Came?

You may recall that, a couple of weeks ago I told you about my dream, where cyclists would take over the roads and turn the world green. This past Friday was Bike-to-Work Day, and that was to be the day.

I volunteered to lead a group into downtown Nashville from Franklin -- a distance of just under 20 miles. I arranged for other groups to start from locations near our route, and join us as we swept up Hwy 31 to the capitol building. This was to be a well-behaved, early morning Critical Mass-esque troupe, trying to show the world that you can get to work on a bicycle, rather than choking the streets with a huge SUV.

Getting up about 4 am, I biked from my house down to Mac's Harpeth Bicycles to meet the 6 am group. Mac showed up with donuts and coffee, ready to fuel a pack of intrepid riders.

I was a little surprised when nobody showed up in Franklin, but I could understand. It had rained most of Thursday, and the forecast for Friday was really dicey (even though it turned out to be wrong, since Friday remained mostly dry). Also, like I said above it's a long way into downtown from Franklin, and these folks would have to then bike back home after work.

Nonetheless, I really appreciated Mac showing up with coffee and donuts, and apologized profusely when nobody else showed up to consume them. Mac is a really, really, really good guy.

At 6:10 I started north, expecting/hoping that somebody would join me on the way. The schedule had a group departing from Harpeth Bicycles in Cool Springs at 6:10, so that the groups would combine about 6:20 where Mallory Station Road hits Franklin Pike. I got there at almost exactly 6:20, and waited for the other riders.

At 6:25, I had to give up on the Cool Springs group. I continued north.

Again, I wasn't too surprised. It's still a long bike ride in to downtown from Cool Springs -- easily 15-20 miles. And there was that big chance of rain, and trying to figure out how to get home. Still, I kept half-expecting other riders to join me as I went north, and made the rendezvous point at Concord Road right on time.

Yeah, still nobody. So I waited five minutes for any late-comers. Nothing.

As I rode through Brentwood and the edge of Maryland Farms, I felt sure that somebody would join me. At this point, it's just over 10 miles into the city. But, as I thought about it, I decided that there were probably a lot of folks who might be saving their legs, since the Tour de Cure century was Saturday.

I didn't go to Tour de Cure, by the way, since I had a 600K in Kentucky. I guess that I didn't really need to save my legs for a little 380-mile ride, so I might as well volunteer to lead a bunch of other cyclists in to downtown Nashville on the day before. Did I mention, though, that I don't work in downtown Nashville, and that after the ride I would have to bike 10 miles back south to my office? Or that I had biked all the way over from my house because it was Bike-to-Work Day, and driving a car to a ride just seemed kind of wrong?

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. After all, it was my choice to volunteer. I wanted to be a leader.

See how many riders I was leading at about 7 am as I went through the intersection of Franklin Pike and Battery Lane/Harding Place?

I had one more "collection point" for riders, when I passed under Woodmont Blvd and Thompson Lane. There's a bike lane on Thompson Lane, although it doesn't go all the way to Franklin Pike. I guess that's why, at 7:15 am, this was all of the bicycles in my group of riders.

Dejected, I continued on into town. The cars were surprisingly well-behaved on these roads, perhaps because it was still fairly early, or maybe because they are more used to cyclists in the city. I got to the capitol just before 7:30 without any trouble.

There was a rally at a park nearby, but I just didn't have the heart to go. I heard later that Mayor Karl Dean came out to speak to the couple dozen cyclists that had commuted in to work that day. I'm sure that he was very impressed, and that this is the kind of turnout that is bound to get his administration working diligently to build more bike lanes and protect cyclist rights.

Sorry if I sound Critical about our lack of Mass.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

News Flash: RandoBoy "Wins" Tour de France

Paris, France (Hubris International Press Service) -- In a stunning announcement today, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced that beloved cycling blogger RandoBoy won the 2006 Tour de France. The UCI then went on to announce that RandoBoy has won every Tour de France "since Baron Eddy Mercxx finally retired in 1978," making RandoBoy the first 31-time Tour winner.

The news is doubly stunning in light of the fact that RandoBoy did not participate in the 2006 Tour de France, or any other Tour de France.

Pat McQuaid, president of the UCI, said that the organization's actions were precipitated by the recent revelations from Floyd Landis that "everyone in the pro peloton is a doper."

"I knew it all along," McQuaid said, "but now that Floyd has narc'd them all out, we're stripping them of their titles. Only riders who can prove that they ride clean will be allowed to win."

When asked how RandoBoy managed to prove that he rode clean, McQuaid answered, "Oh, come on. Look at how slow the poor bastard is. He's got to be riding clean."

When contacted at the RandoCave, RandoBoy said, "Really? Gee, that's kind of cool. Do I get one of those yellow jerseys? Do you think I could get Lance to sign one?"

Max Watzz could not be reached for comment.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How I "Won" Highland Rim

It really irritates me to have to put those quotes around "Won" in the title of this blog entry. Frankly, I won the 2010 Highland Rim Cycling Classic this past Saturday in every way that really matters -- which is my way. I dominated the event. I was masterful. My power was beyond mortal comprehension as I zipped past my lowly competitors and motored up the climbs.

The only reason that I place those contemptible quotation marks around the word "Won" (and I did win it) is because I was not actually the first person in my group to go over the finish line.

I consider this a minor -- and tiresome -- technicality.

My failure ... well, no, that's not the right word ... the inappropriateness of the timing by which I crossed the finish line in glorious victory (or what should have been victory) I can only blame on RandoBoy and Mother Nature. I can understand RandoBoy's hatred -- like almost everyone else on this planet, he envies my raw power, not to mention my ethereal handsomeness, quick wit, and raw sexual energy. But why does Mother Nature conspire against me so? What have I ever done to her?

But, I am probably getting ahead of myself (this happens when you are as fast as I am). I will tell you the story in a simple chronological fashion, so that your mortal minds will have a chance of understanding.

Another one of the wonderful things about me is that I can still relate to you little people.

First off, when I signed up for this race I was primarily interested in the time trial, a 2.5-mile climb up Hwy 8, with an average grade of 8%. I prefer to race time trials rather than road races, since the time trial is the "race of truth." It is the purest way to illustrate a cyclist's strength ... and I am all about strength. I signed up for the road race mainly as a lark, and for something to do in the morning before my time trial. I did not sign up for the criterium because it was not being held until Sunday, and the scenery on a criterium is usually boring.

Friday evening, I got everything ready to go and loaded in the RAAMinator. (I am willing to call RandoBoy's vehicle the RAAMinator since the R does stand for Race.) My Bianchi was clean and lubed, and I had packed recovery food and drink. I was bringing two sets of wheels -- my new Reynold's Strikes and some that Gran Fondo had built for RandoBoy.

I am racing on the Gran Fondo team this year, and I must admit that RandoBoy's association with this fine bike shop is one of the few semi-intelligent choices that I have seen him make. The wheels that I was bringing, for example, are 32-/36-spoke wheels, but fairly light with Mavic Open Pro rims and Shimano DuraAce hubs. They weigh about half a pound more than the Reynold's wheels, but I wanted to bring them in case it was windy at the race.

Saturday morning, I arose early and ate breakfast, and then drove down to McMinnville for the race. I arrived about 7 am, with plenty of time before my group was scheduled to go off just after 9 am. This allowed me to pick up my packet, pin on my numbers, drink a couple of bottles of Gatorade, and get my bike ready to go. The weather looked good for the morning, with light winds, so I decided to use the Reynold's wheels. This was when I discovered that RandoBoy was trying to ruin my race.

You see, the Reynold's wheels must be used with Reynold's brake pads, and I soon realized that RandoBoy had left the old training brake pads on my Bianchi. Worse, he did not put the Reynold's pads and some tools in the RAAMinator, so I could not change them that morning.

Fortunately, I am imaginative and inventive, and when life gives me limes I merely slice them up and serve them to myself on the edge of a glass filled with Bombay Sapphire, tonic water, and ice. I decided that I would do the road race on the heavier wheels, and then change to the Reynold's for the time trial. Since the time trial was an uphill 2.5-mile course, I would not need brakes there.

After warming up, I went to the starting line to wait with the other Category 5 racers. There, I finally met my sole Cat 5 Gran Fondo teammate, David Bradbury. As we talked, I discovered that he works for the same company as RandoBoy; he seemed like a nice-enough fellow, nonetheless.

The Cat 5's finally started about 9:15. A small group went off the front early, but we were all together by the time we reached the base of Baker Mountain Road. I had done this climb many times before ... or, at least, RandoBoy had ... and David and I stayed near the front as we went up. About half a mile from the top, I decided to ease off to conserve strength for the afternoon time trial (not that I needed to, of course, but it seemed prudent) and waved David on with the small group.

Once the climb was over, I pulled together some of the other riders as we motored along the plateau. We picked up some of the lead group's racers for the next 25 miles until we had about 10 riders. As we came down Hwy 8 towards the finish line, I could tell that the lead group, including my teammate David, had already crossed the line. The sprint in my group was fairly laid back, which suited me as I was already thinking about the time trial again.

I quickly changed into street clothes and ate some recovery food, then went to check on my start for the time trial. The schedule had me going at 4:25 pm, so I had plenty of time to kill. I hung around with some of my friends from Team Belladium, drinking and noshing and watching the Pro/1/2 racers finish up.

I watched the juniors and Pro/1/2 racers head off for the early slots in the time trial at 2:30 pm. The skies above me clouded up soon after, and then the thunder began. About 3:30, heavy rain began and I climbed into the RAAMinator, where I watched as the lightning and hail rained down until about 4 pm. During this time, I got back into biking clothes and got the Bianchi ready for the time trial. As always, I was thinking, planning, and getting ready to perform my best.

As the rain stopped, I pulled the bike out of the RAAMinator and finished putting on my cycling gear, then asked if starting times had been delayed by the weather. An official finally told us that they had temporarily halted racing when the lightning first began, and that they were waiting for it to stop. At this rate, I would not get to start until after 5 pm.

I started to wonder if Mother Nature was going to rain out this event to keep me from humbling the field, as she had done on the Gatorade Criterium May 2. The lightning storms continued to rumble through the area, and my concerns proved true (as do most of my predictions -- comes with the super-genius territory, I guess). They eventually cancelled the time trial for the remaining categories.

I had refrained from decimating the field on the road race so that I could annihilate them at the time trial, but Mother Nature stepped in and terminated the time trial. I am in the process of filing a protest with the Tennessee Bicycle Racing Association to have me named the winner of the time trial, using the precedences of manifest destiny and divine rule. Barring this, I will have them elevate me to my rightful position as winner of the road race due to force mejeure -- although it will be difficult to keep them from getting confused as to whether the weather was the Act of God, or if I am.

Sometimes I get confused myself.

Monday, May 17, 2010

10 Great Things About Getting Up This Early

Editor's Note: Yes, Max promised you a write-up about his race, but he's still thinking up excuses. He should be done tomorrow.

I gotta blame the birds.

Not that we have that many trees around our house, but we have enough that the birds usually wake me up when they start twittering at the rising sun. (For those of you who don't know, before there was Twitter there was twittering -- a thing that birds and grandmothers used to do. Birds still twitter, since they lack the opposable thumbs necessary for text messaging, but grandmothers now Tweet pictures of their grandchildren smushing creamed beets up their noses.)

Anyway, the birds. They're out there telling one another, "Hey, look, Ralphie. The sun!" "Where? Oh, yeah. Golly." "Yeah, it never did that before." "Jeepers, no. That rising in the east thing ... that's definitely new." "Yeah. Definitely."

And on and on. I mean, who can sleep through all that racket? (In case you're curious, RandoGirl can. She does it very well, and is quite pretty doing it.)

So, it's 4:50 am, and I'm awake. I go ahead and perform my morning ablutions (I love that word ... it implies so much) get dressed and am on the bike heading for work at 5:30.

You see, it's Bike-to-Work Week. Just like last year, I plan to ride my bicycle to work every day this week. Friday, which is Bike-to-Work Day, I plan to bike down to Franklin (about 15 miles from my house) and lead a group of cyclists in to downtown, thus helping them to all bike to work that day. Once we're downtown, Mayor Karl Dean is supposed to greet us at the capitol. It will be a HUGE gathering of cyclists, and I am really, really, really excited about it.

But, back to this morning. Here are 10 great things about riding in that early.
  1. It's light enough that you don't need lights, yet dark enough that you don't feel stupid turning them on.
  2. It's dark enough that you get to enjoy the colors of the sunrise. On a morning like this, with the sun peeking up under the last of the weekend's clouds, it went from gray to pink to crimson. Glorious.
  3. It's dark enough that your lights make you more visible to cars. Noon, on a sunny day, I doubt that running my rear red light does me much good.
  4. There are almost no cars.
  5. The few cars that there are can easily pass you, because there's nobody coming the other way.
  6. The few cars that pass you still slow down, because they're not late for work. Most of them are just heading to Dunkin' Donuts.
  7. Since there are so few cars, you can take a road on which you might not normally ride your bike. Now, don't go crazy with this and start biking on the interstate. I was able to take Holt Road this morning, which is a two-lane with no shoulder and a 35-mph speed limit. Normally, there are a lot of cars on it, but this morning I was passed by three vehicles, and they all did so nicely. This cut a mile off of my commute. Even better, it cut out a steep hill that, due to the winding nature of the roads I typically take, I have to go over twice. Ouch.
  8. The dogs are still asleep.
  9. Bakeries are open, and their stuff is just coming out of the oven. My strawberries and cream scone from Panera this morning was perfect.
  10. You get to work early enough to be very productive and make tons of money for the company to which you are unflaggingly loyal. Or, you can eat a scone and write your blog.
So, what are you going to do tomorrow morning when the birds wake you up?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cry havoc and let slip the quads of war!

Max Watzz here. I put RandoBoy out of my misery for a minute because I know that you've all been dying to hear about my training and racing. And I would love to tell you about the inhuman numbers I've been putting out lately on the PowerTap ... but I don't want to give the other camp any kind of competitive advantage. Let's just say that I have lately become -- if you can possibly imagine -- even more awesome.

Sometimes I wonder if my awesomeness will ever reach a limit. This thought almost scares me (if I were capable of such a weakness as "fear"). I do not like to think that I could reach a point where I could not become greater than the incredible awesomeness that I already am ... which, if I haven't told you, is totally freaking awesome.

But that day is far away, because I am still constantly becoming more awesome every day. I work out, and I become stronger. I rest, and my wonderful body reacts to my earlier workout and I become stronger. It is a ceaseless spiral climbing ever upwards into the pinnacle of most awesome of awesomeness ever!

I sigh. And when I do, I become stronger.

I have yet to lose a race, you know. Of course, I have only signed up for one so far -- the Gatorade Criterium in Brentwood -- and it was rained out by the flooding on May 2, but I feel quite sure that I would have won it. Mother Nature has a strange way of keeping my competitors from being smashed by the power that is Me, and I almost feel a little guilty that she felt it necessary to kill people here in Tennessee and do billions of dollars of damage just to salvage the egos of the other racers.

I think you went a little far there, Mom.

Irregardless, you will no doubt be excited beyond words when I tell you that I will be racing this Saturday, doing the Highland Rim in McMinnville.

I invite you all to come out and witness the power that is me. Incredibly enough, there is no charge for this event, although many of you will no doubt want to give me money after watching me ride. In order to maintain my amateur status, however, I must decline your offerings (cash left lying around the van will, of course, be picked up ... wink-wink).

Barring some additional insidious interventions from Mother Nature or other forces of villainy, expect pictures of me on the podium in VeloNews on Sunday. I will also bless you with a riveting write-up of my awesome performance on Monday. Until then, I hope that you can fill your lives with ... well, whatever it is that you people do when I am not around to bring meaning to your existence.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Critical Dogma: Assessing Your Worth

I was out riding with a friend at a group ride a couple of weeks ago, and we got to talking about new bikes. Now, for those of you who are not addicts, talking about buying a new bike is one of the staples of cycling conversation, usually being about topic number four in the standard litany:
  1. Been riding much?
  2. How'd you do in the flood? (This is mostly a Nashville thing, and a new entry in the list ... hopefully, it will soon go away.)
  3. What's your "big ride event" this year?
  4. When are you going to replace that piece of junk you're riding?
  5. How's the job?
  6. You have a family!?
And so on into other trivial things. Frankly, if the conversation gets to this point you probably need to go up front and push the pace. As Max Watzz would say, "Too much yammering, not enough hammering."

Anyway, my friend's bike is about five years old, which almost qualifies as "vintage" in many cycling circles. He makes good money and rides enough that he could easily justify buying a new bicycle. Perversely enough, he even knows what he wants.

He just doesn't think that he's worthy of it.

"I wish I could buy one of those," he said, motioning towards a club member's new Pinarello Dogma.

"Why don't you?"

"Awww, well ... you know," he said, grinning to himself. "People would laugh at me."

I gave him a look. "Why?"

"Well, it's just ... those are for racers," he answered. "I'm not fast enough for that."

Now, I'd like to say that my friend was just being nuts, but I understood where he was coming from. We've all seen the guy who is borderline morbidly obese, wearing the latest Radio Shack kit (size XXL), riding a top-of-the-line Scott racing frame with electronic Dura-Ace and Zipp 404 wheels built with a PowerTap hub. I don't think that I'm the only one who has had the fleeting thought:

He's not worthy.

And, at some level, maybe he's not. That's $10,000 worth of bike -- and probably not the best choice for this guy, based on comfort or dependability. He'd probably be a lot happier on one of the so-called "plush" bikes -- a little less responsive in the corners and in sprints, but a lot nicer on the posterior, back, and neck. Also, those wheels are not going to last very long under that much weight. And the PowerTap ... well, he can keep that, so long as he's working with somebody to analyze the numbers (and hopefully lose that weight).

Max Watzz would say, "Yeah, but you can't buy speed." Max is not entirely right in that regard, however. You can buy a lighter bike, and that will certainly get you over Roan Mountain quicker than that 27-pound hybrid you've been riding for the past 10 years.

I guess what I'm saying is that the XXL Radio Shack guy above can go ahead and buy whatever he wants, so long as he still pays his mortgage and feeds his family. I'm pretty sure that, if he went to my favorite bike shop, they would try to push him in the direction of something that he would enjoy riding that would last for at least a few years, but I'm also sure that, ultimately, if he had his heart set on that sub-UCI weight limit race bike, they would sell it to him. It's kind of what they're in the business to do.

So I kept trying to talk my friend into buying the Dogma, telling him all the stuff I'd read about it in Bicycling magazine. As I went on, I found that I was talking myself into one, too ... or at least a new racing bike. My Bianchi is almost five years old, and I wouldn't mind trying some light carbon fiber toy. And this got me to thinking:

Am I Dogma worthy?

Sadly, the answer is "No." Sure, the Bianchi could be 3-4 pounds lighter, but so could I. It's a good, stiff, comfortable, and fairly light frame, and everything on it is in great condition. But the bottom line right now is, it's all I need.

Maybe I'll be Dogma worthy come Christmas, though ...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Michelangelo of Road Hickeys

Lately, it seems that I've spent more time painting roads than riding my bike over them.

Well, not painting the entire road of course. That would be silly. Although I must admit that there are times when I wish that I had enough paint to put down a really good, smoothing base layer on some crappy roads. I would put an extra 50 coats on the rumble strips, until they were really just mild divots rather than the filling-shaking craters that so many are. And the surface prep would entail sweeping all of the gravel, broken glass, dead armadillos, and thrown retreads off of the shoulder, so that cyclists could ride there and maybe avoid being run over by truck drivers who don't slow down when the sun blinds them.

But I don't have enough time or paint to do that, so the world will just have to settle for well-marked routes. For example, here's one of the arrows that I put down for the Pancake Route, which the Harpeth Bicycle Club runs every Sunday during the season from Franklin, TN, to Leiper's Fork.

Nice, huh? I put down the blue first, and then used a couple of stencils for the yellow arrow that I sprayed on top. I took the opposite approach to mark the HBC's Tuesday night route in Cool Springs.

For these, I drove the course and painted a yellow arrow, using the stencil, at every turn and major road crossing. I also put an arrow at every mile, so that if anybody goes for more than a mile without seeing an arrow, they will know that they are lost.

After I put down the yellow arrow, I went back over the course with a smaller arrow stencil and painted it blue, green, or blue/green. The color depends upon the route, since there's a 20-mile and a 25-mile route. The blue/green pictured indicates that the routes are together at this point.

Yes, these took a lot of paint and time, but these are routes that the bike club will use every week from April through October. Conservatively speaking, I would guess that during the course of this period at least 500 cyclists will ride each of these routes. I don't want them to get lost.

Of course, you're probably thinking now, "RandoBoy, there are cue sheets for these routes, with turn-by-turn directions." Yes, that is correct, but I rarely see anyone on these rides with the cue sheet clipped to their handlebars. In fact, it's pretty rare for me to see someone come to a stop, pull a cue sheet out of their pocket, and check that. The norm seems to be that we all just follow someone who's done the route ... or someone who we hope has done the route. This can result in a cyclist lemming thing, where you find yourself hours later in Hohenwald, TN, and the guy that you've been following turns into his driveway, and you suddenly realize that he's not with your group, and you are lost -- 50 miles from your car.

Marking the route may take extra time, but it often avoids these problems. When someone calls my cell phone from Hohenwald and says, "I'm lost ... can you come get me?" I could be a shmuck and tell them, "No ... I gave you a cue sheet, and you should have followed it." But I'm not that kind of shmuck, and would probably drive down to Hohenwald to get them. But if I paint the route and they still get lost, I can tell them "I gave you a cue sheet AND painted the route ... how could you get lost?!" and then refuse to come get them.

Yeah, right ...

So, anyway, this past Saturday, RandoGirl and I marked the 50-mile and 26-mile routes that will be used at the Tennessee Tandem Rally, June 4-6.

These are the main routes to be used on Saturday before lunch at Tap Root Farms, and take the riders from the hotel (Embassy Suites in Cool Springs) down to Rudderville and Arno. The 50-mile route continues on further south to skirt past College Grove, go over Pulltight Hill, and then come back through Bethesda. It includes this excellent road that I found a few months back, called Choctaw Road.

Pretty, hunh?

While we were marking the way up Pulltight, I passed by marks that I had made when I painted for the HBC's April picnic. That day, the riders came down Pulltight going away from Bethesda, so I painted a warning near the bottom to let them know about the stop sign just around the corner.

If you read it as a pedestrian, it says "Up Stop," which doesn't make a lot of sense. If you read it as a cyclist going downhill at 35 mph, you see "Stop" first, and then "Up." This way, you know that there's a stop up. Even if this bit of un-scientific assumption on my part doesn't hold true, most people are at least going to pause to ponder what the cryptic message means, and will hopefully slow down a bit. If they instead just get distracted by the message and zoom through the stop sign, across the road, and into the hillside beyond to be flattened like the Coyote in a Road Runner cartoon ... well, maybe you shouldn't be on a bicycle.

Here's what I painted for the picnic folks when they were climbing Pulltight Hill.

When they get to the top, they see this.

The message is that there's an angry orange man being attacked by worms at the bottom of the hill, but the man will morph into a smiling orange woman will blonde hair when he (she) gets to the top. If this distracts the rider from the pain of climbing Pulltight Hill, then I have been successful.

On rides that I mark but will not be riding, I often paint cryptic notes. I knew that RandoGirl would be sweeping the picnic route, so I painted this.

This is about 40-miles into that picnic route, and I was off doing the TN 400K, so she probably needed to be reminded of this.

But, back to this past Saturday ...

The floodwaters have receded, and although a lot of roads and bridges were damaged and a lot of my friends lost all or part of their homes, Mother Nature seems to have rebounded. The soaking had everything blooming, so that the world was green with lots of yellow:

Or it was green with lots of red:

I felt a little guilty out riding in the countryside Saturday while so many people were working hard to put their lives together after the floods, but this was the only date that I have open for a while to paint this route. I hope that everyone who couldn't get out this past weekend will enjoy these pictures, and will remember that the world is still a beautiful place which will be ready for them to come ride in again soon. After you've got things back into a semblance of order, I invite everyone to come and ride the routes that RandoGirl and I marked this past Saturday.

It will be a great way to sweep the last of the floodwaters out of your brain.

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Open Letter to the Franklin Police Department

Jackie Moore
Chief of Police
City of Franklin, TN

Dear Chief Moore:

According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, a bike lane is "A portion of a roadway which has been designated by striping, signing and pavement markings for the preferential or exclusive use of bicyclists."

Now, that's kind of wimpy language, so I'd really like to know what your interpretation on this description is when I see this:

This is a bike lane in McKay's Mill, in Franklin. Here's a closer view of the back of this car, just in case you'd like to know what this car's license tag is. I don't know if this is enough evidence for you or one of your officers to use to issue a ticket, but just in case ...

As I'm sure you are aware, McKay's Mill is chock-a-block with bike lanes. Almost every street in this lovely planned community has bike lanes. If I were looking for a home in Franklin, and the realtor showed me McKay's Mill, I might almost think that it is a Cycling-Friendly Community.

But if the realtor showed me a house there this past Saturday, I might instead think that McKay's Mill must not have a Home Owner's Association with by-laws, either, since there are lots of cars parked in front of the houses. This is the kind of thing that HOA's often will send a nasty letter to the homeowner about after a couple of infractions.

And until I discovered how mealy-mouthed the law in Tennessee is about bike lanes, as a prospective home buyer I might also begin to question the effectiveness of law enforcement in Franklin.

So, I'm asking you to take a stand, and have your officers maybe write a couple of tickets for these illegally-parked cars. They do this in a lot of other states when cars park in the bike lanes, and I think it would show real support to cyclists in middle Tennessee if the Franklin Police Department would do the same.

By the way, lots of Police Departments like to write tickets because the fines help fund the department's operations. Sending one officer through McKay's Mill two or three times a week would easily net the department money from 20-30 parking tickets.

If you think that I'm exaggerating, here's what I saw just biking down Oxford Glen to Liberty Pike to McEwen just this past Saturday. I'm not even going to mention the fact that I had to swerve around these vehicles regularly, pulling back into the "car" lane -- an action that could have caused an accident. Well, okay, I just mentioned it anyway.

But, back to the scofflaw vehicles, just waiting for $100 tickets:


Now, yes, this might irritate the owners of these cars, but then they shouldn't be breaking the law to begin with, should they? And think of the goodwill that this would earn you from cyclists! We like the Franklin Police Department a lot, anyways, because you all have always been very nice to us. But if you can get these cars out of our bike lane, we will like you even more.

So, this is a win-win for you. Criminals (or at least unlawful vehicles) off the street (well, out of the bike lane), happy citizens, safer roads, and revenue for your department.

Respectfully submitted, 


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bike-to-Work Day Is Coming!

I have this dream ...

I'm biking in to work. It's a beautiful day in May -- warm enough that I just need a light jacket for the ride in, which means that the temperature will be perfect for the afternoon ride home. The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and the dogs aren't chasing me. I'm on my usual route, about 6:30 in the morning, and I see the first vehicle of the day ... someone else going to work.

They're on a bike.

As I go on, I see more and more people riding their bikes to work, or to school, or to a dentist appointment, or to do some shopping. There are no cars, just people on bikes. We wave to each other, call out "Good mornings!" and smile, and nobody passes too closely or cuts anybody off or rings their handlebar bell in any way that could possibly be considered malicious or mean.

There are no cars on Old Hickory Boulevard, so I don't have to get on the sidewalk there as I head for Panera Bread and my breakfast scone. I ride on a real road, with only my fellow bicycles around me. We are laughing and riding our bikes and enjoying this incredible world in which we are all so fortunate to live.

Then, I go into work and I realize that I'm back in high school, taking the SATs, and I only have pens instead of Number 2 pencils. Oh, and I'm naked.

We've all had that dream, right? Or at least the first part? (For those that have had the second part, explain why I'm wearing clown shoes.) Well, we're only a couple of weeks away from the day on which that dream (again, only the first part) can come true ...

Bike-to-Work Day!

According to the League of American Bicyclists, May is National Bike Month, the week of May 17-21 is Bike-to-Work Week, and (logically enough) May 21 is Bike-to-Work Day.

What does this mean? Obviously, it means that you should, on May 21, talk like a pirate. Oh, wait. That's September 19. On May 21, you should ride your bicycle to work!

Now, I know that you have perfectly good excuses for not biking in to work. It's too far, or you have to wear a suit, or there's no place to put your bike, or your job requires that you drive door-to-door selling the Handy-Dandy Vacuum Cleaner. Last year, I gave you two blogs of ways to overcome most of these limitations. I can't do anything about that vacuum job, though, except to advise you not to sell one to Lucy Ricardo, over at 623 E. 68th Street. She's wacky!

Anyhow, since I've already told you how to plan your route and what you need to bike in to work, why aren't you already doing it? Obviously, it's because you need ...

More Tips
  • Google Maps is actually a pretty good start. It often doesn't know about multi-use trails or other available shortcuts, and it seems to think that just because a road has been named a Bike Route by the state of Tennessee it should be safe for bicycles (give the software developers a break -- they live in California). Also, it tends to put in a lot of extraneous turns as it tries to wind your way places without putting you on the larger roads. Nonetheless, the directions that it yields are better for cyclists that what you get out of plan old Google map directions.
  • Go early. Sunrise on May 21 is 5:37 am, when there are barely any cars out there. Yeah, you'll probably get to work really early, but hopefully that means that you can leave work early. If not, you've burned the calories, so go get some breakfast. Just don't beat me to my Three-Seed Demi at Panera.

  • Bring a friend. If you have a cycling friend that lives near you who works in the same area, ride in together. Two bikers are more visible than one, and the company will make things more fun.
If you don't know somebody, the Harpeth Bicycle Club will be helping to coordinate group commutes for its members on Bike-to-Work Day. I personally will be leading a pack from Franklin, up through Brentwood and on to the state capital in Nashville. Rumor has it that Karl Dean will then present me the key to the city ... or maybe just give us all a free sample-size packet of Chamois Butt'r.

At least that would fit on my bike.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Perfect Storm

Just in case you missed it, we had some bizarre weather here in Tennessee this past weekend. Creeks, rivers, and lakes flooded from 15 inches of rain, killing at least 12 people and doing millions of dollars in damage. Officials are saying this may be the worst flooding in the state's history, and that it may take years to repair the devastation.

The weird thing was that it didn't rain at Three-State Three-Mountain.

This was my fifth time doing 3S3M. In 2006, my first time, it was really nice and dry. In 2007, we had some early sprinkles and cloud cover, but that helped me do my first sub-6-hour finish there.

In 2008, the skies opened up. RandoGirl and I opted for the metric, and I rode my single-speed commuter. The fenders made me very popular.

In 2009, history repeated itself and the skies opened up. This time, however, RandoGirl would not be denied her opportunity to climb Burkhalter Gap Road, and we did the full century. Fortunately, the rain stopped more or less after the first 50 miles, so we had a decent ride.

But we decided then and there that we were not going to do this ride in the rain again. To avoid this, we did not register early this year, and we did not reserve a hotel room. As this past weekend approached, we began applauding our vision, since the forecast for the southeastern United States was a weekend of rain.

That was the first part of my perfect storm of pain.

You see, as this past weekend approached, I began to think that I was riding pretty well. My legs felt good, my weight was right, and I was playing with the thought of a new personal best at 3S3M.

Just playing, mind you ... I was not going to commit. And that was the second part of my storm of pain.

So, Thursday night, I did the Harpeth Bicycle Club's regular ride. I wasn't going to go hard, even though it didn't look like the weekend weather would work out for 3S3M. Frankly, my legs were still tired from last weekend's fleche.

But, going up Carter's Creek Pike, a couple of fast guys went off the front. Like an idiot, I went with them. Then, like another idiot, I suggested we go up Wilkins Branch. Finally, like the King of Idiots, I suggested we come back on Old Hillsboro, since Boyd Mill Road is so bumpy that you can't go fast on that.

Friday morning, my legs were shredded. I crawled out of bed, got some breakfast, turned on the weather, and heard the weatherman predict that the rain might hold off until Saturday afternoon.

Now, at this point, a sane man listens to his legs and stays home for the weekend. Me? I put on my biking clothes and rode in to work. Then I rode over to Vanderbilt Medical Center in the afternoon to see my friend, Peter Lee, who is recovering from surgery there. Then I rode home.

A 40-mile recovery ride. Smart.

By Friday night the weather forecast was good for Chattanooga on Saturday morning, but not so good for Nashville. RandoGirl thought about joining me, and then thought better. She does that.

Which is how the last part of the perfect storm hit, with me driving down from Nashville to Chattanooga at 4 am, signing up, and sitting at the front of the starting pack at 7:30.

My legs felt heavy, but generally okay for the first 40 miles. I made it over the first mountain, Suck Creek, just behind the lead pack. They descended better than I, and so I settled into the next pack. We passed the "decision point" -- go left for the metric, or straight for the full 100 miles -- and half a dozen of that group turned off. I kept going straight into the belly of the storm of the century.

I fell off that pack just before we got to the second state (Alabama). My legs were more than heavy now -- the quadriceps were lead, and the calves were CroMoly. Another group came by, and I worked with them up the second mountain: Sand.

Everything hurt by this point, and I finally stopped for water and a break at the rest area at mile 60. After five minutes, two other guys were ready to roll on, and we headed for our third state: Georgia. After eight miles of working into a stiff headwind, we turned left for a fast section to a little descent, heading towards the final mountain.

Again, I fell off on the descent, mostly because my legs had gone from being lead to feeling like spent uranium control rods. I could turn them over, but not with any "oomph" at all. At mile 75, I was riding by myself, in no man's land, with nothing in the furnace.

With only five miles before Burkhalter Gap Road -- the short, tough climb up the last of the mountains, Lookout -- I eased back and began budgeting my remaining energy. The following thought kept going through my head: "I've never walked Burkhalter before. I ain't gonna do it today."

I got to the base of that climb 4:20 into my ride. I got to the top -- about 2.5 miles later -- at 4:50. It was done on the bike, and it was all done really slowly.

With just over 15 miles left, I topped off my bottles and rolled on. The remaining miles up on top of Lookout Mountain are always kind of rolly, and will wear you down. I had nothing left to wear down, so I just gutted it out until I found a small group to work with. This ragged band dissolved as soon as we started down the mountain towards Chattanooga, and I motored the last couple of miles through the city back to the stadium.

The elapsed-time clock read 5:43 as I rolled in. It was a new personal best -- just not as good a personal best as I had hoped.

Driving back, I felt as if I had sort of failed. Of course, the flooding here has since put things back into perspective. I did my best -- I just didn't plan very smart. But I've lived to ride another day, and maybe next time I'll leave some gas in the tank before I start the ride.