Sunday, March 31, 2013

Gloom and Doom

Let me tell you about The Perfect Storm.

No, not the movie ... although it's kind of close. And, well, you know, the more that I think about it ... yeah, let's talk about the movie, The Perfect Storm.

There's the crew. From left is George Clooney (it's my blog, so I get to be George Clooney, dammit!), Jeff Bauer is Mark Wahlberg (you're welcome, Jeff), Alan Gosart is John Hawkes (because he's lovable), and Bill Glass is John C. Reilly (because he's funny).

Sametta Glass is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, the captain of the other boat who goes out in search of the doomed crew.

RandoGirl is Diane Lane, the loving wife who stays behind and gets to have angst. Yeah, she's married to Marky Mark in the movie while RandoGirl is married to George Clooney ... or, um, me -- remember? Just go with it.

Not pictured is Jeff Sammons, who was originally part of the crew but had to pull out last week because of a nagging knee injury.

So, in our version of the movie, the five crew were going to bike from my house in Franklin down to Chattanooga this past weekend. We were doing a 24-hour randonneuring event called a fleche -- which is French for "arrow." The goal is for teams of 3-5 cyclists to converge in a single location, with everybody starting at the same time from places all over, riding separate routes, and meeting at more-or-less the same time. We then go eat a big meal somewhere that doesn't mind having very dirty, smelly, sleepy cyclists.

Of course, we ended up being the only team doing the Alabama fleche, but were nonetheless excited. These were all guys with which I've ridden many events -- some fleches, and some just brevets. I told you before about scouting the route, and we all worked hard to get ourselves and our bikes ready to go. As the event got closer, we all started watching the weather reports ... and our excitement waned a bit.

Meanwhile, we made some changes to the plan when Jeff Sammons withdrew from the team. Originally, RandoGirl was also going to drive down in a separate car with Sametta, all of us meeting for dinner in Pikeville and then staying in a hotel in Chattanooga. We would finish at the Aquarium there, then go to their hotel to get cleaned up, eat breakfast, and the ladies would drive us back. With Jeff not going, we only needed one car, so RandoGirl did not have to drive down, too.

Everyone showed up at our house before dawn Saturday morning. RandoGirl and I had fixed a big breakfast, and we all ate and got ready to head out. A little past 7 am, we rolled down the driveway ... and Bill's saddle rails broke.

Fortunately, I had a spare saddle that was exactly the same. Bill tried to put it on, but the Moots seat-post on his bike needed a special tool. He and Sametta drove home to get it, and we contacted the fleche organizer -- Steve Phillips -- to get his approval to start at 9 am instead. He agreed, and the rest of us went back inside to eat more breakfast.

Alan was getting over a cold and had a terrible cough, and as we watched the day's dire weather report on television I first thought that this was a bad idea. Rain was due where we were going about sunset, and it would be cold at night. Alan said that he was doing better, however, and when Bill was able to get the seat fixed and return quickly, we rolled down the driveway again exactly at 9 am.

Which was when we realized that Jeff Bauer's bike was messed up. He could get into the small chainring, but if he stood it would skip terribly. Bill tried to fix it a couple of times, but there was something wrong with the derailleur hanger and Jeff said that he would just suffer through it.

Again, I thought, "This seems like a bad idea."

We continued on in the gloomy morning mist, making fairly good time on roads that were still surprisingly quiet.

The first 50 miles to Bell Buckle passed quite pleasantly. We got a quick hamburger, and then headed on into the quiet countryside.

The sun was out enough that the copper-top house on Fairfield Pike was all shiny.

Getting to Clyde Greaves Road, where the bridge was out when I had driven the route, I was pleased to see that the work was almost finished. The bridge was open to traffic, although not quite yet paved, and we continued towards McMinnville.

Noah Road gave us our first long climb, but Jeff muscled over it just fine -- even without the option to get into the small chainring and stand.

Unlike what we have had for most of this spring, the winds were mostly light. There were a few spots when it was even almost behind us.

We passed through the community of Pocahontas and others, on mostly level roads with light car traffic. The sun would almost come out briefly, and the temperatures rose into the low 60s.

On this route, you know you're getting close to McMinnville when you can see the ridge off on the southern horizon. We knew that we would have to climb over that eventually.

In McMinnville we grabbed another hamburger, updating Sametta on when we expected to reach Pikeville for dinner. Our route had us on nice quiet roads going through town, and when we hit the main drag on the far side we topped off our bottles and quickly got on the road towards Spencer.

Which was when it started to rain.

I turned on my lights, which had been working fine when we rode in the morning mist, but they wouldn't come on now. I stopped and fiddled with the wires to no avail, and Jeff loaned me his spare headlight. The bad feelings were starting to come back, but a mile later the light suddenly turned on.

We started up Baker Mountain Road, slowly climbing amidst the rocks and rain.

At the top, I put on my night gear and some more clothes. We were now riding more into the wind, and the temperature had dropped precipitously on this plateau.

As we rolled along the very empty roads up there in the rainy gloom, I kept getting colder and colder. I would ride hard in an effort to generate heat, usually leaving my loyal crew behind, and then stop at the next turn to wait for them and keep them from getting lost. We were about 10 miles from Pikeville when they caught up to me at the end of one particularly desolate road, and I found that I had trouble talking.

As RandoGirl later joked, I was "fleche frozen."

Bill loaned me another jacket, and I put liners on under my gloves. My fingers felt thick, and it took seemingly forever for me to labor my fingers into the light wool liners. I had to get Bill's help to put chemical warmers in the gloves, and Alan's help to zip up the jacket.

The only thing that would really warm me up, however, was to ride again. We quickly rode on to the descent into the Sequatchie Valley, where the fog was now so thick that I had to creep along at about 4 mph, riding the center line, shaking in the cold as I held tight onto the brakes. We finally reached the bottom, and once everyone was together again on the road to the control I headed off once more, riding as hard as I could trying to warm up.

My lights quit again a couple of miles from Pikeville, but I still had the Vis 180 light on my helmet. Half a mile later, the lights came back; I would have rejoiced, but lacked the energy. Soon I was in downtown Pikeville, where I huddled under the awning in front of a bank until everyone else came into town. We rolled more or less together into McDonald's at almost 10:30 pm -- 13.5 hours down with almost 100 miles and one bodacious climb ahead -- to find Sametta waiting for us.

There was a quick discussion while I tried to warm up using the hand dryer in the men's bathroom, and when I came out a decision had been made: We were abandoning here. I put up only a faux token resistance, knowing that it might be dangerous for me to go on. It also seemed very likely at this point that we might not make the finish in time, since the weather was supposed to get even worse and fog on top of the next plateau would probably force us to creep along there on some very bad roads.

Someone got my bag from Sametta's car, and I quickly changed into dry clothes. The McDonald's was about to close, but they very kindly fixed us all more burgers and hot chocolate, and I began to feel human again. Soon, we had the bikes, gear, and people loaded into the car and we were driving back towards Franklin.

Maybe if I had brought another jersey and jacket and heavy gloves in my bag and worn tights, we would have made it. Maybe if we had left at 7 am and had less time in the dark and rain on the plateau, we would have made it. Maybe if everyone and their bikes had been 100%, we would have made it.

It's a lot of "maybe's." You could say it was all for nothing, but I'd rather think that the four of us spent most of the day riding in decent weather on some excellent roads -- at least, for the first 120 miles or so -- just as the crew in The Perfect Storm caught all of those swordfish when they got out to the far banks.

And, unlike that crew, none of us died.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Time Out

Last week, I went out for a miserable ride on Monday.

It was a little chilly -- even though it was supposed to be the warmest day of the week -- and windy. As the best weather day of the week, I wanted to make the most of it and get in as many miles as I could ... push it a bit.

And it sucked.

It was burn-out, of course. A lot of folks around here seem to be suffering from it lately. We ride through much worse weather, trying to build fitness for when the weather turns ... and it doesn't turn. Eventually, the motivation falters.

So, I took the week off. Two spin classes, and a short ride on Sunday. Monday, I slipped out in the afternoon for a couple of hours of interval workout. The weather was about the same as it had been the previous Monday, but intervals are supposed to suck so it wasn't a big deal.

Work kept me off of the bike for the rest of the week, but I was able to get out for a few hours again on Friday afternoon. It was still a little chilly and breezy, but the week off had done it's thing.

I went through Franklin and up to a bagel shop for a late breakfast. I had been wanting to try that bagel shop for months (not really worth the trip, so I won't tell you the name of the place), and it was close to the base of Lynnwood Way, so I could follow my meal with a good climb.

After a couple of the usual roads, I stayed on Hwy 96 out to Old Harding Pike towards Fernvale, then got on Big East Fork Road. The day had almost warmed up by then, and this road is almost always quiet and now has great pavement.

Every time I go by this old car sitting out in this field, I think, "Let's get momma." You'll have to be an X-Files fan to get that.

After climbing up Big East Fork to Stillhouse Hollow Road, I started to go under the Natchez Trace to head down the hill and back for home. But I decided that I wasn't done having fun yet, and turned left down Fire Tower Road. After a mile, I turned into the driveway of some really, really, really rich person (and I'm probably shorting this person on a couple of "really's" here) to cut up and on to the Trace instead, heading back that way.

This gave me a chance to see Stillhouse Hollow from above.

I stopped at Puckett's for a late lunch -- a cheeseburger with lots of french fries -- and ran into the realtor who had found us our new home. She was actually with some folks looking for land with good cycling, so the timing was perfect. I told them where the good roads to bike on were, generally singing the praises of the area, and they really appreciated the advice.

After lunch, I headed for home down Southall Road.

Yonder lies the castle of my father. (Not really -- but he's almost my neighbor.)

The weather really had not improved that much from Monday last week, but my attitude had. They say that "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." But I think that sometimes, "You don't know what you've got 'til you take a break from it."

Monday, March 4, 2013


Saturday afternoon, Gran Fondo (a.k.a., "The Greatest Bike Shop in the World") called to tell me that Clayton had finished putting the Honjo fenders on my Lynskey Sportive. It had been snowing all day -- although, fortunately, not much was sticking to the roads -- so it had been a "no riding" day for me. (Yeah, I was being a wimp.) Driving down to the bike shop was just what I needed.

Sunday morning, I was able to figure out a way to hook a pair of struts from an unused Tubus rack onto my Velo Orange rear rack, thus replacing (temporarily) the ones whose bolts I lost last week. They probably are irrelevant, since Clayton actually bolted the new fenders to the racks, but a little extra security never hurt.

Since the day had warmed up to a balmy 40 degrees, RandoGirl and I went for a ride.

But first, I took some pictures.

Yeah, those racks are nice and low. This should keep the panniers low, which keeps the center of gravity for the bike low. And that makes the bike easier to handle on longer days.

That bag is pretty spacious, plus has a clear top that just fits an Adventure Cycling map. Having it on top of the front rack gives me a place to put things that I want to get to quickly, but it's big enough to also hold the tools and spare tubes that I used to carry in my Arkel Tailrider on the Salsa. This will free up the top of the back rack to just carry my tent and the stakes. The way that rear platform goes, it should also be easier to hook and unhook the panniers back there with the tent stowed.

I already had that light. It's not super-bright, but mounted on the fender it's very handy. And it looks way cool.

We planned to ride to Franklin for a hot coffee at Frothy Monkey, but first we went up Parker's Branch and then down to Leiper's Fork. The bike still climbs well, descended great, and tracked straight with no problems. It feels sprightly, yet solid.

Since it was a sunny day, RandoGirl remarked how shiny the Lynskey was with all of the stainless steel stuff on it. She gave the bike it's new name:


It fits.