Saturday, May 28, 2011

Max Does It Again

Yes, it's me. Your hero, Max Watzz.

I know you've missed me -- who wouldn't? I mean, I'm around me all the time and sometimes I can't get enough of me. There are times that I like to wear that dorky little mirror that RandoBore rides with on his glasses, but rather than aim it at traffic behind me while biking, turn it so that I am always looking at the thing that I find most beautiful in the world. I won't even make you guess what that thing is, because I know, in your heart of hearts, you think that it's the most beautiful thing, too.

You can't say "Me" without "Mmmmmm."

I proved it again, Saturday, by repeating my victory in the Tennessee State Time Trials. Once again, I was the fastest thing out there ... although, for some reason, they only gave me the medal in my division, Cat 5. Although the other so-called "racers" out there constantly disagree with me, I know that the higher one's Category, the more special you are.

And I am special.

Here's the results. As usual, they got my name wrong -- who is this Robert fellow, anyway?

And here I am, standing in my rightful place, atop the podium.

I must insist on a higher podium next year, as befitting my stature. There should also be French models giving me lions and that kind of thing. They could give me a real lion, too -- I would strike fear into its heart. I would make it meow like a kitten.

I am the king of beasts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

200 Kilometers of Nowhere

Cyclists regularly spend a lot of time and energy on trips that ultimately go nowhere. We load the bike onto the back of the car, drive out into the country, and then ride a big loop. Maybe we stop at a convenience store, or cruise down some quiet lane with a bunch of friends, or climb over Mt. Somethingorother, but ultimately we end up back at our cars, loading the bike back on the rack, and then driving home.

Friends ask us: Where did you ride this weekend? We tell them the name of the town / mountain / road, or the group that we were with. Or we say that we just did a little training ride from the house. But usually, we went nowhere and did nothing other than enjoy some time on a bike, gain some fitness, and maybe buy another Gatorade and package of cheese crackers at a small country store.

In that regard, this past Saturday was nothing different for me and a bunch of other area cyclists. We went nowhere. The only difference is that we went nowhere five times, and did it to help fight cancer.

The event was the 200K of Nowhere – the middle-Tennessee ultra version of Fat Cyclist’s 100 Miles of Nowhere. The stated goal was to raise money for LiveStrong in honor of our friend, Peter Lee, who cancer killed this past November.

The real goal, however, was to ride 200 kilometers – 125 miles – on great roads, in lovely weather, with nice people. Peter wanted to get more folks out riding brevets, and what better way than to let them “test-ride” a 200K on a great marked course, with access to food and drink at the end of each loop?

Eleven of us signed up for the ride via Twin Six’s website. Many of these riders could not do the full 200K. RandoGirl had decided before the ride that 100 miles was plenty, and Alan Gosart agreed with her after the first four laps. A couple of the riders had other commitments, and were only able to squeeze in one or two laps, or couldn’t come out until late. As a result, only four of us did at least 200 kilometers … but everyone had fun.

A group of six started the ride just after 6 am, from the parking lot at the Community Center in College Grove. Lisa Starmer biked down from her house, but got there just after we had left. She only had time to do one loop before heading back home, but enjoyed the route.

The previous week, I had marked all of the turns on the roads with white chevrons labeled “W.K. LEE” (for Peter, whose Chinese name was “Wing Kong Lee”). Unfortunately, the area is so popular with cyclists that there were other similar markings, allowing riders a couple of opportunities to get slightly lost. Since any of these “missed” turns would eventually put the rider back on the route, however -- albeit with a couple of “lost” miles, it was all good.

In spite of having almost 1,500 feet of climbing – including Choctaw Road and Pulltight Hill – we all finished the first 27-mile loop in just over an hour and a half. Alan and I even had a fun town-line sprint coming in to Bethesda. Everyone topped off their bottles from the coolers in the back of my SUV (the “Watzzwagen”), grabbed something to eat, and rolled back out for another lap. Bruce Miller and Dave Harris had shown up by then, so they joined the fun. RandoGirl and I had a longer stop at the grocery store, buying a couple more bags of ice and such, so we went out a little later to do the lap by ourselves.

Going up Pulltight this time, RandoGirl commented that the RB+RG marking was still there. I had painted it two years ago for a club ride on this road, and so tried to grab a quick picture.


Since I knew that I would be passing this way again in a few hours, I did not turn back to try the shot again.

Although the temperatures in Nashville had dropped precipitously earlier in the week, the warm weather was rebounding strong on Saturday. The cicadas were going crazy, dive-bombing us and setting up a low throbbing hum that made me think that a flying saucer was about to attack us with a death ray at any minute. We were glad to get back to the Watzzwagen without an "X-Files moment."

After filling up bottles and eating a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, RandoGirl and I went out on our third loop. The wind was picking up now, but was only a little work going down Bethesda-Arno Road. It was in our face on the long stretch on Comstock Road, but as this road begins with a fairly long climb followed by an even longer descent, wind is usually not a problem there.

As we rode, RandoGirl and I both noticed how, with the way the route twists and turns, you rarely end up with prolonged stretches into any kind of wind. It is an almost perfect mix of sun and shade, flat and hilly. And each of the hills is rewarded by fun downhills with just enough twist to keep it interesting without letting you go so fast as to be dangerous.
On this loop, RandoGirl and I took a five-mile shortcut by staying on Giles Hill Road. This kept her closer to the 100 miles that she wanted, and me closer to the 125 miles that I wanted. It also cut out the tough climbs on Choctaw and Pulltight Hill ... but that was just dumb luck.

Dave Perrault and Alan were waiting for us at the Watzzwagen this time. As we ate and talked, Jeff Bauer and George Hiscox came in, grabbed food and drink, and left again. Alan was having some trouble, since he has not been able to ride as much lately as an ultra-cyclist of his caliber usually does. I sent RandoGirl and Dave back out, and kept Alan company as we started the next loop. Eventually, however, he sent me on my way, and I did another 27-mile circuit. This time, I was able to get the shot going up Pulltight.

I got back to the Watzzwagen just after Dave and RandoGirl. Since she had now finished her 103 miles, Dave and I went out to do one more 22-mile loop. My hip was starting to bother me as we skipped the turn onto Choctaw, climbing Giles Hill again.

Back on Arno-Allisona Road, I told Dave to follow the road markings and took it easy for the last few miles. Pulling into the parking lot for the final time, RandoGirl, Dave, and Alan cheered. I grabbed a Diet Coke from the back of the Watzzwagen, and we all hung out on the tennis courts.

Five minutes later, Vida Greer and Mary Beth Chawan came by. They had signed up for the 200K, but also had to help support the local Tour de Nash ride that morning. Since thunderstorms were just beginning to rumble, they didn't get to stay long, and soon jumped back on their bikes to head home.

About the time that they left, George Hiscox and Jeff Bauer came in. They had been "purists," sticking to the 27-mile route for each of the five loops to do a total of 135 miles. Since each of them is signed up for 1200-kilometer rides this summer -- George in Colorado and Jeff doing the infamous Paris-Brest-Paris -- they needed the extra miles.

Now that looks like a man who is going nowhere for a while.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bike (Down to Franklin and Then Back Up North) to Work Day

One of my resolutions for this year was to ride my bicycle in to work at least one day every week ... at least, for those weeks that I plan on coming in to work. I mean, we're going to take a week at the beach in July, but I'm not planning to bike in to the office from there that Wednesday.

So far this year, I've met my goal for all weeks but one, and that time I had a medical excuse. A bicycle-human contact points that shall not be named developed something that the doctors had to put me on antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to combat, and I wanted to heal up enough to do a 400K that weekend. Since I've had a couple of other weeks when lots of people didn't even drive to work, and other weeks when I had already doubled up on my bike rides in to the office, I'm not going to count that week off.

As someone who regularly commutes by bike, then, you can imagine my reaction to the League of American Bicyclist's Bike to Work Week. As an English major and a grammar nut, my initial reaction is to tell them to hyphenate properly ... Bike-to-Work Week. But nobody listens to the English major, just as nobody pays attention to the cyclist on the shoulder of the highway.

Waa-waa, boo-hoo. Somebody call a waambulance.

Back to the point, though. I actually do get a little excited about Bike to Work (sic) Day ... oooh, that makes it a Sic Day ... so I don't have to go to work?

I get excited about ... well, that day ... because there are a lot of people that actually do bike in to work that normally do not, either on that day or on some other day of Bike Week. As a human being (really ... I have papers) I prefer to immerse myself in a society, and a Society of Cyclists is not just good alliteration, it's a safety buffer. If there are other cyclists biking in to work with me, then motorists are more likely to be aware of us, and maybe give us a little more room on the road. Maybe this is because at some point we constitute a Bike Gang, and everyone knows that you can't just have a fight with just one Hell's Angel. You start something with one bicyclist, it's very possible a whole bunch of us will start flailing at you with our vestigial arms, and that will tickle.

So, Friday being ... you know ... the folks at Walk/Bike Nashville asked some of the more experienced cyclists in the area to lead groups of commuters in to downtown. I was the best that they could come up with on short notice, so they got me to lead the group coming in from Franklin.

Now, the RandoCave is not in Franklin. It's actually in East Brentwood, hidden beneath a glacial lake in a dormant volcano. (I won't say any more than that ... too many clues and it won't be a secret lair, eh?) I suppose that I could have put a bike on the back of the Watzzwagon and driven down to Franklin for this, but that seemed contrary to the spirit of the thing. So, I got up ridiculously early Friday morning, and rode my single-speed commuter the 15 miles to Franklin.

Keepin' it real, man.

I have to admit that, on the way, I was thinking that this was a fool's errand. When I lead this ride last year, nobody showed up, and I felt pretty stupid leading myself in to downtown. The whole thing was made even more ridiculous by the fact that I don't even work downtown, and so ended up retracing my ride 10 miles southeast from the capitol before I could begin my workday.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I got to the Starbuck's in Franklin just before 6 am and there was actually a cyclist waiting. Imagine my shock when I realized that it was ultra-cyclist George Hiscox, who lives in Jackson, TN.

George is a high-school physics teacher in Jackson, but was in town for a curriculum conference at the capitol. He had heard that I would be leading this ride, and had stayed the night in Franklin just so he could ride in with me.

After grabbing a coffee refill, we started north on Hwy 31. We were running a little behind, but didn't pick up any other riders until we got to Brentwood. There, Dave Perrault -- another ultra-cyclist -- joined us.

As we continued north, the three of us saw a lot of other cyclists with backpacks heading south, obviously commuting to work. Cars passed us with a decent gap, the weather was excellent, and the world seemed a pretty good place. Soon, we got to the park on Church Street, just down from the capitol building, where Walk/Bike Nashville had a tent with more coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts.

We stood around and chatted with the other riders, periodically telling homeless people passing by that no, they could not have a donut. Then, Mayor Karl Dean came down and gave a speech about bike lanes and greenways and healthy initiatives, and how Tennessee was one of the most obese states in the nation, and that we needed to find alternative methods of transportation. It was definitely preaching to the choir, but there were also news cameras, so hopefully the message will stick with somebody who needs it.

The crowd then broke up as we left for our offices. Some folks actually worked nearby, but Dave works near where he had joined George and I. We rolled back down Hwy 31 for about five miles in light traffic, and then I split for the bike route on Thompson Lane.

Sure, my normal ride to the office is 27 miles shorter, but it was nice having company on the way in Friday, and it felt good to "make a statement" regarding alternative transportation and the rights of cyclists to use the roads. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but it's possible that Friday showed some more folks that they really can get to and from work on a bicycle. One less car is worth one less hour of sleep for me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Missing the Turn

I hate missing a turn on a brevet.

For those of you who aren't randonneurs, when you miss a turn on a brevet you usually end up retracing your steps back to where you screwed up, and then get back on the route. We call it "bonus miles." You may be at the control, but if you didn't get there the way you were supposed to get there, you have to go back. On really long brevets, this can mean an extra 20 miles or more ... that's not just 20 miles more in your legs, it's the lost time that it takes you to ride those 20 extra miles. That's hours of sleep that you won't get or -- worse of all -- missing the closing time at a control, and not getting credit for the ride.

Fortunately, this past weekend I didn't ride any brevets, because I missed a lot of turns.

Saturday, RandoGirl and I rode the tandem on the Big Hill Challenge out in Watertown, TN. This is the annual century hosted by the Veloteers, and uses some of the same roads as a 200K that we often run.

It was a drizzly day, but we like to support our fellow cycling clubs, so a bunch of us from the Harpeth Bicycle Club went out. Most of the time, RandoGirl and I were with Jeff Bauer and Fredia Barry on Jeff's tandem, although we did a couple of long stretches either by ourselves or with some other HBC folks. It was just RandoGirl and I when we went up Big Hill Road, and we preferred that since we like to keep our suffering to ourselves. After that, we were chased by possibly every dog in Wilson County as we zipped along the ridge, and thus decided to find strength in numbers for the last 50 miles of the ride.

About mile 90 (I think), it was just the tandems, and we somehow missed a turn. We knew that we had missed it when we got to an intersection and there were no arrows.

Now, again, if this was a brevet, we would have turned around and gone back looking for the correct turn. But this was a "t-shirt ride," and the sign at the intersection said to turn right to get back to Watertown.

So we did.

Of course, the road was a little busy, so we soon started looking for arrows indicating where we were supposed to have turned. About two miles in, we found the painted road markings and turned left, thinking that we were now back on the route.

Maybe we were, and maybe we weren't, but after a couple of miles the route looked familiar. I recognized a turn from our outbound trek in the morning, and kept looking for other arrows indicating "Inbound" or "Return." Nothing. Finally, at mile 100, we pulled out RandoGirl's GPS and checked it, just to discover that we were steadily moving away from Watertown.


After a brief discussion, we decided to retrace our route. We then started down another way, thinking it might be the turn that we had missed. The GPS advised against it. So we decided to head back to the busy road that we knew went to Watertown. The GPS said that it would be shorter to make an unmarked left turn. Since the arrows from our outbound route that morning came from that road, we opted to follow the commands of our new robotic master, and turned left.

Eventually, we got back to Watertown, with a nice 111-mile century under our belts. Hooray.

You would think that doing 111 miles on a blustery mid-May day would have been enough, right? Well, Sunday morning Jeff and I drove out to Cookeville -- through lots of rain and wind and unseasonable cold -- to ride.

This time, the goal was to test some roads that I want to use on my as-yet-unfiled Honest Abe 200K permanent. Basically, I wanted to see what a road looked like that Google maps had suggested.

The weather was dismal, so we hedged our bets and drove down to Gainesboro rather that park at the "official" start location in Cookeville. As we turned on the new part of the course, Big Bottom Road (makes you think of that Queen song, doesn't it?), I thought that we had a winner. It was beautiful ... running within sight of the Cumberland river, with just enough roll to make things interesting, and plenty of trees to keep it cool. We could hear the rain start up again at times, but the trees kept us moderately drier as we cycled down the traffic-free road.

About nine miles in, we discovered why the road had been so empty when the pavement suddenly ended. The surface was fairly good, with well-packed gravel, so we kept going. A truck came along, and stopped just past us to move a fallen branch. We talked to the driver, who told us about the bridge that had been washed out and replaced up ahead, and where we should keep watch on the right for some nesting eagles. He then drove on, heading for some early Sunday fishing.

The road was still gorgeous ... just not paved. We shifted down and stayed there, riding more like mountain bikers than randonneurs, avoiding the loose gravel patches and feathering brakes down most of the short descents. We forded one rocky stream, and walked our bikes over two rickety bridges. It was muddy -- as you would expect after three days of rain -- but not so bad that it gummed up our drivetrains or other components.

We continued straight off of Big Bottom Road onto Brimstone Creek Road, and then came to a field where dogs were chasing two horses, trying to get them back to a corral. A lady on a four-wheeler passed us, told us not to worry about the dogs, and then zoomed off after her horses. Just past this, the pavement returned, and one of the dogs trotted after us as we started up a mean one-mile climb. He wasn't looking for trouble so much as he was looking for company, and turned back for home just before we all reached the top.

After rolling past more farms, we soon reached the store that I had planned to use as the control for this route: Cherry's Grocery in Moss, TN. Run by Mr. Cherry and his wife, he fixed Jeff and I an excellent turkey and cheese sandwich, then hung out on the front porch for a while talking about working for a Nashville grocery chain 40 years ago, and a girl that he had met before the war. A customer came in, and we had to roll on down the road, so he headed back inside. We told him we would be back.

There were times on the gravel when I thought that we might have made a wrong turn, but we stuck with it. What Jeff and I found is that sometimes a wrong turn is the right way to go.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Are You Ready to Go Nowhere?

We are now officially 10 days away from the 200K of Nowhere, where an undetermined number of riders will convene in College Grove, TN, to ride a 25-mile circuit an undetermined number of times (but hopefully at least five, since that's 125 miles ... which equals 200 kilometers, for those that don't speak "metric") in honor of Peter Lee, who passed away from cancer in November. Hopefully, everyone that shows up for the ride has already signed up via Fat Cyclist, and thus the money that they gave will go to LiveStrong to continue the fight against cancer. Hopefully, those folks will also eventually get their t-shirt and race plate (no, I don't have mine yet, either) and some other swag from Fat Cyclist.

That's a lot of "hopeful" and "undetermined" up there.

The weather is also undetermined, as you would expect since we've still got 10 more days and spring weather in the southeaster United States is about the most chaotic environment in nature. It is so chaotic that it could be Kaos itself, and Siegfried would be the weatherman.

Yeah, I'm going old school.

According to Siegfried, via, on May 21 we're looking at a high of 78 degrees and a chance of thunderstorms. Again, we're 10 days out, so this could mean a high of 12 degrees with polar bears carrying machine guns, shooting at us as if we were baby seals. "Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo!"

To which Siegfried would say, "We do not doo-doo in Kaos!"

Gosh, I love that line.

Anyway ...

I've got a pretty solid commitment from about 10 randonneurs, which is pretty good. Since I've got 100 wristbands, we should be covered. I've also got 13 things to give away, which means that everyone gets a prize. I'm going to have my vehicle -- the Watzzwagen -- down there in the parking lot at the College Grove Community Center, with a ton of food and drink in the back. Well, okay, maybe not a ton ... it's a hybrid, after all ... but enough to feed 20 riders. It will be there at 6 am, when whoever wants to start riding can start riding, and will stay there until 7:30 pm. I may also get a bunch of sandwiches brought in about noon. After that, it will be tired and will go home.

Finally, I went out last night and marked the route. There are now white arrows at each turn -- one at least 100 yards before the turn, another 50 yards, and then the last at the turn itself. The first arrow has "W.K. Lee" painted under it, so you'll know that you're following the right set of arrows. There are a lot of arrows down there, because College Grove and Bethesda have the absolute best roads for biking in Tennessee ... maybe even the world ... and I didn't want people to get confused.

I also wanted to put Peter's name all over the route. A bit of immortality, you know? And Peter would like it that people think of him when they ride these roads.

Anyway, if you're coming and you haven't already told me, then ... well, tell me. Leave a comment here, or put something on Facebook for me, or send me an e-mail. If you don't tell me you're coming and things change and you can come, then ... well, come. The more the merrier, and I'll find a way to get you some food or drink if you need it. So long as there aren't more than 100 folks that show up, I'll even give you a wrist band.


Monday, May 9, 2011

I Am Fred

I believe that there is an evolution of attitude that accompanies experience, and that this evolution is often disgustingly evident in cycling.

We start as happy idiots, not knowing just how much we don't know. It's all new to us, and it's fun and frightening at the same time. We don't know about biking shorts and lycra jerseys, other than we think that we would look fat in them, and so we don't wear them. We don't know about the drag of wind resistance, or how much easier it is to go uphill on a lighter bike, so we buy hybrids with the biggest, softest saddles we can find. We put our helmets on backwards, get the laces of our tennis shoes caught in our chains, and spin blithely along all day on 25-mile rides. Forrest Gump on a bike.

Eventually, we roam further from the nest. On a 40-mile t-shirt ride, in the middle of a June afternoon when the air temperature is on par with your body's temperature, we realize that we may be missing something. Those blue jean shorts soaked with sweat chaff for the last 10 miles, and riders 10 years older (and 10 pounds heavier) on fancy "racing bikes" roll by, jeering at us with smug cries of "on your left!" Like the six-year-old after five minutes of first grade, we feel an aching need to fit in ... to become, if not one of the "cool kids," at least no longer the freaky dweeb in the front row with the chronic runny nose. So we buy the cycling equivalent of the Abercrombie and Fitch hoodie and Battlestar Gallactica lunch box -- biking clothes and a road bike.

Just as with the hoodie and lunch box, we make early mistakes. Nobody tells the first grader that he has to have a pink Hollister polo shirt under the hoodie, or that string cheese is for losers, just like nobody tells the novice cyclist not to wear his tightie whities under his biking shorts. We buy cycling shoes, and flail our feet at the pedals vainly hoping to hear that magical click. We forget to unclip as we come up to the red light, and do that painful wheel-wobbling slow roll to the asphalt. The riders around you chuckle briefly, but they also help you up. They've been there ... like the freshman pledge scurrying across campus wearing a poodle skirt, you've survived a rite of passage. It is a bond forged in road rash.

During our cycling adolescence we adopt a jaded air. Many of us begin racing, so that we no longer do "bike rides." We do Tempo for two hours at 90% of threshold, or stair-step intervals to push our lactic acid threshold another tic or two. We don't climb a mountain to enjoy the view at the top, but to see whether we can climb it faster than we did last month. Once on top, we zip down the other side ... not for the exhiliration of a roaring descent, but because we don't want to cool down before we reach the bottom, turn around, and climb the mountain again.

Many of us become Mean Kids during this period. We poke fun at the "Freds" in yellow Primal jerseys with big saddle bags swinging pendulously from heavy Brooks saddles ... even when that Fred is passing us on a long climb. We tell ourselves that he didn't race last week, and that our coach wants us to hold something back for next week's crit. We are, ultimately, better than him ... just not faster than he is right now.

Saturday, RandoGirl and I did the Three-State Three-Mountain century in Chattanooga, TN. I started as a Mean Kid.

I don't know how it started. We were standing around at the start, looking at a sea of at least 1,400 cyclists, and I couldn't help thinking, "What a Flock of Freds."

It was a little chilly and a lot of the riders obviously had not been watching the weather reports ... or don't have any cool-weather clothes. There were triathletes in sleeveless jerseys with arm warmers -- never a good look -- and not nearly enough knee warmers in evidence. There were also a lot of riders that didn't know how to mount race numbers.

Hint: The side with the number goes out, and the side with the advertisement goes in.

There were also a lot of Bike Borgs -- folks riding with headlights and tail lights (in spite of it being a sunny day), and with video cameras mounted on top of their helmets and clunky GPS's on their handlebars. They were digitally saving every scene and satellite sounding ... as Jimmy Buffett sang, "taking Polaroid pictures that are never in focus, just to look at when they finally slow down."

But, so what? This was no skin off my nose. So long as they managed to hold their line (and most of them did) so that they didn't crash into RandoGirl or me, what did I care? They were just out for a bike ride, having fun, stopping at rest stops to eat, and forming long lines for the Porta-Potties.

And if they wanted to lay their bikes in the grass, drive-side down, that didn't hurt me.

Eventually, the crowd thinned out a bit. I saw a few friends, including some of Max Watzz's Gran Fondo teammates. They were also just out enjoying a bike ride on a pretty day.

By the second rest stop, near the Tennessee River, I was feeling less mean. Soon after this, we started on some new parts of the route -- a tornado the week before had closed some of the roads, so it was more like the Three-State Two-Mountain 90-Mile Bike Ride this year. We climbed Sand Mountain using a road that was new to me, and I pulled over to take a picture of the valley below.

When we got on top of Sand Mountain, we rolled along for a few miles to another great overlook.

A bunch of riders had pulled over, and everyone had their camera out. We had to dodge cyclists passing by on the road behind us, but we got some beautiful pictures on this spectacular day. I took a picture for one group of five guys, and they took a picture of RandoGirl and me.

At the next rest stop, we caught up with our friend Bill Glass. We finished up the last 30 miles with him, and I got him to take another picture of us on our bikes.

RandoGirl had a goal of 6:30 bike time, and we finished in 5:40. We could have done the "missing" 10 miles in 50 minutes pretty easily, so she made her goal.

At the finish, we had a sandwich and rested. Eventually, a bunch of other riders from the Harpeth Bike Club came in.

Looking at this sea of Freds in their club jerseys, I thought, "These are my people." Perhaps my resentment of all of the Freds in the first few miles of the ride was just a bit of self-loathing on my part -- anger at that child-like part of me that can go do a ride without looking to set a new personal best. The part that has nothing to prove and no enemy to vanquish, but just wants to ride a bicycle over nice roads through pretty scenery, stopping at the rest stops to eat a cookie or 10 and chat with old friends.

Peace comes when you embrace your inner Fred.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Another Chance to Sign Up for the 200K of Nowhere (Sort Of)

I've had a lot of people (okay, three) ask me if they can still sign up for the 200K of Nowhere. Being a harsh taskmaster (I even have the costume), I tell them, "No! You missed the deadline! You are weak and worthless! Now drop and give me 20!"

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened my blog reader a few minutes ago and found that Fat Cyclist has re-opened registration for the 100 Miles of Nowhere.

Apparently, Johan Bruyneel -- director for Team Radio Shack -- wanted to do the 100 Miles of Nowhere, but missed the sign-up date because he was out of the country. Fat Cyclist told Johan that he could go ahead and ride, but Johan really wanted the t-shirt and race plate. It's a very nice t-shirt, so I don't blame him.

Anyway, Johan told Fatty that he wanted to get even more people to sign up and do the ride, but that he wanted to donate the money to World Bicycle Relief, a charity that sends bicycles to third-world countries. As a former racer, Johan is more comfortable riding with at least 100 cyclists, and works so much with LiveStrong that he wanted to give money to someone else. Fatty said okay, I'll send you a shirt, and Johan asked what size the t-shirt was, and Fatty said it was a small, and Johan said, no, I've been eating a lot of chocolate lately and that might be kind of snug, and Fatty snickered, and Johan said what was that, and Fatty said nothing, sorry, I was just saying that I'll get you a medium, and Johan said okay.


Anyway, the upside for you is that, if you have not yet signed up for the 100 Miles of Nowhere, and want to join us May 21 in College Grove, TN, for the 200K of Nowhere, but you really want a t-shirt and race plate, you've got another chance. The downside is that the money that you donate will not go to LiveStrong to help in the battle against cancer -- the disease that killed our friend, Peter Lee. The other upside is that the money will go to something that, in my humble opinion, Peter would like, so you should still go ahead and do it.

The other downside is ... well, I guess there is no other downside.

Men, register here.

Women, register here.

Do it by 5 pm Nashville time, Thursday, May 5 (Cinco de Mayo, for our friends South of the Border ... or for those of you who plan to drink start drinking Dos Equis about this time). You'll get the t-shirt and race plate. Post a comment in this blog to let me know that you signed up and are coming to College Grove on May 21 -- this way I can make sure I've got enough food and drink for you and the 15 or so other folks that have already signed up. You'll get more free swag from me, and be registered in a drawing for some other prizes.

For more information on the 200K of Nowhere, go here.

Also, a message for Johan: I know that some of your Radio Shack guys will be in the area three weeks after this for the Harpeth River Ride, doing these same roads. If you want, you can come out and do the 200K of Nowhere with us and get a preview. You can stay with me, if you want. Bring Lance if you have to -- the spare room has two twin beds. A little practice descending Pulltight Hill five times might be good for Lance, if he comes out for the River Ride.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dishonest Abe

Since Tennessee is the Volunteer state, I feel it is my duty to volunteer support for at least one long brevet every year. In 2009, it was the 600K -- which goes from McMinnville to Tellico Plains, does a loop that includes climbs over the Tail of the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway, and then heads back to McMinnville. In 2010, I spent three days running up and down the Natchez Trace to support our 1000K. And this past weekend, Jeff Bauer and I provided support for the new middle-Tennessee 400K out of Cookeville.

This weekend was probably the most fun of the three, even though it was possibly the toughest ... at least, in terms of hard work and sleep deprivation.

Not that the riders we supported were hard work -- in fact, they were easy. No, the hard work part of it was because Jeff Bauer and I rode a big chunk of the first 150 miles after we saw the 400K riders off.

The sleep deprivation part started early. I had another commitment Friday night, so I did not get to the hotel in Cookeville until after midnight. The 3-4 hours of quality sleep I then managed to get in set a pattern for the remainder of the weekend.

We had planned for two groups of starters: One at 5 am and another at 6 am. Both groups would still get 27 hours to do the ride, but the 6 am starters would not need lights or reflective gear as long as they made it back to the hotel (at mile 152) before nightfall. Since Jeff and I only planned to ride about 130 miles -- much of this a permanent named "Honest Abe" that I plan to apply for in the coming weeks -- we would "ride light" (or is that "ride light-less?") with the 6 am group.

Jeff knew how late I had gotten in, so he handled most of the work getting the 5 am riders out. I got up just before they left, waved them a bleary "bon route," then took a hot shower, drank some crappy coffee, and got ready to roll out with Jeff and the 6 am crowd.

Except, Jeff and I were the 6 am crowd. Maybe it was my description of the route last week, or Jeff's description of the bottom part of the route last week, but something scared away a lot of the riders. It certainly wasn't the weather, which was almost perfect. Whatever the cause, rather than the 14 cyclists who had registered we had only the seven cyclists who departed at 5 am.

Although it would have been nice to have a big pack pull us into the wind later that day, I must admit that it was more fun just doing the ride with Jeff. We enjoyed the quiet ride out of town, the descent down Hwy 135, and the early morning beauty as we rolled past the river there towards Gainesboro.

The fog was just lifting over the Cumberland River as we crossed it, and temperatures were still cool enough that I needed my arm- and knee-warmers and vest.

The other benefit of it just being Jeff and me was that it gave us the flexibility to get off the route when we wanted. Thus, about 35 miles in, when I suggested we follow a different set of road markings (from the Avery Trace bicycle race route), Jeff said, "Whatever."

Although the "official" roads are very nice, the route that we took was just as pretty. For one thing, it got us to the climb out of the Cumberland River Valley a little earlier, on yet another shady, rock-lined lane.

At the top, the road gently rolled through forest, some of which had obviously been damaged by the tornadoes and storms that passed through here Wednesday.

I knew that this road eventually rejoined the route just before Red Boiling Springs. What I didn't know was just how much it north before angling back down south and west. Thus, when we finally turned right and got back on the official route on Hwy 151, we had picked up an extra eight miles.

But at least they were pretty miles.

We quickly passed through Red Boiling Springs and started up towards Kentucky. Just before the state line, we went by a farm where the tin roof had been blown off their barn during the storms. Sheets of metal were rattling up against the barbed wire fence.

Amidst the devastation, spring was in full bloom. The morning air was rife with the smell of honeysuckle, and lillies were resplendent in almost every yard.

We stopped at the last store in Gamaliel (pronounced "Guh-mail-e-yuh," according to one of our riders, Doug McLarren, who has family in the area). Jeff got a sandwich and I ate a candy bar as we filled our bottles. Then we crossed back into Tennessee to take Hwy 52 through Moss, TN -- the home of Honest Abe Log Homes, and thus the source of the permanent's name -- and on to Celina. We were just passing the first store there when something punctured my rear tire, so we pulled in to change the tube and buy water. We then began working into the wind on sunny Hwy 56, going slowly back to Gainesboro.

We made a quick lunch stop at the Dairy Queen there, then tackled the tough climb up out of town on Hwy 53. The wind was still against us as we fought towards Granville. On the way, we passed Clipper's in Flynn's Lick, where the "Food, Hair, and Fun" sign always gives me pause.

Just past this, a funeral procession passed us. Jeff and I pulled over, removed our helmets and hats, and watched the cars move somberly up the hill to a family cemetery with a great view.

In Granville, we finally ran in to one of our 400K riders, Jon Pasch. He was buying drinks at the store, and told us that he thought that George Hiscox and Tom Trinidad were ahead of him. We watched as he continued down Hwy 53 towards Chestnut Mound, and felt a little guilty as we got on the much nicer TN-96.

Whereas the climb up Hwy 53 is fairly open, TN-96 meanders in the shade along a quiet creek before pitching up for the last couple of miles.

I was pretty tired after this, so Jeff pulled me along down Hwy 70 to Baxter, and then down Buffalo Valley Road and back to the hotel. We had ridden 138 miles, and just barely managed to get in before any of the 400K riders. We quickly cleaned up and ordered pizzas to feed them with, refilling our own hungry bellies as we awaited their arrival.

Pasch came by the room first. Hiscox and Trinidad came in, but went by the office (instead of the hotel room) to get their cards signed. We were a little concerned when they didn't come by the room, particularly as other riders continued to come in, grab some food, change clothes, rest a bit, and then head out. This concern stayed with Jeff and me until I finally caught up with those riders later that night.

I grabbed a brief nap as riders entered and left, and thus felt decent when Dave Harris came in about 7:30 pm. He was the last rider at this point, so I loaded up the Watzzwagen with food and drink, and started driving the route to check on riders.

McLarren had just left, so I soon passed him. Doug Morgan and Steve Phillips came next, just before Sparta. Heading out into the very dark countryside, I was soon climbing the dreaded Yates Mountain Road, where my headlights -- even on the "high beam" setting -- showed a wall of pavement. At the top, I passed Hiscox and Trinidad, and I stopped at the control in Spencer to talk briefly to them. They were concerned about the reported confusion on the road out of town, so they followed me from the control to Hwy 30A.

I caught up with the lead rider, Pasch, on Bone Cave Road. Apparently, Van Buren County had decided to finally put signs on some un-marked roads recently, and taken the opportunity to change the names of those roads. This was causing Jon some confusion, but we were able to straighten things out and get him on route in to Rock Island Park.

Finding a good spot in the park, I parked and waited for the remaining riders. Between their visits, I climbed into the back seat for short, fitful naps. About 2:30 am, I got a very broken call on my cell phone from Harris, so I backtracked the route again to Bone Cave Road to find him. He was tired, but still riding, so I topped off his water and gave him a little food, then started driving back to the hotel. This was a harrowing trip, as I repeatedly slapped my face to stay awake, but I eventually made it. I stumbled into the room just after Pasch came in, then tumbled in to bed for another three broken hours of semi-sleep.

Just after dawn, Phillips, Morgan, and McLarren came in, and we all sat around re-capping our adventures. The sky was looking threatening as we grabbed some "food" from the hotel's "Continental Breakfast." Hiscox, who had finished about 5 am with Trinidad, started to tell Jeff and I a story about a magazine article he had recently read, but between his exhaustion and ours we could not follow the topic.

Harris came in less than an hour after the rain started. All seven of our starters had finished, but none of them too quickly -- a statistic that I interpret as meaning that the route was just challenging enough. The riders all had praise for how pretty most of the roads were, and damnation for how cruel the climb up to Spencer on Yates Mountain Road had been. I took copious notes regarding corrections and clarifications on the directions, and thought about these as I began driving home to Nashville. I also thought about the Honest Abe permanent, and how we could also have an alternate "Dishonest Abe" version. I would need to update the route sheet before submitting either of them.

But first, sleep.