Thursday, December 30, 2010

You Know What They Say ...

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

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

See what I mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cliche 4: "Bless your heart."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

One Last 2010 200K

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Farewell My Lovely Monkey

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

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

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

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

And then it got cold.

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

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

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

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

The monkey grinned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gift Ideas for the Cyclist in your Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, c'mon! Get you? Puh-leeze!

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

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

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

Gift fail.

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

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

Light and Motion VIS 360

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

Topeak Mega-Morph pump

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

Bianchi Imola

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

Foot Warmers

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

Wool Neck Gaiter

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

Inner Tubes

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

Busch and Muller E-Werk USB Charger

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

Route Scouting

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I got the Specialized BG Pro Carbon Mountain Biking Shoe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

Captain Video!

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

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

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

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