Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Rant: Doing Sprints in the Kiddie Pool

This week, and for all upcoming Fridays (until I get tired of it), I'm going to try something different. I'm not going to tell you about some long ride that I did and show you a bunch of lovely pictures, or make a bad joke about dead anorexic singers and the weather, or have an interview with boorish fictional ego-maniacal racers.

Instead, I'm going to rant.

I'll try not to whine, since nobody likes a whiner. I'm just going to tell you about something that I think is fouled up, and what I plan to do about it.

Today, I'm going to rant about multi-use trails.

Now, I know what you're thinking: No pictures? But I love to see RandoBoy in spandex. (I understand how you ladies would think that way, but I'm a little alarmed by how many men had that reaction.) Fortunately, a lot of you were instead thinking, "I love multi-use trails. I wish they were everywhere."

Me, too. My problem is not with multi-use trails themselves. I think that they are a great way for people to get out and run or walk or do nice meandering bike rides. If there were multi-use trails everywhere, I think that more people would use these alternative modes of transportation for short trips to school, shopping, and maybe even work.

No, my rant is about how the automotive world seems to think that the availability of a multi-use trail equals the unavailability of any portion of the road along which it runs. Some folks would like to see this as the law, and some municipalities here in southwest Florida have posted signs intimating that it is the law.

It makes me feel like I did when I was 15 and would go to the pool on a hot summer day and the lifeguard would call for "adult swim," meaning that everyone under the age of 16 had to get out of the big pool so that the grown-ups could swim laps. Of course, none of the grown-ups would swim laps, but would instead just keep doing the same old floating around and yakking with one another that they had been doing before. Meanwhile, I'm stuck either roasting in a lounge chair or getting in the kiddie pool with a bunch of five-year-olds who spend half of their time screaming and the other half peeing in the water.

Now, imagine that the cars have declared "permanent adult swim."

There are a lot of multi-use trails that I don't mind getting on. We don't seem to have a strict 15 mph speed limit on them here, and a lot of them are empty enough that I can travel at the speed that I desire. But there are also a lot of them that have kids riding side-by-side, weaving all over the trail on rented bikes. Sometimes, you run across these four-person "carriage" bikes down here, which on a real road would be required to have a big yellow "WIDE LOAD" sign on their butt and cars in front of and behind them. When they're going the other way, you hope that you can squeeze by or that the shoulder isn't so sandy that you'll do an endo going into it. When they're going your way, it seems like your choices are to either suck it up or get onto the road for a bit.

I don't want to ruin some family's summer vacation by crashing into little Timmy and breaking his collar bone. It's a toss-up as to whether I would feel worse, however, if I ruined their summer vacation by making little Timmy feeling guilty for a couple of hours when he makes me break my collar bone.

So, instead, I'm going to exercise my rights to be a vehicle and ride my bicycle in the road rather than on the congested multi-use trail. I'm also going to allow myself to be the person who judges what qualifies as "congested," since it's probably more dangerous for me to be zipping on and off that multi-use trail than just staying on the road.

Adult swim is over, cars. Deal with it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rainy Days on Weekends Always Get Me Down

What I've got they used to call the blues.
Seasonal affective, they say.
Hate being stuck indoors all day.

Hangin' inside. Can't go out and ride.
Tropical depressions always get me down.

Ain't just the rain -- we've only had 18 inches today.
But 30 mile winds only make it fun to ride one way.

Cleanin' my chain. While I'm stuck here watchin' the rain.
Tropical depressions always get me down.

(Kazoo solo)

Should put the bike on the rollers and boost my LAT.
Instead of sitting on the sofa with Oreos and watching TV.

I've got the blues. Guess I'll go online and read VeloNews.
Tropical depressions always get me down.

(One more time ...)

Rain on the coast. I know! I'll go write a blog post!
About how tropical depressions always get me down.

(Kazoo solo. Fade out.)

(For Karen Carpenter. If you were alive today, I'd apologize for butchering this song. Then I'd share my Oreos with you.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Farewell to an Intimate Cycling Companion

I'm not going to make it through this post without tearing up a bit.

You see, I had to say goodbye to a cycling companion last week. Not just any companion, either, but one with whom I was intimate. And I don't use the word "intimate" lightly here -- this companion and I were as close in many ways as you can be. Maybe too close.

But it was time. She'd lived a long full life, and the years and harsh living were showing badly. We could have done some things to forestall the inevitable, but instead she went out with grace and dignity.

I loved her. She supported me through some rough patches, and I will forever be in her debt.

She was my saddle.

Here she is in better days, when I first got the Lynskey. Do you remember? She was there when I needed her -- rarely squeaking, and chaffing only when I deserved it.

You can't really tell, but that's her here, too. She was on the aluminum Masi that I rode on my first 600K and my only 1200K. Sure, we had some bad times during this -- you can't ride 750 miles in 85 hours and not have problems with every point at which your body is making contact with the bike -- but we survived. A few months later, when my Lynskey came in, I ordered another Terry Liberator Race Ti and put it on the Masi, but she moved over to the Lynskey. She had been tried in battle, and emerged victorious; thus, she must remain with me on all ultracycling endeavors.

She wasn't my first, of course. There was a Selle Italia that I used on many centuries, but couldn't handle anything longer. When I got into randonneuring, I got a Brooks  -- it lasted just over 1,000 miles. A Specialized Body Geometry  survived 300Ks and 400Ks, but a huge fight on our first 600K brought up some things that highlighted our irreconcilable differences. There was even a Selle Anatomica that I had broken in on my Salsa single speed with great success, but it was not up to the rigors of ultra distance.

You gotta kiss a few frogs before you find that princess, you know.

As with all successful relationships, part of it was that she came along at the right place and the right time. I'd matured enough to realize that I couldn't do this alone, and we needed counseling to work through some problems. Lynn Greer at Gran Fondo in Nashville helped us find ways to overcome our issues, with the help of quality time on the fit trainer and accompanying changes to seat post and stem.

It takes a village.

We've ridden over 30,000 miles together, during the past five years. There had been a few minor crashes, but nothing calamitous. I bear more reminders of those mishaps than she does.

But 30,000 miles is a long way. My flesh heals -- hers doesn't. The seams were beginning to pop, and her skin was no longer as smooth as before. Maybe my wrinkles don't bother her, but hers were beginning to bother me ... in places that I don't care to be bothered.

We all have friends that resort to surgery to try to hang onto youthful vigor. Sure, careful application of duct tape might have gotten her another year, but we would both know that the duct tape was there. Better that she retire with class, memories of our grand escapades unsullied by pretense. I plan to build a monument to her, surrounded by the medals for the rides on which she bore me.

Meanwhile, a young ingenue now sits in the place of honor.

She is the newest generation of the Terry Liberator Race Ti line. Sleeker, lighter, a little more high tech, she has done a laudable job nestling my nether regions on a couple of 100+ mile rides in the past week. I think that she will do her grandmother proud, and build upon her legacy.

But I will always been in the debt of that grand old dame. My intimate companion. My saddle.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

To Grandmother's House I (Try to) Go

Did I ever mention that my mom and dad are from Ft. Myers, about 40 miles north of here? Every summer and many Christmases, they would load me, my two brothers, and my sister into the Family Truckster for the 12-hour drive from Atlanta. Good times ...

The other day, I decided to ride up to Ft. Myers and noodle around the old downtown a bit, looking for some of the familiar scenes from my idyllic youth. This ended up proving two old maxims:

  1. The only constant is change ... particularly when you're talking about Florida real estate, and
  2. You can't go home again (at least, not on a bicycle, because the roads are super busy now and cars will run you down).
I stuck with my new plan of getting out while the getting is good, leaving the house just before 5 am. After a quick bagel at Einstein Brothers, I went up Tamiami Trail to just above Pelican Bay. The traffic was starting to wake up, and I was afraid that my blinking red tail light might get lost in the myriad lights of closed establishments along the busy thoroughfare, so I went over to Vanderbilt Beach Road for the rest of the way north. Of course, in spite of the road being empty and quiet, one big white pick-up truck still thought it would be fun to give me a wake-up call with his horn. Ah, those zany kids. They kill me.

The sun was coming up as I left Bonita Beach via the bridge over Little Hickory Pass, reminding me that there were other advantages to getting out super-early to ride.

Traffic remained fairly calm all the way through Fort Myers Beach and up San Carlos Boulevard. Last week, I went this way out to Sanibel and Captiva, but this time I headed on up towards the Caloosahatchee River. You can't really get close to it, since there are gated golf course communities there, but I think that I smelled the water.

I worked my way north and east on McGregor Boulevard, eventually getting to the old Edison and Ford homes about 8 am.

Of course, we toured these as kids, and I remember being impressed with the light bulbs with bamboo filaments. I'm currently reading an excellent biography of Nikola Tesla, however, and was in no mood to sing Mr. Edison's praises.

I remember my grandmother's house as being on the other side of town from this, and poked around a bit trying to find it. Unfortunately, 35 years and my bad memory made it impossible to locate anything, and it was pretty obvious that homes as old as that one had long ago been replaced.

One glance told me that Tamiami Trail was not the way to head back south, so I went further west to take Cortez Boulevard. This took me past the old high school, where my parents had graduated and my uncle Austin had coached football for many years.

When Cortez ran out, I got on Tamiami Trail for a mile or two, then headed east on Colonial Boulevard. After less than a mile, I saw a sign for a multi-use path, so I turned. Somehow, I had found the John Yarbrough Linear Park Trail.

The path followed one of the old canals south, with a railroad line to the east and the old airport to the west. It was very popular with runners, and I felt a little out of place using it instead of biking on the road. Thus, when I came to Daniels Parkway, I turned off to continue east.

Eventually, I crossed under I-75 and came to Treeline Avenue, just north of the new airport. I made a quick store stop, then took the bike-lane-loaded route from the airport to Estero Parkway, and hence to Three Oaks Parkway / Imperial Parkway / Livingston Road. It was deathly familiar, but I was in the mood now to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Keeping My Cool

As mentioned in Monday's post, I pledged to begin my stupid long rides much earlier for the rest of the summer. Tuesday looked like the best day for this, so I left the house around 5:30 am, heading north.

Going through Pelican Bay, with the eastern horizon just beginning to turn a lighter shade of grey, I saw four other cyclists. Two were riding together, fairly hard, and apparently training. The others were just people that get around on their bikes, or were out doing their own pre-dawn centuries.

I stopped at the Panera Bread on Wiggins Pass Road for a quick scone and a cup of coffee. I also got the three-seed demi, stuffing it into a jersey pocket. By the time I headed back towards Vanderbilt Beach Road, the sun was up, and it looked to be a beautiful day.

I was actually chilly during the first hour, and it felt pretty good. Riding with lights is a bit more of a hassle, but it was worth it.

As I headed towards Bonita Beach, I saw a Naples Velo kit turn onto my route up ahead. When I caught up with the rider, it turned out to be Tim Cranch. He and I rode the next few miles together, up and through Ft. Myers Beach. It was nice having some company, and the quieter roads made it easy to cruise along and chat.

Once over the causeway and back on the mainland, Tim turned east and I west towards Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The road was getting busier, as people headed to various jobs on the islands.

Whereas the cars have to stop and pay a toll to go over this causeway, bikes have their own lane and don't pay. I wish the drivers in these cars would wise up and start saving some money like I was.

On the first island over the bridge, I slowed down to check out the ghost bike honoring Tracey Kleinpell. This memorial is still being well maintained, and is festooned with flowers and notes. I wish that other places with ghost bikes would take a tip from this -- although the stark white of a ghost bike is a powerful message, decorations like this help personalize the tragedy.

I cruised up Sanibel Island and on to Captiva Island. It was almost 9 am, and the heat was coming back as I hit 50 miles. While I wasn't doing a blistering pace, I was trying to get as much work done as I could in the cooler part of the day.

After a quick pause at the top, I started back south. The wind was a little against me, but still light. Whereas I had used the road for the ride up, I got on the multi-use trail to go south -- not so much for traffic, but merely because it was mostly in the shade.

A quick stop at Huxster's topped off my bottles, and I skipped the multi-use trail for the last mile south on the island. It was now chock-a-block (emphasis on the "blocked") with tourists on rental beach cruisers. A car passed me just before the turn towards the causeway, and the lady driver told me that I should be on the trail. Since I was moving at almost 20 mph, I would have been dangerous on that trail, and possibly breaking the law. Either way, she is wrong -- in Florida, you still have a choice as a cyclist to either be on the trail or the road.

Fortunately, another right we all have as humans is the right to choose whether we let putzes mess with our buzz. As a former guitarist of mine used to say, "Air it off, dude." By the time I was over the causeway and nearing Fort Myers Beach again, my mellow was back and I was able to laugh at the billboards.

Yeah, you gotta wonder if they also sell donuts.

I stopped near the bottom of Fort Myers Beach to refill my bottles with ice and Gatorade. Heat, humidity, and hard biking were keeping me warm, and I my bottles were nearing empty again as I neared Vanderbilt Beach Road. I could have turned right and been home by 11 am, but since I had finished the last of my three-seed demi on San Carlos Boulevard I needed some food and had a hankering for Arby's. I continued out Bonita Beach Road, past the dog track, to Imperial Parkway. A few miles north in the bike lane there, and I was soon scarfing a roast beef sandwich and some curly fries.

As I left just after noon, with about 25 miles to home, I looked down at my bike computer. I realized that the ride would end up being 125 miles -- or 200 kilometers -- and that if I rode fast I could finish in just under eight hours. I gave vent to my inner Max Watzz, and made it home by 1:25 pm -- five minutes to spare.

My water bottles were empty again, so I had not quite managed to keep cool for the whole ride. I'd kept my cool for most of it, though, and that was good enough.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Doin' the Time

To prepare for my tour in September, I'm doing at least one long endurance ride each week. The goals around the ride are simple: Go as hard as you can at a pace that you can maintain for at least five hours.

Last Thursday was the only day that I could fit this into the schedule. Even then, the schedule didn't really allow me to start until 9:30 that morning. Since the "feels like" temperature here in Naples has been -- and apparently will continue to be -- in the 90's by that time, this meant I was in for a steamy ride.

Ordinarily, I do these rides on my Lynskey, but Thursday I opted for the Salsa. It's heavier and slower, but that didn't matter because I was just "doing the time." Where I've been able to do a century in 5.5 hours on the Lynskey, I would settle for 75-80 miles on the Salsa.

Another reason to ride the Salsa is because it's the bike on which I plan to do my tour. And I had added another neat little gizmo to the cockpit.

Almost makes you feel like you're in a jet cockpit, don't it? I've had the little basic Cateye bike computer there, and the Garmin, too. (By the way, it only looks like the headlight is sticking out of the Garmin, but it's still attached to the front of the Old Man Mountain rack.) The bell has always been there, as well, but the little thing at the bottom is a thermometer that goes on the headset plug. With all of this, I can not only tell where I am, how far I've gone, and how fast I'm going, but I can now see incontrovertible evidence that I am an idiot for riding in such ridiculous heat.

I went into old Naples, out Fifth Street, and took Tamiami Trail down towards Marco Island. Most of the tourists are gone, so the roads were not very busy.

Collier Boulevard still had the usual fast cars, but the shoulder going towards Marco is pretty good. For some reason, there are places going the other way where the shoulder gets thin, so I prefer to do the Marco Island loop counterclockwise.

Once over the bridge and on the island itself, I decided to explore the northern end. This is where the historic village of Olde Marco Island is, although most of the buildings up there don't seem much older than the Olde Marco Pub & Restaurant.

There's also a place that sells and repairs guitars up that way. There's got to be an interesting story behind this.

I went all the way to the tip of the island, where you can look out over the passageway and see the nicer homes on the bottom of the Isle of Capri. Although I've driven to the Isle of Capri, I've never biked there. One day, I'll have to see if there's somewhere decent to eat.

After a bit of dawdling, I headed south to San Marco Road. This soon takes you to one of the hors categorie climbs of southwestern Florida.

Once over the bridge, the road turned northeast. The wind at my back, I was barely turning the pedals here and cruising at about 22 mph. I could hear the hum of the Salsa's Schwalbe Marathon tires over my iPod, and was reminded of a line from an Eagles' song, "Don't let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy." Then, I actually saw a small Eagle perched on a limb of a tree at the edge of the canal on my right.

Karmic, dude.

Soon, I was back on the Tamiami Trail, where the wind was no longer as friendly. Although San Marco Road had been fairly empty, it was nice to have a plentiful shoulder again.

As I got closer to Naples, civilization and cars returned. I stopped for a quick lunch at a Taco Bell, then went back through old town and down to Port Royal before turning back north towards the gelato place just north of Pelican Bay. The little thermometer was now reading 95 degrees, but it felt warmer than that as I rolled the last few miles back home.

I may have to start doing these rides at about 5 am. I may not do triple digit mileage, but I'd rather avoid the triple digit heat.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Icing on the Cake

After a putative perfect Harpeth River Ride Saturday and the volunteer's party Saturday night, RandoGirl and I were pretty tired Sunday morning. I slept until almost 6 am -- nearly a full hour past sunrise -- before heading out on my Lynskey to say goodbye to a few more roads.

I climbed South Berry's Chapel again, then went up Lynnwood Way and came down North Berry's Chapel. Soon, I was down in Franklin, helping RandoGirl get the tandem off the roof so we could do the Pancake Ride with our friends.

We pulled a big group for the first few miles, ramping the speed up enough to give everybody a good workout. Then we eased off and rode to Leiper's Fork with Bill and Sametta Glass on their tandem, and Jeff Bauer and Fredia Barry on Jeff's tandem.

The weather was still spectacular, and we hung out for almost half an hour under the shade of the trellis outside of Puckett's Grocery. Eventually, the single bikes all headed off for more miles or back to the ride start. Bill, Sametta, Jeff, Fredia, RandoGirl, and I were joined by Steve and Joyce Grizzle as we rolled out to Fernvale.

Bill and Sametta turned off there for home, and the rest of us headed back to Franklin and our cars. RandoGirl and I went back to Karla McVey's house to get cleaned up and packed, then joined everybody for one last long lunch at Local Taco in Brentwood. Then, I put RandoGirl on the plane for home, and drove to Atlanta to visit my mom. The next morning, I drove the rest of the way back to Naples.

Back in Naples, it was steamy and drizzly. This place is great during the winter. The riding is fast, and I've made a few friends. But being in Brentwood last week ... well, it felt like home.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Perfect Ride?

How many times have you declared something "perfect?"

Maybe not often, but just about everyone has said it. "That pizza was perfect." "This shirt fits perfectly." "The perfect end to a perfect day."

In college, I took a philosophy class on Logic. It was a great class, mostly because it taught me some tactics to help avoid falling prey to logical fallacies -- both in my thinking, and in the arguments of others. One of those fallacies was the "Quaternio Terminorum," or Fallacy of the Four Terms. The example that Dr. Linville gave of this fallacy was:
    A thing's perfection is it's end.
    The end of life is death.
    Therefore, the most perfect form of life is death.
This fallacy stuck with me for a number of reasons. One is that it shows how words can have different meanings to different people at different times. It's an imprecise form of communication, but until we all learn the Vulcan Mind Meld, it's all we've got. But it also stuck with me because it made me afraid that declaring anything "perfect" will doom it to be my last.

Which is a long way of saying that this past Saturday's Harpeth River Ride was not The Perfect Ride. I haven't had The Perfect Ride yet, and hope not to have it until I'm ready to hang up my helmet for good.

But Saturday was close. Scary close.

It was a chilly dawn when RandoGirl and I left our friend Karla McVey's home. Karla was already at Nissan headquarters in Cool Springs, TN, helping to finalize set-up for the ride, so RandoGirl and I biked over to the home of Mike and Patty Willman for breakfast with some of the other riders. I then grabbed the tandem, and rode it stoker-less to Nissan.

My stoker, Dan Dillon, got there just after I did. RandoGirl and I helped him put on his arm warmers, set up his Camelbak, and get ready to ride. The previous day's wind had eased, and RandoGirl and I both ditched the jackets we had worn for the ride over, since light arm warmers and knee warmers felt perfect by now. Er, I mean that they felt just right.

There were short speeches from Mike, Harpeth Bike Club President Fredia Barry, and Mayor Karl Dean. Then Team Radio Shack Nissan riders Chris Horner and Ben King said a couple of words before they passed the microphone to Dan and he told us all to saddle up and ride.

So we did.

Now, I wish that I had a bunch of pictures from the rest of this ride, but as you can imagine I had my hands full. The above picture and the next are from Al Wagner Photography. Al and his wife, Luanne, were all over the course Saturday taking pictures. Most of them don't have me in them, which makes them much prettier. If you want to see them and get a better idea of just how much fun people were having and what an incredible day it was, go here.

The ride began with almost 10 miles at a parade-like pace, as we went from Cool Springs through downtown Franklin and out to Carter's Creek Pike. Dan and I were at the front ... actually, we were off the front for a few miles since we coasted down a couple of hills and gapped the pack ... and people lined the streets to cheer, ring cowbells, and take pictures.

RandoGirl stayed with us, helping to take care of Dan and ensure that everything went smoothly. Without her efforts, the ride would not have been perf-- ... er, excellent.

Once through the "neutral start" zone, we waited while a huge pack of riders roared past seeking new personal bests. While we didn't necessarily want to be out on the course the whole day, the idea never bothered me. Historically, temperatures during the Harpeth River Ride have edged into the 90s and beyond, but at this point the weather was better than you could expect for the first week of June -- low humidity, light winds, and about 65 degrees. On a day like this, outdoors is where you want to be.

Just before Thompson Station, Chris Horner passed us with a cheery, "Good morning." His back was acting up, so he was just doing the metric. This allowed him the freedom to ride and chat with a ton of folks, treating it as more of a club outing than a race. Everyone commented on how accessible all of the pro riders were, and just how cool this was.

We stopped at the rest stop in Thompson Station for a quick break, and then continued east through Bethesda. There was a timed climb up over Pulltight Hill, but Dan and I were satisfied to just downshift to the granny gear and muscle up over it. We broke a personal speed record on the descent down the other side -- I'm not going to tell you what it was, since Dan's wife Brenda may not let him ride with me if she finds out -- then zipped up Horton Highway to the next rest stop in College Grove.

I'd originally planned to get ice in Dan's Camelbak here, but he didn't need it. The weather was still incredible and he felt strong, so we just hung out for a while and met folks. Ben King and Matthew Busche came in with a big pack of century riders, and I was able to introduce Matthew to Dan. He and Ben had been involved in a minor incident with a car earlier in the day, but were having a great time and enjoying the course.

We endured the bumpy rollers on Eudaily Covington Road, then headed over towards Bethesda again to climb Cool Springs Road. The last time we were here, Dan was having horrible leg cramps as we creeped up this hill, but today we fairly flew over and down the back side. Although the saddle was bothering him now, Dan still felt great.

We took another break at the penultimate "Not Ready for Prime Time" rest stop, then headed on. We were less than 10 miles to the finish, and although we all loved being out on these spectacular roads in this weather, the barn was smelling good.

On Gosey Hill Road, the wind was at our backs as we climbed a gentle rise towards a cornflower blue sky speckled with white cotton clouds. The smell of mown hay from the field on our right was working hard against the smell of honeysuckle growing on the fence to our left. I was trying to do what I frequently do on these rides with Dan, describing the scenes around us and the glory of this marvelous planet, when I just ran out of words. My heart hurt -- but in that good Southern way. I was literally overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for being in such a special place, and almost couldn't take any more. The universe then put a beautiful young fawn in the field to our right, and I saw him spring up and bound towards the woods with his white tail wagging, as Mother Nature in all her maternal munificence promised, "I can beat that."

The final few miles zipped by. There was more traffic as we came back in to Cool Springs, but the Franklin Police did a great job managing the lights at the intersection so that everything flowed smoothly. Next thing I knew, we were turning left into the Nissan parking lot, where I promptly missed the left turn towards the finish line to give us an extra quarter-mile of riding.

Was it the ride of my life? Maybe. I know that it is one that I hope to keep in my memory forever -- a ride in ideal weather with some of my favorite people on my favorite roads. It was the kind of day that fortune only grants every so often, just to remind you how lucky you can be. Once tasted, you'll hunger for that day again, and keep on going though bad times knowing that there may be another incredible day just like it up -- or maybe even better -- right around the corner.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I Am Cold, and I Like It.

Sorry that I haven't blogged in a while, but I was away last week. Remember? I warned you about it?

It was a full week, so I'm going to break up the events in a two-blog post. And, here's the big surprise: This is the first one.

I left Naples Tuesday morning, stopping in Panama City Beach on the way. Partly this is because it's too long a drive from Naples to Nashville without a break, but also because I needed to drop off some stuff at our rental house there. I also had dinner at the Red Bar, where I got to listen to the band. Bonus.

Wednesday, I drove across Alabama and got to Nashville in the middle of the afternoon. That evening, I had dinner in Hillsborough Village with old friends Jeff Bauer and Naresh Kumar.

Thursday, I had to pick up RandoGirl at the airport just after 10 am, so I rolled out from the hotel at the crack of dawn to ride 50 miles of hills.

I hit Dunkin' Donuts first, and then took the regular Tuesday night route over Gosey Hill. At Peytonsville Trinity Road I turned right to climb Cool Springs Road, then rolled down through Bethesda.

In spite of not riding any hill bigger than a bridge for the last six months, I felt great. At this point, I'd done two of the tougher short climbs in the area, and felt ready to see how I could do on something a little longer. I headed over to Pulltight Hill.

Although I was able to climb it in the middle ring, I could feel a difference. For one thing, about halfway up I developed a slight stitch in my right side -- a sure indication that my climbing was off and my core weaker than usual. I was also running out of time, so I took a short-cut over Arno Allisona Road, and then used Meeks Road to get back on the River Ride route.

The roads at this point had seemed like old friends welcoming me home; however, the night before, I had noticed that the construction had been finished on McEwen Road. This used to be a quiet -- albeit torn up -- road, but now has six lanes. Two of those are for bikes.

That's my kind of progress.

After a quick shower, I loaded everything back on the Watzz Wagon, checked out of the hotel, and picked up RandoGirl at the airport. We spent the rest of the afternoon stuffing envelopes of rider packets for the ride, and then had a quiet dinner with Bill and Sametta Glass before heading to Karla McVey's home. Karla had volunteered to put us up for the long weekend, and we will be forever in her debt.

Friday morning, I was up at dawn again. Thursday night a front had blown through, and it was much cooler, with a few clouds left over. The wind was scudding them across the pale sky and I was wishing that I had brought arm warmers when I pulled into Krispy Kreme. A couple of hot donuts off the conveyor belt and a cup of coffee fortified me to head out for some more hills. I started with South Berry's Chapel, then doubled back via North Berry's Chapel and it's 20-ish percent finishing grade.

It was odd to have to find that strange balance point -- where you weight the back wheel enough to keep traction, and the front wheel enough to keep it on the ground. The legs were willing, but the mind was not quite there.

I chickened out on the second -- and longer -- climb further down South Berry's Chapel, and took Hidden Valley over to Manley instead.

The sugar from the hot Krispy Kreme was about gone by now, so I cut through the Belle Rive subdivision to Granny White Pike, and 10 minutes later was in Maryland Farms eating a bagel and drinking coffee. It was strange and wonderful to be able to go from an empty country road to the center of a busy office complex like that, and I began to make unkind comparisons with Naples.

My belly was full again, but the time for my ride was getting short. I had just enough time to head back down to Holly Tree Gap.

There were a few more cars out by now, but they didn't seem to have any trouble getting around me on the fairly narrow two-lane road. I passed two ladies riding horses as I started the last good climb of my morning ride.

Back at Karla's, I quickly showered and headed over to the ride command center to stuff more packets. Then, Bill and I went out and drove the century course.

Just like last year, he and I swept gravel and debris out of any sketchy corners to help avoid accidents. By now, the weather had turned incredible, and we had a great time for the next six hours. When we were done, all of the rider packets had been finished and delivered to Nissan headquarters, so I got him to drop me there. I was able to meet my friend, Vida Greer, and help her a little bit in getting the Gran Fondo booth set up for the Bike Expo, and then handed out packets for another hour.

Just before sunset, my stoker for the next day -- Dan Dillon -- arrived, and we took part in the ceremonies surrounding the Adaptive Athletes program.

Yeah, I don't know what was up with the balloonist, but wasn't that cool?

As the sun was setting it started to turn chilly, and a bunch of us headed over to a local restaurant for cajun food and big talk. It was the perfect end to another perfect day, and we still had the River Ride itself ahead.

But that's for the next blog ...