Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Guys That Got Me Into This

Saturday, I rode the Watertown 200K with 21 other mildly insane randonneurs, including two of the three Americans who have ridden Paris-Brest-Paris six times: Johhny Bertrand and Tom Gee. I'm not going to say that we all had a great time, because it was still pretty chilly and windy all day, and the Watertown route has some tough hills. But we probably had more fun than the eight folks that rode the 200K earlier this month out of Murfreesboro, in sub-freezing temperatures and near-gale force winds.

In the winter of Snowmageddon, it's all relative.

The real fun part of this brevet for me, however, was that I got to ride most of it with the two guys that I blame -- er, thank -- for getting me into randonneuring:

Bill Glass:

And Jeff Bauer:

No, wait, wrong picture. Here's Jeff:

You can see where I might get confused, however.

Here's Jeff and Bill together:

I'm not going to go into the story of how they lured me into a life of ultracycling. As with most addictions, it began innocuously ... you do a century or two, and then one day you get lost on a century and find that 110 miles isn't that bad. They just showed up at the right place at the right time, telling me that if I enjoyed a century, I would love a 200K. Then, if I thought that was fun, I had to try a 300K.

They never tell you about doing these things in the middle of winter, or about a 400K in a spring hailstorm, or about a 600K in 100-plus temperatures. It's not that they hide the hideous underbelly of this sport ... they just wait until you're addicted to the pain. Then it becomes a matter of bragging rights, and who has survived the worst sh*tstorm.

Anyhow ...

Speaking of surviving, Bob Hess from Knoxville and Steve Phillips from Birmingham decided that this would be a fun brevet for a fixed gear bike. Here's an over-the-should shot of Bob, when he still had knees and could smile.

The Watertown brevet is really one of the prettiest routes that we have. The stretch right past Center Hill Dam is really incredible.

Here's Phil Randall, who came down from Kentucky, crossing the dam.

Followed by Jeff, Bill, and Dave Penegar from Knoxville.

After going through the forest past the dam and back up onto the ridge, I got to talking with Phil, and we missed a turn. The good thing about bonus miles is that they let you see neat things like this funky cabin:

This dog really did not want me to take pictures of his cabin, though.

He stopped barking just long enough to let me get his picture.

Once we were back on route, we caught back up to Jeff and Bill just past Temperance Hill, and rode in with them to the little town of Liberty.

I was starving by the time we got to the control. Here's Bill again, and the middle Tennessee RBA Jeff Sammons.

I don't know who the other two guys were, but they were hanging out there when we came in, and were still there when we left. You seem to get a couple of guys like this at a lot of little convenience stores in small southern towns, and I'm pretty sure that this is their lot in life.

The road from Liberty to Woodbury starts out nice and flat, but pretty soon you've got to go over a nasty little ridge. Bob Hess and I ended up dropping Jeff and Bill here for a bit, and I tried to capture the steepness of this grade with another over-the-shoulder shot.

It gets really steep at the top. Since Bob only had two gears, he had to walk the last part of it.

As I approached the top, I saw that Steve Phillips had been forced to dismount for a bit, too, but was doggedly starting back up. He told us later in the Subway at Woodbury that he was not going to walk it, and he didn't.

Coming down, the wind was blowing up the hollow and making it a rough go. Bob and I stopped a couple of times to admire the ice on the exposed rock along the side of the road.

This frozen waterfall was particularly nifty.

Just past this, Jeff and Bill joined us, and we rode into Woodbury together. After a big sandwich from Subway, we turned north ... where we still had a headwind. All I can figure was that it was blowing from the northwest, and that the hills on Stones River Road had been funneling it.

After a quick break at the Norene control, we headed out for the last eight miles. The sun was setting, which quieted the wind and lit up the hillsides. 

I've done this brevet faster and in much better weather, but I really enjoyed riding it with all of these good old friends. As I've said before, cycling is one of the most intimate forms of travel, and it's even better when it's shared.

Friday, February 26, 2010

You Can't Spell Random Without Rando

Gasp ... Need ... spring ... soon ...
  • Two Hours ...
    • On Rollers: Watching a "Bones" re-run -- ha-ha, dead body ... look at power: hmm, need to work harder ... okay, just another hour and 59 minutes to go ... Seely and Bones are talking to somebody. Gee, you could cut the sexual tension with a knife ... power still good ... Somebody just shot at Seely, and we go to commercial ... oops, power is slipping ... I should ask my doctor if Boniva is right for me? Huh ... faster cadence ... sip drink ... wish I'd turned on the fan before I started -- maybe I'll take a break after 30 minutes ... okay, just another hour and 58 minutes to go ...
    • Two Hours on Track Tuesday Night: Straight section: Work hard. Curve left: Work hard. Straight section: Work hard ...
  • There's a good chance the Hummer will soon go the way of other dinosaurs. I hate being on the same road as any vehicle that is too wide to give me three-feet clearance when it passes me with oncoming traffic, which Hummers around here seem to do far too often. I guess if you drive a car that costs more than a lot of houses, you feel that you are entitled to take all of the road that you want.
That's all I got this week. Maybe I'll post pictures from the Watertown 200K Saturday ... if the camera doesn't freeze.

Until then, happy riding.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When Princess Pops, the Weather's Gonna Break

Sunday morning, I went out for a little recovery ride in a light snowfall. The temperature was just under freezing, but I wanted to get my ride in before the day reached its forecast high of 35 degrees, and the snow turned into a cold rain.

Oh, the things that I will do to ride.

Anyhow, the snow turned to sleet, which was pelting my face as I head home into a stiff wind, and I began to wonder if the universe hated me.

We all get these thoughts from time to time. You're running late for something, and the traffic lights are all against you, and you begin to wonder if the universe hates you. Or you have a big date coming up and a huge zit sprouts in the middle of your forehead, and you post on facebook that the universe hates you.

Of course, the more I thought about it Sunday morning, the more I decided that the universe does not really hate me. To imagine that the universe cared one whit about me would be crazy, and although the jury is still out on some of my other personalities, the main one is mostly sane.

Yes, there are undoubtedly a few yahoos out there that a proper universe should have it in for, but it's not out to get you or me or (unfortunately) even them.

The universe is, however, out to get Princess.

("Arf, arf. Kill me, universe")

Princess is my dog ... well, technically, Princess is RandoGirl's dog. The RandoDaughter would argue that Princess is her dog, but we all know whose feet Princess wants to lay on every night. My feet are nefariously flesh-coated icebergs that nobody wants to get near -- much less lie on -- so she's not my dog. As this is the way that dogs claim their property (at least girl dogs -- you don't want to be claimed the property of a boy dog) RandoGirl belongs to Princess.

Of course, that won't save her, because the universe hates Princess. And the rest of us must suffer because of it.

You see, Princess grew up in Florida, so she is not comfortable with snow. As a very simple beast, she does not adapt well, and so she has not yet figured how to go outside in the snow and ... well, do what dogs have to do when they go outside. Nonetheless, Princess is a good dog and behaves indoors, which means not breaking that most cardinal rule for dogs:

Don't pee or poop on my floor.

("Arf, arf. I am constipated")

So, the universe is not really torturing us -- it's just trying to make my dog explode. When Princess pops, the universe will be satisfied, and we can all go outside and ride our bicycles again.

I'm not telling you to wish bad things for my dog, of course. That would be wrong, and very selfish of me.

But, as I said earlier, Princess is not my dog.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Remember This Day

A couple of weeks ago, I had dessert after dinner -- a rarity for most cyclists, who live and die (at least on hills)  by their power-to-weight ratio. It was white cake with lemon pudding between the layers, and a very light but sweet frosting on top. I had ordered coffee with the cake, but they had to make a fresh pot. I could have gone ahead and had a bite or two of the cake, but I waited for the coffee.

The bite of a hot cup of coffee brings out the sweetness of cake.

We like contrasts such as this in our food and drink, as well as visually. Have you ever noticed drooping wispy cirrus clouds in a deep stark blue sky after a high pressure cell moves in? We don't seem to like contrasts in other senses, however, which is probably why nobody makes satin pajamas with Brillo piping, Bach played by scraping fingernails on a blackboard has never caught on, and there are no colognes that smell like hyacinth and baby poop.

I was reminded of my cake-coffee moment this morning while watching the news, and anchorman Neil Orne said something to the effect that he was tired of the cold, snowy weather we've had for the past few weeks in Nashville. Now, we've all said this, but it's kind of shocking to hear it said by somebody whose job description includes "Be Cheerful." It's probably number three for all on-air news people ... right after "Look Good" and "Be Clear" (with apologies to Don Henley).

Neil ("Couldn't Stand the Weather") Orne

If this guy -- who usually comes off as sharp, informed, and upbeat during the newscast (which is probably why I watch it) -- is getting grumpy about something, then it must be something worth getting grumpy about.

This was going through my little mind as I went outside and started to drive to work. Obviously, since I was driving, I was in a car. And if I'm in a car, I'm not on a bicycle. And that puts me in a grumpy place, too.

So here I am, getting on the interstate, thinking about Neil, watching the icy road, driving a stinking car. The iPod is plugged into the stereo, and "Arnie" by Primus comes on. The song ends with Les Claypool saying, over and over, "Remember this day."

Of course, in the song it's the last words of some self-immolating schmuck, but that's not what appealed to me (as the Frankenstein monster said, "Fire bad"). Instead, watching the crummy weather outside, I took Les's words to heart and decided to remember this day.

In a few months (please!), warmer weather will come. The world will bloom, the snow will melt, and we will all be riding bicycles outside without fear of frostbite.

This time of year, it's easy to look back and remember some of the great weather from last summer. Do you remember early July last year, when we had that week of low-humidity days with highs in the mid-80s? Just as we need those memories now to keep us sane, we should also hoard memories of how lousy the weather is now, and pull those out this summer.

Remember this day. It will make the good days to come even sweeter.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Would You Rather ...

Some of the folks here at work have been posting a "Would You Rather ..." question every week. You know, things like "Would you rather be attacked by two rottweilers or 20 raccoons?" or "Would you rather eat a live spider or your car keys?"

Last night, Max Watzz apparently took over my psyche again, and I awoke to find myself doing two hours of "Tempo" pace riding on something called a "trainer." My bike was somehow locked into this hellish contraption, and the bike itself was all messed up. The wheels didn't have enough spokes, and the handlebar bag was gone, and ... ugh ... getting sleepy ... so sleepy.

Max here. Had to shut that moron up, since he has no clue as to what it takes to become the magnificence that is me. Me, me, me, me ... oh, how I love that word.

Anyway, I've managed to convert one of RandoBoy's bikes -- a Bianchi S9 Matta racing bike that he obviously never deserved in the first place -- into a vehicle upon which my incredibly powerful buttocks may rest. Well, maybe "resting" isn't the right word, since I never "rest" on a bike, but am always putting forth inhuman levels of thrust against the pedals.

I am magnificent.

The Bianchi now has a PowerTap, so that I can monitor the "watts" (a measure of power named for me) that my glorious quadriceps are capable of producing. Although it is hard to believe, by training at specific wattage output I may be able to actually become STRONGER. The heavens tremble ...

The best way for me to train with power is either outside on a flat course or with the bike on a trainer. Since I cannot seem to control the weak but wily RandoBoy for long enough to sell his house and move to Florida, I must use the trainer approach during these cold months. Last night I was doing two hours of Tempo, which for me means averaging 280 watts with a cadence of 95. Normally, this puts my heart rate at 145, so my lactic acid threshold ... no ... stop ... there's more things about me that I want to say ...

Damn, but he is persistent.

Anyway, my point (and it no doubt surprises you that I really have one) is that I began to play the "Would you rather ..." game with cycling-specific stuff. Such as ...
  • "Would you rather ride two hours on a trainer indoors as hard as you can, or four hours outside in 15 degrees Fahrenheit?"
  • "Would you rather have a saddle sore that won't let you sit down for a week, or numb hands for a month? (This is a very randonneuring-specific question -- if you've never done a 1200K, you can only imagine.)
  • "Would you rather climb a seven-mile hill averaging 12% or ride 20 miles south on a flat road against a 30-mph wind?"
  • "Would you rather fix a flat on a busy road during an ice storm or fix a broken chain on a warm sunny day?"
  • "Would you rather, on a 60-mile ride on a really hot day, work harder than you comfortably can to stay with a group or fall off the back and take another hour and a half to finish?"
  • "Would you rather, on a rainy and windy day, sit in and get a face full of road spray or get out front and pull?"
I could go on forever, but you get the drift. If you have any more, post them as a comment or email them to me. This might be a fun poll to put up on the Harpeth Bike Club's web page.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sinus of the Times

As winter drags interminably on ("Gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the groundhogs I see ..."), I've had far too many opportunities to dwell on the finer points of phlegm. I've spoken previously of Snot Rockets, including such variants as the "Aborted Takeoff" and the "Crash Landing," but here are a few new forms of the product that my proboscis doth oft project in these chilling times:

The Steve Austin: As in the "Six-Million-Dollar Man," and not the pro wrestler. This is a Crash Landing of such epic proportions that you manage to sever at least three limbs with it ... or at least ruin your favorite pair of tights. We can rebuild him ... make him stronger, faster, and warmer. Assos has tights that go for about six million bucks, too.

The Jason Voorhees: This isn't really a Snot Rocket, since you don't fire it off. Instead, this is when you ride in extreme cold wearing a balaclava or triple tube or whatever else over your nose and mouth, and phlegm and exhalation soak the front and then freeze, and then white frost forms on the outside. Eventually, you are wearing a hockey mask made of ice, which begins to scratch at your face and freeze to the torn flesh and irritate you to the point that you go off to Crystal Camp Lake and begin killing promiscuous teenagers.

The Freddie Krueger: (A warning to tender readers: This is nasty.) Eventually, after repeatedly riding in temperatures that are really too cold for humans to survive, your sinuses may become irritated to the point that they bleed. When you fire off a snot rocket from bleeding sinuses, you will convert that bright yellow jacket into a good likeness of LeRoy Neiman's painting of "Pikachu vs. Godzilla."

As with most movie monsters, you may not realize that the Freddie Krueger or Jason Voohees is there until it is too late. For example, I was biking in to work one cold morning last year and experienced voluminous sinus output early in my ride. I didn't know it, but one of the shots I fired as the sun began to rise was apparently a Freddie Krueger. Later, I stopped at Panera to top off my coffee, and I noticed people looking at me strangely ... well, even more strangely than they usually do. It was not until I got to the office and went into the bathroom to change into work clothes that I discovered that the right side of my chest was covered with blood. It was then that the looks that people had given me at Panera as they shied away made perfect sense.

The Rainblow: RandoGirl saw me create one of these just yesterday. It occurs when you clear your sinuses, but all that comes out is a fine mist. On a cold morning, if the light hits this just right, refraction will create a beautiful -- albeit short-lived -- rainbow.

If you manage to launch something green at the start, that ain't no leprechaun.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Finding the Silver Lining in Grey Snow

A lot of stuff goes through your head when you fly back from warm, sunny Florida to Nashville, only to find that the ground is covered with snow:
  • "Gee ... I'm glad I wasn't here for this. I'll bet nobody rode this weekend."
  • "Hmmm ... it doesn't look like it's gonna melt any time soon. I'll bet nobody is gonna ride this week."
  • "Grrrr ... that probably means a few hours on the rollers."
  • "Yikes! That's ice on the edge of the runway!"
It was slushy Sunday evening, and then froze that night. Since then, the snow has repeatedly thawed a bit, and then refroze, so that it looks like ice cream that your teenage daughter took up to the living room and ate some of while she watched TV for an hour, and then put back in the freezer. Not so much ice cream as hard frozen pudding, with the chocolate chips melted in with the green mint to become a murky grey.


Finally, this morning I threw caution to the wind (it was a headwind, of course, so caution came right back and smacked me in the face) and rode my bike in to work. Leaving the house in the cold pre-dawn, I could not help but reflect ... but then, I was wearing stuff made of illumiNITE, and I have all of these yellow plastic patches on the bike. I also could not help but reflect -- mentally -- that it was only one week ago that I had ridden in Florida wearing bibs and a short-sleeve jersey.

This is a bad way to start a ride. You get gloomy and wish for things that you cannot have. Like warmth.

Fortunately, I then started up one of the short steep hills on my commuting route, and I remembered that I was on a bicycle, working hard to get up a short steep hill. I was riding outside, and I was alive.

The rest of the trip in went great. Yeah, it was cold, but not nearly as cold as some days that I had biked in last month. There wasn't really any ice to worry about ... just a few banks of grey snow on some road shoulders. A couple of places that I normally get up on the sidewalks were problematic, since big lumps of grey snow were piled up on the ramps and curb cuts there. But these were just opportunities to work on my bunny-hopping skills (always fun on a single-speed loaded down with a 15-pound pannier).

When people ask me why I commute by bike, I give them all kinds of reasons: Carbon footprint, exercise, yadda-yadda. But the main reason is really just that a day that begins with a bike ride has absolutely got to be a good day.