Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Auntie Social

Since we are now less than one month from my Big Adventure, I am often forced to tell people why I can't do this or that upcoming event. For example, there's a popular century up in Clarksville, TN, the weekend of Labor Day, and somebody asked last night at the club ride if I would be riding it.

"No," I told them, no, "I'm going to be touring from Seattle to San Francisco then."

"That sounds like fun," my friend said. "Who are you going with?"

"Nobody," I said. "Just me."

"Oh," he replied, becoming confused. "You mean, no one from the bike club?"

"No," I said, shaking my head. "No one else at all. I'm riding self-contained, and not with any organized tour group. I'll be on my own, carrying my own gear, and sleeping in a tent most nights."

"All by yourself?" he said, bewildered now. "Won't you be lonely?"

"Maybe," I said, shrugging. "But I'm pretty good by myself."

And then my friend nodded and wished me a good trip. But the look in his eye said that he didn't really get it ... or, more likely, that he got it wrong.

You see, people that don't know me think that I am outgoing. I like to tell jokes, I'm a musician, I have a blog, and I even go to parties. But the fact is that I am -- like most people -- a private person. An introvert, really. Most of what I share with all but my closest friends is about as deep as what you find on this site ... light humor, some political and social observations, and tales from the road.

If you read between the lines on these blog posts, you'll notice there's a lot of rides here that I do by myself. Usually, it's because my schedule is flexible or nobody else is available to ride that day, and sometimes it's just that when I am riding by myself I have the time to slow down and get pictures.

But the truth of it is that -- sometimes -- I like to be alone.

Not always, of course. If RandoGirl or the other Usual Suspects whose names you find throughout this blog are free and want to ride, I will almost always go with them. I like being with friends as much as anybody does, and riding with friends is just about my favorite activity in the world.

Ultimately, however, I am always comfortable when it's just me. Not to be narcissistic or anything, but I like myself. I'm a good guy. When I have conversations with myself they are usually engaging and thought-provoking, and in the rare occasion that I argue with myself it is usually with respect and rarely gets personal. I like to listen the same music as myself, and myself has only dragged me to two movies that I did not find at least somewhat pleasant.

As far as I am concerned, myself is pretty good company.

Those who have ridden longer brevets (300K or more) with me may have noticed that, at some point during the ride, I will either fall off the group or pull ahead. Sometimes this is just for a mile or two, and sometimes it's for 50. They say that one key to randonneuring is that you "ride your own ride," and often that's the case when I'm feeling either less-powerful or more-spirited than my riding companions. But sometimes it's something deeper. It's not that I don't want to be with my friends ... it's just that I need to be by myself for a bit.

Maybe three weeks will be too much of "a bit." I'm pretty sure that I will meet and talk to people along the way, and it's quite possible that I will find myself travelling in the same direction with other bike tourists and sharing a campsite and some meals for a day or four. That would be great, too, since I like making new friends.

But don't worry about me if I don't have someone else with me for this trip. I'll always be with my oldest friend, by myself.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Better Than Nothing

Where South Harpeth ends at Pinewood, I saw it again: A patch of blue.

It first tempted me about 1 pm, when I noticed a shift in the bleary muddle which we had come to know as The World during the previous three days. A movement in the window caught my eye, and I noticed that the ceaseless drone of rain on the roof had, miraculously, ceased its droning.

"It's stopped," I said to RandoGirl, my voice flat with wonder. "I see blue sky."

"Go ride," she said, glancing over from her book.

"Want to come?"

"No," she said, returning to her book. "I'm not feeling well."

Ten minutes later I was coasting down the driveway, pressing the button for the gate. But the gate wouldn't open. It was then that I noticed it had somehow gotten stuck, and it seemed that the motor had finally burned out.

"Dang," I said ... or would have said had I not chosen a more florid four-letter word. I went back inside, changed into regular clothing, and spent the next half hour trying to fix the gate. Although I failed, I was at least able to get the motor arm off and leave the gate open -- thus making it a "gate" again, rather than another immutable section of fence.

Inside again, I called our gate guy and left a message. It was now almost 2 pm.

"Aren't you going to ride?" RandoGirl asked.

"I'm not sure that the universe wants me to," I replied dejectedly. When I got up just after dawn that morning to try to get the dog to go out into the rain for a walk, I had abandoned hope of any kind of ride. Why fight it now?

"There's nothing more you can do about the gate," she said. "Go."

Maybe it's love. Maybe it's because she knows how cranky I get when forced to spend more than a few days off the bike -- and I was now on day six. Whatever the reason, her argument was sound, so I went.

The roads were almost dry, with enough wet spots and debris to make me slow down in the sketchier corners. I hammered my way up the climb on Parker's Branch, then surfed along Backbone Ridge before gingerly easing down to that tight left off-camber turn on the descent. Then came the long gentle climb back up on South Harpeth, smiling at the simple joy that comes from shifting up on a rolling hill and beginning to spin at just the right tempo and power that you float unhindered over the crest of the next rise. As if it was the way it always was and always would be ... as if it was the way that things just worked.

That patch of blue at the end of South Harpeth teased me, and I skipped the left turn on Pewitt. I knew where it went -- I had been there already today and the options it left me were limited. With rain clouds all around, I wanted to keep sticking my hand in the lion's mouth and stretch out what I had thought, certainly, was not to be this day.

So it was right on Walker Hill, the steep climb up North Lick Creek, down Greenbriar to Bending Chestnut. When I came to the stop where Natchez Trace hits Leiper's Creek, I searched the skies again. A left turn and five miles would take me home, I thought. And, yes, yes, those clouds there could rain again any minute now ... but isn't that some blue sky over there? Or at least a lighter shade of gray?

I went straight instead and up on top of the ridge on Mobley's Cut, where a doe and her freckled fawn jumped out of the brush about a hundred yards up, scampering into nude hayfield on the far side. On Johnson Hollow, one of those ridiculously bright yellow birds appeared from nowhere and bounce-skimmed along the top of blackberry bushes like a stone skipped across a quiet lake by your older more athletic brother. Climbing up Sycamore, two families with houses side-by-side were hosting a huge party and a mob of testosterone-addled teenage boys boiled out of the screen doors to apparently play some form of mud hockey on the crabgrass-choked lawn.

We were all beasts searching sustenance in this brief break in the storm. Or maybe we were just thumbing our noses at Mother Nature, hollering, "You didn't drown me this time either, bitch!"

Coming down Bear Creek, I started to see other cyclists -- all riding solo, like myself, just happy to have fallen into this one brief shining moment. We grinned and waved sheepishly, trying to train a bit, but also afraid that letting our pleasure show might tempt the weather gods to snatch our toy away. Even the cars behaved, passing with plenty of space, many drivers smiling and waving to me. Maybe it was because I was smiling and waving at them like some addled fool, but I like to think that we were all just reveling in the moment and happy to be alive.

It never did rain on me, and the blue patches had staged a fierce counterattack against the gray by the time I got home. It was only 50 miles, but they were 50 miles that I had no reason to expect that day, and probably 50 miles that I didn't really deserve.

They were a gift. I'll take it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

THE Tour

I am very excited. THE Tour starts next month.

No, not that thing they do (mostly) in France in July. That's just "The Tour," with capital T's.

THE Tour is three weeks long, but shorter and slower and I think will be a heck of a lot more fun than racing and crashing and dodging stuck buses and all of the other stuff the professionals have to bother with. THE Tour is my Cycling Tour of the Northwest United States Coast.

Long-time readers are now saying, "Hmmm ... this sounds familiar." It should. This was going to be my Fall Trip last year, but was postponed because we were in the midst of moving back to Tennessee from south Florida. I promised myself then, however, that this was only going to be a postponement -- not a cancellation. At the end of August, I am making good on that promise.

Here's the plan ...

Day 1: Fly to Seattle

I'm going to get Gran Fondo (a.k.a., The Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe) to box up and ship Sparkletini to a bike shop in Seattle. Hopefully, they will have it ready, so I can catch a bus to the shop, strap on the panniers, and ride into town. I'll grab dinner, then catch the ferry to Bremerton and check into a hotel.

Day 2: Bremerton to Elma

I'm going to try to get out of town before commuter traffic starts up, getting out into the country quick. It's almost 70 miles today, with over 6000' of climbing, so I hope that everything on the bike (and my body) is working well. I will camp tonight at an R.V. Park just outside of town.

Day 3: Elma to Toledo

The first day had a lot of climbing because I was trying to get to the coast. Today, I am much closer to the ocean, heading south on quiet roads that follow I-5. It's still a long day at 64 miles, but a little flatter with just over 2500' of climbing. Most of that is in the second half of the day, after I go through Centralia. Tonight I will camp at the city park in Toledo (gateway to Mt. St. Helens).

Day 4: Toledo to Astoria (Oregon)

Route (Part 1) (Part 2)

My original plan for this trip was to start in Canada, catching the train up to Vancouver, British Columbia, and cycling south. Since I'm trying to keep this trip down to three weeks and avoid 100-mile days, I only get to spend three days on the Washington coast. As the guys in The Tour might say, "C'est la vie."

I start the day with some tough climbs as I head down to and then ride west along the Columbia River. The first section is almost 60 miles with over 2500' of climbing, and that's just to get to the ferry at Westport. I then take the ferry (the only one still operating on the lower Columbia River) across into Oregon, and ride another 25 miles with 2500' of climbing. Tonight, I will sleep well in a hotel in Astoria.

Day 5: Astoria to Garibaldi

Today, I finally get to the ocean.

It's a fairly average day, pace-wise, with about 60 miles and under 4000' of climbing. I hit the ocean at Seaside (appropriately enough) in time for lunch, then continue past a series of state parks. Expect a LOT of pictures from this stretch. I will camp tonight at Barview Jetty County Park, just north of the town of Garibaldi.

Day 6: Garibaldi to Portland

Okay, so today would be a very hard day ... except I'm going to catch a bus. It's only 12 flat miles from the campground to Tillamook, where there's a bus that makes the long trip in to Portland. My plan is to catch the early bus, explore Portland in the afternoon, check into a hotel, and mostly take the day off.

Day 7: Portland to Pacific City

Today's a pretty short day, too -- 35 miles and 2500' of climbing -- since I'm going to be on the bus coming back from Portland during most of the morning. I go by Three Arch Rocks and Cape Lookout, both of which have tough climbs, before camping for the night at Woods County Park.

Day 8: Pacific City to Newport

This is where I begin to ride in what I call "Sometimes a Great Notion" country. If you've never read Ken Kesey's second novel, it primarily takes place along this part of the coast, and is one of the reasons that I've dreamed of doing this tour for over 30 years.

I don't want to rush this part, so I'm going less than 55 miles with about 3500' of climbing today. A lot of the route is on Hwy 101, passing through a series of state parks. I anticipate a minimum of three episodes of just sitting on a picnic table looking at the world. I'll stay the night at the Comfort Inn in Newport.

Day 9: Newport to Reedsport

Today was a tough day to plan. When you stay in a hotel, you can go further the next day because you don't have to break down your camp that morning. Although 77 miles and over 5000' of climbing is more than I wanted to do, that's the way that things worked out with campgrounds and stuff. Fortunately, there's plenty to see and a couple of nice towns along the way, so it should still be a very pleasant ride. I'll stay the night at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park.

Day 10: Reedsport to Bandon

I'm making up for the long day here, going under 50 miles and about 2500' of climbing. It's Hwy 101 down to Coos Bay, then closer to the coast with more climbing and better views. Tonight I will camp at Bullard's Beach State Park.

Day 11: Bandon to Gold Beach

As I approach the southern end of the Oregon coast, the terrain becomes a trifle more jagged. Today's route is 62 miles with almost 4000' of climbing as I head down Hwy 101 to Port Orford, Humbug Mountain, and Sister's Rock. Tonight is my last night of camping in Oregon, at an R.V. Park near the river.

Day 12: Gold Beach to Crescent City (California)

Today starts with a long climb up to Cape Sebastian, followed by shorter stuff as I bump along 63 miles and through 4000' of climbing into California. I'll stay the night at a hotel in Crescent City (even if their website does break my rule about obnoxious music).

Day 13: Crescent City to Patrick's Point

Welcome to the redwoods. The 54-mile day starts with a five-mile climb up to 1000' before rolling down to the Klamath River. Then it's a climb and descent through Redwoods National Park, around a series of lagoons, and then camping at Patrick's Point State Park. Over 4500' of climbing make this a sufficiently challenging day.

Day 14: Patrick's Point to Ferndale

Today's a little easier -- 50 miles and under 2000' of climbing -- as I go through McKinleyville, Eureka, and Fortuna. Camping tonight in Ferndale, where I need to make sure that I get provisions for the next two very tough days.

Day 15: Ferndale to Arthur W. Way City Memorial Park

Only 36 miles, but almost 5000' of climbing. Got your head around that yet?

This is the first day of the Lost Coast Alternate section. The big climb comes early, with about eight miles of an average grade near 9%. I plan to spin Sparkletini's easiest gear, plus get off regularly to take pictures, stretch, and maybe even nap a bit. After a seven-mile descent, there's another 1000' climb for a mile and a half before the terrain calms down for the last 18 miles to my campground. Since there are no towns on this route, I'll carry lots of food and water.

Day 16: Arthur W. Way City Memorial Park to Myers Flat

Maybe today's easier, since it's under 39 miles and only 4500' of climbing. I hope it will seem like it.

After an eight-mile warm-up, there's another eight-mile climb -- pretty much exactly like the one from the day before -- followed by almost 10 miles of downhill (the first five fast, the second five much more gradual). I'll be passing through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, then getting on Avenue of the Giants (in the shadow of Hwy 100) for the last easy miles to a very nice hotel in Myers Flat.

Day 17: Myers Flat to Leggett

I'm probably going to be tired today. Too bad it's a long day.

The route rolls through the redwood trees to Redway, then begins a gradual climb through a series of parks. After 47 miles and almost 5000' of climbing, I'll camp near Drive-Thru Tree State Park.

Day 18: Leggett to Ft. Bragg

Remember all that climbing yesterday? Today kind of makes up for it.

There's another four-mile climb, then I'm descending for almost 13 miles (good thing I've got disc brakes). There's a bump at the bottom that takes me back to the coast, but then it's easy rolling on CA-1 through parks and towns. After 46 miles and over 4000' of climbing, I will be happy to sleep at a hotel in Fort Bragg tonight.

Day 19: Ft. Bragg to Gualala

As I get closer to San Francisco, the terrain becomes more sawtoothed. Today is 60 miles with over 6000' of climbing -- most of it the perpetual up-and-down variety -- as I roll past the coast of California.  There are plenty of small towns to stop in and grab a bite to eat, so I plan to take it easy down to my campsite at Gualala Point Regional Park.

Day 20: Gualala to Bodega Bay

Today is one last easy day, with only 50 miles and about 4000' of climbing, enabling me to enjoy one final day of peace before returning to civilization. It's almost all CA-1, through state parks and small towns, before passing through Bodega Bay to camp at Doran Regional Park.

Day 21: Bodega Bay to San Francisco

You gotta finish this kind of thing with a bang, so today's route is over 70 miles and almost 5000' of climbing.

After packing my tent away for the last time, I will head along the coast down to Point Reyes, then climb over the ridge towards George Lucas's house in San Rafael. Hopefully the roads won't be too busy as I roll down through Sausalito, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and into The City. There's a bike shop over by Nob Hill that will ship Sparkletini back to Gran Fondo; from there, I'll get to a hotel and get a good dinner. Tomorrow, I fly home.

I hope to blog about this trip as I go. My posts have been kind of thin this year, so I hope stunning pictures and scintillating descriptions will make up for that.