Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Promises Bent

I don't like to complain. Really, I don't. I much prefer when everything is perfect and I don't have to say anything negative about anything, because there is nothing that anybody could possibly say negative about anything ... it's just that darned completely wonderful.

But, weather in winter in middle Tennessee being what it is, what it is is not exactly wonderful. We get close, and we've been getting some forecasts that'll get you all excited about getting outside, but it definitely misses the mark.

Maybe it's because the mark for me was Naples last winter, and I'm spoiled. Actually, change that "maybe" ... it's gotta be that, since this didn't used to bother me as much. When I lived here before, I was used to "making do" with days that were cold and windy, but at least it was dry. Or there were days that were warmer, but wet and windy.

"One out of three ain't bad," as Meatloaf once sang. It was on an album that only had one good side, however.

My complaint, however, is primarily around the weather forecasting lately. Saturday was supposed to be warmer, and I was looking forward to a 200K in Memphis that was only "cool" and breezy. What I got was cold and breezy, however. Sunday, RandoGirl, Jeff Bauer, and I went out for a ride that was supposed to be just cool and breezy, but it rained on us.

The weather people were all talking this morning about how freaky warm it was supposed to be today: 70 degrees and sunny, although there would be a stiff 15 mph wind out of the south.

Does this look sunny to you?

I went out planning to ride 65 miles with a group from the Harpeth Bike Club that gets together most Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I got out a little late and missed them at the start, but instead ran into Vida Greer and Tom Gates. We had a nice ride up Stillhouse Hollow and Big East Fork Road, then came back on Hester Beasley. It was there that I noticed the bicycle-lawn mowers in a yard that seemed otherwise full of junk. 

Vida and Tom had other commitments, so I left them in Pasquo and suffered my way south into the nasty wind. Still feeling pretty fresh, I pushed further south on Carter's Creek, finally taking my nose out of the breeze to go climb Perkins.

The regular bits of drizzle had ended by the time I got to Leiper's Fork, and bits of blue sky were showing when I turned off on Bailey.

There was even a little family that had steeled themselves against the elements, and came out to cheer me on.

Maybe it was a nuclear family.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Will You Still Need Me? Will You Still Feed Me?

Disclaimer: I did not plan to ride the last 100 miles of the Memphis 200K by myself, this past Saturday. To be honest, however, I did plan for the contingency. So, maybe I really did plan to ride it that way.

A long time ago, I began the tradition of riding my age on my birthday. A couple of years later, it became riding twice my age on my birthday. Now, it is riding a 200K on my birthday ... which should be good until I turn 63, at which point I plan to change over to Olympic-style front-porch rocking.

(Just kidding. I'll probably start doing 300Ks on my birthday then. Sometimes I really hate myself.)

Anyway, I turned 54 the day after the 200K, and I wanted to use this ride to test my fitness. Having done at least one day of 100 miles or more most weekends this winter, I knew that the miles were in my legs, but not whether they had any speed or power. To find out, I wanted to ride this 200K as hard as I could.

I had driven to Memphis the evening before with Jeff Sammons, the Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) who had organized this ride. We got to the start location early enough to check everybody in, and update folks regarding a couple of minor changes to the route. The sun was up when we rolled out at 7 am, although most of us ran our lights for the next hour so.

It was near freezing, with a forecast high in the mid-50s. I had layered up fairly well, so that only my fingers felt frosty as I rolled along. To stay warmer, I breathed on my hands and stuck them in my armpits (thanks heavens for being able to ride nicely paved and level roads hands-free), but mostly just kept the pace up to keep my inner furnace burning hot enough.

Nine riders had started, but I soon found myself off the front with a faster group of six. We were averaging over 17 mph, and by the time we got to the first control I was thinking that maybe a sub-eight-hour ride was possible.

I quickly topped off my bottle and scarfed a candy bar, then went back outside ready to roll out. The others in the group were moving less briskly, however, and as I began to cool down I decided to roll out and soft-pedal until they could catch up.

But they never really caught up.

Part of that was because the route soon entered a park, where I saw this sign:

You probably can't read it, but it says "Steep Grade." Really? Steep Grade? This is Memphis, I said. There are no hills here.


A couple of minutes later, I was cranking my way up a 12% grade in the middle ring, wishing that I had shifted further down. It wasn't a long hill, but it was painful.

Fortunately, it was also very pretty. After a few miles of harsh ups and downs and regular rollers, there was a long downhill that took me to the Mississippi River.

Off in the distance, there were barges slowly making their way to distant ports. People were out jogging, fishing, and watching the birds. It was still a chilly overcast day, but everyone was doing their best to enjoy it.

The road led to an information control, which asked you to describe the barrel at the top of the boat ramp. As I was doing this, some of the morning mist lifted, so I got to ride back up the road with blue skies.

I kept thinking that the group of five would be along soon as I retraced my route up the river road, but instead I saw Jeff Sammons. Apparently, my group had missed a turn and was getting some bonus miles in. Sighing, I plugged my one-ear headphone into my iPod and cranked up some tunes, resigned to the fact that I was stuck working my way into the stiffening headwind for at least a few more hours.

There were a few more climbs heading away from the river, but then I was back on quiet, gently rolling roads. Looking regularly at my watch, I rode as hard as I could against the wind to maintain at least a 16-mph average, but soon realized that finishing 210 kilometers in less than eight hours over this terrain in this weather was not going to happen.

Much of the route, there was road hickeys for club rides. There were also these signs:

The MRT is for "Mississippi River Trail," and it seems to hobble together the most scenic and quiet roads in the region. Where I took this picture, the route was less than a mile from the river, but turned before you could really get a good look. As usual, moving away from the river meant a steep hill.

From the next bluff, you could get a better glimpse of the river. I stopped to take a picture of this historical marker, and the fellow who lived next door hollered a friendly "hey," wishing me a good ride. Generally, everyone in the area was nice, and cars passed me with plenty of room.

It was almost noon when I got to the Gilt Edge Cafe control at mile 71. With 60 miles to go, sub-eight was out of the question, and sub-nine would be tough. I was hungry, cold, and tired, so I sat down and had a big lunch.

Four of the five guys from earlier this morning came in just as I was paying for my lunch. Again, I considered hanging around for them to eat, but my teeth were already chattering from an internal cold that I sensed would only go away when I was riding. With a sad wave, I headed off northeast again, into the wind.

Finally, about 80 miles in, the route turned a little south and I enjoyed a crosswind. At mile 95, the revised route made a decided southerly turn, and I found myself rolling along at 20 and barely working as I zipped down to the Mason control. The tailwind continued on down to Arlington, a cute suburb of Memphis whose artistic vibe reminded me of Leiper's Fork near Nashville.

Wending my way westward, I crossed over I-40 and back, rolling past stately gentleman farms (which is, apparently, where they breed and raise gentlemen), and passing through planned golf-course communities in the suburbs of Memphis. I got back to the final control around 4:30 pm -- not exactly a blisteringly fast ride, but one that left meel feeling properly tested.

After changing out of my bike clothes, I grabbed a hot calzone at the pizza place near the start. As I tried to replace some burned calories and stop shivering, I considered what I had learned today:
  • Multiple thin layers rule for cold-weather riding. By peeling things off as the day warmed up (although I don't think it ever got over 50), I was able to keep my temperature fairly well regulated.
  • You've got to ride your ride. It would have been nice to fall back and ride with the pack, but they ended up finishing almost an hour and a half after me. Part of that was due to some wrong turns, and maybe they wouldn't have made those wrong turns had I been with them. But maybe I would have made those turns, too, and it would just have been frustrating for all of us. While I almost always prefer to ride with friends of similar riding abilities, ultimately you have to go at the pace at which you are comfortable.
  • Although I'm another year older, the parts still seem to be holding up. With any luck, I am good for another 12 months or so.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting Away with Something

One of the things that I haven't really done since returning to Tennessee is ride my bike to work ... at least, to actually do work at work. In November, I took the new bike lane on Hillsboro Road into downtown Nashville and up to my office there, but didn't go in. That trip was all about playing in a new bike lane, seeing how far my commute would be, and enjoying good weather.

Wednesday, I actually biked to work ... and then I worked.

Of course, I used to do this a lot. Before we moved to Florida, I had a nice 12.5-mile route from my house that included a stop for coffee, and I did that at least once a week in 2011 ... even when it was so cold that black ice was all over the roadway and I had a crash that basically killed endurance cycling for me for the next 12 months.

Even with that crash, I've always loved riding a bike to work. Part of this is because it's a good workout -- you can't hammer with panniers, so the ride stays nice slow distance with just the right heart rate and level of muscle strain. Another great thing is the statement you make to cars. You like to think that they see you out there and think, "Wow. There is a better way to get around. I should do that." Of course, they're probably thinking, "Wow. What a shmuck. Glad I'm in here on my plush heated leather seats."

The best thing, however, is that I feel like I'm getting away with something. I'm still going to work, just like everybody else, and yeah it's going to take me at least twice as long as it would in a car, and I could have just driven in and out and maybe gotten home early enough to jump on the bike for those extra hours ... but I didn't. Instead, I managed to slip an extra ride into my busy day ... it's like putting one over on the universe.

I had recently stripped the front rack and a few other things off of the Salsa, thus converting it back from touring rig to commuter rig. With one pannier full of office clothes and my laptop in the other, I headed towards Franklin on Boyd Mill Road, and then cut over to Del Rio Pike and Hillsboro Road. The bike lane on Hillsboro takes you to Green Hills Mall, and from there I cut over to go by Lipscomb University, up through Belmont, down Music Row to Demonbreun, and then past Bridgestone Arena to my office.

In spite of being a 28-mile ride with lots of lights and stops, it took me less than two hours. I had plenty of time to change clothes, eat lunch, and prep for my afternoon meeting.

My meeting ended about 2:30, and I quickly wrapped things up to get out by 3 pm. My reasoning was that, although I had been able to get up here in less than two hours, it might take me longer to go home. Also, traffic would be worse as the afternoon waned.

So it was not until I started up the hill past the arena again that I realized there was wind out there.

A cyclist with a light tailwind is like a first-timer in Vegas having a good run at the craps table -- you never realize what you had until it suddenly disappears.

The wind wasn't bad, but it was in my face all the way down Hillsboro Road. It wasn't helped by the fact that cars were now constantly zipping past, at first full of folks trying to beat rush hour, and then with the actual rush hour constituents themselves. All in all, it was not as pleasant a ride back down to Franklin as the trip up had been.

But it was still a bike ride, and that made it pretty darned good.

I stopped at the grocery store about five miles from home and picked up a couple of things. Had I been out there another 15 minutes, I would have needed to turn on my tail-light ... 15 minutes beyond that, the head-light would have come on.

Fortunately, as the sun went down so did the wind. I pulled into my driveway just as the sky began to shift towards that glorious burnt umber that you only get this time of year. Wheeling the bike into the garage, I smiled thinking, "Yep ... I got away with it again."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

When a Brief Ray of Sunshine Comes in the Window of Opportunity

We knew when we moved back to Tennessee from Florida that we would be giving up some good things. The beach. Great seafood. 

And, yeah, perfect cycling weather in the winter.

Sure, it would rain down there some times ... for, like, a couple of hours in the afternoon. And it was the kind of warm rain that you didn't really mind riding your bike in. Otherwise, it was 75 degrees by 9 am and never got over 85. Early morning rides rarely required more than light arm warmers.

Of course, that was the deal. We gave all of that up to come back to all of our friends, great jobs, and meandering roads in quiet countryside with painful climbs followed by thrilling descents. We also got more tolerable summers, where temperatures sometimes drop out of the 90s. Frankly, I think that we got the better end of the bargain.

But that doesn't mean that a weekend like last -- constant cold and heavy rains, followed by another three days of intermittent rain, sleet, and snow -- doesn't hurt.

Fortunately, I had lots of work to do. Unfortunately, the work kept me from slipping out during brief instances when the weather turned almost tolerable. Six days passed without me getting on a bike.

And then came sunny Friday, and I found myself wrapping up my morning meeting about 11 am. A quick check of the calendar showed that I was free until 1 pm.

It took less than 15 minutes to change, top off a bottle, pump up my tires, and get on the road. The day was chilly but dry, and the roads had only a few puddles. It was good enough.

Our new house is in one of the great cycling areas of middle Tennessee, but I needed to eat so I headed over to go north on Boyd Mill Road. Half an hour later I was in downtown Franklin, leaning my bike against a column outside of the new Frothy Monkey there. I got a table on the sunny front porch and enjoyed a tasty corned beef sandwich with sauerkraut on marble rye, topping it off with a delicious large fat-free latte.

I opted for West Main Street back south, rolling past the big old houses there and on towards Old Carter's Creek Pike. A quick mile on (new) Carter's Creek Pike and another on equally busy Southall Road was followed by a more sedate few miles on fiercely rolling Blazer Road. I was back at the house 10 minutes before my meeting -- belly full and the cycling monkey briefly off of my back.

Maybe that's the trick to surviving the winter when you no longer live in Paradise. You've got to be patient, waiting for those rare days that aren't too wet, too cold, or too windy. When one comes along, be prepared and do whatever it takes to get out and enjoy it to the fullest extent possible. Then, get back to work and wait for the next somewhat decent day.

It'll come.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I Am a Victim?

Like most people who foolishly use that wild-wild-west-esque electronic frontier that the young folks call the "interwebs," I get more than my fair share of spam. Not the savory canned meat treat (because, honestly, nobody ever gets their fair share of that kind of Spam), but the kind of spam that is email which the cyber-intelligences in the metal demon box that the young folks call "computers" determines is evil and shunts off to email Limbo.

Of course, often the demon box is wrong, and what it sends to Limbo turns out to be last month's electricity bill ... which is ironically a form of suicide for the demon box, since it suckles so vociferously on that easily interrupted electron stream. Or the demon box makes a mistake and allows thru an email from the ubiquitous disenfranchised Nigerian prince. Won't somebody help that poor man?

Last week, the demon box dropped in my box something that smelled fishy ... or should I say "pfishy?" You see, there's also spam email which is used to pfish for valuable information from people, such as user names, passwords, credit card data, and phone numbers of dependable baby sitters. These emails seem to come from such solid trustworthy entities as banks, the government, and major corporations, but in reality come from far less savory criminals than those guys.

The one I got said that it came from the United States Department of Justice -- a dead give-away as being false, since everybody knows there is no such thing as Justice in this world. Since my virus-checker said it was safe (and I had my flu shot just a few days before), I opened and read some of it. The mail was supposedly from someone with the FBI in San Diego, and said that I had been a victim of a crime.

Yeah. Right.

Just to be sure, however, I checked my wallet -- yep, $14 still there -- and went out to make sure that my bikes were secure in the new RandoCave. Of course, nobody can get past the security systems for my sanctum sanitarium without either getting the retina for my right eye and a DNA sample ... or the garage-door opener out of the car. Nonetheless, irregardless, and res ipsa loquitur, my bikes were all safe (not to mention clean and well-lubed ... yea, me!), so I knew that there could not have been any crimes perpetrated upon my personage or property. Herewith, forsooth!

I thought nothing more about it for the rest of the week, but got a follow-up email yesterday. This was from another lady at the so-called Department of Justice, claiming to be an FBI agent in San Diego. However, when I read this email I found more information about the nature of the crime of which I was supposedly a victim. It all related to the Floyd Fairness Fund.


You see, I actually gave money to the Floyd Fairness Fund. Not nearly as much as that first Nigerian prince who emailed me, but more than I gave to the next two. Call me a "softie," but I consider myself a "believer" when it comes to helping people in need. And that sounds better than what RandoGirl calls me when she sees the cancelled checks.

So, apparently the Department of Justice (yeah, there really is such a thing -- who'd have thunk?) is going after the Floyd Fairness Fund on behalf of me and the couple of dozen other people that thought Floyd was one of the many cyclists that were riding clean during the first decade of the millennium. Supposedly, they are also going to go after Lance.

I've heard that Floyd is planning to sue Lance as well, as is Frankie Andreu and probably the U.S. Postal Service and Trek and Bissell vacuums and everybody else that ever gave him money. We are entering a golden age of litigation, wherein everyone will be suing everyone else until all the riders are bankrupt and all the fans have moved over to watching indoor soccer. I predict frequent courtroom drama resembling a feeding frenzy of Great White Sharks.

Which is a whole different kind of pfishing.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Miss Me!

Yeah, I've been away. My excuses were good -- moving into a new house, unpacking, getting stuff turned on, getting stuff fixed, more unpacking, holidays -- and it was frankly easier to just not blog than post a blog about why I wasn't blogging.

Another reason for me not to write is that I barely rode my bike 50 miles each of the last three weeks of 2012. Then there was one ride where I decorated my bike with Christmas lights and reindeer antlers and went into downtown Franklin from our new house on Christmas morning, and I thought about writing a blog about that. But somewhere during the move, my camera took a hard ding and the lens aperture will no longer open. Somehow, that blog without pictures was just not worth writing.

Anyhow, I'll try to write more regularly in the next few weeks ... even if the weather outside is frightful and I don't ride as much here as I could in Florida. In part, I'll blog more because a number of friends have asked for it, but mostly because I miss the artistic release of blathering on about my favorite subject: Me.

Speaking of Me ...

RandoGirl and I were at a party during this past holiday season and were talking to some co-workers about bike-riding in Nashville. One of the people that we were talking to said that she often encounters bicyclists when driving around town, and went to great lengths to stress how she always slows down and waits for a clear spot in the traffic before passing.

"I always remind myself that the person on the bike is probably someone's father or mother," she said. "It's someone's son or daughter out there."

What she meant was, "You all are real people, too."

I got what she was trying to say, but it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. When she's out in her car and comes across a bicyclist, she should just be able to say, "Oh, look. A vehicle. It's moving well under the speed limit." Then, she should deal with that vehicle exactly as the law says, waiting to pass when it is safe and leaving at least three feet when she does. She shouldn't need to remind herself that we are, technically, members of the same race as she.

Think about what you do when you come upon a postal worker delivering the mail. Yeah, you know that mail truck is probably going to stop at the next mailbox, and so you may roll your eyes and sigh and eventually zip around the truck as soon as you get an opening. But you don't have to tell yourself, "That mailman is somebody's son. Somebody's father. It's a real person." But I hear this kind of crap from car drivers all the time when they talk about dealing with cyclists on the road. It's as if they need to justify law-abiding tolerance.

What brought this back into my mind today was me thinking about how I have been riding ever since we moved to the new house. Now, whenever I ride somewhere I wave at the cars, smile, and make eye contact. Subconsciously, what I'm doing is personalizing myself -- and, by proxy, all other cyclists -- to my new neighbors. I want them to see all two-wheeled, spandex-clad travelers as good, friendly folks ... so that they will (hopefully) not run me over.

What I'm doing is one of the things that you're supposed to do if you are ever taken hostage. According to expert, you should personalize yourself, so that you are RandoBoy and not just that tall dorky guy who smells like old cabbage. If you do that, the bank robber is less likely to evacuate your brains from your skull when it comes time to make a point to the police negotiator that "he is serious, dang it!"

I know that, as a cyclist, I've been taken hostage. Instead of being tied up and locked in the vault, I'm only fettered in that I'd best ride single file and as far to the right in the lane as I can, and that various roads are all but forbidden to me. It's okay -- I've come to accept it, and I'm willing to shuck and jive so that the two-ton SUVs with which I regularly share tarmac around here will suffer me to exist.

But don't tell me at some party how enlightened you are because you don't run me down every day. Telling me that you allow me to live because I'm human just like you is insulting in ways that you cannot possibly imagine.