Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Use It or Lose It

A couple of weeks ago, Williamson County finally finished putting in the new bike lane up Hillsboro Road. Thanks to a decently warm afternoon and a temporary lull at work, I was able to finally test out this bad boy with a quick ride into downtown Nashville.

Since it was a new bike lane, it still had a lot of debris in it ... although, to be honest, later in my ride I found myself on older bike lanes with a lot of debris in them. This lane was so new that they were still putting up the Bike Lane signs.

The lane comes in goes in spots, but overall is fairly good. The nice thing is that it takes you all of the way up to Old Hickory Road, which is kind of the border between Williamson and Davidson counties in this area.

Now, Old Hickory Road itself doesn't mean much to a cyclist. Frankly, you'd have to be insane or desperate to ride your bike on it for long. I know this well, since I used to commute to work on a short piece of it, and that was hair-raising riding.

But, once you cross Old Hickory Road on Hillsboro Road, you've still got a good shoulder. There are then signs admonishing drivers to share with you.

Better yet, however, you then get a bike lane. It kind of comes and goes in spots, just like it's Williamson County brother, but it's better than nothing.

You can take this bike lane (more or less) up to Harding Road.

Past this, you just get a pretty good shoulder. There's also Green Hills Mall, so everyone is driving very slowly anyway. If you're a gutsy cyclist, it's bearable.

I didn't just want bearable, however, so I headed east a couple of blocks and went north through the Lipscomb University campus and on up towards Belmont.

Here, you mostly just have to watch out for cars parallel parking to your right. And, of course, people in those cars opening their doors in your face.

From there, it's easy to go down Music Row, which also has a bike lane. The big recording company offices there were telling me to go have a drink.

At the top of Music Row, I headed east in to town. I either had a bike lane or sharrows thru here ... or, again, traffic was so slow that they didn't care that I was on a bicycle.

I eventually ended up at the new Asurion downtown offices, where I am supposed to get my own shiny new cubicle in December. It's a very nice office, and really cool inside.

If I lived in East Nashville, I would have been able to take the pedestrian bridge to the office. This would have almost been too easy.

Heading back, I went by Bridgestone Arena. They're doing all kinds of construction there, so that even a bicycle going uphill has to hit the brakes.

I decided to take a different way back, so I got on 21st Avenue near Vanderbilt University. This made the third college campus that I had biked thru on this route.

Again, the lights on 21st Avenue are perfect for a cyclist, even if there is no bike lane. Basically, they are timed to make everyone stop. A lot. So, you just peddle along, and the cars notice that the light is already turning red and that they wouldn't have made it anyway, and they let loose a collective, "Meh."

Somewhere in there, 21st Avenue becomes Hillsboro Avenue, and I was again stop-and-going my way past Green Hills Mall. There's one little nasty stretch between the mall and Harding Road, and then you're back in the bike lane. As I said, this bike lane would be great if not for the spots where it just peters out ... probably because the county was too cheap to pay to widen some narrow bridges.

Back into Williamson County again, I passed my old friends on the sign crew.

Then, I stayed in the lane all the way to its end at Mack Hatcher, near Franklin High School. The shoulder is not too bad between there and downtown Franklin, so I went in to see the Christmas decorations there.

Is riding into town in the bike lane like this as much fun as a long ride out into quiet countryside? Not at all. But, it needed to be done. Cars needed to start seeing bicycles in that lane so that they would appreciate that it is there for some purpose other than costing them the shoulder. The more bikes there are in the bike lane, the more people expect us and appreciate that their hard-earned tax dollars actually went for something.

It may not be for everybody, because cars will whiz past you at a pretty good clip. But, if you're a cyclist in the Nashville area that likes to use the bike to actually go somewhere, I urge you to get out there and ride the lanes.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Whiskey Run

Somehow, I've found myself working towards another R-12. That's an award RUSA gives you for riding a permanent or brevet every month for 12 straight months -- basically a year of regular ultracycling. The year, for me, began back in September, so I needed to stretch the streak up to a big "three" by doing a permanent this past weekend.

There was a group going up to Cadiz, KY, to do a permanent there, but Jeff Bauer and I needed to stay closer to home on Saturday. We opted, instead, for the Jack Daniels permanent. This was kind of karmic, since it had been exactly three years and two days since we had last ridden this route.

It had been warmer, then, and Jeff had been riding his tandem with our dear departed friend, Peter Lee. Jeff Sammons had also been with us, along with Mike and Patty Willman on their tandem. In spite of not having the extra horsepower of a big group, however, Mr. Bauer and I moved fairly well south down TN-272, through Lewisburg, and into the country beyond.

As we began heading east on TN-129, we could see that there was still some fall foliage desperately clinging to the tired Tennessee hardwoods. This is quiet, unspoiled farm country, redolent of natural and homegrown fertilizer, where the cows still spook from the insistent clack of a spinning free-hub.

The fierce winds left behind by Super Storm Sandy's passing had finally played out, leaving blue skies and a gentle breeze ghosting over cleared fields. We could have worked together faster in a two-man paceline, but Jeff and I primarily rode side-by-side and had deep discussions about nothing.

Here's Jeff turning off of busy Hwy 231. You're only on this for about a quarter of a mile, of course. Like I said: It's a nice, quiet route.

Things get lumpy again the closer you get to Lynchburg, and you soon find yourself passing the few cottage industries prevalent there.

It is heartening to see that there is still a place for a cooperage in today's world.

After getting cards signed at the distillery itself, Jeff and I scarfed a quick Subway sandwich and began the route back. Thanks to a somewhat later than intended start and a missed turn that gave us four "bonus miles," we were forced to hurry a bit in order to make the most of the remaining daylight.

By the time we got back to Lewisburg, the long shadows were making it clear that we would need to use lights for the last few miles.

We both had tail lights and reflective gear, but had to stop at a "dollar store" for flashlights and duct tape. By the time we were on the very quiet canopied lanes just south of Bethesda, we were slowly picking our lines in the thin beams of our "three-dollar specials" and the evening chill was setting in with a vengeance. I meant to take a picture of our Rube Goldberg setups, but forgot in my foggy frosty exhaustion.

Next time, we'll bring headlights ... or start on time and try not to get lost. Hopefully, that next time won't be three years away.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ten Thousand in Ten Months

Wednesday, Bill Glass and I did the Natchez Trace Northern Terminus 200K permanent. Mostly, we did it because we are both still sufficiently marginally employed that we could get out on a week day, but also because we had both let October almost slide away without a brevet. Since we are each working on a RUSA R-12 award right now -- which requires that you ride a brevet or permanent every month for a year -- the last day of the month seemed perfect.

It was cold at the start -- just below freezing, which is pretty uncommon for this time of year. We didn't leave the starting control, Starbuck's, until almost 7:30 since we were loathe to venture out into the chill and traffic. After just over a mile on busy Hwy 100, we got up on the Trace and soon began the first long climb there. We were feeling much less frosty when we reached the top.

The previous few days had been horribly windy, but the gusts had abated somewhat. We mostly had a crosswind as we headed south, but had to battle the breeze once we turned north on Hwy 412 towards Hohenwald.

It was about 11:30 when we reached the control, and Bill and I were ready for lunch. We went to McDonald's, and were just finishing up when a local character came by to chat with us for a while. He had apparently had throat cancer or some other malady, and to talk now he used one of those electronic devices with a straw that he stuck in his mouth. Bill and I both had a hard time understanding what he was trying to say, but you could tell that he mostly just wanted somebody new to say it to. We chatted for about 10 minutes before we finally jumped on our bikes and rolled out.

After battling the headwind for another mile, the route take TN-20 down to Meriwether Lewis State Park, which is also on the Trace. This stretch of road was purely downwind, and we easily flew along at 20 mph. Getting to the park, we remarked how it was too bad that we couldn't keep going to Lewisburg.

The wind was crosswise to us again as we headed roughly north back to the Hwy 412 exit, but I noticed that it -- and the road direction -- had shifted just enough to be behind us as we started climbing out of the Swan River Valley. The falls halfway up were very popular.

But then, these folks hadn't ridden their bikes there.

We passed a couple of bare-looking trees full of big, black carrion birds. It was extremely ominous, but appropriate considering that this was Halloween.

Bill was low on water, so we stopped at the Jackson Falls rest area. It turned out to be a very fortunate stop, since there were about 20 Model A's parked there. It turned out to be the Greater Houston Model A Club.

We met a few of the folks driving these cars, and they told us that they had spent the last three days riding the Trace. They had begun in Natchez, did about 200 miles a day, and stayed together at hotels along the way. The previous day, they had arrived in Nashville, but due to mechanical problems (which they told us are almost perpetual with these 80-year-old cars) had missed their reservations at the Loveless Cafe.

It was fun talking to these folks, but as someone once said, "That control isn't coming to us." So Bill and I got back on the road again.

The wind was now fully at our backs, making it easy to cruise along at an easy pace. Our shadows were getting long, however, and we had once again hit the more hilly parts of the route.

The temperatures had warmed up enough that I had taken off my long-sleeve base layer in Hohenwald, and then removed my full-finger gloves near the Water Valley Overlook. As 5 pm approached, however, I had to put the gloves back on. At least I didn't have to try to ride and change back into the base layer.

Pretty early in this ride, I realized that my yearly mileage had hit 10,000 miles. Of the four years in which I have hit five-digit total mileage, this is the earliest year that I've made it. Starting the final descent down to the northern terminus of the Trace, it felt sweet.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

One Last Peak Day

I managed to get out at lunch for a couple of hours last week for a little ride. Ostensibly, I was just going over to the post office in Franklin, but then headed further.

I rode through downtown Franklin, then south on Main Street. One house had gone all out on Halloween decorations.

Continuing down Carter's Creek Pike, the day was just about perfect -- mid-70s and barely any breeze. The clouds told the tale of a tired high pressure cell that had rolled into the southeast, and decided to just sit a while.

I saw two groups of cyclists heading back towards Franklin on Carter's Creek. If misery loves company, joy appreciates it almost as much as an affirmation that you are in the right place and doing the right thing.

Heading next over towards Theta, I climbed Perkins Road. The trees were incredible there at the steepest pitch.

Once at the top, I turned immediately left on Sycamore for a quick descent down to Pope's Chapel. Then, I went through Thompson Station and out towards Bethesda.

My bottles were low and it was time for a candy bar, so I stopped at the market. Sitting there, a van with Massachusetts plates came in, and half a dozen people with new cheap Nashville cowboy boots climbed out. Somebody was looking for Sheryl Crow's house.

Since I was out this way, I headed over to Pulltight Hill.

Climbing up, I could see some more folks at the scenic view pullout at the top of the hill. As I got there, they said, "You must like climbing this hill."

I replied, "Well, this is where the view is."