Monday, November 29, 2010

To Trot With Lights Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pictures of Peter

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Clothes Make the Dork

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

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

The answer was a resounding "I dunno."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Peter the Great

"What are you riding for?"

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

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

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

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

"What are you riding for?"

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

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

We will be immortal.

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

Peter Lee - Self-portrait stoking with Jeff Bauer

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Peter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the usual suspects, Henpeck Market

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

Classic Peter.

And, of course, he can climb.

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

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

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

He's my friend, I proudly add.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, November 8, 2010

Frosty Toes at Marcy Jo's

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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