Friday, October 26, 2012

Lessons Learned: What to Do on the Next Tour

Although I had to cut last week's tour short, I was able to go for long enough that I learned some valuable information. One thing that I learned was that my assumptions on daily distance were correct -- a touring day should not be more than 75 miles or have more than 5,000 feet of climbing. It's probably best to balance these as well, so that your 75-mile days have only about 2,500 feet of climbing, and your 5,000-feet days are not more than 60 miles long. This is the only way to keep the pace down to a level that you can enjoy the world through which you are riding, and not have to suffer the Bataan Death Ride.

Here's some other things that I discovered:

  • There are no good camping pillows. Just leave them at home, and use that nice bag of clothing instead. While lying in the sleeping bag and reading in your tent, use two bags of clothing.
  • If it's a cool night, go ahead and put on a pair of socks. I don't know why my feet get colder than anything else in the sleeping bag, but they do.
  • The E-Werks cache battery is the bomb. Unless it is dead, it will begin charging your iPhone or iPod as soon as you plug it in -- even when the bike isn't rolling and the DynaHub isn't putting out juice. It will not charge your iPad, however.
  • You probably don't need to carry an iPad. I had my netbook with me, as well as my iPhone. That was really enough, since I don't like to write anything more than a FaceBook update on my iPad.
  • The "two nights camping followed by one night in a hotel" plan works great. Ideally, the hotel day should be a little easier, so you can do laundry. My hotel day ended up being almost 100 miles, but I still probably could have washed my clothes that evening. Whenever possible, pick a hotel that has a washer and dryer available for patrons. You can use the sink, but it takes longer for stuff to dry.
  • The rear wheel on my 32cc tires will rub against the brakes if not fully inflated, or if the set screw back at the hub is not all the way in. I may have to see if Gran Fondo can do something about this.
  • The front panniers are still a little too far forward. I adjusted them, and ended up bungee-ing them a bit to keep them from shifting around. The distribution can be exacerbated if I don't put the tent as far back as I can on top of the front rack.
  • Descending with a fully loaded rig, you tend to tense up. When I do that, the bike actually shimmies. If I just shift my weight a little further back and loosen my shoulders and elbows, the shimmies stopped.
  • Stop at stores. You never know when there's going to be another one. If your bottles are full, get one for the panniers. If you're camping that night and there's less than 20 miles to your campsite, see if they have anything that would be good for dinner.
  • Campsites under street lamps are mixed blessings. Yes, you can stay outside for a while and read by the street lamp, but it will also light up your tent a bit during the night.
  • Although I brought a sleep mask and ear plugs, I never needed them. But I will continue to bring them.
  • It's nice to have a bottle of something to drink in your tent. You may think that you drank well during the day, but you didn't really. You will get thirsty during the night.
  • It's also nice to have a candy bar for dessert when you're hanging out in the tent.
  • Try as you may, you will not be able to get your tent's rain fly dry. Morning dew and condensation make it impossible. The best you can hope for is to put it in the hotel dryer for five minutes every third day.
  • Also throw your sleeping bag and the cover for your sleeping pad in that dryer for five minutes. Put in a sheet of fabric softener, too. They may not be wet, but when you clean the dryer screen afterwards you will see just how much hair, little leaves, cracker crumbs, and bits of candy bar were in that tent with you.
  • The quality of the wifi at McDonald's varies.
  • McDonald's is a popular hang-out for retirees in small towns in Tennessee and Kentucky. There will be at least two tables full of guys drinking coffee. They will ask where you are going, and offer you advice on the roads to take. Make sure that they understand that you prefer paved roads.
  • The big busy roads often have wide shoulders, but these shoulders get lots of debris ... particularly gravel. These roads are often shorter, the climbs more gradual, they have more stores, and dogs don't usually come out onto them to chase you.
  • Smaller roads get more dogs and fewer cars, but don't have as much shoulder. They are generally more pleasant until you get to the steep hill, or when a big truck passes you that has no business being on that quiet road in the first place.
  • On a weekday, the front porch of a church makes for a good spot to take a mid-morning break and put on your sunscreen.
One final tip: If you don't want to do an out-and-back tour, get to a town that is big enough to rent you a small pick-up truck which you can drive home. It's not really that expensive, and allows you to see more cool stuff.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

This Was Supposed to be the Easy Day

I slept great Tuesday night, since it was just cool enough to be cozy in a sleeping bag. Getting up just before sunrise, I had a delicious breakfast of corned beef hash, bagels, and coffee, then broke everything down and packed it up. I had retraced my route back out of the park to US-127 before 9 am.

The weather was excellent, with a good breeze out of the south pushing me along. Stopping in Jamestown, I thought about getting another cup of coffee at the dinner, but instead took a break to get pictures and remove my knee warmers and jacket.

There was a fellow watching me, and I called out "Good morning" to him. He just kept staring. It was a common theme with people that I met today: One third thought I was crazy, one third thought I was a fool, and one third thought I was interesting ... for a crazy fool.

I opted for some back roads after Jamestown, some of which had fierce climbs. As I approached Russell Springs, the GPS told me to turn right on Wilson Road. This road started out beautiful ...

... and then it got scary. I've been down too many roads that looked too good to be true, and this one started to have that feel. It begins when it gets narrow, and then there are a lot of leaves and gravel and other debris on it. These showed up right after Wilson Road started going steeply downhill, but by this time I was in for the long haul. Unfortunately, the long haul ended at a creek.

There's actually more road, but it follows the bottom of the creek. I decided to just take my medicine and go back. It wasn't easy, and called for a few yards of me pushing the bike, but who knows what I would have had to climb on the other side of the creek road?

In Russell Springs, I grabbed an early lunch at Arby's, and then took US-127 north to Hwy 80. This road kind of follows the path of the Cumberland Parkway, going east, but still had a bit of traffic. Also, the wind that had been pushing me north was now a crosswind that regularly became a headwind.

Just before Somerset, KY, I called RandoGirl to talk about some stuff that was going on back home. It soon became clear that I needed to get back sooner than this weekend, so I decided to get a rental car instead of a hotel in Somerset. I looked online, and found that there was an Enterprise Rental Car right next door to the hotel at which I planned to stay. Easy solution, right?

Wrong. When I got to Somerset and where my hotel was supposed to be, there was no hotel and no rental car office. I headed back north on US-27 -- the busy main drag there -- and couldn't find it, so I pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express and made some calls.

Enterprise said that they have an office there, but that they couldn't rent me a car that I could drive to Nashville. The nearest office with that option was in London, KY, at I-75 ... almost 40 miles away.

Leaving the lot, some folks at the hotel asked where I was going. It turned out that one of them used to do bicycle touring, and we chatted briefly. It was 3 pm, and we agreed that getting to London by dark would be tricky -- the road is busy and hilly, he said -- and he recommended staying the night and going the next day. I considered it briefly, and then decided that I could make it. Besides, I had lights.

Unfortunately, the best way was to get back on Hwy 80, which was now well north of me. I got on Hwy 914 -- busy, but with a good shoulder -- for five miles, and then on Hwy 80. Again, busy, but with a good shoulder.

After five miles, it went from being a four-lane divided highway to just two lanes ... except at the hills. There, the road got an extra lane for slower truck traffic. That lane cut a little bit into the shoulder, but not too much.

At this point, Kentucky must be a series of canyons, because Hwy 80 is always going up or down. It's not steep, but the climbs were long enough, my bike heavy enough, and my legs tired enough that each of them had me crawling along about 5 mph.

My shadow was getting long when the road finally leveled out, and I hammered the last few miles to London.

I got the last room at the Hampton Inn, and the shower there was sublime. After calling Enterprise and reserving a car, I ate a huge dinner and called RandoGirl. She was pleased that I was going to be home soon, and that killed the pain I was feeling in my legs. I had not planned on a 97-mile day, but was glad to do it if it would make my girl happy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Some Busier Roads, But Still Pretty

Monday night, it got cold -- 40 degrees. Well, that may not sound cold to you, but keep in mind that I've been in southwest Florida for a year.

Fortunately, I had a new sleeping bag that was good to 30 degrees. That, and a good pair of wool socks, and I was fine all night.

It took me a bit longer than it should have to break camp in the morning, however. Fingers don't work as well when they're cold, and I found myself just being ... well, deliberate with stuff. It was after 9 am when I finally left Standing Stone State Park and got on Hwy 52.

It's a busy road, but has a decent shoulder. They've rumble-stripped it, so the shoulder ain't what it used to be, but it goes the way I needed to go.

I got a little turned around in Livingston, since my GPS wanted me to head straight towards Kentucky and I wanted to stop in McDonald's. It wasn't like I needed another breakfast yet, but I did want to use their wifi to post the previous day's blog. The diversion netted me a few bonus miles, but I had plenty of time.

Taking Hwy 111 north, I was once again on the shoulder of a busy road. Once or twice I was able to cut over to some more quiet lanes, although the dogs came out to play. I also got off to see beautiful downtown Byrdstown.

Then it was back to 111, which I stayed on to just past the river.

Here, I was able to take one nasty harsh climb, which eventually led to Old Kentucky Road. Any road with "Old" in it is usually good.

Unfortunately, I soon has to get back on US-127, which has no shoulder and lots of truck traffic through Albany. I stopped at McDonald's there for lunch (all I could find), and got groceries for that night's dinner and the next morning's breakfast. The road was a little less busy after I got through town, but certainly still pretty.

Soon, I was crossing over Wolf Creek Dam, which is huge. They're doing some kind of expansion or replacement on the far side, and had huge machines at work there which I had never seen before.

I stopped on the top to get a picture of the spillway. I kept expecting to see Richard Kimball come flying past.

The view down from the dam was pretty good, too.

My late start, extra time at various McDonalds's, and lolly-gagging was making me run out of time, however. It was after 4 pm when I finally got to the entrance to the park, and the signs showed that I had five miles to get to the campground. Fortunately, they were pretty miles.

I got a pretty good campsite -- close to the bath house and fairly level -- and was set up before night fell. Instead of going to the lodge for dinner, I cooked the can of soup that I had bought in Albany, and sat up reading for a while. The night was warmer, and very comfortable. In the distance, I could hear coyotes yipping, and watched bats swooping around the streetlights to catch insects. Besides me, there were only RVs camping there, and they all turned in pretty early.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Getting There With Help From the Ladies

I was a little worried about this day. It was long – 70 miles – and I wouldn't be able to get on the road until my train, the Music City Star, got in to Lebanon. I even plotted a fallback course, and put it in the GPS, where I could stop for the night at Roaring River State Park in Gainesboro.

But a couple of ladies helped me out.

First was RandoGirl, who I really don't thank enough. Although we've got a lot going on in Nashville, she let me disappear into the wilderness for a week, wasting a week of vacation that I probably should be spending with her, while she keeps the home fires burning. I not could not do this stuff without her, I probably would not be alive today -- or at least sufficiently healthy enough -- to do it, since she was one of the big motivators for me getting fit 12 years ago, and one of the big reasons that I stay fit today. I like the way that she tells about my exploits, and how she admires the lovely curve of my muscular calves.

She's also fun to ride with, and I wish that she could have come with me this week. Instead, I try to remember things that I've seen and take pictures, mostly so that I can eventually share them with her. I often write this blog just with her in mind, and the blog posts this week are just that.

So, in addition to all of this support, RandoGirl got up this morning before sunrise and drove me into downtown Nashville. She did this so that I wouldn't have to ride 90 miles today rather than just 70 -- 20 of them in pre-dawn commuter traffic. She also did this just because she was going to miss me this week.

After all of this help, another lady popped up when Mother Nature lent a hand.

First, the temperature was perfect. I left the train station wearing a jacket and knee warmers, but removed them less than an hour later. I would then be a little chilly in the shadows, but just right on the long climbs.

Second, the wind was strong and out of the east most of the day, shifting north during the afternoon. It pushed me quickly along on the flat sections (of which there were rather few), but also gave me a hand on the climbs.

Originally, I meant to grab some breakfast in Nashville before getting on the train. I had my ticket 45 minutes before departure, but as I poked around down by the park and up Broadway, I never saw anything that interested me. My plan to then get something in Lebanon ended up with me scarfing a candy bar and filling a bottle with a Vitamin Water.

But I knew that the route had me in Carthage within 20 miles, so I just plodded on. Somehow, I never really saw “downtown” Carthage – which may be a good thing, if I meant to avoid traffic and cars.  But it meant I was still hungry as I climbed 70 on to the ridge at Chestnut Mound.

There, I turned onto the less busy TN-53 towards Granville, stopping again at the market there for more drinks, plus a Diet Coke and an oatmeal Little Debbie. That got me over the next couple of bumps, and I was rolling into Gainesboro before 1 pm.

After a double cheeseburger with fries from the Dairy Queen, I stopped at the grocery store and picked up dinner for tonight and breakfast for tomorrow. The extra weight should not have felt like much as I continued on TN-85 up the long climb towards Hilham, but it nonetheless did. About 15 miles later, I stopped briefly at the Hilham store, only to discover that it has closed. This is a serious bummer, since we use this store as a control on some routes. Fortunately, I had not counted on it for my groceries, so I rolled on.

Five rolling miles with one steep climb later, I got to Standing Stone State Park. After checking in, I found a good campsite (there was only me and one RV there), set everything up, grabbed a shower, and had a sumptious dinner prepared by a famous European chef.

Tomorrow is a little shorter, but just as hilly. I'm heading into Kentucky, so maybe the wind will turn about and come out of the south. If not, I'm very grateful to have seen such incredible beautiful, celebrating another day of living.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Fallback Tour

As regular readers of this blog may recall, back in the spring I announced my Big Event for 2012. The plan was to take three weeks and ride from Vancouver, BC, down to San Francisco, CA, camping most nights along the way. Towards that end, I had The Bike Route down in Naples, FL, convert my single-speed Salsa Casseroll to a mega-geared, fat-tired touring rig, which I then tested with a few long two-day trips in the area.

Well, life is what happens when you're making other plans, and life intervened. We decided to move back to Nashville -- a change regarding which I am very, very happy, by the way -- and build a house. I'm pleased about the house thing, too, but it meant that me disappearing for a month was just not gonna happen.

So, I postponed the trip. Not cancelled, by the way ... just postponed for a year. Some other things about the trip may change -- like it may only be two weeks of riding and not three, and I may have to fly there and back rather than take the train -- but one way or another I am biking the northwest coast of the United States come Autumn of 2013.


Anyway, a few weeks ago I told RandoGirl that I still needed some kind of tour this year. After getting the bike built up and training for it, it would just be a complete waste if I didn't go off into the wilderness for at least five or six days of riding, camping, and eating at every restaurant that I passed.

She agreed. Actually, she said something like, "You had me at 'You won't have to put up with me farting in my sleep for a week.'"

So, here's the plan ...

Day One

This coming Monday, I will leave our humble abode and bike very early into the city to catch the 7:45 am Music City Star train. This will drop me in Lebanon, TN, about 8:40, whereupon I will head east to Carthage and then Chestnut Mound, where I will get off Hwy 70 and roll down to Granville. This lovely little town is on two of my old permanents and the old 400K that I designed, and I know that I can stop there for ice cream.

From Granville, I'll continue backtracking my permanent route to Gainesboro for a late lunch, and then climb up onto the plateau via TN-85. At Hilham, TN, I turn left and go into Standing Stone State Park, where I will camp for the night. All told, it should be around 70 miles and 5500' of climbing.

Day Two

Tuesday is a little easier, with 66 miles and over 5000' of climbing. It's mostly rolling as I head east to Livingston, where I'll get another breakfast and fill my bottles. Then, it's mostly 111 north through Byrdstown, cut over on some quieter roads, then on into Kentucky and US 127.

About 40 miles in, I'll get to Albany, KY, and stop for a late lunch. I should probably also get groceries here, since I'll be on US-127 for over 20 miles before I get to Lake Cumberland State Park. I'll camp here tonight, but may treat myself to dinner at the restaurant.

Day Three

Today is an easier day, with just over 50 miles and 3500' of climbing. My plan is to eat something in the park, then get back out and continue north on US-127 to Jamestown, KY. I'll grab another breakfast there and fill my bottles, then take KY-619 north into Russell Springs, KY. I'll fill bottles there and head east on KY-80, which parallels the Cumberland Parkway.

When 80 drops down south, I'll get off and take a few back roads to the south side of Somerset, KY. Tonight, it's the plush comfort of a Knights Inn, and hopefully a chance to wash some clothes.

Day Four

Since I had a hotel last night, I won't have to pack the tent and everything and can get an early start. That's good, because today is almost 90 miles with 8000' of climbing.

From the hotel, go south on US-127, cross the river on KY-90, and then follow 790 to Gregory. State Hwy 776 is a little shorter from there to Hwy 92, near Monticello. At that point, I'll either do an out-and-back few miles into Monticello and get food and drink, or I'll turn east towards the Daniel Boone National Forest. From what I can see online, there are no stores for the next 30 miles.

After taking on more fuel when I cross US-127 here, I'll continue on quiet 92 all the way through the park to Williamsburg, which is on I-75. A little over 10 miles south on 25W takes me back into Tennessee at the town of Jellico, home of Indian Mountain State Park. The town is right next to the park, and has plenty of amenities, so I won't have to tote much stuff.

(If I'm getting worn out at this point and am willing to get on US-127 -- which has a wide shoulder, but it has a rumble-strip -- for 30 miles, I may shorten this day to 62 miles and 5800' by doing this route:

Day Five

Friday is the last long hard day, with over 75 miles and 7000' of climbing. It starts with a few more miles on US-25, before I get on meandering TN-90. It meanders so much that it goes back into Kentucky, where it becomes State Hwy 74. This is also where it begins to tilt upward -- never too steeply, fortunately -- for five miles.

Just shy of Kentucky Ridge State Forest, the road begins heading down into the Cumberland Gap. It generally trends downhill for the next 10 miles into Middlesboro, where I'll get on busy 25E and probably have to walk my bike through the tunnel there. Just for fun, I'll head north a bit on the other side just to get bragging rights for crossing into Virginia, then retrace my route and suffer through about 30 miles more or less on the shoulder of US-25. There's one more four-mile climb, which I plan to do on old Hwy 25, and then it's mostly downhill to Bean Station, TN. There's a Budget Inn there, and it will be needed.

Day Six

It's Saturday, and the last day of my trip. I'll start early -- before US-25 gets busy -- and get on Old Kentucky Road when I get over the lake. After a bit of US-11, I jump on Stagecoach Road to Bull's Gap, then Rocky Hill, Marvin, and Gilbreath to get me under I-81.

A couple of twists and turns will take me to the Blue Springs Parkway, which runs almost in to downtown Greeneville. Since it's only 38 miles and about 2500' of climbing, I should be able to get a late breakfast or early lunch.

RandoGirl is driving out on Saturday, and we will go visit the RandoDaughter in the afternoon. (She goes to college near there, which was why the route went this way.) If the weather is good Sunday, maybe we will go for another bike ride before we drive back to Nashville.

I plan to blog as best I can during the week, since I am bringing my little netbook computer. If you see me out there, wave ... and maybe offer a ride in the back of your pickup truck on some of the nastier climbs.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Too Great a Ride to Feel So Bad

You've really got to hand it to professional bicycle racers at multi-day events like the Grand Tours. They not only go out and ride every day faster and longer than most of us can, but they then go out and do the same thing the very next day, and the day after that, and so on. Maybe it's because they train for it, or they're young, or they're genetically superior to us, or they have some magical substance that they rub on or inject or swallow, and then they manage to avoid WADA.

All I know for certain is that they are better at this crap than I am, or than I will ever be. And I managed to prove how much I differ from them, just this past Sunday.

You see, I was racing on a five-person team for Gran Fondo at the Gran Fondo Gran Fondo, which is a gran fondo that the Gran Fondo bicycle shop hosts out in Fly, Tennessee.

(Note: If I was in advertising, at this point I would have hit "genius" on the scale, since I just managed to use enough Gran Fondos in a single sentence that it bordered on inane ... and maybe even crossed the border and got its passport stamped.)

This is four of us -- Mark Frank was out taking the picture. You'll notice that I am the only one who did not get the memo to wear this year's blue kit.

In case you can't tell from how we're dressed, it was a little chilly at the start -- particularly for the first weekend in October in Tennessee. There was a bit of wind early on, but it eased up and the sun came out by the time we finished.

And that was all because of me.

No, I didn't make the sun come out or the wind ease up. I just managed to slow these fast folks down enough that the sun had plenty of time to break out of the clouds by the time that we finally rolled over the finish line, solidly securing our fourth-place position.

The problem was that I had let myself have fun the day before, too.

That's Jeff Bauer. He and I went down to Dunlap, TN, very early Saturday morning and rode the Sequatchie Valley Century, hosted by the Chattanooga Bicycle Club. Last time I rode this was a couple of years ago, with RandoGirl on the tandem, and it was very flat that year.

This year, it was less flat. And it was kind of wet. And very windy.

I shouldn't have gone. Or, when we got there and it was so nasty, I should have tried to talk Jeff into riding one of the shorter, flatter, routes.

But I didn't.

Here's a log cabin, and Jeff.

As you can tell from the pictures, it was still really pretty. And, obviously, we took it nice and easy on the ride (or there wouldn't be as many pictures). But it still took a toll.

Sunday morning, I felt great. The Gran Fondo course was even more beautiful than the Sequatchie route, but since I was racing I didn't take any pictures. We were mostly trying to have fun, but still be at least semi-serious, so we rode hard. I even took some long fast pulls on the early flatter sections.

But about mile 50, I needed food. I had not been drinking enough, and my legs were boiling over with lactic acid. I told our captain, Lynn Greer, "I'm getting crisp," and we eased up some. Then, we turned on Pigg Schoolhouse Road, and the pitch turned from tough to Way Too Fierce, and the cramps set in.

And I had to walk my bicycle up a hill.

On a race.


Fortunately, there were only 10 more miles to go, and I was able to spin it out before we got to the last climb of the day. I had begun to hammer again with just over a mile to go when my hamstring seized up, but was able to fight through it and we all rolled in together, looking good.

So long as nobody looked at me too closely, that is.

As a proper Gran Fondo should, this one had lots and lots of great food and alcoholic beverages, and I did partake mightily of both. Everybody sat around and swapped stories as I caught up with some folks that I had not seen in a while, and just enjoyed what was by then a sunny afternoon in one of the prettiest places on earth. I had my legs stuck out, quivering, under the table, and a full plate of Oscar's Tacos on my big round belly.

Half of my body hurt. Life was good.

I think I'll do exactly the same thing next year.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

+ Signs


I love +.

It's a wonderful mathematical symbol, for one thing. We all like to add stuff, since it's so much more fun than subtracting. Sometimes, with subtraction you have to subtract a negative number, which ends up being the same as adding ... but it's not nearly as fulfilling.

And then there's that + on batteries, which stands for Positive. Like most of us, I like to think that I'm a Positive Guy. Even when the glass isn't just half-empty but has gone clean on down to dead empty, I like to think that it's just an opportunity to fill that glass back up with something really cold and delicious.

Lately, I've encountered a number of + things, and wanted to share them with you.

Here's the first thing. I was heading over to Crockett Park a couple of weeks ago to do a weekday morning ride with my friend, Lisa Starmer, and the folks from BEAT (Brentwood Endurance Athletic Team). My route took me past Woodland Middle School just before classes were starting for the day, and I kept seeing kids on bicycles. They were all riding their bikes to school! This picture shows about half of the 50+ bikes that were lined up out front that day.

I grew up in the Atlanta suburbs in the 1970's, and there were maybe a dozen of us then that would ride our bikes to school. It just wasn't cool, and Atlanta was definitely not bike-friendly back then. Woodland Middle School, on the other hand, is very well situated for this kind of thing. It's right next to a big park that has bike paths feeding into it from neighborhoods all over Brentwood, so we shouldn't be surprised that kids would ride their bikes to school.

But I was surprised, and I am pleased. The kids thought that it was cool to ride their bikes to school, and that meant that some of them had realized that there are other ways to get around than by car, and maybe they'll continue to use bicycles for the rest of their lives to make trips and run the kinds of errands for which bikes work great.

Sure, not all of them. But maybe a few ... and that may be enough.

The second + thing was this email from my friend Bud Curtis, regarding something that happened when he was out with his wife, Lisa, riding in Nashville. The subject line was, "Where is Metro PD When You Need Them?"
They are right behind the car that passes you on your bicycle within one foot!
On Tuesday evening, Lisa and I were returning from a ride in Percy Warner Park. As we approached the red light at White Bridge Road / Woodmont on Harding, a car passed each of us within one foot. I was incensed that the driver would be so reckless only to be told by Lisa that a police car was behind us. The officer turned on his blue lights and over his car's loud speaker told the driver to pull over after telling other cars and us to proceed.
The three-foot law is alive and well in Metro Nashville. Metro police officers are enforcing the law!
A round of applause to the officer that understood and enforced the three-foot law and to Metro PD for educating their officers!!!
Ride safe and use the rules of the road,
And the third + was something that happened to me the next week. I had done my bike club's Tuesday evening ride, and was climbing a hill in the bike lane with a couple of riders about two miles from the end. We'd all been dropped by the uber-fast guys, so were taking it easy. The guy in front of me was blowing up as we neared the top of the hill, so I went around him.

Just then a car came up from behind, and he beeped his horn. I made a rude gesture to him (no, I did not give him the finger -- it was the backhanded hand flip under the chin, which is Italian for about the same thing), and he stopped his car and rolled down his window.

Now, often this results in a bad scene. Harsh words, gunfire, a police chase, weepy testimony given from a wheelchair ... we've all seen it before. Part of the problem was that I had just watched a YouTube video earlier that day where a truck in Colorado blares his horn at a couple of cyclists for miles, apparently just because the driver was a putz.

So, my chin-flip was probably aimed at the jerk in Colorado, rather than the guy in the BMW in McKay's Mill.

I pulled up next to his window and said, "I'm allowed to leave the bike lane to come around a slower cyclist." And the guy said, "I wasn't honking at you to hassle you. I just wanted you to know that I was coming up. I was worried you might swerve further out."

Which is when I realized that I was the one who had been a jerk.

I apologized, and thanked him for warning me. I wanted to explain the whole thing, but we were both now blocking the road, the late afternoon was fading fast towards twilight, and it was just kind of awkward.

Obviously, there are shmucks out there (sometimes it's us), but we can't let that taint our view of the world or keep us from riding our bikes. Bad things happen, but we get to choose whether or not we let those bad things get in the way of all of the good things still to come.

And they will come, because I believe that for every horn-honking a-hole in Colorado, there are a dozen people who move over and pass cyclists with care and compassion. For every cop that ignores drivers breaking the three-foot law there is another who understands the law and is willing to enforce it. For every kid being toted half a mile to school in the backseat of a Land Rover, there is another who's riding his bike there with his friends ... and they all think that it is so cool to be doing that.

Good things are ahead. Stay +.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Coming Back the Short (But Hillier) Way

When last we left ... er, me ... I was camping on Swan Creek at Fall Hollow Campground, having ridden 85 miles with 4500' climbing to check how my fully-loaded touring rig would handle middle Tennessee. The verdict: Pretty good.

I first awoke at dawn, but decided it was cold and rolled over. I woke up again about an hour later, when the Cub Scouts started to get noisy. It was still cold, though, so I just lay there for a while and thought deep thoughts.

Eventually, I climbed out of my warm sleeping bag and put on some clothes, and then set up my little stove to make coffee. As you may recall from yesterday, I had the prescience to get a cinnamon roll to go from Marcy Jo's, so that my breakfast was pure bliss.

As I finished my coffee, I slowly began breaking down my camp and putting everything back in what I hoped was the right spot on the bike. Last week, I had carefully weighed each pannier to get them as close to even as possible, and the balance had shown in how well the bike handled the day before.

That done, I rolled the now-loaded bike up to the bathroom, took a shower, put on riding clothes, and went by the office to pay my bill. The owner fixed me another cup of coffee, and we chatted for another half an hour before I finally dragged myself away.

The campground was less than a mile from the Natchez Trace, so in 10 minutes I was starting up the mile-long climb to the Swan Valley Overlook. Although it was a good way to warm up, my knees were saying, "Hey! How about a couple of easy miles first next time?"

The Trace was as pretty and quiet as always, with more trees starting to turn for autumn. The day was overcast and stayed cool -- never getting much above 70 -- which made once again for excellent riding.

On one of the early downhills, I noticed that the bike was shimmying when I got over 25 mph. I stopped at the next overlook to move the panniers around a bit and re-balance the load. Whatever I did worked, and the bike was great for the rest of the day.

At the Gordon House rest stop at Hwy 50, I stopped to try to locate the bicycle camping area there. I didn't have any luck, but ran into another cyclist who was starting a week-long trip down to Natchez. His wife was ahead of him, driving their car with the clothes and camping gear. I envied him the support, but just barely. There's something about getting there under your own power, carrying everything that you need with you, that you can only understand once you've done it.

I was getting a little hungry when I came to the TN-7 exit, but decided to stay on the Trace rather than go down to Fly's Grocery and get one of Mr. Fly's famous one-dollar turkey sandwiches. I stopped for a second to scarf a Bonk Bar, then continued north and was soon at the Pinewood Road exit, turning off to go into Leiper's Fork.

A young girl was up on the stage at Puckett's Grocery singing to about 20 folks eating lunch, and I felt out of place. I got a piece of chess pie and a chocolate milk from the back, but on the way out ran into my friend Robert Gregory. He was also out for a bike ride ... albeit a much faster and shorter one. We sat outside and ate and talked for a while before each heading our separate ways.

The chess pie was just to hold me over, so I took Southall Road to Carter's Creek, then came up that and on into downtown Franklin. There, I stopped at Mellow Mushroom for a calzone -- my first real hot meal of the day. On my way out, a little girl noticed my Gran Fondo kit and asked if I knew her daddy, Andy Garner, who races for them. I said that I did, then talked to her and her sister and mother for a bit.

I stayed on Hwy 31, then cut through some of the back roads just south of the mall by I-65. Waiting at a traffic light there, a fellow in a pick-up truck asked how far I'd gone and where I was heading. It was a long light, and he said that he used to ride but was worried about "all of the kids texting and stuff nowadays." He wished me a good trip as the light changed, and I was soon back home.

Maybe people are just more friendly to you when you're out riding a loaded touring rig than when you're on a fast bike. Or maybe it's us -- when we're on a fast bike, we're focused on training and looking like we're racers, and aren't as open to talking to strangers. Either way, my trip back up was the perfect mixture of quiet seclusion surrounded by nature and the friendly camaraderie of good everyday people.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Training for the Tour

First, my apologies. I know that I started the year promising to blog more regularly, but last week was crazy. It was frustrating because I had some interesting things to write about, too, but no time. Mostly, it was work, but it's also been moving-back-to-Tennessee stuff. Again, I'm sorry.

Second, a story.

There is a horizon coming up ... a period wherein I may be able to jam in a quick one-week tour. It's during a transition, and it's at a time when the weather may still be good enough for a tour.

However, as I began to plan for that tour, it struck me that I have no idea how far I can go on a daily basis here. I mean, right now I'm riding pretty well, so that I haven't had any trouble doing 200K rides and still feeling fresh enough to ride the next day, but that's on the Lynskey ... without the extra 50 pounds of gear and clothes that you need if you're touring and camping.

In Florida, I was targeting 70 miles a day or so on my bike camping trips. But that was flat, and while that makes it easier in some ways (like you don't have to work as hard to get that extra 50 pounds up a hill), it makes it harder in others (like you don't get out of the saddle as much).

So, I began to plan my tour with days between 50 and 70 miles, but also decided that I needed a little weekend warm-up tour to see how the bike handled on tough climbs. I was also curious how the bike would feel on descents, since that much gear can sometimes set up shimmies on a long downhill. Another reason for the tour was to test everything out one more time and see if I'd thought through all of the issues.

And then, of course, there was the opportunity for food, such as getting a breakfast at Marcy Jo's and lunch at the Mount Pleasant Grille.

I rolled out about 7 am, heading first down to Einstein Brothers in Franklin for a quick cup of coffee and a bagel. In hobbit language, this is called First Breakfast. Then, I got back on quieter roads south, climbing Cool Springs Road on the way.

Now, those of you familiar with this nasty little knob are probably wondering, "Why would you take an 80-pound bicycle over that?" Because it was there, of course! Or, maybe, because I wanted to see how the bike would handle when I'm in the granny gear, chugging along at 4 mph.

The answer: Just fine.

The weather was excellent, with the temperature just warm enough that I didn't need anything extra and a light breeze out of the north pushing me along. It was still overcast as I passed through Bethesda and down Comstock Road.

I was roughly following the Cathey's Creek permanent route at this point, taking Reynolds Road over towards Moses Road. The pavement may not be great here, but the scenery is spectacular and the few cars that you meet generally wave hello.

It was after 9 am when I reached Lewisburg Pike, so I stopped at Marcy Jo's for second breakfast.

As usual, it was busy, so I hung out on the front porch for about 20 minutes waiting with a bunch of other folks. They all had questions about where I was heading, what all the stuff on my bike was for, and why on Earth I was doing this. One fellow had a lot of advice, too, such as that I should ride facing traffic because it made it easier for me to see cars. I started to explain elastic vs. inelastic collisions, but we were both saved by the waitress when she came out to tell me that my table was ready.

After a short stack of pancakes with sausage (and with an extra cinnamon roll to go), I got back on Lewisburg Pike. I missed the turn (again) on to Cedar Creek, and had to backtrack a bit. I love this road, because it has one of those classic spots at the edge of Marshall and Maury Counties:

When the Founding Fathers decided to use this creek as the border, they obviously didn't consider that neither county would be willing to even put in a culvert there.

Fortunately, a road where you have to drive over a creek is a road that doesn't get a lot of cars. Eventually, I was crossing over I-65 on the quietest bridge around.

The first five miles of this are fairly flat, but eventually you turn on Bryant Road. This has a one-lane bridge, followed by a nice 15% hill for about a quarter of a mile. Again, the bike was good at about 4 mph, and I was soon back on another beautiful calm road.

I needed a break, so I stopped at the Glendale Market. This is another control on the Cathey's Creek route, and is funky. In most ways, it just seems like a little corner market; in other ways -- such as the bench out front -- there are touches of whimsy.

After a cream soda and a bag of chips, I was ready to go. The roads got hillier and hillier as I continued west, and eventually I rolled into downtown Mount Pleasant.

Sure, it looks abandoned, but they say it's on the cusp of a renaissance. Of course, when the whole world was on the cusp of the Renaissance about 600 years ago, we called it The Dark Ages.

And just as Europe had monks hidden away keeping knowledge alive, Mount Pleasant has the Mount Pleasant Grille. They may not keep knowledge alive, but they make a fine hamburger. Make sure that you get a box of rocks, too ... you'll know when you try them.

Leaving town, I took a detour north for a couple of miles to a grocery store to get something to cook for dinner. Then, I got back on the Cathey's Creek route, eventually climbing over another long ridge.

The descent on the other side was long and fun, and gave me a chance to see how well the bike handled some speed under load. I was feeling pretty good about the bike and my setup as I came into beautiful downtown Hampshire ... another town on the cusp of a renaissance.

I could have just stayed on flat Hwy 412 to my campground, but it was busy. So, I climbed up Old State Hwy 99 / Ridgetop Road (even though the sign says Maclarren Road) to punish my legs a little more. This also gave me a chance to go by the Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast -- which has been renamed the Natchez Hills Bed and Breakfast -- and Amber Falls Winery.

After wearing out my brake pads a bit on the steep descent back down to Hwy 412, I continued west a couple of miles to Fall Hollow Campground. As I got there, I was struck by the noise of what seemed like thousands of screaming pre-adolescent boys, with a huge mob of Cub Scouts and Webelos taking part in some kind of scrum in the main field. In a move that was remarkably intelligent for me, I continued on towards the creek, where I could pitch my tent in relative solitude.

Yes, that's my bike in its Snuggie. Although there was plenty of light, my camera decided to flash. This is another great thing about those Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires: Reflective sidewalls. The reflective tape on one of my Arkel panniers is the bright thing in the tent.

The campground was very nice, even with the kids. When they quieted down, I realized that there was only about 50 of them. One of the Scout Masters later told me that the campground owners only charge the scouts and parents one dollar a night, and I thought that I was getting by pretty cheap at just $5 a night!

The facilities were also great. I was not only able to get a shower, but I had the sink all to myself for long enough that I could wash out my day's biking clothes and hang them up.

Of course, they weren't dry the next day, but this was a test run trip. It was good to know that my laundry system is functional.

As I said, I was the only one camping in this rear area, at the edge of a bend of Swan Creek. The ridge just beyond was beautiful, with the trees just starting to turn.

The creek is pretty slow-moving here, so there were a few more bugs around. Later that night, when the kids went to bed, I was able to hear the water flowing when I was lying in my tent. The moon was full, and it made for a nice easy walk -- which I needed, since hearing the water made me want to go pee.

Before the kids quieted down for the night, however, I was able to cook my can of soup and lay in the tent for a while eating chips and reading. This is because my tent was here ...

And you can just see the closest campers here ...

Yes, the nearest tent is that kind of white thing just to the right of the tree in the middle of the picture. If that makes me antisocial, so be it.

In tomorrow's blog, I'll tell you about the trip back home.